Continuing this summer’s series of Throwback Thursday posts dedicated to Howard the Duck.
Howard the Duck Magazine #1
Howard the Duck: The Complete Collection, Vol. 2 ends with a reprint of the first issue of the black and white magazine which replaced the color comic book series. This magazine is longer than the comic book in that it includes three stories, along with a few brief sub-plots involving Pro-Rata, Paul Same, and Arthur Winslow that all point towards potential future stories in upcoming issues. With the comic book series, Marvel had to abide by the guidelines of the Comics Code Authority (which Marvel and many other mainstream comic book publishers observed at the time). In contrast, with the black and white magazine, Marvel was free from having to observe the Comics Code Authority so the magazine was able to include more innuendo and more adult humor in general.
The only thing in this magazine that’s even in color is the cover and it shows a change with Howard’s design. When he first appeared in Adventure Into Fear #19, he sported bright yellow feathers. For the first back-up issue in Giant-Sized Man-Thing #4, the bright yellow feathers were toned down to a more light pastel yellow color, which he retained for the rest of the original color comic book series. With the first issue of the Howard the Duck magazine, Howard is shown on the cover with white feathers for the first time.
Chapter 1: Fowl of Fear
Credits: Bill Mantlo, writer; Mike Golden, artist; Klaus Janson, embellisher
Synopsis: On a rainy night Lee Switzer is driving his niece, Beverly, and Howard back to Ohio. They go through a toll plaza where the man who takes their toll money is none other than Pro-Rata, the villain who appeared in the very first issue of the color comic book.
Meanwhile back in Skudge, Pennsylvania, Winda, who decides to stay behind in order to look after the comatose Paul, prays that he’ll wake up soon. At that moment Paul opens his eyes while believing himself to be the Paraclete of Kabourka, the Angel of the Lord.
While driving on I-80 one of the tires on Lee’s car starts to shred, which causes the car to go into a tailspin. Lee confesses that he purchased Firestone 500 tires very cheaply during the recall and he has no spare. The car ends up stranded outside the grounds of Fairer Fowl Farms.
They knock on the door to the farm’s main building and a pitchfork-bearing worker named Hank Skidoo lets them in. While Lee and Beverly talk to Hank about their plight, a suspicious Howard wanders off where he finds a museum dedicated to chickens. This disgusts Howard since chickens are related to ducks. The owner of Fairer Fowl Farms, Mr. Chicken, shows up in front of Howard wearing a chicken suit with no chicken mask with a few clucking chickens following him.
Eventually Mr. Chicken and Hank Skidoo gather Howard, Beverly, and Lee in the same room. Mr. Chicken talks about how he has devoted his life to breeding the finest chickens while viewing all three as potential chickens he can add to his farm. (Never mind the fact that Howard is a duck and Beverly and Lee are humans.) He then tells the three that they won’t be going anywhere else but to the henhouse.
Lee manages to escape out a window while telling Howard and Beverly that he’ll get help. Mr. Chicken orders Hank to take Howard and Beverly to the coop. Beverly is attached to a plucking machine while Hank takes Howard to the breeders area where the duck is expected to take his place among the roosters. When Howard protests to Hank that he’s a duck, not a chicken, Hank responds by saying that he’s only following orders and it’s not his job to question.
Howard hears a scream from the next room. He tries to go there but he can’t due to an electric barrier. He sees Beverly attached to a plucking machine, which has just been switched on and it’s about to pluck Beverly. Howard tells Hank to stop that machine but Hank says he can’t do that because he’s following orders. Howard grabs a pitchfork and manages to disable the electric barrier and break through the window to rescue Beverly. Howard falls to the floor near the machine as Beverly rescues herself by yanking and jerking the plucking mechanisms.
Mr. Chicken runs into the room and concludes that Howard and Beverly are troublemakers who must be dealt with and he shoots out poisoned feather darts. While ducking for cover Howard activates the egg conveyor belt at full speed, which results in Mr. Chicken getting pelted with eggs. Howard then activates the steam cabinets at the same time that Lee drives his car through the building and rescues Howard and Beverly. As the car drives away from the Fairer Fowl Farms, Lee tells the two that he managed to flag down a farmer who gave him a spare tire. The three of them finally arrive in Cleveland. Meanwhile Mr. Chicken is lying among the debris. Hank Skidoo shows up with his pitchfork, who tells Mr. Chicken that his eyes has been opened and that there are better, more humane ways to raise chickens. The final frame implies that Hank killed Mr. Chicken with his pitchfork but Hank has gotten away with it because, as this story goes, life is cheap in the countryside and rural murders are rarely solved.
Topical 1970’s References: Beverly mentions Masters and Johnson. She also quotes the lyrics from Carly Simon’s hit song “The Spy Who Loved Me.”
There’s also a reference to using Firestone 500 tires, which became notorious for its tread separation problems.
Mr. Chicken says “It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken,” which is the same slogan that Frank Perdue used to say when he did TV ads for his Perdue chickens back in the 1970’s and 1980’s.
The Bottom Line: It’s an okay satire of both horror movies and the corporate agribusiness farms that would grow to dominate U.S. agriculture starting in the late 1970’s and they still dominate today. These giant farms have driven smaller family-owned farms out of business while getting all kinds of subsidies from the U.S. government and there is concern about the environmental impact and health impact these farms have made. It’s not quite as hilarious as earlier satires about the vampire cow known as Hellcow or Howard encountering Kong Lomerate during one of his extended dreams but it’s an okay read. Hank Skidoo is supposed to represent the obedient worker who doesn’t question any orders, which was the common defense of so many SS people who worked in the concentration camps during World War II.
Chapter 2: The $64,000 Desperado
Credits: Bill Mantlo, writer; Gene Colan, artist; Bob McLeod, embellisher
Synopsis: After driving Beverly and Howard away from Fairer Fowl Farms and into Cleveland, he stops at the To Hack and Back Taxi Garage. It turns out that Lee had recently purchased the taxi garage and he’s offering Howard a job as a taxi driver. Howard is leery about this offer and he becomes even more skeptical when he finds out that Claude Starkowitz (a.k.a. Claude Stark, the man who is a fan of Tony Stark and who made Howard’s ill-fated Iron Duck costume when he battled Doctor Bong) is going to be the main mechanic at that garage.
Howard refuses the job and storms out. Beverly is so angry at Howard’s refusal that she tells him that she’s looking for a job and an apartment and he can move in with her only if he gets a job. She walks away from Howard and leaves him alone (while he’s being secretly watched by Pro-Rata). After a few minutes Howard has a change of heart and goes looking for Beverly.
The next day Howard and Beverly are in the waiting room of Cleveland’s Taxi Commission so Howard can get a license as a taxi driver. After Howard passes the physical he gets a taxi license so he can now work for Lee’s taxi company. At the same time in Skudge, Pennsylvania, Winda and Paul are boarding a bus to Cleveland. Paul walks like a sleepwalker (complete with his arms outstretched in front of him) while he keeps on thinking that he’s the Paraclete of Kabourka, the Angel of the Lord.
Beverly and Howard arrive at Lee’s taxi company. Claude Stark has just altered one of the taxi cabs especially for Howard (since the duck is shorter than an average human).
Meanwhile at the downtown Cleveland offices of Bets-R-Off, a villain named Jackpot the One-Armed Bandit confronts a bookie for failing to throw a horse race so Jackpot’s preferred horse would win. In retaliation Jackpot began to throw down his one remaining arm while his body started to function like a slot machine where he literally throws up gambling tokens. Jackpot continues to throw up gambling tokens until the bookie is literally drowned in all of those metal coins.
Howard is driving in his new taxi in order to get used to his new vehicle and to acquaint himself with the streets of Cleveland while driving Beverly to her latest modeling assignment. Howard suddenly finds himself in the midst of the Cleveland Marathon that’s going on at the same time. Beverly recognizes one of the runners as Cleft Chin, America’s top marathoner, whom she read about in either People or Star magazine.
Howard tries to move his taxi but it stalls in the middle of the road where the marathon runners and running over the hood of the taxi. Cleft Chin has fallen behind his competitors, which is unusual for him. Despite grabbing an energy drink from one of the side stands, Cleft literally falls over on top of the hood of Howard’s taxi. Beverly looks over Cleft and concludes that he’s been drugged because he seems like he’s totally out of it. Beverly pressures Howard into taking Cleft into his taxi and driving away because she says that someone is cheating to make Cleft lose and she and Howard have to cheat in order to undo everything. Howard manages to start his taxi, despite the fact that it had previously stalled in the middle of the road, and drives away.
Jackpot, who is observing the situation from the rooftop of a nearby building, decides to hop from rooftop to rooftop in pursuit of Howard’s taxi. It turns out that he has a bet on one of Cleft Chin’s competitors and he is fixing the marathon in order for make Cleft lose.
Jackpot manages to intercept Howard’s taxi and he stops the vehicle by raising his one arm so he can vomit enough gambling tokens to block the taxi. Howard briefly uses his Quack-Fu skills on Jackpot but what really stops the villain is that he jumps on Jackpot’s back and he keeps on pumping Jackpot’s one arm up and down so he keeps on vomiting up gambling tokens until he collapses with stomach cramps.
Howard drives the taxi in the opposite direction with Beverly and Cleft inside. He arrives close to the finish line. Beverly helps Cleft get to the finish line in first place.
This story ends in the offices of Cosmos Productions where Pro-Rata has recently been hired as an accountant to serve on a production of a film called Spaceships to Doom!
Topical 1970’s References: When Beverly congratulated Howard on being a member of that rapidly vanishing species, the American Employed, she’s not joking. The non-stop post-World War II economic boom had ended with the 1973-1975 recession and things have gone downhill for the average worker since that time.
The Bottom Line: This story featuring Jackpot the One-Armed Bandit is the one story in this magazine that is most reminiscent of the glory days of the original 1970’s comic book series that were written prior to Howard the Duck’s co-creator Steve Gerber’s departure. Jackpot is such a hilarious throwback to the one-shot wacky villains that Howard encountered (such as Le Beaver and the living Gingerbread Man monster), complete with a completely insane way of killing villains. It was also pretty hilarious how Howard managed to subdue Jackpot until the one-armed bandit couldn’t move because he developed severe stomach cramps.
Although naming a marathon runner Cleft Chin is completely inane. Surely someone at Marvel could’ve come up with a better name than that.
Chapter 3: From Hell it Cometh…Chair-Thing
Credits: Bill Mantlo, writer; Gene Colan, artist; Dave Simons, embellisher
Synopsis: Howard settles into his new job as a cab driver. He’s waiting for his latest fare to finish his shopping at Higbee’s. Pro-Rata is standing nearby with his giant cash register parked directly behind Howard’s taxi (while Howard doesn’t notice at all because he doesn’t glance into his rear view mirror). Pro-Rata casts a hex, which causes the giant cash register to crash into Howard’s bumper with such a violent force that Howard’s taxi is pushed into hitting the taxi that’s parked in front of him. The other cab driver steps out while being hostile towards Howard. The Kidney Lady appears while claiming that Howard has been out to get her kidney for months. Pro-Rata is pleased with the commotion he caused and disappears.
When the Kidney Lady encourages people to exact their revenge upon Howard, the other cab driver obliges by starting to dismantle Howard’s taxi. Howard responds by attacking the Kidney Lady. A crowd gathers while debating whether they should get involved in the fracas or not. Among those in the crowd is Arthur Winslow, the one-time roommate of Howard and Beverly who was also briefly Turnip-Man. Arthur mentions that distant memories are being stirred while an image of a turnip appears in one of his eyes. Arthur then walks away from the crowd.
Howard ducks when the other taxi driver attempts to assault Howard with the bumper from Howard’s taxi so the Kidney Lady gets hit instead. The police arrive and one of them, Tompkins, recognizes Howard back from the Garko the Man-Frog story in Giant-Size Man-Thing #4. Tompkins is about to arrest Howard when famed Hollywood movie producer Dino Digitalis and a female companion, Mona, show up on the scene. It turns out that he was the fare whom Howard waited for in his taxi outside of Higbee’s. He tells the police that he saw the whole thing and it was really the other taxi driver and the Kidney Lady who assaulted Howard. The police arrest the other two while letting Howard go. As Howard drives Dino Digitalis and Mona away from Higbee’s, Dino tells Howard that he has an offer that Howard can’t refuse.
Meanwhile Paul and Winda finally arrive at the Cleveland bus terminal. Winda tells Paul that they need to find Howard and Beverly before sunset in the hopes that they can tell them where they can find a place to crash. Paul walks while thinking of himself as the Avenging Angel—the Light of the Lord.
Howard is back at the To Hack and Back Taxi Garage where Dino Digitalis and Mona are there along with Beverly, Lee, and Claude Stark. Dino offers Howard the chance to become a movie star. Howard initially turns Dino’s offer down because he still has less-than-fond memories of the time when he was talked into running for president on the All-Night Party and he ended up being broke at the end. Beverly pressures Howard into reconsidering his decision, especially after Dino offers Beverly the chance to be Howard’s leading lady on the silver spring. Even Lee tells Howard that he can take time off from his taxi job to do this movie. Finally Howard gives in and agrees to appear in the movie, which is starting to shoot the next day.
Afterwards Howard and Beverly walk towards the house where Beverly had rented the top floor for the two of them. They arrive at the front door only to find it unlocked. They see the Kidney Lady and that other cab driver whom Howard had the earlier altercation with. The cab driver subdues Beverly while the Kidney Lady admits that renting the upper floor to Beverly was part of a trap designed to get Howard once and for all.
The Kidney Lady throws Howard into a living chair that’s known as the Chair-Thing. The Kidney Lady gives Howard a copy of the book that she has long sworn by as her personal guide—The Human Kidneys: The Seat of the Soul. Howard manages to thumb through the book, despite being trapped by the Chair-Thing, where he finds out that the Kidney Lady is actually a witch who’s an arch-foe of Dakimh the Sorcerer (whom Howard met way back in his first two comic book appearances in Adventure Into Fear #19 and The Man-Thing #1). The Kidney Lady claims that she knew Howard had arrived way back when she sensed that the Cosmic Axis had shifted, which resulted in Howard appearing on Earth, and she decided that Howard is such a threat to kidneys everywhere that she used her magic to create the Chair-Thing.
When the Kidney Lady starts to assault Beverly (while the cab driver holds her) for defying purity by shacking up with a duck, Howard pulls out his cigar and puffs on in while trying to free himself from the Chair-Thing. In the process one of the ashes from the cigar drops on the Chair-Thing, which causes the upholstery to catch on fire. Howard manages to free himself as the Chair-Thing gets consumed by flames. He jumps on the Kidney Lady while hitting her on the head with that Human Kidneys book. Beverly manages to free herself by stepping hard on the cab driver’s foot. She takes a broom and swats the cab driver out the window. He lands on the ground in front of Paul and Winda, who have just arrived. The Kidney Lady throws Howard off her back while she tries to save the Chair-Thing from being consumed by fire.
Finally the Kidney Lady throws a bucket of water on the Chair-Thing, which causes it to revert back to being a plain old chair. The Kidney Lady takes the chair and disappears into thin air at the moment when Paul and Winda enter the house. A few hours later, after Winda helps Beverly and Howard with the cleanup following that last battle with the Kidney Lady, the Chair-Thing, and the cab driver, Howard and Beverly decide to retire upstairs to get some much needed sleep.
Throughout the original comic book series there were the occasional hints about how Howard and Beverly were more than just traveling companions but they couldn’t elaborate too much because of the fact that Marvel, like nearly all of the other comic book companies at that time, was observing the Comics Code Authority, which put out guidelines on what could or could not be depicted. With the black and white magazine being freed from having to observe the Comics Code Authority, it elaborated on how close Howard and Beverly really are.
That page is clearly an illustrated example of the currently trendy social media phrase “You can’t unsee what you’ve already seen.” The last frame of this issue shows Pro-Rata spying on the couple through his crystal ball while looking forward to their next encounter.
Topical 1970’s References: When Howard battles the Kidney Lady in the street while the other taxi driver tries to dismantle Howard’s taxi, one of the spectators quotes the lyrics this song by the Loving Spoonful.
Dino Digitalis is definitely based on Dino De Laurentis, the Hollywood movie director who directed a number of 1970’s movies like the 1976 remake of King Kong. Dino Digitalis’ movies also satirized another director, Irwin Allen, who became known as “The Master of Disaster” after making a number of big-budget 1970’s disaster features like The Towering Inferno (which featured people trapped in a burning skyscraper) and The Poseidon Adventure (where passengers on the U.S.S. Poseidon were trapped inside the luxury cruise ship after the ship literally gets toppled upside down after encountering a hurricane).
Dino Digitalis tells Howard that “I’ll make an offer you can’t refuse,” which was the frequent catchphrase throughout the Godfather movies.
The Bottom Line: This one is the most convoluted story of the three. It’s almost like the people behind this magazine wanted to throw everything from Howard’s past in this story until it got confusing. The cameo by Tompkins the police officer wasn’t much and neither was Arthur Winslow’s cameo.
In addition there was the Kidney Lady’s sudden upgrade from being some crazy crank who believed in conspiracy theories regarding kidneys and who revered the kidney with an evangelical fervor to being this magical witch. WTF?!? Even the book, which listed the Kidney Lady as being a witch, The Human Kidneys—The Seat of the Soul, contradicts the description of this same book way back in Howard the Duck #12 where the Kidney Lady testified in a courtroom that she met her lover, Elmer, when he was a metaphysical book salesman who was trying to sell her family a copy of that same book. Elmer was the one who converted the Kidney Lady to his way of thinking with that book, which meant that the book had already been in print before the Kidney Lady had even read it for the first time. So how would that book have information that the Kidney Lady was a witch who is Dakimh’s enemy when it was already published the first time the Kidney Lady had heard of it? To have the Kidney Lady go from a mere human who’s a crazy fanatical crank to being this powerful witch is a plot device that seemed forced and unconvincing.
Then there was that implied sex scene between Howard and Beverly at the end of that magazine. I know that it’s not the usual bestiality sex since Howard comes from a planet where ducks are the most evolved species and he is capable of being just as intelligent as a human being. On the other hand, it still creeped me out. I think it’s because Howard and Beverly, despite having similar intellect, are completely different species. Howard is a bird and Beverly is a mammal and both birds and mammals are different in terms of body structure and reproduction. What’s more, that scene as portrayed on the last page of the third story in that magazine paved the way for this infamous scene between Howard and Beverly in the notorious 1980’s film adaptation of the same name.
I have to admit that only the second story in that magazine comes anywhere near the sheer satiric brilliance of the original comic book series while that third story was pretty awful and confusing at times. But all three stories pale in comparison with the best issues of the original comic book series.
The first issue of the black and white magazine closes the second volume of Howard the Duck: The Complete Collection. There are a few miscellaneous odds and ends in the back of that volume, the majority of which came from Crazy magazine, Marvel’s ill-fated attempt at a black and white satire magazine that competed against Mad and Cracked. The Crazy Howard the Duck features, which are titled “The Little Adventures of Howard the Duck,” were done by a variety of different writers and artists and are mainly a seven-panel strip on one page with the humor being little better than what one finds in the daily comic section of a typical newspaper. (In other words, they are forgettable.) The best of the bunch is the one where Howard speaks on a soapbox in an area that’s similar to the Speaker’s Corner at Hyde Park in London and he complains about how communists have such little regard for human life until the final frame, when Howard advocates dealing with the communists’ disregard for human life by dropping an H bomb on them and wiping them out.
There’s also a one-page excerpt from another Marvel comic book where the Thing from the Fantastic Four briefly meets Howard on the grounds of a movie studio before heading on his way to his final destination. (It looks like Howard’s appearance in that comic book was little more than a brief cameo.) Rounding out the volume is a joint interview with both Howard the Duck co-creator Steve Gerber and Gene Colan, the artist who worked on a number of the most legendary issues of the series (such as issue #8 where Howard runs for President of the United States as a candidate for the All-Night Party).
I’ve come to the end of this volume. The third volume of Howard the Duck: The Complete Collection was released last month but I haven’t gotten a hold of a copy yet (as of this writing). Even if I was able to obtain the third volume, I wrote back in May that I was only going to do these special Howard the Duck Throwback Thursdays between the week before Memorial Day and Labor Day and, well, Labor Day weekend begins tomorrow. I can’t tell you right now whether I will even bother with doing reviews of the Howard the Duck issues that were reprinted in the third volume or not nor can I tell you whether I will even bother with reviewing the Howard the Duck reboot that began in 2015 and is scheduled to end soon with issue #11. (Issue #9, which is the latest issue, printed this statement that hinted that Howard the Duck may come back in 2017 but that statement was worded very vaguely. I have a feeling that it won’t be fully fleshed out until #11 hits the comic book stores in about a month or two.) In addition I’m currently dealing with my own personal financial issues and my mother’s latest health crisis. The only thing I can tell you right now is that I really need a break from doing this for a while. Adios!
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