Continuing this summer’s series of Throwback Thursdays dedicated to Howard the Duck.
Howard the Duck #20
Credits: Steve Gerber, writer/editor; Gene Colan, artist; Klaus Janson, inker; J. Costanza, letterer; Jan Cohen, colorist
Synopsis: Doctor Bong confronts Howard in the bathroom shower of an apartment belonging to a woman named Amy (where Howard spent the previous night). Doctor Bong becomes so enraged when Howard asks him why isn’t he with Beverly, his new bride, that he tries to smash Howard with his steel clapper hand. Howard jumps out of the way just in time for Doctor Bong’s steel clapper hand to hit the floor with such a force that the floor caves in and they end up in the apartment below.
Doctor Bong and Howard had interrupted an all-night poker game and one of the players becomes angry because he was on the verge of winning this particular poker hand. This player begins to beat up Doctor Bong and Howard takes advantage of that moment to sneak out of that apartment and eventually make his way outside. Doctor Bong manages to overpower that player who started to fight him and he decides to leave the apartment and make all of the poker players freeze in their tracks for 90 days at the same time by hitting himself on the head with his steel clapper hand.
Howard is in a nearby alley when hears that particular “BONG!” noise and realizes that Doctor Bong is pursuing him. Howard finds a lead pipe lying on the ground. He gets up on a trash can and waits for Doctor Bong to come after him. When Doctor Bong shows up, Howard hits him on the head with that lead pipe and he makes Doctor Bong disappear.
Howard then begins to remember recent past events (which is also a way that a reader who didn’t follow the story from the previous issues can catch up) while explaining that Howard’s one-night stand with Amy as a human activated his adrenal glands that manage to reverse the effects of being in the Evolvo-Chamber so he is a duck once again. Howard soon realizes that he is naked (since Doctor Bong had started this latest battle while Howard was in the shower) and he has no money. Howard steals a t-shirt off of a clothes line that says “Foxy Lady,” which solves one of his problems.
As for the money problem, Howard passes a restaurant with a sign that says “Dishwasher Wanted.” Figuring that he has nothing else to lose he sees the restaurant’s owner, who finds the idea of a male talking duck wearing a Foxy Lady t-shirt to be so hysterical that he hires Howard on the spot while thinking about advertising his restaurant as saying that the dishes have been untouched by human hands.
Howard’s new boss introduces him to the outgoing dishwasher, Sudd, who is on his last day at his current job. As Sudd starts to show Howard how to do his job he tells Howard that the reason why he’s leaving is because he has accepted a new job as executive vice president of an organization called SOOFI, which is an acronym for Save Our Offspring From Indecency. Sudd says that SOOFI tracks down any books, records, or movies that are considered to be indecent by a leader known as the Supreme SOOFI and burns them.
Finally Sudd shows Howard how to clean the microwave oven with an oven cleaner. In the process Sudd accidentally leaves the oven cleaner in the microwave as he closes the door and starts the microwave process. The oven cleaner can soon explodes, throwing the microwave oven door open and covering Sudd in a mixture of oven cleaner and radiation—turning Sudd into a raging giant bubble creature who’s obsessed with cleaning everything.
When the restaurant owner enters the kitchen to see what the commotion is about, Sudd escapes and starts his cleaning rampage in the restaurant while attacking a customer for reading a Playboy-like magazine called Playperson. Howard and his new boss try to stop the bubble creature by throwing a bucket of water on him but the creature grows bigger because the oven cleaner is a concentrate that is activated by water.
The bubble creature leaves the restaurant to continue his cleaning rampage. Howard finds another can of the oven cleaner and discovers that the can has a printed antidote recipe that includes vinegar, lemon juice, milk, and egg whites. Howard and his new boss quickly whip up a large batch of that stuff then try to track down Sudd.
The bubble creature makes his way to 8th Avenue, which Howard describes as the Filth Capital of the Universe. The bubble creature attacks criminals and scrubs the city streets clean at the same time. Howard and his boss throw the antidote on the creature, which dissolves him entirely. The locals come out but they weren’t there to hail Howard and his boss as heroes. In fact they are angry because the bubble creature had been actually doing something about the crime and the filthy streets—issues that the local authorities had long ignored. A mob starts to form against Howard and his boss.
Topical 1970’s Reference: Howard mentions The Gong Show, which was a very popular game show back in the 1970’s where contestants of varying dubious talents perform on stage while celebrity judges decide whether they would be allowed to complete their performance or bang a gong behind them, which abruptly ends the performance.
There’s a reference to 8th Avenue as being the Filth Capital of the Universe. 8th Avenue is one of the borders of Times Square which, at that time, had a reputation for having a lot of porn houses, drug abuse, prostitution, and being a very crime-infested place. There was a time when tourists would not dare to go into Times Square. I remember when I took a class trip to New York City back in 1979 and our chaperones told us point-blank that we were forbidden from going anywhere near Times Square. Even since Disney decided to renovate the New Amsterdam Theater, which kickstarted a renaissance that drove out most of the porn movie theaters, Times Square has definitely improved as a place for tourists. If you want to get an idea of what Times Square was like before Disney came along, check out the movies Midnight Cowboy or Taxi Driver, which were both shot on location in Times Square back in the 1970’s.
The Bottom Line: This is a pretty hysterical issue from Doctor Bong confronting Howard while he’s in the shower to a new short-lived character that’s a man mutated from an oven cleaning product who could either be a hero or villain depending on one’s point of view. It’s also pretty funny when the locals turn on Howard and his new boss after they defeat Sudd because he was actually cleaning up the city streets of filth and crime and they ruined it.
Howard the Duck #21
If You Knew SOOFI…!
Credits: Steve Gerber, writer/editor; Carmine Infantino, special guest artist; Klaus Janson, inker; I. Watanabe, letterer; Glynis Wein, colorist
Synopsis: This story begins where the last issue left off as Howard and his boss literally run for their lives from a mob of local citizens who were outraged over the fact that they had destroyed the bubble monster who had cleaned up the streets and crime in their neighborhood. They run into an alley where, with the help of a street person, they are able to evade the mob once and for all.
The bubble monster was previously a human male named Sudd who was slated to start his new job as executive vice president of an organization named SOOFI, which stands for Save Our Offspring From Indecency. The members of SOOFI wear white outfits with round orange heads (resembling the orange fruit) featuring smiley faces. SOOFI calls a meeting where the leader announces Sudd’s death. After the members recite the SOOFI pledge (which includes lines like “We are the SOOFI, sworn to die so that our children yet unborn may live in antiseptic peace!”) the SOOFI leader vows that there will be revenge against those responsible for Sudd’s death.
Meanwhile Howard and his boss are in the boss’ apartment. The boss suddenly decides to move back to his native Cleveland because he realizes that the restaurant business isn’t for him. Howard suddenly realizes that he doesn’t know the boss’ name (mainly because he had been working for that boss for less than 12 hours) and he asks. The boss reveals his name to be Beverly Switzler—the same name as Howard’s one-time female companion who is now the wife of Doctor Bong. It turns out that his parents wanted a daughter named Beverly Switzler and when he was born they decided to give him that name anyway. The female Beverly Switzler is his niece who was named after him. The male Beverly uses Lee as a nickname, which is just as well because it would’ve been confusing having two characters named Beverly Switzler.
Lee invites Howard to come with him back to Cleveland but Howard turns him down because he wants to wait for Paul and Winda to arrive on the ship S.S. Damned when it docks in New York City. Lee allows Howard to use his apartment since the rent is paid up until the end of the month.
Members of SOOFI begin to bomb places like porn movie theaters, adult book stores, and rock concerts. The SOOFI leader arrives in the apartment where Howard is currently staying and proceeds to spray a solution known as Formula 410 in Howard’s face to knock him out so he could be kidnapped. When Howard wakes up he sees that someone had put pants and shoes on him, which totally outrages him because he had gone around bottomless for much of his life.
The head of SOOFI appears and tells Howard all about the Blanditron, an invention that the SOOFI head claims God wanted. The SOOFI head says that Howard’s new look will provide youth appeal among potential new recruits to the SOOFI movement. However the SOOFI leader has decreed that Howard needs to be put through the Blanditron first so he’ll be blanderized enough to fit in with SOOFI’s strict conformity.
So the SOOFI leader puts Howard in the Blanditron, which resembles a washing machine, and switches the machine on. After Howard goes through all of the Blanditron’s cycles, the SOOFI leader opens the machine door only to have Howard punch the leader in the face. The orange mask cracks and Howard implies that the leader is none other than Anita Bryant (who is shown only from the back of the head).
Howard walks out of the SOOFI headquarters and he subsequently ditches the pants and shoes so he could go bottomless once again.
Topical 1970’s Reference: The 1970s was the decade when the right wing evangelical Christians started to make headway into protesting the relaxed standards (especially regarding sexuality) of the era. Groups like the Moral Majority and the American Family Association got their start in the 1970’s and it’s obvious that SOOFI was modeled after them. After being considered on the fringe for many years, these groups started to ally with the Republican Party and their power started to gradually increase until these groups started to elect favored politicians to power. This has resulted in such things as severe limits placed on abortion in many states and the so-called bathroom bills that have recently been passed in North Carolina and Mississippi where transgender people who haven’t had the full genitalia surgery are required to go to the public restroom of their birth gender rather than the gender that they identify with.
Howard briefly being forced to wear pants by SOOFI is a parody of a real-life dispute between Disney and Marvel over Disney’s complaint that Howard looked too much like Donald Duck. Disney demanded that Marvel make some alterations to Howard (including adding pants) or else it would sue Marvel. Ironically Disney would buy Marvel years later so Donald Duck and Howard the Duck not only currently co-exist under the same parent company but Disney even allowed Marvel to revive the Howard the Duck comic book series in 2015—a few years after the Disney/Marvel merger was complete.
The substance that the SOOFI leader uses on Howard, Formula 410, is a parody of the all-purpose cleaning product Formula 409.
The smiling faces on the SOOFI masks resemble the smiley faces that were a craze for a few years back in the 1970’s. The faces were initially on buttons and they came in yellow, pink, or orange. In time they were printed on other products like t-shirts and and greeting cards.
The end of that issue implied that the real-life celebrity Anita Bryant was the SOOFI leader. Anita Bryant was initially a beauty pageant contestant who became Miss Oklahoma in 1958 then switched to singing where she went on to have a few hits in the late 1950’s-early 1960’s. I remember her best when she did a series of ads in the 1970’s for the Florida Citrus Commission where she touted the wonders of Florida orange juice and how Florida oranges were superior to oranges grown in other places (such as California and Arizona). Here are a couple of vintage Florida orange juice ads featuring Anita Bryant that were made in 1969 and 1971.
Here’s another ad that has Anita Bryant enlisting the help of Orange Bird to convince people to drink Florida orange juice along with the announcement that one can find Orange Bird at Walt Disney World.
I especially remember Anita Bryant and the Orange Bird together because my parents once gave me the 45 r.p.m. record single of Bryant singing “The Orange Bird Song,” which I can now relive thanks to YouTube.
Anita Bryant’s career began to decline soon after Miami-Dade County in Florida passed a gay rights ordinance in 1977 that forbid discrimination in housing, jobs, loans, and public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation. Bryant and her then-husband, Bob Green, became so outraged over the idea of gays having the same civil rights as heterosexuals that they led an effort to repeal that law. In addition Anita Bryant began to claim that gays will come for people’s children because that’s the only way they can recruit new people to their ranks since they can’t have children themselves. While Anita Bryant’s campaign was successful in getting that law repealed, it turned out to be a pyrrhic victory for her personal and professional life in the long run. Bryant’s anti-gay efforts led to a nationwide boycott of anything made from Florida oranges and Anita Bryant soon lost her gig as the cheerful face of Florida orange juice. Bryant’s marriage to Bob Green would end in divorce just a few years later.
Since that time she has pretty much withdrawn from the public spotlight and rarely gives interviews these days. The last I’ve heard anything from her was when her ex-husband died a few years ago.
The Bottom Line: This issue is a pretty hilariously spot-on parody of those self-righteous people who seek to impose their own sense of morality on others to the point where they’ll even kill others (thus disregarding one of the Bible’s Ten Commandments that say “Thou shalt not kill”). The only downside is the dated ending referencing Anita Bryant in that people of a certain age will find it hilarious but younger generations reading this story won’t immediately get the joke without doing some online research.
Howard the Duck #22
May the Farce Be With You!
Credits: Steve Gerber, writer/editor; Val Mayerik, artist; William Wray, inker; John Costanza, letterer; Janice Cohen, colorist
This issue is not only the first of a two-part Star Wars parody but it’s also a reunion of the original co-creators of Howard the Duck, Steve Gerber and Val Mayerik.
Synopsis: Howard is sitting on the rooftop of the apartment building where his onetime boss, Lee Switzler, used to live and where Howard is currently staying until the rent runs out at the end of the month. Suddenly a strange creature that has giant ape arms and legs yet its body resembles a container of salt climbs up to the same rooftop. This creature manages to tackle Howard to the ground where it seasons the duck literally with salt until Howard’s body is totally covered. The creature then jumps from the rooftop to the street below where its lifeless salt container body breaks open and salt spills into the street.
A giant fly then flies to the rooftop and proceeds to attack Howard, who fends the fly off by hitting it with a guitar he finds on the roof. Howard feels a sense of dread that is reminiscent of what happened the day the cosmic axis shifted, which took Howard from his original home planet to Earth. Suddenly the Man-Thing and Dakimh the Enchanter appear. The wizard grabs Howard and the three of them suddenly disappear from the rooftop.
Howard, Dakimh, and the Man-Thing are at the Land Between Night and Day where Korrek the Barbarian and Jennifer Kale are waiting. The fivesome from Adventure Into Fear #19 and The Man-Thing #1 (the two-part sword and sorcery story which introduced Howard the Duck) are reunited. Everyone is overjoyed that Howard didn’t die like they thought he did when he seemed to fell to his death in The Man-Thing #1. Since the last time the five of them were together Dakimh had apparently died because he now exists only as a ghost. The only one who isn’t thrilled with this reunion is Howard because he is annoyed over being taken on an adventure that he would rather not go on.
The five of them enter a castle where they come upon the Waters of Eternity. As they gaze into the Waters of Eternity, Dakimh tells a story about a distant planet called Megrim, which is ruled by its immortal queen, Sombra. Whenever the queen feels the need to reproduce every one or two millenniums, Sombra will abuduct the most savage warriors from their home planets and bring them to Megrim so they can battle each other until only one is left standing. The last warrior then mates with Sombra, which kills that warrior but impregnates Sombra. (It’s similar to how Queen Bees reproduce except there’s more violence involved.) Sombra’s past children have tended more towards spiritual anesthesia and less towards violence and they can be stopped by a powerful force dedicated to joy.
This millennium Sombra’s most recent warrior battle that helps her choose a mate ended in disaster because the winning warrior survived the tournament because he was so insane that he continued fighting even though he had been hacked and slashed within an inch of his life. He was very eager to mate with Sombra after his victory so he ended up being another dead warrior during sex while Sombra became pregnant with his child and she gave birth to a son named Bzzk Joh, who is just as crazy as his late father while he has his mother’s depressive tendencies. Dakimh instructs Howard, Jennifer, the Man-Thing, and Korek that they must stop him by using the binding energy of the universe known as the Farce. Dakimh gives Howard a weapon that will unleash the Farce when the time comes and the wizard instructs the others to follow Howard’s lead.
Dakimh then disappears because, as a deceased person, his soul must periodically return to Therea, the Plane of Spirits, or his soul will die. Howard is very reluctant to be a leader while the others, especially Korek, have a hard time accepting the duck in that role.
Howard decides to go to the top of the castle to contemplate things against a night sky. Man-Thing joins him and Howard starts to consider the swamp muck creature to be a victim of circumstance as much as he is.
Howard starts to feel hungry so he and the Man-Thing walked around the castle until they find the kitchen. Howard opens the refrigerator expecting to find something to eat only to unleash a giant living pickle who starts to attack Howard. The Man-Thing defeats the giant pickle as the stench of burned cucumber and vinegar wafts over the entire kitchen.
Howard and the Man-Thing then hear a scream coming from downstairs. The pair race to the Waters of Eternity where a geyser had suddenly gone up with Bzzk Joh sitting at the top. He has just kidnapped Jennifer Kale and he threatens to make her bald if anyone tries to rescue her.
Topical 1970’s References: At the beginning Howard mentions playing the opening chord of The Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night” as he swats that giant fly with a guitar. Even though that song was released ten years earlier, I remember the local radio stations would play it on a somewhat regular basis alongside newer hits by the likes of Peter Frampton and Donna Summer. (This was back before the rise of Classic Rock radio where older hits by The Beatles tend to be relegated to that format instead of playing their music alongside newer acts. It’s a shame in a way because I think it was pretty cool being exposed to older music while listening to the latest hits.)
There are also references to Star Wars (since it is a parody of that film) beginning with the story’s title. At the time only the first Star Wars movie had been released which was simply titled Star Wars but in the years since its release the title has been altered to Star Wars Episode 4: A New Hope. The biggest irony is that years later Disney would purchase both Marvel and the Star Wars franchise so they are both now co-existing in the same corporation.
The Bottom Line: This story, featuring the original foursome from Adventure Into Fear #19 and Man-Thing #1, is far funnier than when the foursome last got together. It’s obvious the satiric influence of Howard the Duck has rubbed off because even the dead serious Dakimh showed flashes of humor. It is amusing that Dakimh not only appoints Howard as a leader responsible for something as powerful as the Farce, a position that Howard does not want, but also sends the duck on a quest that Howard wants no part of.
I also got a laugh out of Bzzk Joh threatening to turn his hostage Jennifer Kale bald should anyone attempt to rescue her. That’s an interesting threat to say the least!
It shows promise and it makes the reader eager for the second half of this story that was published in the following issue.
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.
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