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htd17

Howard the Duck #17
Wuxtra! Wuxtra! The Real, True Super-Sensational Inside Scoop on the Wanton Past of Doctor Bong!
October, 1977

Credits: Steve Gerber, writer/editor; Gene Colan, artist; Klaus Janson, inker; A. Kawecki, letterer; Janice Cohen, colorist

Synopsis: This issue begins where issue #15 left off (since issue #16 wasn’t even related to the continuity to the comic book series). Doctor Bong welcomes Beverly and Howard (whom he abducted from the cruise ship they were on) to his personal island and he expects them to stay. Howard attempts to leave and Doctor Bong responds by taking his left hand, which is shaped like steel clapper, and hitting himself on his bell-shaped head to produce a “BONG!” noise at a frequency that makes Howard pass out.

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While one of Doctor Bong’s mutant minions brings Howard to a tower in Bong’s castle, Doctor Bong gives Beverly a tour of the facility while uttering such cliches as “style over substance.”

Howard wakes up in a hotel-like room in the tower that has a copy of Gideon’s Bible along with Beverly’s old journal. Soon one of Doctor Bong’s minions enters the room with dinner for Howard. Her name is Fifi, she is an anthro duck like Howard except she’s taller, has more human features, and she speaks with a French accent.

Meanwhile the cruise ship that Howard and Beverly were on prior to their abduction, the S.S. Damned, remains docked off the coast of Doctor Bong’s island with the top deck loaded with giant boulders that fell from the sky in issue #15. But then the boulders mysteriously disappeared while the damaged ship was immediately repaired and even those who lost their lives were somehow resurrected. Doctor Bong suddenly appears on the deck and he tells the captain that unless the ship departs immediately, he can make sure that it gets damaged again. He then hits his bell head with his steel clapper hand and he not only disappears but the ship’s engines start up. At the same time Doctor Bong’s island suddenly disappears into thin air.

Doctor Bong and Beverly sit in the dining room for dinner. Doctor Bong begins to tell Beverly that they’ve met years ago. He then proceeds to go into his childhood where, as a young boy named Lester Verde, he was bullied by the neighborhood kids. When Lester ran home to his mother in tears, he called the other kids a bunch of “monkey mouths.” The mother praises her son for his originality in coming up with that name, tells him that he would make a good writer, and confides that she once wanted to be a writer herself. A third-grade class field trip to a newspaper office solidified his desire to become a writer when he grows up.

When Lester was in college as a journalism major his journalism professor got on his case for his tendency towards sensationalism. Lester retaliated by coming up with a story for the campus newspaper that implied that the professor was accused in a drug scandal, which ruined the professor’s career, marriage, and reputation.

During his senior year he enrolled in a life drawing class where Beverly, who was then a theater student at the same school, worked as an artist model on four different occasions. Lester was immediately smitten with Beverly. He asked Beverly out on a date but she turned him down because she already had a boyfriend named David at the time. In retaliation he found out that David was a Jewish guy who was dating a non-Jew so he told David’s parents, which led to them withdrawing David from college. David later died in a car accident while driving through a snowstorm so he could visit Beverly at college.

After Lester graduated from college he worked for a number of newspapers while providing sensationalist tabloid-style journalism in the hopes that Beverly would notice the byline and consider going out with him. When that didn’t work, he attempted to become a music critic for a midwest newspaper, which was a short-lived gig.

Lester briefly worked for a shock-rock band dressed as the Easter Bunny who gets sent to the guillotine by the band. But an onstage accident causes his left hand to get chopped off for real so that explains why he has a steel clapper instead of a hand.

Howard is sitting in the tower room talking with Fifi until she tells him that Doctor Bong plans to evolve him because he has been earmarked for reconstruction. What’s more, Fifi is his selected mate and they are expected to produce offspring. Howard becomes alarmed at this bit of information so he runs out of the room and he runs through the castle until he finds Doctor Bong and Beverly. Howard gets subdued by Doctor Bong’s mutant creatures. Doctor Bong tells Beverly that either she marries him or he will decapitate Howard. Beverly reluctantly agrees to marry Doctor Bong only because she wants to save Howard’s life. Doctor Bong then tells his mutant creature minions to take Howard to the Evolvo-Chamber.

Topical 1970’s References: This comic book issue was published around the time that Rupert Murdoch started to purchase The New York Post and other newspapers in the United States (after he did something similar in both his native Australia and the United Kingdom). Murdoch’s tabloids are notorious for sensationalist headlines that exaggerate the real truth. A few years later Rupert Murdoch would start the Fox broadcast network that showed sitcoms and other shows that were a bit raunchier and racier (such as Married With Children and The Simpsons) than the shows on the other three networks. Then Murdoch started Fox News, which is notorious for being far from objective and being biased towards Republicans and far-right politicians.

Lester’s days with that shock-rock band is definitely a parody of Alice Cooper, who used similar stage props (such as guillotine and a boa constrictor) during his 1970’s heyday. Alice Cooper was still going through the guillotine as late as 2014, when this video was shot.

The Bottom Line: It’s a great satire of the tabloids, which seems to predict the rise of the corporate dominated media where, these days, the media in the United States is more focused on what Kim Kardashian is doing than what’s happening in places like, let’s say, war-torn Syria. I can’t even go into a store without seeing a tabloid at the supermarket checkout line that has the latest headline about Kim Kardashian or any of her sisters.

Doctor Bong is among the more memorable villains who appeared in the original Howard the Duck comic book series. Just the idea that his superpower stems from using his steel clapper hand to hit his bell head is pretty hilarious. This issue provides a promising beginning to the Doctor Bong story arc that would be around for the rest of the original comic book series.

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Howard the Duck #18
Metamorphosis
November, 1977

Credits: Steve Gerber, writer/editor; Gene Colan, artist; Klaus Janson, inker; Irv Watanabe, letterer; Jan Cohen, colorist

Synopsis: This issue begins with Howard being put inside of Doctor Bong’s Evolvo-Chamber so his genetic structure can be reprogrammed and reconstructed as if he had been born another species.

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Beverly, who had agreed to marry Doctor Bong so he wouldn’t kill Howard, becomes horrified at what’s happening so she runs to the controls and starts fiddling with the buttons in the hopes of shutting the Evolvo-Chamber down. Instead she inadvertently speeds up the process. Beverly becomes so upset at this failure that she attempts to run away from the castle only to discover that the castle is no longer located on an island in the middle of the ocean. Instead the castle has been mysteriously moved to a mountain peak in the Himalayas so escape is impossible.

Meanwhile the Evolvo-Chamber begins to overheat and is about to explode. Doctor Bong orders an evacuation but Fifi refuses to leave Howard behind so she takes a chair and smashes the bell-like structure where Howard is being held and rescues him just before the machine catches fire.

While Doctor Bong orders his mutant creatures to put out the fire, Fifi carries an unconscious Howard up to her bedroom where she puts him in her bed then leaves the room to get a drink for him. Doctor Bong catches up with Beverly and he tells her that she must never do anything like what she did ever again. He tells her it’s time for them to be married. He hits the side of his bell head with his steel clapper hand and they disappear. They end up on a Soviet ship off the coast of Maine. Speaking Russian, Doctor Bong asks the captain to marry them.

Fifi enters her bedroom with a tray full of something to drink for Howard when she makes this discovery. Howard has become a human being. He’s now a man with caucasian skin, blue eyes, and curly brown hair. Howard becomes shocked at his new appearance when he looks in a mirror. Fifi also tells Howard that Beverly has married Doctor Bong in order to save Howard’s life and they are now on their honeymoon. Howard asks Fifi if there is a way that he can escape this castle. Fifi agrees to help him escape on one condition: That she be allowed to escape with Howard as well.

Using her pilot skills, the pair escape on the Flying Bonger, which is a bell-shaped flying vehicle. Once the Flying Bonger reaches New York City, a U.S. Air Force jet starts to follow. Fifi tells Howard that there is no way of contacting the jet because the radio frequency has been programmed to communicate with Doctor Bong only.

The jet shoots down the Flying Bonger, which crash lands in the middle of Central Park. Howard manages to emerge unscathed and he slowly craws away from the crash site. When the police, fire fighters, and other emergency people arrive, they pull the body of Fifi, who died in the crash, from the wreckage.

The issue ends with Howard in Central Park trying to adjust to being a human male who’s back in New York City without Beverly because she married Doctor Bong.

Topical 1970’s References: There’s mention of the Soviet Union and how that ship had to secretively slip off the coast of Maine, especially since the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union was still going on at the time.

The Bottom Line: It’s a pretty wild issue with Beverly being forced into marrying Doctor Bong and Howard suddenly becoming a human being. Just seeing Doctor Bong hit the hide of his bell-shaped head with that hammer he has for a hand is one of the more ludicrous ways I’ve ever seen a comic book villain use his power. Of course that getaway flying contraption shaped like a bell only completes the sheer lunacy of Doctor Bong.

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Howard the Duck #19
Howard the Human!
December, 1977

Credits: Steve Gerber, writer/editor; Gene Colan, artist; Klaus Janson, inker; Irv Watanabe, letterer; P. Rache, colorist

Synopsis: Howard, the newly-minted human who used to be a duck, walks aimlessly through the streets of Manhattan. At one point he sees a five-dollar bill lying on the ground so he picks it up and puts it in his pocket.

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Howard enters the Port Authority Bus Terminal where he goes straight to the men’s room because he feels the need to wash his face. A stranger approaches him asking him for spare change because he’s a starving artist. Howard refuses saying that he’s on a personal austerity program himself. The stranger then asks Howard to buy him a cup of coffee and a donut and Howard refuses while telling the stranger that he has bad breath. (The stranger looks like someone who has been living on the streets as a homeless person for quite some time.) The stranger then introduces himself as Mad Dog and tells Howard that if he wants to get rid of Mad Dog, he needs to buy him a color TV. Howard also refuses that request.

Finally Mad Dog said that he’ll settle for a cup of coffee and he accompanies Howard to the nearest coffee shop. The guy working the counter takes one whiff of Mad Dog (who apparently hadn’t showered or bathed in quite some time) and tells the two men that the coffee shop is closed. Mad Dog protests that the coffee shop isn’t supposed to close for another hour. When the coffee shop employee tells Mad Dog to go home and take a bath, Mad Dog responds by flipping a table over, which starts a huge brawl in the coffee shop.

A couple named Elton and Amy happens to be sitting near the brawl. Amy tells Elton that they should be leaving so they can get out of harm’s way. Elton, who’s a bit of a flake, is more into feeling the intense emotions he has for Amy than getting out of the way. When Mad Dog accidentally bumps into Elton in the throes of battle, Elton becomes enraged because Mad Dog had interrupted him at a time when he feels that he and Amy are starting to relate to each other so he throws Mad Dog through the coffee shop’s front window and proceeds to fight Mad Dog.

At the same time Howard decides to sneak out of the coffee shop because he wants nothing to do with that major brawl. Amy follows Howard and catches up with him. She tells Howard that she decided to leave while Elton is involved in the fracas because Elton has been making her serve as his mind and it’s starting to drive her mad because she’s tired of doing all the thinking for him. Howard attempts to ignore Amy but she tackles him to the ground. She tells Howard that she finds his misanthropic nature to be refreshing after dealing with Elton and she likes that he’s the polar opposite of Elton.

Amy pressures Howard into coming with her to her apartment in Greenwich Village where she does yoga stretches while telling Howard about her dysfunctional relationship with Elton.

Meanwhile at Doctor Bong’s castle in the Himalayas Doctor Bong learned from his mutant minions about Howard’s and Fifi’s escape in the Flying Bonger. Beverly expresses glee at the news and Doctor Bong responds by hitting his bell head with steel clapper hand in order to freeze Beverly in her place. Doctor Bong orders his minions to take Beverly to the bedroom while he goes to a computer in his study in order to find a way of getting rid of Howard the Duck. As Doctor Bong browses the latest newspapers online he finds a news story in a local New York newspaper that mentions Fifi’s death in that Flying Bonger crash but no mention of anyone else on board that craft. Doctor Bong hits himself on the head in order to transport him to Manhattan in his search of Howard.

Howard ends up spending the night with Amy and it’s implied that he and Amy may have done more than just sleeping. The following morning Elton is pacing outside of Amy’s apartment. Apparently he somehow figured out that Amy had spent the night with Howard. Finally Elton grows tired of pacing back and forth so he breaks into Amy’s apartment and wakes Amy up. Elton and Amy are shocked to see a duck sleeping on Amy’s couch. Apparently Howard’s night with Amy had somehow reversed the change he underwent and he’s now a duck again. Howard doesn’t realize this until he wakes up and decides to take a shower. When he sees that he’s too short to reach a lot of things in the shower, Howard realizes that he’s a duck once again. At that point Doctor Bong appears in the bathroom.

Topical 1970’s References: When Elton first punches Mad Dog in the coffee shop he utters the quote that was made famous by Peter Ustinov in the film Network: “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.” (Network was released shortly before this issue was published.)

The Bottom Line: It’s a pretty interesting issue seeing how Donald responds to being human. This issue definitely have a “Stranger in a Strange Land” vibe about it even more so than usual and I think it’s because Howard is a human who’s blending in with the general population for once.

These issues were reprinted in Howard the Duck: The Complete Collection, Volume 2, which can be purchased onine at AbeBooks, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, BookDepository, 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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