Monday, September 26, 2005

Slow Duck Coming


Marvel Max Howard the Duck #1 - #6

"Better than Shakespeare", said one breathless reviewer on Amazon. Now I'm not quite sure if they'd ever read him, but bigging up something higher than the Bard is asking for disappointment.

This mini-series was one of the multitude of good things to come out of Bob Harras' replacement as Editor-in-Chief of Marvel Comics by Joe Quesada. Quesada has always come in for criticism (that goes with the job), but his first couple of years were an absolute joy, if only because it was evident he enjoyed comic books for their own sake.

Under Quesada, after two decades in permafrost, it suddenly became possible for Marvel to publish Howard the Duck again. Funny thing, a change in editor.

The first striking thing is that there is no duck on the cover of any of these issues. I'm relying on memory here, but I believe there was some legal problem with Disney and Howard looking too similar to Donald Duck, a creation who, if US laws weren't controlled by rich, sinister, lobbying corporations, would be long out of copyright anyway. How Marvel was unable to publish Howard on the cover is something which escapes me, given it had previously managed to publish a colour series, a black and white series, several specials and a Hollywood movie with Howard plastered all over them. But that's business.

Instead what we have on the covers is a mouse (Howard gets mutated by some means or other), which is just going to cause utter confusion for the majority of comic readers who have never read Howard the Duck.

It's an uneven series, this one. Howard, satirical, bitter and absurd, was always difficult to write, and Gerber has difficulty establishing the flow of his first series. You would guess it would probably take a few tries to get into the swing of writing Howard the Duck again, and matters weren't helped by having in mind two decades of material and only having six issues to push them out.

The first issue was well done but rather underused arch-villain Doctor Bong. The second is perhaps the funniest, as Howard goes through a set of whole body mutations,



here with a nod to the Basselope in Berke Breathed's much-missed Bloom County.



Howard and Beverly then get arrested by heavy-handed and incompetent Homeland Security soldiers. Always topical, Howard the Duck. Issue #3 is a Man-Thing-esque satirical sword and sorcery romp.

Long ago, in ancient Mesopotamia or Sumer or someplace like that, the priestesses of the demon Pazuzu, bringer of disease, were engaged in a religious war with the priests of the god Marduk or Baal or Dagon, or whoever.

We have an unpleasant relic called the "doucheblade" - it's worth buying for that name alone.

By issue #4, Howard and Beverly are in the "boarding house of mystery", which is just an excuse for Gerber to have a pop at whoever he wants. So we have a Warren Ellis pastiche-

Bloody third world types do this every soddin' night. And every soddin' night, I have to sic a bleedin' demon on one or the other of 'em, just to get some soddin' bleedin' sleep. Shite, I'm so bloody knackered it's a great soddin' pain in the bleedin' arse, bein' a tragically post-modern alcoholic magus with a soddin' nicotine addiction and a long bleedin' string of bloody dead girlfriends.

Purely on a side point, why do Americans always portray English character missin' the final 'g' in their verbs, when Americans are doin' id all the time?

Then we skip onto a gentle Neil Gaiman tease: the Interminable, the Seven Goth dwarfs who are Snoozy, Cutey, Dicey, Ditzy, Mournful, Mopey and Doc ("the other six are all my fault. I embody hard drugs").



Top that off with a parody of addled gonzo hack Hunter S Thompson and you have classic, bizarre piece of Howardry.

We also have a scene for which the phrase "too much information" could have been invented. After Beverly has a sex session with an imaginary being (don't ask).

Howard: Sleep tight, toots
Beverly: Ummm, I may never be tight again

Issue #5 has an all-powerful TV presenter Iprah ("Something about her voice. I want to resist, but, suddenly, I feel so...validated"), whom Howard defies by proclaiming his "hostility towards other sentient beings...stems from the willful stupidity, wanton self-centeredness, and rampant incivility of other sentient beings."

And then Gerber decides to pump his pro-smoking views:

Insensitivity and smoking. The only two unpardonable offenses of the new age. Never figured I'd get to commit both at once.

I'm guessing here that Gerber is a smoker. Smoking, which is inhaling carcinogenic fumes till you get taken to hospital, is the sort of issue which, if he were a non-smoker, Gerber would surely take the polar opposite line. Howard would marvel at the stupidity of hairless apes indulging in such a clearly self-destructive habit. As it is, Gerber takes the martyr line of a fourteen year old behind the bike sheds - a hostile society oppressing our brave, non-conforming inhalers. As such Gerber comes close to proselytising for the smoking industry. There is a certain irony in a pro-smoking writer ending up in hospital with a lung condition, pneumonia, as Gerber recently has. But predictable, because that's what happens to an awful lot of smokers.

The final issue wraps up with a guest appearance by a rather melancholy God. And Howard the Duck ends, perhaps forever, with Howard waddling off down the street.

The first time I read these issues, I was confused and disappointed by much of it. But, and this is classic Howard the Duck, you keep noticing things you missed before, so it's a good re-read. Is it Shakespeare? Of course not, but well above average comic writing, all the same.

Is it fifty already?

Wow. I've reached fifty posts, which makes "Nobody Laughs at Mister Fish" almost middle-aged, in blog terms. And highly appropriate, given I turn forty tomorrow and I'm looking forward to telling you all how it feels to have the last drip of youth drain from your bones (hint: it's a shitter). Birthdays are always poignant for us late September babies, knowing that we owe our existence to the alcohol-fuelled excesses of our over-amorous parents in the Festive period. But forty...oh well, it's better than the alternative. And if I have a few grey hairs, at least it's not come out in handfuls and my gut doesn't hang off my trousers like a bean bag.

Anyway, Harvey Jerkwater at Filing Cabinet of the Damned introduced me to Nanowrimo, the National Novel Writing Month, where you have thirty days to polish off at least fifty thousand words, and "it's all about quantity, not quality." Perhaps as a sign of incipient midlife crisis, I'm going to do it, so I probably won't be posting much in November, and I'll cut down a bit in October as I have plots and characters to think about.

If any other comics bloggers are doing it, perhaps we could arrange an informal award ceremony? "Kevin Smith Award for Least Number of Words Written", "Bill Mantlo Prolific Award", that sort of thing?

Fifty thousand words is easy, right? I mean, the above review is just under a thousand, so two of them every day for a month and I'll be sorted. Put like that, it looks quite painful. Ah hell, I like offering hostages to fortune - I give you my personal guarantee that I'll complete it.

9 Comments:

Blogger Marionette said...

Of course if you wrote a novel about a person who reviews comics the novel could be the blog...

10:37 am  
Blogger Psychbloke said...

Congratulations on the fifty / forty thing....
It ain't so bad - least you're a guy in your (nearly) 40's with a comics blog - it could be real ale...or a lawnmower.....

9:59 pm  
Blogger Disintegrating Clone said...

psychbloke -

Nothing wrong with having a comics blog at my age. The ones who worry about their golf handicap, have an interest in house prices and debate the relative merits of pension schemes are the one who have really lost it. Whatever "it" might have been.

marionette -

I've always thought a critic might make a good villain in a novel: urbane, snappily dressed and sadistically snide. Perhaps the hero could be an avant garde comic book writer, outraged at being slurred as a pornographer, who journeys up the A12 on a mission of revenge, armed only with some firelighters, a caustic pencil and a bungee jumping kit. I'd buy that one...

9:13 am  
Blogger Greg said...

Well, I'm doing the novel thing. I will also attempt to keep up posting. Yes, I'm insane.

10:11 pm  
Blogger Disintegrating Clone said...

Greg -

Write a novel in a month and keep posting? You definitely have my respect.

Now if I could just keep writing during the time I usually waste worrying about bugbears like repeating nouns in different paragraphs and the use of wretched Oxford commas, I might be able to get more done.

9:20 am  
Blogger Psychbloke said...

"The ones who worry about their golf handicap, have an interest in house prices and debate the relative merits of pension schemes are the one who have really lost it."

Or catchment areas - that's the real killer.......

9:22 pm  
Blogger Marionette said...

I'm seriously thinking of doing the novel thing too.

Here's a tip: don't try doing a dry run to see if you can do 2,000 words on a day when you are ill and can barely see to type.

12:04 am  
Blogger Robert Burke Richardson said...

Thanks for the Howard the Duck write-up: I had skipped this mini-series, but I think I'm going to track it down now.

6:17 am  
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