Panels of Future Past:Howard the Duck #6 (NOV 1976) (and a bit of #7(DEC 1976))
“Ripe on! Come in! Chew the fat! Chomp the Corn Flakes! Watch me make a funny neck!”
That’s a piece of dialogue taken from Howard the Duck #6. Yes, I took it out of context. Truth be told, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t make any more sense in context.
This comic book: just wow. I hope it won some kind of an award. It’s strange, oddly atmospheric, and unique. These are not compliments.
It’s strangeness does not at all come from the fact that the hero of the series is an anthropomorphic duck from another planet who finds himself on earth hanging out with a girl in her twenties. Not is the fact that he talks, fights, and smokes cigars. Oh, that’s not strange at all. That would all pass for just normal series background material. So readjust your “strangeness” scale, setting Howard and his general background so that it falls somewhere at zero, the point of the scale where all that is normal or not unusual exists. With that being the case, the events of this issue (which concludes at the beginning of Issue 7) has to be well above and 8 or 9. Good or bad, there’s definitely nothing else like it, and it should get some credit for that.
Truth be told I’ve never read a Howard the Duck comic book before this one. Maybe the people behind the series were (somehow) able to keep this amount of irreverence for the whole series. I got this issue and the subsequent issue as a gift, and the giver knows that I have a fondness for the 80’s film Howard the Duck? Fondness? That movie, is, in every measurable sense, terrible. Yes, I realize that it’s a bad movie. To defend the film – at least as a whole – would be futile. However, I admire that the film knows that it’s a sarcastic joke, a big budget bit of sarcasm that is making fun of the big budget films at the time (not the posters and decor of Howard’s apartment), and it’s clear form how the character of Howard is voiced that a there’s always mocking sarcasm bubbling at the surface of every scene of the film. I also think that Jeffrey Jones’ Dark Overlord -trapped in that human body – is quite funny.) But what I admire most is the special effects. Some of them might hold up today, but it’s always great to see any film that birthed from the most innovative years of ILM, where fantastical creatures were born from the craftsmanship of geniuses in a workshop, not from people sitting at a computer.
So this issue begins with Howard and Beverly hitchhiking in the middle of the Poconos on a stormy night. I don’t know what had happened previously that got them there, but it really doesn’t matter. The first sign something is amiss here is how atmospheric the captions are for these early scenes. “His heart goes oout to the lady in distress, to her, bare fragile shoulders, beaten and battered by the elements, to her pleading eyes and wind-ravaged hair, but his sympathy hits a snag at the weird creature by her side.” Are we supposed to take this scenario seriously? It’s an alien talking duck squabbling with a young human female. Yea. Well they decide to go their separate ways but they don’t stay apart for very long. When Bev arrives at a mysterious mansion, the little girl that seems to live alone believes that Bev is the governess.
Meanwhile, Howard is confused for Satan by a group of kids called the Yuchiees, and their leader, Reverend Joon Moon Yuc. Eventually, a real estate broker named Heathcliffe Rochester arrives on horseback and rallies Howard to his cause as he is about to advance on the mansion. Apparently, it makes for a pretty average week for Patsy (the girl who let Bev into the house) when Heathcliffe and the townspeople storm the place. I’m not sure if the fact that Heathcliffe has brought Howard along makes this attempt any different. But this strange adventure allows for lines like “this acreage is zoned residential, I will not let you turn it into a wholesale slaughterhouse!” This happens around the time Howard starts to become unglued.
Fortunately, he is reunited with Beverly and they agree that this whole scenario is a cross between “Frankenstein,” “Jane Eyre,” “Better Homes & Gardens,” and “King of Kings” and somehow you realize that these writers keep turning the screw tighter and tighter until the threads of common storytelling conventions become stripped, but thankfully Patsy, whose grandmother was killed by the villagers for being a witch, is a thrifty person and was able to procure D batteries for the large machine in the basement that will bring her creature, made of a giant cookie, to life. After all, she just wants to prove that the whole time she’s just baking cookies.
This story concludes early in the next issue (and that’s as far as I read) with Howard defeating this cookie creature by eating it, When the creature falls it hits the machinery and house blows up, and Howard Bev manage to escape.
I use the word “escape” lightly. I highly doubt they’ve escaped from the whims of their writers. Imagine if Deadpool managed to cross paths with Howard when these issues were being published. I’m no dead pool fan, but with his ability to break the fourth wall and comment on what’s actually happened, I’d be curious as to his opinion on the matter.
Note: One thing the movie did manage to get right, at least as an adaptation from a comic book, is the chemistry between Bev and Howard, particularly how she calls him “Ducky.” Does that make the endeavor a good thing for our culture? No, but there you have it.