It seems to me that there’s really only two ways to do Howard the Duck right. One is the traditional way, as written by the incredible Steve Gerber back in the day. Gerber loved to use the Duck as a vehicle for social satire. After all, who better to comment on the craziness of our world than a talking duck who is literally from a completely different world. Under Gerber, Howard presented an astute and moving satire of life in America in the mid-’70s, satire made more powerful by the fact that somehow Gerber was able to make his weird talking duck seem like a realistic character. When Howard had a nervous breakdown after his unsuccessful run for President in 1976 – I told you it was back in the day! – the story had a humorous edge that somehow made the drama of the story feel more intense.
Gerber successfully returned to Howard in 2000, producing a wonderful series of issues for Marvel MAX, but he’s the only one who was able to make the satirical version of the character really work.
The other approach to Howard that can be successful is to pretty much make the stories just plain silly. Nevermind the jokes about the craziness of society, just put Howard into crazy situations and let wacky hijinks ensue. In the hands of a skilled writer, this approach works well, especially if that writer can include an undercurrent of pathos in his stories.
Ty Templeton’s take on Howard the Duck in this issue definitely fits into the second category. Templeton’s version of Howard is fast-moving and funny while being pleasantly unambitious. Howard is kind of a small time loser of a duck, a cab-driving cynic who sincerely believes that the world is a rotten place, that people will do anything to further their own self-interests, and that the only place of comfort in such a rotten world is in helping your friends. Especially as drawn by Juan Bobillo, Howard looks jaundiced, cynical, down-on-his-luck; the Marvel duck is as far from the Disney mold as any talking duck ever could be.
The story in this issue is also pleasantly simple, a nice break from the intensity that so many Marvel books contain these days. Templeton’s shows the story of Howard’s friend Beverly’s acting job, while at the same time offering the slapstick hijinks of the world’s most inept duck-hunting brothers. One story is clever while the other is silly, and both had me chuckling as I read them. I especially liked Patton and Bradley Barrel, the Twin Barrels who are so inept that they even got laughed at during twin camp for being fraternals. And yet, like Wile E. Coyote, the twins are determined to stop at nothing in order to bag a duck and gain the honor of the scientific and hunting community of the entire Great Lakes area. The incredible ineptitude or the twins is plain funny, and the idea of their hunting down a four-foot-tall talking duck is even funnier to me.
Beverly’s pretentious play is also funny – I laughed out loud at the line “literalism is death.” I hope we’ll see more of this silly play as this mini-series goes on, because I found the characters involved in the play to be very funny.
Overall, if it wasn’t for the presence of AIM and some sort of crazy MODOK offshoot in the story, this would barely feel like a Marvel comic. Juan Bobillo’s artwork adds to that feeling. If you’re familiar with his work on She-Hulk, you know how good he is at presenting characters who are off-type, who look different than you might be accustom. That style gives the book a fresh feel, like a silly independent comic that somehow also has a long history. Howard looks a wreck, a scruffy, disorganized figure, which perfectly suits his character. And Bobillo draws a sexy Beverly.
This is hardly the greatest comic you’ll read this month, but Howard the Duck #1 is a tremendously silly and entertaining comic book. In these grim days, silly is good.