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Howard the Duck #8
Open Season
January, 1977

Credits: Steve Gerber, writer; Gene Colan, artist; Steve Leialoha, inker; Archie Goodwin, editor; I. Watanabe, letterer; Jan Cohen, colorist

Synopsis: The story picks up where the Marvel Treasury Edition #12: Howard the Duck left off. Howard and Beverly give their good-byes to Dr. Strange and the rest of The Defenders while someone have put Howard in the cross-hairs of his rifle. As the pair walk away from the mansion, Beverly begins to get on Howard’s case for turning down Dr. Strange’s offer to spend the night at the mansion because they are broke and they really have no other place to stay.

At that point a shot rings out and a man with a rifle falls down from the rooftop of a nearby building dead. Howard sees another rifleman running along the rooftops away from the scene and he suggests to Beverly that they run in the opposite direction. The fleeing gunman climbs down into an alley where another gunman is hiding. It turns out that both of them are looking to assassinate Howard the Duck. They deal with this competition over which one of them will have the privilege of killing the duck by shooting each other dead.

Howard and Beverly soon realize that there are people who want to kill him because he is the All-Night Party’s candidate for President of the United States. At that moment the Rolls Royce limousine belonging to country music star Dreyfuss Gultch pulls up and Gultch urges Howard and Beverly to get into his bulletproof car. As the pair get inside and the vehicle pulls away, Christoper Street turns into a war zone as three different gunmen appear and start shooting at the Rolls Royce.

Dreyfuss Gultch says that people are trying to kill Howard because they object to his campaign promises. When Howard says that he hasn’t made any campaign promises, Dreyfuss says that the ad agency that the All-Night Party hired had been making such promises on his behalf as the limousine pulls into the garage located below the ad agency’s office.

When Howard finally sees the posters and other ad campaign materials he becomes so outraged over the hokum of the ad’s message that he demands to speak to the head of the ad agency, G.Q. Studley. When Studley arrives he is glad to finally meet the duck in person that he proceeds to have his underlings remake the duck’s appearance in an image that’s based on such things as focus group surveys and other types of marketing research. While Howard is getting re-dressed against his will in a side room, Studley tells Beverly that these days a candidate doesn’t think, he merely recites talking points based on market research. Howard emerges in a red suit, white shirt, blue tie, and sporting a set of false teeth while Studley says that Howard looks magnificent. Howard reacts to his makeover by biting Studley in the nose with his new false teeth, taking off his new suit, and walking out of the room. Subsequently Howard would hire a new ad agency based on a name that he sees in a phone book: Mad Genius Associates.

By September, 1976 Howard’s presidential campaign would be a major topic on a major television network’s evening news. Over the past few months Mad Genius Associates apparently gave Howard far more leeway in how he wanted to campaign because Howard goes to various rallies where he simply speaks out on a variety of topics ranging from the environment to defense spending. The same news story had reactions to Howard’s campaign from his challengers Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.

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By October, 1976 Beverly is walking through Central Park by herself incognito. She misses the loss of privacy since the campaign began and is tired of constantly hearing about heavy topics like the economy. She gets startled by a man who comes up to her but he says that he’s only here to feed the ducks. He looks a lot like the bellhop from that hotel in Howard the Duck #7. As Beverly walks away the man says that he loves ducks so much that he makes a point to throttle one every single day while he’s strangling an innocent duck.

On November 1, 1976 Howard and Beverly show up at Dreyfuss Gultch’s ranch where they meet some men who are described as representing some powerful interests. They offer Howard the chance for them to support Howard’s presidential campaign in exchange for some favors once Howard makes it to the Oval Office. Howard turns them down because he says that he’s running as a people’s candidate who advocates a clean government free from corruption.

A few hours later Howard holds a televised press conference in New York City and one comic book page consists mainly of a transcript from that event where Howard speaks out on a variety of topics ranging from pardoning Vietnam draft evaders to violence in popular culture. As Howard and Beverly walk away from that press conference after it ends, the pair evade a woman throwing a doll with a bomb inside, a construction girder that someone has snapped on purpose and it’s aimed directly at the pair, and a driverless car that comes close to pinning them to a nearby brick wall. On top of that they encounter a service station attendant who douses Howard with gas. They manage to overpower him and escape before he is able to throw a lit match at them.

Howard and Beverly manage to reach their hotel room where Dreyfuss Gultch has even more bad news for the two of them. The story ends when he shows the pair the front page of a newspaper that features a photo showing the couple bathing together with the headline “Scandal Plucks Duck.”

Topical 1970’s References: The 1976 Presidential Campaign, including appearances in the comic book by real-life candidates Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford. The legendary CBS newsman Walter Cronkite is satirized as Walter Klondike.

The Bottom Line: If there were such a thing as the perfect Howard the Duck comic book, issue 8 would be it, in my humble opinion. This issue ranks among the finest and most memorable of the original 1970’s comic book series. From the cover showing an agitated Howard literally bursting through the newspaper to the awesome art and the writing, this is the issue I would introduce to any newbie who’s curious about what Howard the Duck is all about. In fact, this issue and what’s currently going on in this year’s elections were the ones that gave me the inspiration to do this little summer Throwback Thursday blog project in the first place.

The political satire is totally spot-on and the slapstick farce of various would-be assassins literally killing each other so they could end up becoming the one who kills the duck is completely hysterical. At the time it was published it resonated so much with people that, according to the Wikipedia, Howard the Duck actually got hundreds of write-in votes in the 1976 presidential election.

What’s really sad is that today much of the satire is just as relevant as it was when it was first published. The only dated references are the ones made about Walter Cronkite, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, and the issue of granting amnesty to draft dodgers of the Vietnam War. Otherwise this issue could be reprinted as a stand-alone single issue and sold at comic book stores today and people would still feel moved enough to buy it.

Ever since the Citizens United Supreme Court decision the amount of money poured into elections by special interests has grown even worse than back in the 1970’s. Not too long ago Hillary Clinton attended a fundraiser at the San Francisco home of venture capitalist Sherwin Pishevar that included George and Amal Clooney. According to Politico.com, anyone wanting to attend that event had to buy tickets that cost $33,400 per person. (Man, that’s way more than what I’ve earned last year.) What’s more, there were two seats available at a table where Hillary Clinton and the Clooneys were dining together. Anyone wanting to sit in either seat had to pay a whopping $353,4000. (For that same amount, I could buy one of those new upscale luxury townhouses that are currently being built in a new development in my town.)

Then there are the political consultants who tend to latch on to campaigns like parasites and most of these candidates tend to hang on to their every word as if they were God and they do what the consultants says they should do (based on the usual market research that includes focus group surveys). People like James Carville, Mary Matalin, Frank Luntz, and the late Lee Atwater have all made their careers as political consultants.

Howard the Duck’s outspokenness on various issues along with his campaign being seen as an insurgent campaign seems to predict this year’s similar campaigns of both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, although I think Howard tends to be more similar to the former because his shoot-from-the-hip-say-anything-no-matter-the-cost style seems to predict Trump’s similar campaign style (the main difference is that Howard never ventured anywhere near the blunt racism of Trump’s campaign). The fact that Howard turned down the offer from some powerful vested interests to help Howard win the election because he’s interested in running a clean campaign echoes Sanders’ efforts to run a campaign that’s free from special interests that represent the 1%.

Then there are the frequent assassination attempts against Howard. Recently there was an assassination attempt against Donald Trump that was foiled, which is another reason why Howard seems to eerily predict Donald Trump’s campaign decades later. Who knows how many similar attempts will be made against Trump and his two rivals (Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders) before Election Day?

It’s only too bad that writer Steve Gerber (who passed away in 2008) didn’t live to see this year’s elections because it would’ve been interesting to hear him weighing in on it, especially in regards to the parallels between what’s currently going on in politics and the 1970’s Howard the Duck #8.

The back of Howard the Duck: The Complete Collection Volume 1 has extras in the back of the book that are mostly related to Howard’s presidential campaign. Howard the Duck appears in a two page spread of Crazy magazine (which was Marvel’s attempt to emulate other black and white humor magazines like Mad and Cracked) that have limericks devoted to all those who ran in the 1976 presidential elections, including Howard.

The book also has vintage ads hyping Howard’s presidential run as well as ads selling Howard the Duck campaign buttons and posters. What’s really fascinating about the spin-off products is that, based on what the ads and accompanying interviews that were also reprinted (mainly from FOOM magazine) said, it looked like writer and co-creator Steve Gerber had set up a side venture known as Mad Genius Associates (which is also the name of the ad agency that Howard the Duck hires to represent him after he fired G.Q. Studley’s agency) which manufactured and sold these buttons and posters on his own free time aside from his day job. What’s more, Marvel seemed to have given Steve Gerber its blessing to do this on his own to the point where it even provided ad space in its comic books. I can’t imagine Marvel allowing any of its staff to do anything like this to any of its characters today, especially since Disney (a company notorious for guarding its copyrighted characters) purchased the company a few years ago.

This issue was 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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