4 In is Northern Bent’s review model for comics and television series. Northern Bent withholds any preliminary opinion on the materials until four issues or episodes have been read or viewed. Any statement herein is purely the opinion of the writer.
When I heard that Howard the Duck was getting a new solo title, I was elated. I have a tendency to migrate toward the weirder side of comics; if I’m pressed, I’ll admit to being a Marvel guy, but my subscription list is definitely skewed toward creator owned properties, independent publishers, and odd titles I pull out of what is equivalent to a comic shop’s nether regions. To give you a few examples, my favorite comic series of all time are Jeff Smith’s Bone, Bob Burden’s The Flaming Carrot, and the ultra violent TMNT mini run, Bodycount.
I suffered from “Hero Burnout” for a great number of years… I became so disenchanted with hero comics (which, in retrospect, is mostly due to the ubiquity of Rob Liefield and his shit-ass art; I simply couldn’t look at that crap anymore) that I stopped reading them all together. My tastes changed, I matured, I craved something different. To this day, well over a decade later, I’m back into hero comics, but regardless what’s on my subscription list my desires always lean toward the odd, atypical, and different. Howard the Duck represents a bridge between the world of absurd, weird, humorous, and the over-the-top melodrama that super heroes create; he’s there, in New York, amongst some of the most iconic heroes in the world, and he couldn’t give a shit less about any of them. That’s beauty, to me. That’s the perfect foil for super serious heroes and their bizarrely depressing lives.
Howard the Duck dates back to the 1970’s and throughout his entire life, he’s been a foul tempered, absurdly satirical space duck trapped on Earth. He has never wanted to be here and he can’t seem to get away for any length of time. He’s about as fed up as a character can get, and in a New York full of super heroes, his blatant regularness is almost a relief. He seems to know, or to run into, everyone – Rocket Raccoon, Black Cat, AntMan, Dr. Strange, She-Hulk, and Spiderman all make appearances on the pages. He is routinely unimpressed with all of them (especially Spiderman). Frankly, he seems more concerned with the social ills of New York City than he does with superheroism.
Howard presents as a stereotypical 1960’s private eye, complete with yellow button up shirt, no tie, waistcoat, and hat. His vernacular, for the most part, is unchanged as well and this is where writer Chip Zdarsky’s cleverness shines through. He uses words like doll and chick to reference women, obviously pejorative terms and is corrected by the many, and varied women in this world. Astonishingly, he seems to learn, as if he’s shirking the toxic masculinity of the past, and rising up a new, wiser (but still crabby) duck. The addition of a “side kick” in the form of a tattooed young woman of color (who is quite possibly smarter than he is) is brilliant, and often counters Howard’s obtuse surliness.
Howard is a vehicle for humor but still manages to be caustically socially aware. His banter, while humorous, is not quite as disjointed as fellow Marvel jokester, Deadpool; and Zdarsky is hinting at a great deal more character depth than meets the eye; even going so far as to acknowledge the bizarre legal circumstance between Marvel and Howard’s original creator, Steve Gerber, which creates very, very strange canon for Howard. The art is whimsical and colorful, but not nearly as elaborate as other comic art being produced currently, and while it sometimes seems a little rushed, I don’t think it’s a huge detractor from the story. It’s definitely a nod to the days of pulpy, silver age comics, and it fits in very well with Howard’s personality.
Hysterical, fun, and interesting, Howard the Duck is a goofy existential romp through the Marvel universe.