Here’s yet another entry is this summer’s series of Throwback Thursdays dedicated to Howard the Duck.
Howard the Duck #9
Scandal Plucks Duck
Credits: Steve Gerber, writer/editor; Gene Colan, artist; Steve Leialoha, inker; John Costanza, letterer; Michele Wolfman, colorist
Synopsis: The story begins the day after the 1976 U.S. elections when the All-Night Party’s presidential candidate, Howard the Duck, loses in the wake of a late-breaking scandal after a newspaper published a photo of the duck taking a bath with his human companion, Beverly Switzler. A mysterious native French-speaking figure reads the newspaper. The bellhop from the Plaza Hotel in Howard the Duck #7 asks this mysterious person about getting paid for his role in putting out this public relations debacle that costed Howard the election. The figure reminds the bellhop that he did what he did both for America and to avenge his brother and not for any money. The bellhop briefly recounts a story about how his brother died in Vietnam. (Basically the brother was an anti-aircraft gunner who attempted to shoot an enemy aircraft down but he hit a flying duck instead. The duck crash-landed on top of a Vietcong landmine that was buried just inches from where the brother stood. The landmine exploded, killing the brother.) The bellhop has hated all ducks since his brother’s death and he was outraged that a political party had drafted a duck to run for president.
Meanwhile, back at the All-Night Party’s headquarters in New York City, Howard and Beverly are dealing with the fallout from that scandal while country music star Dreyfuss Gultch is speaking on the phone with a friend of his who works at the CIA. Dreyfuss gets off of the phone and he tells Howard and Beverly that his friend is suspicious about how real that photograph is mainly because the picture does not show a faucet on either end of the tub. Howard reveals that he and Beverly never bathe together because Beverly doesn’t like the smell of wet feathers. Dreyfuss adds that his CIA friend told him that it looks like Howard and Beverly were the victims of an international intrigue because the friend had somehow traced the picture’s origins to Canada.
Dreyfuss says that his CIA friend added that his agency isn’t inclined to do much with the information because it was glad that Howard lost. But his friend told him that it’s a strong possibility that the bellhop at the Plaza Hotel where Howard and Beverly stayed when Howard won the nomination had something to do with that doctored photo because the guy suddenly fled the country yet left a forwarding address in Ontario. Dreyfuss also says that the All-Night Party wants to get to the bottom of this scandal because its reputation is now in tatters while Beverly is also worried about her reputation as well. Dreyfuss provides two airplane tickets to Canada that the party has purchased for Howard and Beverly. He says that it would be great publicity for Howard to personally investigate the matter and, if all goes well, Howard could even be the All-Night Party’s presidential candidate in the 1980 elections. Howard isn’t interested in traveling to Canada or doing anything else for the All-Night Party and he begins to walk away. He gets pressured into changing his mind by Beverly, who is so worried about her reputation that she tells Howard that she’ll never speak to him again unless he gets on that plane.
The couple board an airplane with the shady-sounding name of Fly-By-Night Airways. They are greeted by a well-disguised stranger who shuts the door behind them. Once the plane takes off, the stranger is revealed as the duck-hating bellhop from the Plaza Hotel. He pulls out a remote transmitter to make the plane take off without a pilot.
Howard and Beverly soon realizes that they plane they are on is flying on autopilot and they are the only two living beings on board. Howard discovers that the controls are in locked position and Beverly isn’t able to find any parachutes anywhere on that plane.
The plane flies into Canada where a Canadian Mountie on horseback, with his faithful dog by his side, sees the plane making an erratic descent so he decides to investigate. The horse gallops off with such gusto that the Mountie falls off his horse and lands smack on the ground.
Meanwhile the plane lands on the side of a hill yet Howard and Beverly manage to survive their ordeal. The Canadian Mountie arrives with his animals. He introduces himself as Sgt. Preston Dudley while also introducing his horse, Prince, and his dog, Elizabeth. Howard and Beverly hitch a ride on Prince while Sgt. Dudley flirts a little bit with Beverly. After arriving at the nearby RCMP outpost, Howard and Beverly tell about their situation and Sgt. Dudley says that, based on what they told him, they are victims of Pierre Dentifris, who’s known as Canada’s only super-patriot and who frequently employs bellhops and uses robot planes. Sgt. Dudley says that they’ve tried to arrest him for years but they’ve never been able to make the charges stick.
So Beverly, Howard, and Sgt. Dudley ride on Prince (with Elizabeth tagging along) to Pierre Dentifris’ home and they see that he is a wheelchair bound old man. Pierre expresses contempt for Beverly and Howard after finding out that they came from the U.S. He begins telling his story about how he was once a powerful hotel and airline magnate until the Americans began to pollute Canada with their industry and culture. So he decides to get a bunch of beavers to build a large dam near Niagara Falls so the falls would fall in a different direction. Soon the beavers succeeded in what he wanted them to do, he saw the U.S. military foil his plan by dropping bombs on the beaver dam and one of them dropped near him. Pierre says that due to that bomb he has aged 73 years in less than one year and he has lost the use of all his limbs except for his teeth.
Coming to the conclusion that Pierre is a sad disabled old man, Howard and Beverly decide not to pursue the matter with him any further so everyone decides to go back to the RCMP outpost. Once company left, the bellhop from the Plaza Hotel emerges and begs Pierre to let him try killing Howard again and Pierre gives his consent.
Howard and Beverly spend the night at the RCMP outpost. While Sgt. Dudley takes a shower, Howard and Beverly prepare for bed when an intruder dressed as Uncle Sam comes inside. The intruder is none other than the bellhop who is ultimately overpowered when Elizabeth bites him on the leg. While Sgt. Dudley, fresh from his shower and clad in a towel, arrests the bellhop and Howard is observing that arrest, Beverly is kidnapped by a large group of beavers who carry her away from the outpost. Howard notices the opened window and sees a bunch of animal tracks below. Howard follows the tracks until he reaches Niagara Falls.
At that point he sees Pierre Dentifris dressed in a large beaver-like exoskeleton as his villain alter-ego known as Le Beaver. Beverly is trapped in a tree that’s slowly being gnawed at the trunk by a group of beavers. Le Beaver tells Howard that the two of them must fight to the death or else Beverly will die once the beavers topple over that tree. Le Beaver said that Canada has suffered enough in the shadows of its more powerful neighbor to the south so he devised a plan where he set up Howard to be nominated by the All-Night Party because the duck would run as an honest candidate. Just when Howard gained popularity Le Beaver would set up a scandal that would expose how rotten the U.S. political system has become. The Americans would fall into despair and become so distracted over what happened that Le Beaver and his beaver minions would invade the United States. Le Beaver would become a hero to his fellow Canadians and Canada would annex the United States.
Le Beaver confesses all of this while he is on a tightrope that’s over Niagara Falls. Howard initially follows Le Beaver so he could fight him and ultimately save Beverly. But then Howard realizes that he’s on the tightrope and fighting Le Beaver would lead to his death over Niagara Falls. He turns around and walks back to shore. Le Beaver attempts to chase Howard on the tightrope but he slips and falls into Niagara Falls. At that moment Sgt. Dudley arrives and he rescues Beverly from the tree while flirting with her at the same time. Howard sees this and promptly walks away in a huff while Beverly chases after Howard and Sgt. Dudley pets Elizabeth.
Topical 1970’s References: The Vietnam War, which was still fresh in the minds of most Americans even though the U.S. had pulled entirely out of that country by 1973 and the war itself ended for good when North Vietnam invaded South Vietnam in 1975.
The Bottom Line: This is the first issue where Steve Gerber was credited with being both writer and editor. Serving these dual roles (which are usually assigned to separate people) gave him an unprecedented amount of creative freedom, which he utilized to the fullest.
Long before movies about the comedic possibility of the U.S. and Canada going to war with each other (like Canadian Bacon and South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut) were made there was Howard the Duck #9, which dealt with the hilarious implications of Canada getting involved in internal U.S. affairs.
The idea of a hardcore Canadian super-patriot is hilarious to me because I personally know a few Canadians (I mainly keep in contact with them online) and I’ve even been to Canada twice (once to Niagara Falls and once to Montreal). I have never met an actual fanatic Canadian super-patriot while, unfortunately, I’ve met far too many Americans like that and, worse, these are the kind of people who claim to be super-patriots and are always willing to have the U.S. go to war somewhere in the world yet these same people have avoided serving in the military themselves. (To those people, war is basically fine as long as someone else is making the ultimate sacrifice.) Yeah, it’s an issue that bugs me since I have relatives who either used to serve or are currently serving in the military. (I have an uncle and one cousin who were in the Army and I currently have a nephew and another cousin who are in the Navy. On top of that, over the years I’ve met friends, co-workers, and acquaintances who have served in various branches of the military.)
That Mountie is basically a riff on Dudley Do-Right (his last name and Do-Right’s first name are the same) who’s very earnest and is always determined to live up to the motto of “The Mountie always gets his man.”
Howard the Duck #8 would’ve been a challenging issue to follow because of that issue’s sheer perfection in its cutting political satire. But it was an inspired idea to not try to do another topical political satire but, instead, go off in another direction with an issue featuring an utterly absurd over-the-top villain like Le Beaver whose superpowers are basically beaver-like. Years later Marvel would introduce the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, a totally campy superhero with squirrel-like powers whose basically cheerful and lighthearted outlook on life provides a much-needed contrast with most of the Marvel superheroes (who tend to frequently deal with dark personal problems—like alcoholism or depression—that have interfered with their superhero duties at times). It would be a wild idea if Le Beaver would get revived and he battles Squirrel Girl in a totally campy over-the-top Battle of the Rodent-Powered People, but I digress. (LOL!)
Howard the Duck #10
Swan-Song of the Living Dead Duck
Credits: Steve Gerber, writer/editor; Gene Colan, artist; Steve Leialoha, inker; Jim Novak, letterer; Jan Cohen, colorist; Ted Sallis, consulting schizo
Synopsis: The story is basically Howard’s fevered dream in the aftermath of both his presidential campaign and his recent encounter with Le Beaver that is just as surreal as Alice in Wonderland. The story begins with an egg against a black background. The egg hatches and Howard emerges. A giant fist falls down behind Howard and he runs towards an open door. The same hand flicks Howard through the door then closes it. Howard soon finds himself in a room full of little people who are afraid of him.
Howard attempts to smash some of these little people like ants when he encounters a new villain. His name is Kong Lomerate, a giant ape who wears a suit and carries a wad of dollar bills in one hand and a stamp in the other. Kong Lomerate is angry at Howard because he owns the little people whom Howard is trying to trample. He also tells Howard that his word is law and he needs obedience from the duck. When Howard becomes defiant, Kong Lomerate stamps directly on him. It turns out to be a “Cancelled” stamp.
Then Howard is hiking in the snowy mountains until he comes to a little cabin where he meets a costumed superhero known as Omega the Unknown, which was another comic book character that Steve Gerber was writing for at the same time as the Howard the Duck comic books. The two of them are then riding in a boat until the boat capsizes and Howard gets sucked into a void. He lands in a room where he meets Beverly. She opens her face like it’s a door and reveals a flower inside of her head that squirts water into Howard’s face. Howard walks away then finds the broken halves of the egg he emerged from. He manages to get inside of that egg and close both halves shut.
At this point Howard wakes up in a motel room with Beverly sleeping in the next bed. Howard realizes that he and Beverly are back over the U.S. border near the U.S. side of Niagara Falls. He remembers that he collapsed after his encounter with Le Beaver and he thinks that Sgt. Preston must have taken Howard and Beverly back into the U.S. Howard decides that he needs a glass of water so he wakes up and goes to the bathroom. He turns on the faucet. Instead of water, a string of spider webbing starts to pour out until Spider-Man appears. Howard realizes that his dream isn’t over and it’s still ongoing. Spider-Man attempts to give Howard a self-help book on being assertive but Howard rejects it. Spider-Man then disappears.
Howard goes for a walk and ends up at a coffee shop that’s near the motel. When Howard enters he sees that the coffee shop is full of characters whom Howard has met in previous issues including the duck-hating bellhop, the giant living gingerbread man that was created by Patsy the child mad scientist, Pro-Rata, Turnip Man, Gonzo the Clown, and Winky Man. They all start calling Howard various insulting names.
Howard walks out of the coffee shop backwards and he continues to walk backwards until he runs into Dr. Strange. The doctor starts acting like a therapist where he encourages Howard to tell him what’s on his mind. The pair walks to the observation area of the American side of Niagara Falls (which is located within walking distance of the motel). Dr. Strange then disappears and the Kidney Lady appears while accusing Howard of wanting to rid the world of its healthy kidneys. The Kidney Lady tries to strike Howard with her cane but Howard manages to avoid it.
The Kidney Lady disappears and Le Beaver appears while goading Howard to fight him. Howard tries to body-slam Le Beaver but he gets repelled by Le Beaver’s titanium steel costume. Howard tries shooting with a Thompson sub-machine gun that suddenly appears in his hands only to have the costume deflect the bullets and Le Beaver ultimately snatches the gun from Howard with his mouth and crushes the weapon with his teeth.
Howard sees a rope across Niagara Falls. Howard decides to walk that top in order to escape the U.S. and into Canada. As Howard crosses Le Beaver follows behind. Howard meets St. Preston halfway through his border crossing via tightrope attempt who asks Howard the kind of questions that border crossing agents usually ask foreigners who enter into their country. (I know I’ve encountered it when my then-husband and I went into Canada.) Le Beaver catches up with Howard, picks him up, and throws him into the falls.
Howard crashes at the bottom of the falls until he lands in what looks like hell. Howard is chained to a rock while a devil, the duck-hating bellhop, Turnip Man, the Kidney Lady, Beverly, Winky Man, and Pro-Rata laugh at Howard while Howard gives his signature “WAUGH!” cry.
Topical 1970’s References: Kong Lomerate is a great riff on the old “800 pound gorilla in the room” saying. Kong Lomerate saying that he isn’t human, he exists only on paper, his word is law, and he owns people is the perfect metaphor for all those conglomerates who seem to dominate the U.S. these days. While this comic book was written long before the Supreme Court’s notorious Citizens United decision that holds that corporations are people, it seemed to predict the day when something like this would happen—where corporations would have all of the political and economic power. Of course the roots of this started in the 1970’s when then-President Richard Nixon advocated deregulating rail and truck transportation.
In addition, there was the notorious 1976 remake of King Kong (which is notable for only two things: it was the major movie debut of Jessica Lange, who would go on to a distinguished Hollywood career, and the movie climax took place at the World Trade Center, which would be destroyed years later on 9/11), which also probably served as an inspiration for Kong Lomerate.
At one point Howard mentions “Welcome to my nightmare” in passing, which is a reference to the hit album that was released by Alice Cooper back in 1975.
The Bottom Line: With the return of various luminaries from previous issues (such as the Kidney Lady and Winky Man) this is among the more surreal issues of the original 1970’s comic book series. It’s also the start of a new story arc that will result in Howard having a nervous breakdown and ending up in a mental institution. This issue is definitely in the same vein as Alice in Wonderland in terms of a very surreal dream. The best scene was definitely Kong Lomerate because it’s a parody of corporations in general and it seemed to predict the enormous power and control that these multi-national corporations currently have over the U.S. and many other countries. It was also pretty cool seeing some of the characters who haven’t appeared in a while (such as Pro-Rata and the Kidney Lady). I found it to be an interesting comic book in terms of the writing and the art but, then again, I can tolerate surreal stories. If you don’t like such stories, then you probably would want to avoid this issue altogether.
Howard the Duck #11
Credits: Steve Gerber, writer/editor; Gene Colan, artist; Steve Leialoha, inker; Jim Novak, letterer; Jan Cohen, colorist
Synopsis: This issue picks up where the last one left off where Howard is still in the middle of his nightmare where he is chained to a rock in the bowels of hell while a devil, the duck-hating bellhop, Turnip Man, the Kidney Lady, Beverly, Winky Man, and Pro-Rata laugh at Howard.
The scene then shifts to reality where Beverly gets a doctor to examine Howard, who’s still asleep. Apparently Howard had collapsed into one the motel beds after the pair returned to the United States. Howard had been unconscious for the past few days since their arrival although he would toss and scream from time to time. The doctor thinks that Howard is suffering from acute exhaustion (which is pretty plausible because, ever since they left Cleveland at the end of issue 5, they’ve dealt with the Reverend Yuc and his Yuccies, the child mad scientist Patsy, her giant gingerbread man creation, Howard’s presidential campaign, the fake scandal that doomed Howard’s campaign, and the showdown in Canada with Le Beaver). The doctor gives Howard a megavitamin shot while he prescribes Beverly with going out with him for some hot tea and something to eat at a coffee shot that’s located near the motel.
After Beverly and the doctor leave the motel room, Howard wakes up. He vaguely remembers Beverly talking with someone while he was asleep so Howard gets dressed and walks over to the same coffee shop where Howard sees Beverly with the handsome doctor. Howard concludes that Beverly has left him for the doctor so he walks back to the motel and summons the concierge. Howard asks the concierge for tickets to the next bus ride out of the Niagara Falls area. The concierge tells Howard that another bus is leaving soon but he recommends against getting on that one. Howard insists on getting on that bus so the concierge sells him a ticket to the final destination of the next bus. As Howard boards the bus, the reader realizes why the concierge was urging Howard not to go on that bus—Cleveland is that bus’ final destination.
Howard sits next to a woman. Her name is Winda Wester and she talks in a lisp. Winda tells Howard that her parents have put her on the bus because they believe that she’s possessed by the devil so she’s on her way to Cleveland for an exorcism. (This is how Howard learns about the bus’ final destination.) She tells Howard that her parents think that she’s possessed by the devil because she likes to make funny faces and silly noises.
Howard is then approached by three different religious proselytizers. The first is a man who’s involved in a faith known as Gnosticology. That person is pushed aside by a born-again Christian who’s dressed as Jesus complete with robes. Then a Hare Krishna joins in by urging Howard to convert to his faith. The three proselytizers begin to argue among each other over Howard, which abruptly ends when Howard yells “STOP!”
Howard has some peace and quiet for a few hours until he gets accosted by another passenger on that bus who turns out to be his old nemesis—the Kidney Lady. She accuses Howard of being the head of the International Kidney Poisoning Conspiracy while doing something nefarious to Beverly in order to get at her kidneys. The Kidney Lady’s accusations become the straw that breaks the camel’s back with Howard and he punches the Kidney Lady in the face. This begins a free-for-all brawl that also involves the Gnosticology follower, the Jesus freak, and the Hare Krishna guy.
The bus driver gets so distracted by the brawl that he loses control of the bus and it crashes. The next morning the bus is being lifted by the crane while a police officer tells the bus driver that it’s a miracle that no one was seriously injured. The issue ends when the police decides to arrest Howard, Winda, and the Kidney Lady.
Topical 1970’s References: Gnosticology is a parody of Scientology, the controversial religion that was originally founded by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard and still exists to this day. This issue also pokes fun of the 1970’s Jesus movement and the Hare Krishnas (which is a controversial off-shoot of the Hindu faith that has long been accused of being a religious cult).
The Hare Krishnas are long known for their chant, which goes “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna. Krishna Krishna. Hare Hare. Hare Rama Hare Rama. Rama Rama. Hare Hare.” At one point in the issue the Hare Krishna guy goes “Hare Reasoner Hare Reasoner.” For those of you too young to remember, that chant is a pun that references Harry Reasoner, who was an ABC news anchor who used to appear on The ABC Evening News and he also worked on 60 Minutes for CBS.
The Bottom Line: It’s a pretty amusing issue that references the time when a lot of adults (especially those who were born during the first half of the baby boom from 1946-1956) decided to forget about the Vietnam War and turn their backs on their middle class suburban upbringing by pursuing alternative religious faiths. While that’s not a bad thing in of itself, unfortunately some of these alternative faiths were little more than cults which did things like encourage its members to cut off all further communication with their non-believing family and friends and spend much of their time fundraising for the faith. And, yes, many of these alternative faiths trolled airports, train stations, college campuses and other public places looking for donations and fresh recruits.
I can remember as a child when some of these alternative faiths hung around on the Boardwalk in Ocean City, Maryland. The Hare Krishnas used to sit on the beach singing that chant while encouraging others to sing that chant (which was how I knew that chant since I was originally raised Roman Catholic—at least learning that chant was how I was able to decipher what the background singers were singing in George Harrison’s hit single “My Sweet Lord”). A Christian group known as the Children of God, which was accused of being a religious cult by ex-members, would pass out religious pamphlets that had titles like “C’mon Ma, Burn Your Bra!” There was also another Christian group that would pass out those infamous Chic comics, which were over-the-top morality plays on the horrible things that could happen to you if you don’t accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. (I used to know a few gays who collected those Chic comics for the sheer camp value even though those comics took a very dim view on LGBTQ persons.) I remember when the local authorities in Ocean City cracked down on those groups proselytizing on the Boardwalk because they had received so many complaints from the general public and they felt that these people were bad for business (which they had to be sensitive about because Ocean City is a summer resort and it has long strived to maintain a family friendly reputation).
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.
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