- Posted by Johanna on October 18, 2006 at 8:30 am
- Category: Superhero Reviews
- PUBLISHER: Marvel; $14.95 US
Nothing ages as fast as parody, but the societal satire on view in Essential Howard the Duck is still fresh and funny. This phonebook-sized book contains 28 issues plus additional appearance stories for a huge slab of wacky reading.
Steve Gerber’s duck, “trapped in a world he never made”, is the classic outsider character made literal with feathers and cigar. His backstory — brought to Earth by a megalomaniacal supervillain playing with alternate realities — is irrelevant once he’s here. Since he has no respect for the “hairless apes” he’s surrounded by, his perspective takes nothing for granted.
The prosaic setting of Cleveland gives the book a different feel from most 70s comics. Early on, Howard fights a magical talking frog that, after defeated, gets run over by a car. No vengeful vows to return here, and Howard winds up in jail for creating a disturbance instead of being feted as a hero. He goes on to battle such antagonists as a vampire cow, a mad cosmic accountant, the struggles of the aspiring artist, and the lengthy storyline against Dr. Bong, the scientist with a bell for a head.
Howard runs for President when he’s not taking on con artist salesmen, street people, or cult leaders, and he also wanders through parodies of the most common comic types of the day: sword-and-sorcery, superheroes, sci-fi space opera, kung fu comics, and conspiracy thrillers. He has a nervous breakdown, resulting in a surreal, psychological story.
Most of his adventures are drawn by either Frank Brunner or Gene Colan, no talent to sneeze at, and Spider-Man, the Defenders, the Son of Satan, and Kiss guest-star. Later on, Gerber provides the world’s weirdest fill-in issue, a series of illustrated essays. Most of the time, he takes common, everyday elements and sends them through the subconscious to come out larger than life.
Howard is everyman, someone who tries to do what’s right when everything’s arrayed against him and often as not, winds up unthanked and ignored. No matter what, he’ll never fit in. His struggles are still darn funny, though.