Continuing this summer’s series of Throwback Thursday posts dedicated to Howard the Duck.
Howard the Duck #26
Credits: Steve Gerber, writer/editor; Gene Colan, artist; Klaus Janson, inker; Irv Watanabe, letterer; Janice Cohen, colorist; Jim Shooter, consulting editor
Synopsis: Howard has been abducted and forced into performing with the Circus of Crime, which has just arrived in the town of Skudge, Pennsylvania. Howard performs for the circus first when, billed as a freak of nature, he starts to tell jokes. Towards the end of his comedy routine Howard tries to warn the audience that they need to leave as soon as possible but the audience, thinking that Howard’s warning is part of his comedy act, laughs instead. The Ringmaster steals the microphone away from Howard and kicks him in the tail feathers. Next he hypnotizes the audience while his performers rob them of their money and valuables.
After the show the Ringmaster informs Howard that he is such a crowd-pleaser that he will be with the circus indefinitely. Howard doesn’t take the news too well.
Among the people who were in the audience that night was an unemployed 49-year-old steelworker named Ignatz Hubley. He stops at a local bar on the way home where he tells the bartender about how the duck made him laugh so hard that he forgot his current troubles, which began when the mill he worked for closed seven months ago. He’s been searching for a new job with no luck while his kids are sick of eating Spanish rice all the time and his wife is urging her husband to move to Pittsburgh. Ignatz decides to head home and tries to pay the bartender only to find that all of the money in his wallet had been stolen. Ignatz tells the bartender to put the bill on his tab then staggers out. He begins to snap over the prospect of having to tell his wife about what little money he had left gotten stolen. He decides that he must do something drastic to raise cash quickly.
Iris Raritan drives a car into Skudge with Paul and Winda as passengers. Iris had told the other two that she’s pursuing a hunch regarding the circus and she had driven almost 400 miles from Long Island. When Paul and Winda ask about a tracking device that’s on the dashboard of her car and why Iris had declined to call the police after the circus had robbed her and her guests, Iris admits that she had placed a tracker on the Ringmaster’s truck ahead of time prior to the performance. When Paul accuses Iris of having prior knowledge of that robbery, Iris admitted that it was the truth. She did this because is a bored rich socialite who wanted to bring excitement to her life by apprehending and bringing a super villain to justice.
Paul becomes so outraged by Iris’ confession and her cavalier attitude towards her own guests that he immediately gets out of the car and storms off. When Iris turns to Winda and asks whether Winda considers her to be callous, jaded, and unfeeling, Winda says that she takes Iris less seriously than Paul ever did and she feels that Iris is foolishly immature. Iris kicks Winda out of her car then drives off, leaving Winda stranded by the roadside.
Ignatz Hubley attempts to raise the money that was stolen from him by the Circus of Crime by getting a gun and attempting an armed robbery at a gas station. Paul happens to be walking towards the gas station at the same time. The Circus of Crime packs everything, including Howard, and starts to drive away. Iris follows the truck in her car.
Winda is standing in the same spot where Iris had thrown her out of the car. A drunk shows up and starts to make a pass at her. Winda rejects the drunk’s overtures and he becomes more insistent. When Winda scratches his face, the drunk immediately grabs her and takes her into the shadows where it’s implied that he savagely attacks (and possibly rapes) Winda.
The Circus of Crime pulls up at the same gas station where Ignatz is currently robbing it while Paul is also there as well. When a gas attendant fails to show up to offer full service, the Ringmaster goes into the store to see what’s going on and ends up walking into the armed robbery while Paul is also there as well. When the Ringmaster attempts to hypnotize everyone present, Ignatz recognizes him as the one who must have stolen his money at the circus.
As Ignatz fires a shot at the Ringmaster, Howard and one of the other circus performers immediately barge into the gas station store to see what’s going on. It turns out that Ignatz shot the hat that the Ringmaster uses to hypnotize people. Ignatz begins to panic over too many people crowding that tiny store so he runs outside at the precise moment when Iris runs over Ignatz, which leads to Ignatz shooting his gun and the bullet hitting Paul.
The next scene shows Howard at the local hospital taking to Lee Switzler on the phone. It turns out that the Ringmaster managed to get away with his Circus of Crime. Ignatz has two shattered kneecaps. Paul is under heavy sedation. What’s more, Winda has been found and she’s also under heavy sedation while sharing a hospital room with Paul. Lee tells Howard that he is going to drive from Cleveland to Skudge. After Howard gets off the phone he meets up with Iris, who admits that Winda was right for calling her immature. Howard tells Iris that she should have learned a long time ago that actions has consequences.
Topical 1970’s References: Howard starts his comedy routine at the circus by providing a list of funny words, which were all catchphrases uttered by comedians of that era like Steve Martin (“Excu-u-use Me!”), Rodney Dangerfield (“No respect”), and Don Rickles (“Hockey puck”), and Red Buttons (“Never got a dinner”).
The plight of unemployed 49-year-old steelworker Ignatz Hubley reflects the real-life economic situation when the post World War II economic boom ended with the 1973-1975 recession. Since that time there has been a trend towards outsourcing high paying union jobs like steel to Third World countries with more and more people facing the prospect of falling from the middle class into poverty and this trend is still continuing with no end in sight.
The Bottom Line: This is a pretty well-done issue that includes both humor (in the form of the ludicrous way that the Ringmaster and his Circus of Crime commit their crimes) and serious social commentary (the plight of the blue collar workers in states like Pennsylvania who were starting to feel the effect of their own companies outsourcing their jobs to Third World nations).
Howard the Duck #27
Credits: Steve Gerber, writer/editor; Gene Colan, artist; Klaus Janson, inker; Gaspar, letterer; Phil R., colorist; Jim Shooter, editor-in-chief
This issue is notable for being the last Howard the Duck comic book that co-creator Steve Gerber would serve as writer and editor on before being fired by Marvel after getting into a dispute with the comic book publisher. Marvel contended that Steve Gerber had a problem with meeting deadlines. Gerber said that the dispute was over ownership/licensing rights for Howard where he demanded a great cut of the profits for Howard. This dispute would ultimately lead to a lawsuit between Gerber and Marvel comics.
Synopsis: This issue starts with Howard in a dark void where a bunch of accusing fingers point at him. It is soon revealed that Howard is in some kind of a courtroom with Beverly Switzler serving as a judge. Judge Beverly tells Howard that the first “Karmic Kourt” is in session and he’s being charged with terminal negatism. Howard pleads not guilty by reason of sanity. The judge calls the State of Mind, a man with a globe for a head to give testimony. Then the judge asks the jury, who consist of a bunch of Howard the Duck clones, for a verdict—which is guilty.
Howard demands the chance to defend himself. When Judge Beverly grants it, Howard says that he’s not negative, he’s angry.
Howard wakes up and realizes that the court session was a dream. He’s in the waiting room of the hospital. Lee Swtizler is now there, having driven from Cleveland to Skudge, Pennsylvania to join Howard at the hospital where Paul and Winda are recovering from their respective injuries that they received in the last issue. Iris Raritan is also in the waiting room as well. Howard becomes agitated at this waiting game so he offers Iris the chance to redeem herself (after she admitted that she knew about the Circus of Crime but allowed them to perform at her party because she wanted the thrill of brining the villains to justice). The two of them would track down the Circus of Crime together. Iris leaps at this chance. Lee would stay behind at the hospital to look after Paul and Winda.
Iris and Howard drive off in Iris’ car. The radar tracking screen on the dashboard indicates that the tracker that Iris had planted on the Circus of Crime’s truck is heading towards Cleveland.
Meanwhile, in a castle located in the Himalayas, Beverly is busy dancing for her husband, Doctor Bong, while Doctor Bong’s mutant minions play musical instruments. Doctor Bong seems to enjoy this performance. Afterwards Beverly sits in Doctor Bong’s lap where she tells him that she’s glad he coerced her into marrying him. Doctor Bong tells Beverly that his plans for world conquest are going ahead, including eventually killing Howard the Duck.
Iris and Howard eventually makes it to Cleveland. Iris buys casual clothes while Howard buys a camera. The pair wander on to the fairgrounds where the circus is being held. They manage to sneak into the audience incognito and watch the circus. Once it gets to the scene where the Ringmaster uses his hat to hypnotize the audience, both Howard and Iris avert their eyes. When the circus performers start to loot the audience members of their money and valuables, Howard starts to take pictures of the crime in action.
After the performance ends and the audience leaves, Howard follows the circus performers to the table where they empty all the money and valuables that were stolen. The circus performers catch Howard taking pictures. One by one the circus performers attack Howard only for the duck to subdue them.
Finally the Ringmaster attempts to hypnotize Howard only for that attempt to fail that time when Howard punches the Ringmaster in the face. Then Howard starts to pummel the Ringmaster so hard that Iris had to pull him off.
The pair go to a phone booth where Howard calls Lee at the hospital in Skudge, Pennsylvania. He finds out that Paul and Winda are expected to live. He gives the camera to Iris and tells her to give it to the police. He also tells her that he intends to remain behind in Cleveland because he wants to nurse some memories or abort them.
Topical 1970’s References: Beverly wanders in as a judge in Howard’s nightmare saying “Here comes de judge,” which is a reference to what Sammy Davis, Jr. used to chant on the TV show Laugh-In.
Before that, it was a song that was performed by Pigmeat Markham that was released back in 1968.
The Bottom Line: The scene where Beverly tells Doctor Bong that she’s glad that he coerced her into marrying him rubbed me the wrong way. I’m not sure if it’s a demonstration of the Stockholm Syndrome or if she has been hypnotized into loving Doctor Bong or if it’s simply echoing the untrue myth that a woman who’s forced to marry against her will eventually becomes soft and loving towards her husband. If it’s either of the first two scenarios, it’s a poor way to show it, and it it’s the latter, it’s blatant sexism.
The issue was campy towards the end as the circus performers attack Howard one by one when they would’ve had a better chance of defeating Howard had all of them lunged at him and subdued him at once. It’s a pretty campy satire of a typical comic book fight where such things frequently happen.
Howard the Duck #28
Cooking With Gas
Credits: Marv Wolfman, guest plotter; Carmine Infantino, penciler; Frank Giacoia, inker; Patterson, letters; Glynis W., colors; Mary Skrenes, dialogue; Steve Gerber, editor; J. Shooter, consulting editor
This issue was a fill-in issue that was printed after Marvel fired Howard the Duck co-creator Steve Gerber. He is listed as editor of this issue but the story was written by others. This issue is also chronologically out of order because the previous issue had Beverly adjusting to her new life as Mrs. Doctor Bong in the Himalayas and Howard trying to chase the Circus of Crime in Cleveland with socialite Iris Raritan. This issue has Howard and Beverly back together in Cleveland as if nothing had ever happened between them.
Synopsis: This story is told from the viewpoints of the supporting characters in this story rather than from Howard’s viewpoint. As the opening sentence of this issue says: “Ever wonder what happens to those people who encounter a talking duck—and decide to go on living?” The story begins with an elderly woman who’s also a secret operative known only as “Miz,” who walks up a flight of stairs in order to keep her appointment with a psychiatrist known as Dr. Pheels Goode. She walks in on Dr. Goode making out with his sexy female secretary in his office.
Dr. Goode abruptly ends that make out session with his secretary and starts to have a therapy session with Miz, who starts to recount the night that she was working undercover in a cafe as a bikini-wearing waitress. She got a call from her employer who told her that her contact at the cafe was a Mr. Dutch and she needs to look for him. Miz thought that her employer really said that her contact was a Mr. Duck. She looks around and sees Howard, who happens to be at the cafe with Beverly at the time. Miz walks over to Howard and tells him that she has the evidence that he’s looking for on how the U.S. Army is conducting secret experiments on unsuspecting civilians.
At that point two U.S. Army men burst into the cafe and start to chase Miz. Howard tries to stop one of them because they were chasing an elderly woman only to get punched to the ground. The Army men chase Miz outside where, as she recounts, she was able to fend them off with her use of karate. She returned to her employer, who told her that she really needed to look for Mr. Dutch, not Mr. Duck, and they thought she was having mental health problems when she told the employer about how she met a talking duck so they made her see the psychiatrist. Dr. Goode concludes that she’s mad so he rings a buzzer and a couple of orderlies bodily carry Miz away.
A second patient enters Dr. Goode’s office. He is a very nearsighted and clumsy bus driver named Seymour Driver. Seymour starts to recount what happened when Howard boarded his bus while being pursued by the same Army men who earlier pursued Miz. Apparently Howard had learned the details about the U.S. Army conducting secret experiments on civilians by putting gas in the sewer system and he wants Seymour the bus driver to take him to the nearest Army base. Seymour initially refuses because the Army base isn’t on his route but Howard forces him to change his mind after he points a sharpened pencil at Seymour’s neck. The bus takes off just as the pursuing Army men were about to board that bus. The bus crashes the gate and Seymour tells Dr. Goode that he was sent to the psychiatrist after he told his superiors about how he was hijacked by a talking duck with a pencil pointed at his neck. Dr. Goode concludes that Seymour Driver is also mad so he rings a buzzer and have the orderlies carry Seymour away.
A third patient enters Dr. Goode’s office. His name is General D. Zastermarch from the U.S. Army. He does a sweep of the office to make sure there aren’t any bugs planted. Then General Zastermarch settles down and tells Dr. Goode what happened when Howard managed to sneak into his office at the U.S. Army base. The general shoots at Howard but keeps on missing. Howard manages to get to the Top Secret files despite bullets being shot all around him (but none of them would actually hit him, which indicates that General Zastermarch’s shooting skills totally suck) where he finds the evidence that he’s looking for then runs out of the office. When the general tells Dr. Goode that Howard is not only a talking duck but he’s also a talking communist duck, Dr. Goode press the button again for the orderlies to take the general away.
At this point Dr. Pheels Good starts to question his own sanity because three patients in a row told him about encountering a talking duck. He looks out the window and sees Howard and Beverly walking past while they were talking about the U.S. Army’s secret plan to test laughing gas in the sewer system as a way of placating the civilians in the event of a neutron bomb from the Soviet Union being shot at that area so the people would die happy. The psychiatrist begins to freak out at what he has just saw so much that his orderlies start to carry him out of the office while Dr. Goode talks about being invaded by ducks and making quacking noises.
Topical 1970’s Reference: Miz mentions to the psychiatrist that she thought that Howard maybe worked for Jack Anderson, who was an investigative journalist and columnist in the 1970’s. There are also numerous Cold War references throughout the issue, which reflects the fact that there was still a Cold War going on between the United States and the Soviet Union. While the anti-communist sentiment wasn’t quite as intense as it had been during Senator McCarthy’s hearings in the 1950’s, there was still plenty of distrust between the two superpowers.
The Bottom Line: The idea of having one of Howard’s adventures told from the perspectives of other supporting characters is a pretty novel and unique idea. It’s too bad that the execution was sloppy. The issue begins with the gratuitous make out scene between an older man working in an office and his younger, sexier, buxom secretary wearing a dress with a plunging neckline—something which became a tired old sexist cliche even back in 1978 (when this issue was published). Then it goes on to the clumsy bus driver who is just as klutzy as Jar Jar Binks was in Star Wars, Episode 1: The Phantom Menance before it concludes with the stereotypical staunch rigid, pro-American, anti-communist Army general who’s on the lookout for any hidden bugs or any other spying device while flashbacks show his poor shooting skills. It’s obvious that this issue was hurriedly thrown together in the wake of writer Steve Gerber’s firing because it relied so much on stereotypes and cliches at the expense of the original humor and satire of the previous issues. With better writing and a more thought-out plot, this could’ve been an interesting and memorable issue instead of the sloppy mess that it turned out to be.
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