When it comes to Marvel Comics, there are three little words that probably bring an incredulous response to people’s faces: Howard the Duck. For most people, they probably think of the terrible 1986 film produced by George Lucas. However, that film only came about due to its well-regarded source material. Created for Marvel Comics by Steve Gerber back in 1973, Howard the Duck was an anthropomorphic duck transported from his world to ours due to a sudden shift in the Nexus of All Realities. Finding himself stranded on our planet in Cleveland, Ohio, he got himself some company in the form of a model named Beverly Switzer and the two began their travels across America. Within the framework of these madcap adventures, Gerber used Howard as his vehicle for satire, skewering real-world issues like the 1976 presidential race or poking some jabs at various genres like epic fantasy or horror. The general public, however, has forgotten about these original comics due to the impact of that terrible film adaptation. After that, Howard would make a rare appearance in other comics here and there, while he would not appear on the big screen again until his surprise cameo in Guardians of the Galaxy. Now, however, Howard is finally getting this own comics series again, simply called Howard the Duck.
Though time has gone on for Howard the Duck, he is still just as frustrated at the world as he has ever been. People still regard his appearance with shock and amazement, even as the streets are filled with all sorts of superheroes and supervillains do battle and the newspaper headlines tell of their epic adventures. His surly and cynical attitude has made him the ire of much of the superhero community, along with the New York police. About the only person who treats him with any understanding and respect is Tara Tam, a tattoo artist who moved to New York for the thrill of it. Still, Howard tries to find some semblance of a normal life, now working as a private detective these days. In fact, things look to go his way when he gets a client with a simple case: recover a necklace. However, fate intervenes and pulls Howard into all sorts of outlandish adventures. It just goes to show that, even with all that has happened to Howard since he first arrived, he’s still trapped in a world he never made.
In the hands of writer Chip Zdarsky and artist Joe Quinones, Howard’s proper return is a delightful one. The artwork is crisp and colorful, with each panel capturing the emotion of the moment while filling in with all sorts of neat details. As for the writing, it works quite well and feels right for Howard the Duck. Even as the humor is there, the comic never loses sight of Howard as a character. His frustrations with the world and his surly attitude are understandable, and he still ultimately has a heart beneath all of those feathers. Even when he is in a situation where it would probably be wisest to run and get the main job done, he’ll ultimately want to help out others. More than that, he also knows all too well how hard it can be when someone is an outsider. Thus, he’ll extend a helping hand for anyone who is alone in the world. Elements like that help to capture more to Howard than just a punchline. They infuse him with a certain reality, allowing the humor to thus flow more naturally. As for the humor, it does capture a satirical tone, but one that’s in a slightly different wavelength than Steve Gerber’s original work.
For Steve Gerber, his use of humor with Howard the Duck wasn’t just for taking jabs at real-world issues or genre tropes. For him, he used the satire to ultimately high-light an existential point: that life’s most serious moments and its stupidest often look the same with a simple change of perspective. Now, this new series isn’t quite as existential. Its humor and situations are ones which firmly root Howard within the Marvel Universe. However, there is still a point being made. It’s that Howard, despite all of his gripes about our world, is actually getting used to it. It’s shown through his reactions to the ridiculous paths that seem to crop up in his life. Whether it’s a case spiraling out of control into something bigger or a direct intervention that plucks him away into some sudden journey, Howard’s frustrated reactions come more from his not knowing how he did not seeing it coming rather than from any wonder in what he is dealing with. In fact, any colorful villains who cross his path only prompt a response in Howard about how he has to deal with so many idiots in this world. In short, the satirical jab for this series is one they proudly announce on the cover: he’s trapped in a world he’s grown accustomed to.
Though the public may only think of Howard with disdain due to the character’s film adaptation back in the ’80s, Howard the Duck is a character who has always been been a good source of humor when it comes to the comics. Now, with this new series by Zdarksky and Quinones, Howard has the right material again to remind people of what made the character interesting enough to try adapting in the first place. For those who want to give it a try, Howard the Duck, Vol. 0: What the Duck is available in stores. The series has also had a new start as part of Marvel’s All-New, All-Different launch, so check it out in your local comic book store.