Characters Appearing: Dakimh The Enchanter, Howard The Duck, Jennifer Kale, Korrek, Man-Thing
Howard the Duck #22-23
Issue(s): Howard the Duck #22, Howard the Duck #23
...except it isn't, in any way at all. The motley band from Howard's first appearance in Man-Thing show up...
...and they go on another "wacky" quest that isn't very entertaining from a straightforward point of view or as satire.
I guess i did enjoy the Man-Thing's appearance.
Quality Rating: D
Chronological Placement Considerations: N/A
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: Essential Howard the Duck vol. 1 (Issue #22 is an original)
At about the time these came out, Marvel made the intial announcement for the Howard the Duck magazine,to be edited by Gerber. The backup was supposed to be Man-Thing by Gerber/Mooney, and it would eventually replace the color book to give Gerber more creative freedom. Gerber first suggested the magazine to Stan Lee in 1977, but he rejected it.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | December 8, 2012 8:04 PM
This is more of a general statement about Gerber on HTD rather than anything to do with this issues but I have to ask: What was the fuss? I mean I just can't understand what's going on and I don't find his writing funny. Was it just funny for it's time? As it seems rather irrelevant now. I'm genuinely interested in why Gerber was so revered for is run on HTD.
Apologies in advance if this is in the wrong section.
Posted by: JSfan | May 31, 2014 6:41 AM
Fnord isn't much of an HTD fan himself, so I'll offer a case for the defense. Gerber's HTD is not meant to be ha-ha funny; though some readers may have enjoyed it at that level, that's not what Gerber was aiming for. HTD is a deconstruction of the superhero genre and a satire on '70s America.
Howard himself is the most normal, realistic guy in the MU, he just happens to be a duck. Gerber is using absurdity here to critique something like Spider-Man, with its pretension that the out-of-costume Peter Parker is a normal guy. He's obviously not: Spider-Man aside, Parker and his friends are a stereotype out of "Happy Days." They're as unrepresentative of real life as Spidey is. Teenagers in general aren't "real life"--real life, for Gerber, is being an adult with adult problems. Real life is being a neurotic with shrubby friends. So that's Howard: even though he's the midst absurd character in the MU, he's also the most normal. And when he's confronted with the superhero tropes, like fighting a supervillain dressed in an animal costume, Howard just walks away and has a nervous breakdown.
The villains are part of the deconstruction: assuming a world in which supervillain sexist, why does Dr. Doom or Doc Ock have to be a monarch, or a nuclear physicist, or a time traveller even before he becomes a villain? Why can't a janitor or a plumber be Dr. Doom? In the Gerberverse, here and in Man-Thing, they can be: villains can be accountants or bellhops or failed rock critics.
That's half of Gerber's project, asking what realism means in a place like the MU and taking apart the up examined assumptions that always accompany the more obviously fantastic conventions of the genre: the point is that comics depart from reality in more than just the costumes and superpowers.
But the other half of Gerber's project is the flip side, to show through satirical exaggeration and dramatization that 1970s America was already as absurd and crazy a place as the Marvel Universe. Hence The satire on Anita Bryant and the Moral Majority, the lampooning of advertising, etc. Howard is a normal guy, a bit of a loser but not melodramatically so, who inhabits a world gone man: the twist is, it's gone made as much because it has a guy like Richard Nixon as a guy like Dr. Doom.
All of this, of course, is filtered through Gerber's own sensibilities, his own view of what's normal. I think Getber is more self-aware about the heavy hand of the author in this than some people might imagine: that's another postmodern quality of the work.
Even as Gerber deconstructs the comic medium, he doesn't get away from it completely, and readers who don't "get" what he's trying to do can raise some obvious objections: Beverly, for example, is still a comic-book woman rather than a real woman. But the point isn't that Gerber entirely succeeds or presents an absolute critique, the point is how Gerber's work relates to the rest of the genre. Marvel had been ahead of the curve even with Stan Lee and Peter Parker, whatever their limitations, and Gerber was pushing further still. And he was doing it a decade before "Watchmen."
Are the stories any good? Your mileage may vary. I love these comics because I think Gerber succeeds in doing something very sophisticated while still telling good comic book stories, albeit stories that sometimes so and sometimes don't meet genre expectations. But someone who doesn't want this postmodern stuff or who just wants to enjoy "serious" superhero vs. supervillain stories (or for that matter, "serious" deconstructionslike alike "Watchmen"), Howard will seem pointless.
Posted by: Walter Lawson | May 31, 2014 3:55 PM
I hope the remark above is intelligible enough: between "fat fingers" and autocorrect, writing comments on an ipad can lead to a lot of inaccurate words. "Mad" gets turned into "man" and "made" up there. My apologies.
I don't have my Essential HTD on hand, but regarding these issues in particular, we seem to have a satire on fast food kiddie commercialism--anthropomorphic food--as well as "Star Wars." I'm not going to argue that it works, especially without the text in front if me; these aren't the stories I recall as most interesting, that's fore sure, and what Gerber was doing wasn't always successful. The guy seems to have struggled with deadlines, so sometimes his work doesn't live up to the purpose I've described above--and sometimes Gerber just doesn't have a handle on what he's trying to satitirize or deconstruct.
We're also so used to Star Wars parodies and anti-consumerist critiques today that it's easy to forget there was a time when this stuff didn't seem so stale: it wasn't necessarily good even then, but could have been mediocre without seeming quite so hackneyed. My defense is of HTD in general, rather than these issues.
Posted by: Walter Lawson | May 31, 2014 4:12 PM
Thanks for the great summation, Walter. HTD has never worked for me but you do a great job describing what it was meant to be or how it should be looked at or even how something like that might be attempted again today. I think maybe Gerber went in too many directions at once. The critique of Marvel at the same time he was critiquing the real world makes it difficult to understand what, exactly, he was getting at, and on top of that there were the in-jokes, like Space Turnip being a parody of Don McGregor and Kidney Lady being a homeless woman that he saw in real life, which meant that there's a lot of stuff that just is over my head or comes across as surreal (and mocking a mentally ill woman just seems mean). I think i had a better experience with Gerber's return to Howard in 2002, possibly because the topics it took on (Witchblade, the Vertigo books) were more topical and relevant to me, but i'll check that out again when i get there.
I might have liked the 70s Howard more if he stuck to satirizing Marvel. I wanted the Master of Quack Fu issue to be more targeted but that's definitely one of the higher points for me, and Gerber does some genuinely good work with the Ringmaster and his Circus of Crime at the end of the series.
But it's definitely a very personal series for Gerber and even if it doesn't work for me i think it's an interesting attempt for the reasons you call out.
JSFan, if you're delving into Gerber, most people would also point to Man-Thing, but i actually really like and recommend his Defenders run.
Posted by: fnord12 | June 1, 2014 12:08 AM
Walter, thank you very much for your summation of Gerber. I will read HTD again just to see if I "get it" this time. I might not but at least looking at it from a different point of view might help me.
I guess I'm a straight up super heroes v super villains type guy so my preconceptions about HTD may have blurred my view of what the book is all about.
fnord12, I'll definitely check out Man-Thing and Defenders. Thank you.
If anyone is interested there is a very good article by Robert Stanley Martin about Gerber's legal troubles with Marvel, here: http://www.hoodedutilitarian.com/2014/05/all-quacked-up-steve-gerber-marvel-comics-and-howard-the-duck/
Posted by: JSfan | June 1, 2014 8:27 AM
That conversation between Big Mac and Korrek is full of innuendo, isn't it?
Posted by: haydn | June 7, 2014 5:03 PM
Gerber's run on Omega The Unknown is also worth looking at for pointed commentary on the superhero genre. The Amber character, like Beverly in HTD, is also a far more interesting supporting character, than, say, Mary Jane Watson. Gerber did valuable and under-valued work writing these women characters more fully realistically than usual.
Posted by: Michael Grabowski | July 2, 2018 2:13 PM
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