Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Howard the Duck, Vol. 0: What the Duck by Chip Zdarsky and Joe Quinones

I tend to be a purist about things I don't own -- it saves time and effort, for one thing, and who wants to waste a lot of mental energy on things you can't control? So when I say that you probably shouldn't write a Howard the Duck story if your name isn't Steve Gerber, it should be taken in that spirit: an expression of curmudgeonliness and a statement of initial position, to be modified if justified by subsequent events.

It doesn't mean Chip Zdarsky doesn't do a good job here. It's just a way to say that there's no way Marvel should own Howard in the first place and be in a position to hire anyone to make more money by exploiting him. (I'm not as doctrinaire about the art end -- you can be Frank Brunner, or Val Mayerik, or Gene Colan...or, frankly, anyone else as long as Howard is clearly a cartoony duck in a world with a different art style. Joe Quinones unfortunately is saddled with the Howard redesign, so he can't do that.)

With that said, what do we have here, exactly?

It's a collection of comics with the slightly silly title Howard the Duck, Vol. 0: What the Duck. The zero comes because this was one of those years where Marvel relaunched everything with a new #1 a couple of times -- isn't that every year these days, though? -- but that, even if true, is more "what" than "why." Again, I don't own Howard, so I always assume "why" is "some joyless suits calculated they could make more money and buy another yacht that way."

This was a mini-series -- it only ran four issues, and, given publishing schedules, Marvel had to know it would only run four issues when they initially planned it, ergo it was a mini-series even if they didn't tell anyone at first -- from early 2015, which was interrupted for the All-New! All-Different! Secret Wars that summer, and came back in some form that fall. (The library systems I have access to, sadly, only have this volume, so I'm not likely to see what came next.)

Since the last time I've read Howard the Duck comics, he now wears pants, he looks more like a real duck, and he's working as a private detective in Marvel New York, to become something like the comedy version of Jessica Jones. (No, he doesn't have sex with Luke Cage. That would be too far even for Marvel.)

All that makes him fit cleanly into the Marvel Universe better, unfortunately. He's no longer the cartoony, grumpy pure out-of-context problem that was the whole point of Howard to begin with. He's not running for President or fighting Dr. Bong or doing the 21st century versions of those things -- he's chasing standard MU McGuffins with other characters that Marvel owns and wants to continue to own the IP for. He's yet another superhero type, not actively trying to save the world but up to saving it when he has to. Forty years in the MU has ground him down enough that he can appear in Secret Wars, or whatever bullshit crossover it is this year, and make a few more cents for his corporate masters. Zdarsky is smart enough that, if he has a Hellcow in him, he sure as shit isn't going to let Marvel own it. So he uses the toys already on the table, which is not at all what Howard is about.

Look, these are decent funny stories. They're about a duck named Howard in the Marvel Universe. But this isn't the real Howard, and it never can be. Let's stop pretending it is. Steve Gerber is dead, and Marvel repeatedly stabbed him the back before he went. So I can't pretend this is a good thing.

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