Friday, November 09, 2007

In Review Of: Howard the Duck by Templeton, Bobillo and Sosa

Harken, y'all, to the strange tale of Howard the Duck. Not only was he thrust into a world that he never made, he was given life at a comic book company that had no time for funny animals (or funny fowls for that matter). Even actually funny funny animals.

Me? I know funny. Trust me, I know funny.

Born on Duckworld, but really born in the far stranger land called the early '70's brain of Steve Gerber, Howard had a quick walk-on in Fear #19, in a book already held hostage by the character the Man-Thing, and he was really there to simply be goofy and make the un-real limbo of... uh... unreality seem all that more strange. He also got a few plum lines along the way, and was unceremoniously thrown aside.

Except that people liked the Duck. Certainly not Stan Lee and editorial powers that were at the time, but it is hard to argue with success. Marvel was building their early-70's line up of 2nd generation heroes by their 2nd generation of writers and artists and the books were, to put it mildly, spinning blindly out of control. The House that Stan and Jack had built was being turned in to something rather different in the odd corners: Gerber, Starlin, Englehart, Weiss, Moench and McGregor were running rampant.

That Howard survived to return in 2007 is a minor miracle. Templeton is spinning a fun yarn, and perhaps will take a huge amount of flack for not being Steve Gerber, but then, so did Bill Mantlo on Howard's abortive B&W book. The reality is that Gerber's Howard was a bizarre run through of Gerber's neuroses and pet peeves mixed with an often hysterical dose of the back side of the Marvel Universe as it stood then. When he was fired off of the book by Jim Shooter in a personality clash, Bill Mantlo was given the opportunity to run with the book, in a less censored arena: the Black and White magazine.

Bill did his creative best, and the magazine took a few issues to settle into a rhythm, but a couple of the final issues had Michael Golden and Marshall Rogers turning in inspired turns on the art. Bill’s approach to the book was less didactic than Gerber’s, but by the end of Gerber’s run, things had become less funny, and Howard’s depression over being stuck in the city of Cleveland was starting to rub off on the reader: despite the inspired parody “Star Waugh” in the mid 20’s issues, we were tired of being trapped in this series. Mantlo’s run, while reviled at the time, is actually funnier and edgier than it appeared at the time.

Templeton opens his series with all the usual motifs of Howard’s banal existence: stuck being a cab driver, the lovely yet slightly ditzy Beverly his companion, the oddball play promoter, bizarre scientists from A.I.M. and scientists that happen to be the worst shots in the world hunting him. It really is an opening right out of either Gerber’s or Mantlo’s run. And that’s ok. Really it is. This hasn’t gotten to go-around for over 20 years, and its new to most of its audience.

Lets face it: there really isn’t a different way to write Howard. Howard’s story is the story of the “other”, but he doesn’t really want to be the other, he just wants to blend in so that things can be easy for once. And it allows him to be the crusty commentator, the sole voice of reason and the occasional straight-man all in one. Bobillo’s art is inspired when Howard is on stage, occasionally a bit simple on some of the other areas of the story. Templeton, whose comedic work I still remember from the great “Even Teddy Bears Get the Blues” story in the Critters collection, is a natural to write this. He has the timing and the lines. The only thinkg that I wish on the story: that people remember Beverly wasn’t a ditz when she first showed up. Mantlo and Gerber wrote her far more intelligently that we’re seeing her here. I love the character, for her grit, her humor and her steadfast love of Howard, and I hate to see her merely comic relief.

Is this fun? Absolutely. And if you don’t pick up this series you’re missing out. So get out there and support some comic fun in your comics!

1 comment:

Pearce said...

He never mentioned it on his blog, but this series must have broken Steve Gerber's heart. He considered Howard much too personal for anyone else to write (even taking a lawsuit in the '80s, part-funded by a comic especially created with Jack Kirby).

He also considered it at the very least rude to write a character whose creator was still living without asking, and he wasn't asked here - Templeton was quoted as saying "Somebody actually told me that Steve Gerber wasn't really happy that I was doing this."

Gerber was bound by a non-disclosure agreement on the terms of the Howard settlement, but he hinted on a number of occasions that Marvel did not stick to their end of the bargain.

Gerber had wanted to write more Howard after the 2002 revival miniseries, but although it sold well Marvel did not follow up on this. The fact that he died while yet another writer's version of Howard was on the stands seems quite sad to me.