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Continuing this summer’s series of Throwback Thursdays dedicated to Howard the Duck.

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Howard the Duck #4
July, 1976
The Sleep…of the Just!

Credits: Steve Gerber, writer; Gene Colan, illustrator; Steve Leialoha, inker; Marv Wolfman, editor; Annette Kawecki, letterer; Michele Wolfman, colorist

Synopsis: Howard and Beverly are relaxing together in their apartment. (Their one-time roommate, Arthur Winslow, is never seen or heard from again for the rest of the comic book series after he briefly became the superhero Turnip-Man in Howard the Duck #2.) Suddenly plaster from the ceiling starts to fall down to the floor accompanied by heavy knocking sounds. Howard and Beverly investigate what is happening by going to the apartment that’s located above theirs, where an aspiring artist named Paul Same lives. They find Paul crouching on the floor hammering a spot on the floor with a hammer. They realize that he’s doing this hammering in his sleep and they wake him up.

Paul admits that he has long had a problem with excessive sleeping while doing things during his sleep. He then recounts a childhood where he had the potential to be a genius only to have that genius potential be stamped out when he attends a school that insists on conformity. He dealt with it by daydreaming and sleeping in class. This tendency increased as he got older so that every time he came upon a potentially stressful situation (such as riding a rollercoaster or kissing a girlfriend) he would immediately fall asleep. Beverly and Howard leave the apartment after Paul finishes telling his story with Howard saying that Paul is just wallowing in self-pity.

Soon afterwards a bizarre superhero began to make his appearance in Cleveland. His name is Winky Man, he wears a nightshirt and a nightcap while carrying a Roman candle as a weapon. He fights crime while saying everything in rhyme.

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In the meantime Paul’s artistic output begins to increase in the daytime, which includes Beverly serving as a muse for some of his work.

One night Howard happens to be at a bar when a drunken brawl breaks out. Winky Man appears at that moment while fighting the brawlers. Howard recognizes Winky Man’s voice as his upstairs neighbor Paul and he pulls him out of the bar. He finds that Paul is asleep (meaning that he literally fights crime in his sleep). Howard manages to wake Paul up and tells him that he could’ve been killed back at the bar.

Soon after that incident Paul launches his solo art show. A prominent critic known as Xavier Couture gives a very snotty review of Paul’s work, dismissing it as “junk” and “jungle rot on canvas.” Paul reacts to the stress of getting a bad review by falling asleep immediately then sleepwalk out of the room. He reappears as Winky Man and he’s about to aim a Roman candle directly at Xavier Couture. Howard grabs the Roman candle out of Winky Man’s hand and it goes off that that moment as Howard is flying around the room near the ceiling, which sets off the building’s sprinkler system and douses everyone and everything in water.

By that point Paul is awake again. Howard urges Paul to confront Xavier Couture while he’s still awake. Paul not only denounces the critic for his harsh review but he also yanks Couture’s wig off of his head. The crowd applauds because, apparently, Xavier Couture has long been the most disliked critic of the Cleveland art scene. Then Couture begins to backtrack while saying that he and Paul were really making a joint statement on “man’s inclination to artificiality.” The story ends with Howard and Beverly in Paul’s apartment while Paul is asleep.

Topical 1970’s References:  There’s a mockery of the education system in the United States, which has long emphasized conformity and scheduling ever since the Industrial Revolution. This is an issue which persists to this very day with critics saying that the recent increase in prescribing children meds for ADD and ADHD so they can sit still in class is more due to the quality of the education rather than children really being incapable of sitting still.

There’s also a hilarious satire on art critics and how they act pretentious. Of course pretentious art critics are not exclusive to the 1970’s. There used to be an art critic at The Washington Post named Blake Gopnik who became notorious on the local arts scene for making similar scathing reviews of art shows. He especially hated Artomatic because he felt that this show was allowing too many artists to participate. (He wanted Artomatic to be more exclusive and juried, which runs counter to Artomatic’s original mission of providing public exposure to undiscovered creative talent.) He also used to write about how he preferred the arts scene in New York City to the arts scene in DC. Let’s say that no DC-area artist cried when he left The Washington Post.

The Bottom Line: This comic book makes a hilarious statement on both pretentious art critics and an education system (and society in general) that rewards mediocrity instead of intelligence, creativity, and innovation (a topic which Mike Judge would explore years later in both his animated series, Beavis & Butt-head, and his film, Idiocracy). The concept of a superhero who only fights crime in his sleep and doesn’t remember doing so while awake is a pretty unique and hilarious idea, along with the totally silly name of Winky Man, which sounds like the name of a character from a children’s bedtime story. Even the idea of Winky Man speaking only in rhyme seems to foreshadow Zecora from My Little Pony doing the same years later. It’s a pretty funny issue all around.

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Howard the Duck #5
September, 1976
I Want Mo-o-oney!

Credits: Steve Gerber, writer; Gene Colan, illustrator; Steve Leialoha, inker; Archie Goodwin, editor; Irv Watanabe, Letterer; Michele Wolfman, colorist

Synopsis: With outstanding bills and the rent on their apartment being due soon, Howard and Beverly are so broke that Beverly becomes cheerful when she finds a Bicentennial quarter because the pair now have enough money to afford to buy two candy bars for dinner. Howard goes to the local pharmacy to buy the candy bars when he spots a comic book rack. Among the comic books is an issue of Quackie Duck featuring a Daffy Duck lookalike. Howard scans through the pages and he becomes so outraged at Quackie Duck being portrayed as sadistic that he throws the comic book on the floor and stomps on it. The store manager tells Howard that since he mangled the comic book so much that it’s no longer sellable,  he needs to buy it. So Howard ends up being only able to afford just one candy bar because he had to pay for that ruined comic book.

Howard returns home totally angry over that comic book. But then he gets an idea that he needs to earn money by exploiting himself since it’s obvious that, as he puts it, hairless apes love to see talking fowl like Howard. He phones into a call-in talk radio show where he gets through the line by talking about how comic books perpetuates myths and prejudice. When the talk show host puts him on the air, Howard goes into a rant about how comic books slander ducks like himself. The host promptly hangs up on Howard because he doesn’t believe that Howard is really a talking duck.

When Beverly suggests that Howard might do better in a visual medium, the duck goes to a local TV station where he is immediately hired to go on a local children’s show featuring Gonzo the Clown. Howard soon realizes that he was hired to play Dopey Duck and Gonzo throws a pie at Howard’s head. Howard becomes so enraged that he beats Gonzo the Clown up on live television (while the kids in the studio audience begin to cheer Howard on) and Howard quickly loses that job.

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Soon afterwards Howard gets hired by an appliance dealer who saw Howard beating Gonzo the Clown on the air and was so impressed by what the duck did (the appliance dealer was clearly not a fan of Gonzo the Clown) that he hires Howard on the spot. Howard is expected to collect outstanding payments from customers who are behind in their bills. That turns out to be a short-lived job as well.

Beverly manages to earn some money doing modeling gigs in local art classes but Howard wants to earn money himself. He sees an ad in a local newspaper promising $10,000 to anyone who can defeat a local pro-wrestler known as Emile “The Goat” Klout. Howard sees this not only as an opportunity to pay off all their outstanding bills but also a chance for he and Beverly to move away from Cleveland to a larger major city.

As the pair boards the bus they encounter the Kidney Lady once again, who expresses her displeasure to Howard over his beating of Gonzo the Clown on live television and she tells Howard that he is part of the Kidney Poisoning Conspiracy. Howard and Beverly get off of the bus at their destination, leaving the Kidney Lady to continue with her rant against Howard to all who are still on that bus.

When Howard and Beverly enter the arena where Emile “The Goat” Klout is poised to take on all comers to his challenge, they see that it will be much more difficult for Howard to defeat The Goat than Howard initially realizes. The Goat is a huge wrestler with as many bulky muscles as Arnold Schwarzenegger had at the height of his body building career. The Goat easily defeats all of his challengers.

Howard decides to take advantage of his small size by evading The Goat as much as possible while also using his recently acquired skill of quack-fu. Howard manages to defeat The Goat but The Goat’s manager refuses to give Howard the $10,000 reward because the original ad said that the reward would be given to any man who defeats The Goat and Howard is a duck.

The last panel shows Howard and Beverly hitchhiking their way out of Cleveland with the pair mentioning that the manager ended up giving the pair enough money to pay their bills and be able to afford to move to a new city while implying that he only did it after learning that, unless he paid, they would tell the local news media about how a duck got the wrestler’s goat. (Yeah, it ended in a pun.)

Topical 1970’s References: The story begins with the song “Money” playing on the radio. Even though that song came out long before the 1970’s, there have been many different versions that have come out over the years. I’ll just stick with the Barrett Strong original.

I chuckled when Beverly found that Bicentennial quarter because I can remember when they came out. It was considered big news when the U.S. Mint decided to replace the usual eagle on the reverse (or tails) side with a drummer boy just for the Bicentennial year. A lot of people collected these special Bicentennial quarters as mementos since they were out for only one year. (Nowadays with the U.S. Mint routinely putting various state landmarks on the reverse/tails side of quarters, it’s now pretty mundane.) I would see these Bicentennial quarters turn up for many years although I have to admit that I haven’t seen one pop up as cash register change in a very long time.

The scene where Howard goes on a local children’s TV show reminds me of the local children’s shows that used to air in my area on the weekdays after school and on Saturday mornings. There was a local version of the Bozo the Clown show that used to air on the weekdays. There was also a weekday show called Capitan Chesapeake and it featured the host dressed in nautical clothes who used to introduce the next cartoon that was being aired (usually old Looney Tunes and Popeye cartoons although I remember that show used to air Mighty Mouse and Mr. Magoo cartoons from time to time as well). There was another show that aired on Saturday mornings called Professor Kool and His Fun School and I think that one actually had a live studio audience much like the Gonzo the Clown show in the comic book.

Then there is the wrestling angle. When I was a kid there used to be pro-wrestling matches on the air, especially on Saturday mornings. These matches used to be quite simple compared to the flashy effects of today’s WWE. Sure there was always wrestlers trash-talking each other both before and after the matches but there weren’t these ongoing convoluted storylines that the WWE has that can last for several months. I remember the biggest wrestling star of the 1970’s was Bruno Sammartino, who is still alive at 80 years old according to the Wikipedia.

The Bottom Line: It’s a pretty funny issue, especially with the scene where Howard brawls with Gonzo the Clown live on the air while the kids in the studio audience eggs the duck on.

These issues were reprinted in Howard the Duck: The Complete Collection, Volume 1, which can be purchased online at AbeBooks, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, BookDepository, Google Play, Half.com, IndieBound, Indigo, Powell’s.

Next post in this series.

The Howard the Duck Series

Howard the Duck: The Complete Collection, Volume 1

The Early Stories
Howard the Duck #1-3
Howard the Duck #4-5
Howard the Duck #6
Howard the Duck #7 and Marvel Treasury Edition #12: Howard the Duck
Howard the Duck #8
Howard the Duck #9-11
Howard the Duck #12-14
Howard the Duck King Size Annual #1 and Howard the Duck #15
Howard the Duck #16

Howard the Duck: The Complete Collection, Volume 2

Howard the Duck #17-19
Howard the Duck #20-22
Howard the Duck #23-25
Howard the Duck #26-28
Howard the Duck #29-31
Howard the Duck Magazine #1

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