Previous post in this series.

Continuing this summer’s series of Throwback Thursday posts dedicated to Howard the Duck.

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Howard the Duck #29
Help Stamp Out Ducks!
January, 1979

Credits: Mark Evanier, plot; Steve Gerber, writer/editor; Will Meugniot, artist; R. Villamonte, inker; Joe Rosen, letterer; Michelle W., colorist

This is the issue that Howard the Duck co-creator Steve Gerber wrote, but not plot, as part of a contract fulfillment after he was fired from Marvel. This issue is the last of the original 1970’s comic book series that Steve Gerber actually worked on.

Synopsis: In some ways this issue is more of a continuation of the current storyline than issue 28 was. (For one thing, Beverly isn’t around like she was in issue 28.) The final frame at the end of issue 27 had Howard telling socialite Iris Raritan that he wants to remain alone in Cleveland to nurse his memories and maybe abort them. The first frame of issue 29 had Howard sarcastically complaining that he decided to stay in Cleveland to nurse those old memories only to discover that the patient had died because Cleveland is just as repulsive as he remembered it before.

While Howard walks around the streets of Cleveland complaining about the city a one-time Las Vegas comedian named Joey Goniff tells his agent that he’s tired of playing in two-bit Ohio saloons. He wants to return to the glory days he enjoyed as Mr. Las Vegas until he was dethroned by Shecky Greene. Joey decides that the way back from obscurity to stardom is to host his own telethon where he would raise money. All he needs to do is to find some disease that he can raise money for on his telethon.

Joey Goniff steps outside where he literally crosses paths with Howard. When Joey sees Howard’s duck appearance he decides that he can exploit Howard as having some newly discovered rare disease on his telethon. Joey offers Howard the chance to earn some big money if he goes along with Joey’s plans. Howard, who is broke, agrees to work for Joey.

Joey and Howard arrive at the office of the Cleveland office of Amalgamated Charities where Joey tells Dr. Knudsen that Howard has a rare disease that turns children into ducks. Dr. Knudsen is skeptical so she orders an examination of Howard. She initially looks into Howard’s beak and uses the stethoscope to listen to his heart. But when she puts the rubber gloves on to do a more intimate probe, Howard balks so much that he literally runs out of the building. This leads Dr. Knudsen to believe Joey’s claim about Howard having that rare disease so she authorizes the comedian to do the telethon.

Dr. Knudsen arranges the telethon to be held in Las Vegas, which is a problem for Joey Goniff because he has unpaid debts stemming from his addiction to gambling. Joey reluctantly agree to do the telethon in Las Vegas because he believes that it could be his path back to fame, wealth, and glory. Howard begins to have second thoughts about doing the telethon because, while he had no problems with defrauding a crooked charity organization like Amalgamated Charities, he had an issue with taking advantage of an average person’s generous donation in order to make himself richer. Joey convinces Howard to go along with the telethon. He assures Howard that both will get paid for their time and expenses with the rest of the money going to a legitimate charity.

After arriving in Las Vegas Joey Goniff gets a visit from some mobsters who are looking for the $54,000 in gambling debts that Joey owes them while Howard revels in the special attention he gets from various women after he becomes a celebrity due to being the poster child for the newly made up disease known as poultritis.

The telethon finally begins as Howard is brought on stage before the TV cameras in his role as the poultritis poster child. People start calling in their donations from all over the country. Howard begins to feel guilty over his role in exploiting the public’s generosity for a made-up disease for personal gain. At one point during the telethon Howard goes to a nearby casino where he gambles for a bit in order to forget his current troubles.

The telethon reaches its goal of raising $250,000 by the end. Howard becomes outraged when he discovers that Joey Goniff plans to use $54,000 of the money to pay the mobsters he owes money to. Howard takes the suitcase full of money and runs off with it.

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While walking the streets of Las Vegas Howard encounters people who are throwing money at him because they weren’t able to make the donation on the telethon earlier. When a little girl attempts to give Howard money that she raised going door to door, Howard gives the girl the suitcase full of money and tells her to give it to a legitimate charity.

Offers start to roll in for Joey Goniff to appear on various television shows. A mobster shows up and isn’t impressed with Joey’s claims of soon being able to pay what he owes due to his entertainment career being revived so he punches Joey in the mouth.

Howard takes a bus back to Cleveland while dealing with a little old lady who tries to befriend him even though Howard isn’t interested in being friendly with her or anyone else.

Topical 1970’s References: There’s a reference to Shecky Greene, who is a comedian whom I used to remember making the occasional guest appearance on some television show from time to time when I was growing up. (According to the Wikipedia he’s still alive at 90.) Joey Goniff mentions getting offers from Johnny Carson and Merv Griffith, both of whom were hosts of very popular talks shows back in the 1970’s.

The Bottom Line: This issue is basically a parody of both the muscular dystrophy telethons that Jerry Lewis used to headline each year starting in 1952 until 2010 and the charity industry in general. Amalgamated Charities is a parody of the United Way, that umbrella organization which raises money for a variety of smaller charities and which has also long been criticized for keeping the bulk of the money raised to pay for administrative costs while the actual charities it raises money for get just a tiny portion of the funds raised. In fact there are so many charities that are well known but have also become notorious for raising huge amounts of money only to use most of it to fund lavish offices or pay huge CEO salaries. The most recent example is the scandal surrounding the Wounded Warrior Project that broke earlier this year.

The issue had the potential to be among some of the more edgy parodies that the comic book series has done in the past (such as the ones targeting Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church and the 1976 U.S. presidential elections). While I found it funny in spots, I found that the story was relatively weak, complete with the recycled joke about Howard being offered a bird to eat for dinner (which was previously used to better effect in issue 15). I have a feeling that Steve Gerber’s heart wasn’t fully into working on this issue since he had just been fired so he probably just wanted to get the work done as soon as possible at the expense of doing a thorough quality job. While this issue is definitely an improvement over the last one, it’s a far cry from the glory days of just a year or two ago.

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Howard the Duck #30
If This Be Bongsday!
March, 1979

Credits: Bill Mantlo, writer; Gene Colan, artist; Allen Milgrom, embellisher; Mark Greenwald, assistant editor; Jim Shooter, editor-in-chief; Elaine H., letterer; Michele W. colorist

This is the issue that announced Steve Gerber’s departure (with the original announcement notice of this change in personnel being reprinted in the back of Howard the Duck: The Complete Collection, Volume 2) along with the hiring of his replacement, Bill Mantlo, as the writer. The announcement also assured readers that the color comic book will continue for the foreseeable future (even though it later turned out that the next issue would be the last 1970’s color comic book issue) with the possibility of it being joined by a black and white magazine version of Howard the Duck as a supplement to the color comic book series (although, in reality, the black and white magazine ended up replacing the color comic book series).

Synopsis: Howard is back at the hospital in Skudge, Pennsylvania where he and Lee Switzler are holding vigils for their friends Paul Same, who is currently in a coma, and Winda Wester, who is just starting to emerge from her own coma. Suddenly a loud “BONG!” sound rings out and Howard’s longtime nemesis, Doctor Bong, makes his appearance at the hospital. Doctor Bong hits the side of his bell head with his bell clapper hand again and Winda slips back into her coma while Howard and Lee are literally paralyzed.

Doctor Bong announces his reason for his arrival: Despite the fact that he successfully coerced Beverly into marrying him, he senses that she still has feelings for Howard. Doctor Bong says that Beverly’s continued affection for Howard is interfering with her devotion to him so he feels that he must slay Howard once and for all. He tells Howard that he will kill the duck in front of Beverly and he will return to the hospital in 24 hours so he can pick up Howard and take him to his castle in the Himalayas. Doctor Bong also tells Howard that if he fails to show up at the hospital, Doctor Bong will use his bell head and bell clapper hand to reduce the hospital to rubble, which will kill Paul and Winda, while planting a news story in the local paper about how Howard failed to save his friends from their deaths. Doctor Bong then disappears and Howard and Lee can move once again.

As Howard and Lee leave the hospital, Howard fills Lee in on what happened to he and Beverly since they took a cruise on the S.S. Damned and were kidnapped by Doctor Bong.

Meanwhile back at Doctor Bong’s castle, Beverly has been secretly scheming against her husband while bribing his mutant minions with extra food to help her. She manages to get the key to Doctor Bong’s Evolvo-Chamber. Doctor Bong himself arrives home and tells Beverly that soon Howard the Duck will be dead.

Lee drives Howard back to Cleveland because he wants Howard to put up a fight against Doctor Bong (while rescuing Beverly, who’s also Lee’s niece, in the process). The pair arrive at Iron Man Auto Wreckers where Lee’s friend, Claude Starkowski, is the proprietor and mechanic. Claude is such a devoted fan of Tony Stark and Iron Man that he insists on people calling him Claude Stark instead of his full last name. He also loves to create Iron Man costumes. Howard is leery about letting Claude make him his own Iron Man costume because Claude isn’t fully right in the head (due to injuries he sustained during his service in the Vietnam War) but Lee convinces Howard to trust Claude.

Claude quickly makes Howard a costume so he becomes Iron Duck. Claude admits that this costume was created on a very low budget so there are some features of Howard’s Iron Duck costume that are pretty crude compared to Tony Stark’s Iron Man costume (such as using windshield wipers for Howard’s visor). But the the costume have a few offensive and defensive weapons built in (such as a flame thrower) so Howard could at least put up a fight against Doctor Bong.

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Howard and Lee drive back to Skudge, Pennsylvania with just an hour to spare before Doctor Bong is scheduled to arrive. Unfortunately neither one can rest because Doctor Bong decides to arrive early because he couldn’t wait to start the final battle against Howard.

Topical 1970’s References: Claude Starkowski (a.k.a. Claude Stark) is a Vietnam vet. The Vietnam War itself ended a few years before this issue was published but there were plenty of men like Claude who had mostly returned back to the U.S. (with the exception of those who were missing in action).

The Bottom Line: This issue is definitely an improvement over the two previous issues. I got a bit of a chuckle over the Iron Man parody with Howard, as Iron Duck, being a more low-rent version of Tony Stark’s alter-ego. Beverly is also more independent-minded than she had been in previous issues (when she acted grateful that Doctor Bong had pressured her into marrying him against her will—those scenes definitely had me feeling queasy). I was heartened to see that she was taking a stand by attempting to sabotage against her own husband in the hopes of sparing Howard’s life and ultimately free herself from Doctor Bong’s clutches. I liked how this issue seems to be pointing towards a conclusion of the long Doctor Bong storyline. This issue had some potential for the future of the comic book series, especially in the aftermath co-creator Steve Gerber’s departure from Marvel.

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Howard the Duck #31
The Final Bong!
May, 1979

Credits: Bill Mantlo, writer; Gene Colan and Al Milgrom, artists; Irv W., letters; George R., colors; Jim Shooter, editor

This is the last issue of the 1970’s color comic book series. According to the notice that was originally printed in that issue (and has been reprinted in the back of Howard the Duck: The Complete Collection, Volume 2), Marvel decided to continue the series as a black and white magazine instead of a color comic book. The reason given for this drastic change was that Marvel had problems with retailers thinking that Howard the Duck was a children’s comic book because it involved a talking duck so it was lumped in with other children’s comic books. Basically they hoped that a format change would resolve this problem.

Synopsis: The story begins where the last issue leaves off with Doctor Bong arriving at Skudge Hospital for a major showdown with Howard the Duck, who’s dressed in his Iron Duck outfit. Thanks to the cotton balls that were stuffed in Howard’s ear by Claude Starkowski (a.k.a. Claude Stark), Howard can’t hear Doctor Bong’s loud bonging sounds. Doctor Bong manages to stop Howard with yet another loud “BONG!” sounds, which also puts a protective shield around the hospital so it is cut off from the outside world.

A battle begins as Howard uses the features of his Iron Duck outfit on Doctor Bong while the doctor keeps on hitting his bell head with his bell clapper hand.

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When it looks like Doctor Bong is about to defeat Howard once and for all, Howard pulls out one more feature of his Iron Duck outfit—a hammer that he uses to hit Doctor Bong’s bell head with and both of them suddenly disappear from the hospital only to reappear in Doctor Bong’s Himalayan castle.

Doctor Bong is glad to be back at his castle because he hopes to kill Howard in front of Beverly but she’s currently missing. In the meantime Doctor Bong hits his bell head with his clapper hand to strip Howard out of his Iron Duck costume until the duck is fully naked.

Meanwhile Beverly is in Doctor Bong’s private print room where she’s getting Doctor Bong’s mutant minions to help her with a special printing project, which she then delivers to a messenger who’s traveling by llama. She also gets the mutant minions to bring what she has just whipped up in the Evolvo-Chamber.

Just as Doctor Bong is ready to bring on the final “BONG!” sound that is supposed to kill Howard, Beverly and the mutant minions burst into the room. Beverly presents Doctor Bong with a creation that she whipped up in the Evolvo-Chamber using the doctor’s nail clippings: the Bong Quintuplets, who all have their father’s bell head. What’s more, Beverly said that if anything happens to her or Howard, tomorrow’s issue of The Cleveland Plain-Dealer newspaper will have the headline about how Doctor Bong has abandoned his own quintuplets.

Doctor Bong becomes so enraged at Beverly’s treachery that he hits his bell head with his clapper hand one more time and Howard and Beverly abruptly appear back at the hospital in Skudge, Pennsylvania in the same room with Beverly’s Uncle Lee, Winda, and Paul. Winda is so happy to see Howard and Beverly again that she considers herself to be fully recovered from her recent injuries. Paul is still in a coma but, otherwise, everyone is back together while Doctor Bong is in his castle in the Himalayas being a single father to his quintuplets.

Topical 1970’s References: When Doctor Bong strips Howard out of his Iron Duck outfit, Howard says that his outfit is being recalled faster than a Ford Pinto with Firestone 500’s. This in reference to two notorious recalls that happened in the 1970’s to both products due to the Ford Pinto’s tendency to explode in flames in a rear end collision and the Firestone 500’s had tread-separation problems. When Beverly mentions her Gong Show husband, she’s also referencing the popular 1970’s TV game show The Gong Show. When Doctor Bong learns of Beverly’s treachery, he initially utters the names of the famous Biblical traitors (like Judas) then starts to utter the names of two of officials in the Nixon Administration who were involved in the Watergate scandal: John Ehrlichman and H.R. Haldeman.

The Bottom Line: This issue is a hilarious parody of Iron Man and it’s a perfect coda to both the long-running Doctor Bong story arc and the original 1970’s color comic book series. The battle scenes between Howard as Iron Duck and Doctor Bong are very well done and incredibly artistic. The funniest bit during that battle came when Howard uses his Butt-Bit, a drill bit that’s located in the rear of the costume and enables Howard to escape to a lower level of the hospital while he’s sitting down.

I also liked how Beverly was redeemed from being this weak woman who was actually glad that Doctor Bong coerced her into marriage to being someone who actively resists her own imprisonment by doing a few sneaky things behind her husband’s back. She’s portrayed as this clever independent woman who basically wants out of this marriage that she had been forced to participate in.

Nearly all of the loose ends are tied up (with the exception of Paul still being in a coma) in a satisfactory manner. All in all the 1970’s comic book series ends on a high note while making way for the upcoming Howard the Duck magazine.

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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