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cic2008219-01.jpgInevitably when I write about the late Steve Gerber’s most celebrated comics series, I feel I have to make the following statement. Yes, most people only know Howard the Duck from the dreadful 1986 movie adaptation, which is one of the most notorious disasters in Hollywood history. Yet Steve Gerber’s Howard the Duck comics series was one of the most brilliant achievements in the medium of its time.

Introduced by writer Gerber and artist Val Mayerik in the Man-Thing story in Adventure into Fear #19 (December 1973), Howard immediately captured the imaginations of Marvel readers, and of Gerber, as well. The duck won his own backup series in Giant-Size Man-Thing, and soon graduated to his own comic book, which was a tremendous, if short-lived, hit.

Though he was a bad-tempered talking duck, like Donald and Daffy, Howard was also a cleverly conceived variation on the type of Marvel hero pioneered by Stan Lee. If Spider-Man felt alienated from society, Howard’s situation was even worse. Displaced from his otherdimensional world of talking waterfowl, Howard was marooned on the world of humans, or ‘hairless apes,” as he called them. According to his series’ catchphrase, Howard was “trapped in a world he never made.”

In his book Disguised as Clark Kent, Danny Fingeroth explores how Jewish-American comics writers’ sense of being outsiders informed the superhero series they wrote (see “Comics in Context” #200, 201, 202, 203, 204). Gerber shared this background and Howard is the ultimate outsider. Wherever he went, Howard encountered startled humans who disbelievingly exclaimed, “You–you’re a duck!” as if Howard was not already well aware of the fact. In other words, everyone he encounters reminds Howard that he is not like them. The principal exception is his companion Beverly Switzler, who accepts and loves Howard, despite the difference in their species.

Moreover, Howard is a talking duck, like those we see in animated cartoons and comics in our childhood, who has been transplanted into a world of adult humans. I suspect that Howard represents our inner child, thrust into the world of adulthood. As such, he had special relevance for Baby Boomers who continued reading comics as they grew into adults, shifting away from the innocence of children’s comics into material for more mature audiences.

Whereas so many humor comics produced by the mainstream comics companies for this maturing audience were second or third-rate imitations of Harvey Kurtzman’s MAD, Gerber’s Howard the Duck was a superb ongoing satire on various comics genres, American culture, politics, and even the human condition. Confronted by nonsense all about him, Howard vented his feelings through his favorite expletive, a quacking sound transcribed as “Wauugh!” which could express exasperation, dismay, anger, fury, and even despair. That last emotion might be surprising in a “funny animal” comic, but Howard was a funny animal comic aimed at discerning adults, and through comedy it dealt with many if the same themes that Gerber explored in his genre melodramas like Man-Thing and Omega the Unknown.

One test of great satire is its longevity. Will a satire on topical events and issues still be relevant, meaningful and funny years later to a new generation of readers? I decided to see for myself. In Howard’s most celebrated storyline, he ran for president in 1976 against real life candidates, incumbent president Gerald Ford and the eventual winner, Jimmy Carter. Marvel’s Essential Howard the Duck Vol. 1 paperback enables new audiences to read Gerber’s entire original run on the series, including the presidential campaign. Will the storyline hold up, over thirty years later?

The election story arc begins in Howard the Duck #7, cover-dated December 1976, although the issue came out months before the November election). But Gerber had to spend the first part of the issue wrapping up the story he began in the previous issue. So let’s start with the beginning of that storyline in Howard the Duck #6 (November 1976, the first monthly issue), “The Secret House of Forbidden Cookies!”

Part of Gerber’s modus operandi on Howard was to parody other genres in comics and popular fiction: hence, Howard the Duck #1 burlesqued sword and sorcery. This time the target is the Gothic romance, and so, of course, it begins in a dark and stormy night. Following the Joseph Campbell monomyth pattern, the story starts out with our protagonist, Howard, and his companion Beverly at a low point. Having embarked on that particularly American form of quest, the road trip, Howard and Beverly have been reduced to hitchhiking in a torrential rainstorm. The lone passing motorist on the road at that time of night might have given Beverly a ride, but he panicked upon seeing her companion, reacting as if he’d seen a monster out of, yes, a Gothic horror novel: “It–it’s hideous–inhuman–not a man at all.” In other words, it’s a duck. The driver would have killed Howard and Beverly had they not leapt inside–into the mud. Beverly, usually the more optimistic of the two, postulates that the driver “lost control” of the car. Howard, more cynical about human attitudes towards him, is sure that the driver intended to kill them. And this is far from the last attempt on his life in the course of these four issues.

But then Beverly understandably turns distraught, and she and Howard reverse roles. Now he is the optimist, assuring her that “somebody is bound to come along.” But right now their situation resembles a wetter version of Waiting for Godot. Furious at Howard for getting them into their plight (and giving him a good kick), Beverly turns to hyperbole (“Nobody’ll ever use this road again!”) and evokes a fate worse than death. “We’ll have to eat each other to survive!” she asserts, not explaining just how they could manage to simultaneously devour one another. “That’d be understandable in the Andes,” Beverly says, grappling with the ironically humdrum nature of their predicament, “but not in the Poconos!”

Their plight is ridiculous, yet suddenly Gerber and Colan succeed in making it affectingly real. Fed up with the turmoil of her life since she met Howard, Beverly leaves him. Her parting words are “I can’t tolerate your stubbornness or petty fits of rage anymore!” That could be a line from an entirely serious story about lovers breaking up. Howard’s reaction is both credible and nuanced. At first, emotionally devastated, he seeks to placate her by hesitatingly agreeing with her decision (“if that’s what ya really want”) and admitting his faults (“I can’t deny I’m hell to live with”), perhaps in the hope that his concessions will change her mind. But Howard is too brokenhearted to adhere to his strategy, and suddenly calls out after her. She answers, but this time her anger triggers Howard’s temper, and he literally turns his back on her.

Frank Brunner drew Howard’s initial solo stories, but to my mind Gene Colan is Howard’s foremost artist. From the first time I saw his work, I’ve admired Gene Colan’s handsomely realistic style, which surely owes a debt to the great American illustrators. Yet he also draws Howard with the proper cartooniness. What amazes me about his work on Howard the Duck is that he somehow seamlessly blends the cartooniness of the duck and the naturalism of the people and backgrounds into a credible whole, so that you can believe that Howard and Beverly exist in the same world.

Beyond that, Gerber’s Howard the Duck provided opportunities for Colan to demonstrate his ability to make the characters he drew “act.” In the aforementioned breakup sequence, Colan captures the shifts in Howard’s emotions from sympathy over Beverly’s despair to irritation to being stunned when she says she’s leaving him to a look of vulnerability with a hint of desperation, to his final angry resignation, captured in both the look in his eyes and his body language.

Wandering through the rain, Beverly eventually reaches the archetypal Gothic mansion in the middle of nowhere, where she is mistaken for the new governess, a role played by Gothic heroines from Jane Eyre to Dark Shadows’ Victoria Winters. Having, in effect, walked into a Gothic novel, the exhausted Beverly accepts the role that is assigned to her (“Oh, heck–why not? Anything that’ll get me in the door!”).

The next morning Howard awakens to the latest variation on Gerber’s “You’re a duck!” trope. This time he is found by Reverend Joon Moon Yuc and his young followers, the “Yucchies,” who regard Howard as a “devil-duck,” a creature of Satan, and a sign that “the last days” are upon them. Reverend Yuc and his followers are parodies of Reverend Sun Myung Moon, who moved to the United States in 1971, and the members of his Unification Church, called the “Moonies.” Reverend Moon is no longer as prominent in the news as he was in the 1970s, but Reverend Yuc and the Yucchies still work as parodies of religious cultists and fanatics.

Professing to be “a servant of the Lord,” Reverend Yuc abandons his feigned humility a few panels later, asserting that he knows the will of God. “My word is as the Lord’s,” he declares, and he begins to lead his acolytes in praying to God “to strike this creature dead with a bolt from heaven!” Howard gulps nervously, doubtless fearing what will happen if lightning does not strike and the Reverend decides to take divine vengeance into his own hands.

Who would be the contemporary counterpart of Reverend Yuc? I am reminded of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson’s infamous agreement that the 9/11 terrorist attacks were God’s punishment on America for harboring feminists, gays, and pro-abortion activists.

In bringing Reverend Yuc onstage, Gerber has not diverged from this issue’s overall satiric theme. Reverend Yuc fills the role of the fanatical clergyman who leads the witch hunt (like the Reverend Trask in Dark Shadows), and the Yucchies are his congregation.

Luckily, the Yucchies are diverted from attempting to destroy Howard by the arrival of a bearded horseman in period dress, Heathcliff Rochester (whose names reference the brooding leading men of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre), who turns out to be a representative of the Seven Gables real estate company (in a shout out to Nathaniel Hawthorne). Having apparently been misinformed as to the name of his prospective client, Rochester addresses Howard as “Reverend Duck.” Like Beverly, Howard accepts the proffered role, which at least enables him to escape Reverend Yuc’s clutches.

Meanwhile, Beverly and her new pupil. Patsy, are having breakfast at opposite ends of the typical long table in the mansion’s typically immense dining room, forcing them to shout in order to hear each other. Patsy’s mad mother (another allusion to Jane Eyre, and other Gothic and romantic works) alerts her that the local villagers are charging up the hill to destroy her. (Rochester later explains that they regard Patsy as “some sort of witch.”) Beverly comments that it reminds her of Frankenstein “with a few contemporary touches”: the leader wears a hard hat, and they’ve brought a crane with a wrecking ball to demolish the mansion. To protect the house, Rochester unleashes the hounds, who proceed to trample Howard in pursuing the villagers.

Watching this, Beverly initially reacts with concern for Howard and rushes out to him, before remembering they had split up and striking an appropriately defiant pose. Mirroring her anger, Howard launches into an inner monologue in thought balloons: “Why should I care if I never see her again? What possible mutual attraction could rationally exist between a duck and–that? It defies every law of nature!” Howard continually faces bigotry from the humans he encounters; now he is giving in to anti-human prejudice against Beverly.

But then Beverly provides him with an opening (“I’m not inflexible. I might be persuaded. . .or charmed. . .”), and Howard immediately seizes it (“On the other hand, I’ve never felt constrained to follow convention”) and rushes into the equally overjoyed Beverly’s arms. Howard’s anger and even anti-human bigotry towards Beverly were merely defense mechanisms for coping with the pain of her rejection. As they hug, Howard thinks, “How could this be wrong–or insane–when it feels so good?” Absurd as the relationship between a woman and a talking duck may be on the surface, this scene is surprisingly moving. Through it Gerber has mounted a touching defense of any unconventional form of love. Readers may choose to interpret the bond between Howard and Beverly as a metaphor for whatever kind of relationship they like. As both Beverly and Howard weep with joy, he tells her, “I know how it goes. Love is strange, an’ all that!”

Howard and Beverly return to the mansion, where Reverend Yuc and his witch-hunting cultists soon arrive to “exorcise” the mansion. Patsy leads everyone to (where else?) the mansion’s tower room, which contains equipment out of a Frankenstein movie and an ominous, enormous figure concealed beneath a sheet. Patsy contends that she is “just baking cookies” and “this whole set-up is nothing more than a glorified Suzy Homemaker oven!” Gerber has hit upon a sharp satiric idea here, comparing the archetypal mad scientist creating his monster to a child baking cookies or playing with dolls. A little girl will pretend that her Barbie doll is real, and Dr. Frankenstein brings his own “plaything” to life. And so this issue concludes with Patsy, defying the “ignorant, unscientific rabble” in the best mad scientist tradition, pulling the archetypal lever, and bringing to life–her gigantic Gingerbread Man! (This, by the way, is eight years before the 1984 movie Ghostbusters and its colossal Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man.)

Gerber quickly winds up this storyline within the first five pages of the following issue. Howard has a knack for pursuing different strategies than you might expect from the conventional genre hero. Faced with the enormous walking Gingerbread Man, Howard reasons that “It can’t eat usif we eat it first!” and begins “ruthlessly chomping” through the creature’s leg. Soon thereafter the Gothic mansion, like Rebecca’s Manderlay and Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory, has gone up in smoke, and Howard and Beverly resume their road trip to the Big Apple.

They get a ride from country western singer Dreyfuss Gultch, a country singer who has been invited to sing the National Anthem at the convention for a third political party, called (get this) the All-Night Party. Gerber had obviously noticed how presidential campaigns enlist popular singers to perform at rallies and conventions, using country singers to appeal to the South.

Beverly asks Gultch if he can get them jobs at the convention, and he complies, although not from a sense of charity: Gerber and Colan visually make it plain that when he offers to do a favor for “such an exceptional pair as you,” he’s not thinking of Howard and Beverly, but of Beverly’s decolletage.

Beyond Gultch’s leering, Gerber continues to make a point of the sexism underlying the male-dominated world of politics. He gets Beverly a job as “Bev, your hospitality girl,” complete with miniskirted costume. “How’s that sound?” she asks Howard, “Like a come-on,” he replied, and indeed, by evening she’s been pinched so much she can’t sit down. Gultch gets Howard a job as a security guard, but when he reports for duty, his superior has a female employee on his lap.

So here are Howard and Beverly in newly assigned roles once again, and Howard’s might seem an unlikely fit. “You know I’m uncomfortable as an authority figure,” he tells Beverly, who knows better: “That’s what they all say–till they put on the uniform! You revel in that sense of power–and you know it.” Howard mulls this over, reflecting, “Sure, even on my world folks costumed themselves to achieve or reinforce a sought-after self-image. . . !” That’s interesting phrasing Gerber used, describing a guard’s uniform as if it were a superhero costume. But that’s something that is important to understand about costumes in the superhero genre: they are like uniforms that people wear in real life to convey an impression of authority. You could say that policemen put on costumes in order to fight crime. Moreover, in general people create a “self-image” through the clothes they choose to wear.

Dismissing the idea that clothes make the duck, Howard tells himself, “ya don’t immediately internalize–” presumably meaning the image projected by a uniform. Waterfowl, know thyself! Garbed as an authority figure, Howard starts acting the part, imposing common sense solutions on the quarreling politicians he encounters. He has “internalized” his new role, after all.

First Howard wanders into a committee meeting, where a conservative is insisting that “This is the real world–where the Russkies will kill their own people in the name of national security! Our intelligence agencies must have the same freedom to operate. . . .” What, to kill our own people in the name of national security, that all-purpose rationale? A liberal rebuts him, declaring that “our men in mufti deserve our support” (as if anticipating the standard early 21st century rhetorical boilerplate about “supporting the troops”) but contending that “we cannot stoop to condone assassination. . . .” That’s a strong stand that the liberal immediately undercuts by adding, “except in self-defense!”, another all-purpose excuse. Gerber was writing this scene in 1976 about the Cold War, but with just a few alterations it could be a 2008 debate about terrorism between a hard-line right-winger favoring torture “in the name of national security” and a liberal who blusters about human rights but still lets the administration violate them at will.

Exasperated, Howard asks the committee members, “Any of you turkeys know anything about intelligence?” “Not firsthand,” one admits, as if he were in 2008 talking about alleged weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Later, Howard breaks up an actual physical fight between delegates for presidential candidate Wauldrap (with two “a’s”) and delegates for the rival candidate Wauldrop (with one “a” and an “o”) over who will vote for whom on the third ballot. Gerber was writing about when ballots taken at the Democratic and Republican conventions determined who their presidential candidate would be. After the 1970s one candidate from each of the two parties had accumulated enough delegates in the primaries that his nomination was a foregone conclusion going into the convention. But Gerber’s sequence turns out not to be dated. after all, inasmuch as political commentators have lately been predicting that neither Barack Obama nor Hillary Clinton will have enough delegates before the convention to win on the first ballot. So the political horse-trading that Gerber mocks here will play a role in the 2008 Democratic convention. And, of course, there are few policy differences between Clinton and Obama: in that sense they are the Wauldrap and Wauldrop of the 21st century.

Despite his characteristic desire not to get involved, Howard heroically saves Wauldrop (the one with the “o”) from being killed by a bomb planted on the convention floor (“I can’t knowingly let even a politician die!”). Gerber was doubtlessly thinking of the political assassinations of the 1960s, but now this sequence will make readers think of the current threat of terrorist attacks. Wauldrop understandably resigns as the All-Night Party’s presidential candidate, and Gultch nominates their new hero Howard to take his place. And if some individuial singlehandedy thwarted a terrorist attack at a national poliical convention in real life, wouldn’t there be a move afoot to promote him for political office?

It’s interesting that, as much as Howard agonizes over making decisions, and as much as he wants to avoid getting involved in other people’s trouble, when someone presents him with a new role to fill in life, whether it’s a reverend or a guard or President of the United States–he passively, unenthusiastically goes along with it. It’s as if he’s drifting through life, taking whatever opportunities present themselves. “I guess I got nothin’ planned between now and November,” Howard says, “but–” No buts. Howard didn’t say no, and he is nominated by acclamation. Thus a political legend is born.

Recall that in Gerber’s story about the life of Darrel Daniel in Man-Thing #5 and 6 (1974), Darrel reacted to the assassination of Robert Kennedy during the 1968 presidential campaign by deciding to become a clown, to try to make people laugh again. The assassinations of the 1960s must have haunted Gerber, as well, but in Howard the Duck #8 (January 1977) he blows the threat up to absurd propottions. Rival assassins kill one another for the chance to assassinate the duck, and a street in Greenwich Village turns into a sort of shooting gallery as Howard and Bev make their escape in Gultch’s bulletproof limousine.

Mind you, according to Howard’s campaign manager, G. Q. Studley (whose name denotes a preoccupation with fashionable images), the fact that “Howard’s assassination quotient” is higher than the Democratic and Republican candidates for president is a plus: “it means that people care!” There’s nothing dated about Gerber’s satire on professional political consultants like Studley, who insists that candidates recite “nice, safe, pre-tested bromidic bombasts,” which were “compiled by out expert equivocators.” Howard contemptuously bites Studley on the nose and walks out to conduct his campaign his own way.

Gerber and Colan segue to a newscast by a familiar-looking anchorman called “Walter Klondike,” who reports on the astonishing success of Howard’s presidential campaign. “According to Klondike, “his relentless candor set him apart at once. In the words of one astonished listener: ‘My God, he’s telling the truth! He’ll be dead in a week!’”

Howard has become a new incarnation of that archetypal American figure, the political outsider who hasn’t been corrupted by the system and who speaks the plain truth. This is a figure of such appeal to Americans that politicians from Eugene McCarthy to Ronald Reagan to Bill Clinton to George W. Bush to John McCain to Barack Obama have all presented themselves as this sort of candidate at some point during their careers. Howard is like a Frank Capra hero, only with feathers and without the naivete. And in bad times the American public fervently responds to a candidate who convincingly stands for change from a rotten status quo; Klondike reports that Howard has won “millions” of supporters.

Howard also proves to be a political performance artist who anticipates Michael Moore. (Gerber even has President Ford comment about Howard’s “theatrics.”) For example, to make his point against pollution, Howard “collected a steam-shovelful of non-returnable containers” and dumped them on their manufacturer’s property.

Klondike presents (fictional) comments on the HTD candidacy from the real life 1976 candidates: Jimmy Carter, depicted as a Democrat uncomfortably straddling both sides of the issue, and Gerard Ford, who seems a clueless Republican president. The names may have changed by 2008, but the character types that Gerber pinpoints here are still with us.

What makes Howard decidedly different from other candidates, apart from his species, is that he really isn’t motivated by the lust for power that drives other politicians. Again mixing his media, Gerber inserts a prose transcript of one of Howard’s press conferences, in which he explains that “I didn’t particularly wanna be president of this coast-to-coast funny farm you hairless apes have set up. When they asked me to run, I’d just been hit on the head an’ didn’t really understand what I was agreein’ to.” But as he tells a fat cat lobbyist, “Well, s’pose I toldja I don’t care if I’m elected? That I’d rather lose than sell out to you oily guys with steel brains and exhaust pipe mouths?” Free from personal ambition, Howard’s candidacy has a purity that other politicians don’t match.

In Howard’s press conference, Gerber continues to rework themes that we examined last week in his Man-Thing stories, but from a comedic perspective. Darrel the clown and Brian Lazarus both rejected the rat race of the business world and its goals of material success. Lazarus feared he had lost his capacity for emotion. Darrel found his true vocation in making people laugh in an unhappy world. Howard tells his audience, “you’ve fashioned an emotionally and intellectually sterile culture. . . .If an individual is unwilling to spend his life in the plodding pursuit of possessions, there’s nothing for ‘im to do! The United States is one big dateless Saturday night! If I’m elected, I’m gonna inject a little life back into you anesthetized Americans! For four years this country’s gonna get down an’ boogie, see?” Indeed, the campaign slogan on the real Howard the Duck campaign buttons that Gerber sold in 1976 was “Get down, America!” which also was a sly reference to the candidate’s downy feathers.

In the concluding pages of issue 8, Howard and Beverly run a “gauntlet” of assassination attempts by “special interest” groups. Whether Gerber thought that special interests would really resort to murdering a candidate they opposed, I do not know. I prefer to think of this sequence as employing hyperbole to satirize the lengths to which political “attack machines” will go to figuratively destroy a candidate.

What finally does in Howard’s candidacy is, beneath its comedic aspect, believable indeed, as politicians such as Gary Hart, Bill Clinton, and now maybe John McCain could attest: a sex scandal. The media publishes a (faked) photograph of Howard and Beverly taking a bath together.

Exactly why this is so scandalous is left up to the readers. Is it because Howard and Bev aren’t married? Here Gerber is puncturing the hypocrisy of the political world, since he took pains to depict the convention as a hotbed of covert sex. Or is Gerber suggesting that the general public is less open-minded than Howard and Beverly about the unconventional relationship between a human and a waterfowl?

Beneath the bathtub photo, Gerber ran a caption promoting the title of the next issue’s story: “The Bite of the Beaver! (Chomp!)” I confess that in 1976 this reference to vagina dentata went right over my head–and obviously, over the heads of Marvel editorial and the Comics Code as well!

In the next issue, Howard the Duck #9 (Feb. 1977), it turns out that the photo was faked by a hotel bellboy, a fanatical youth who is in the employ of Pierre Dentifris, an even more fanatical foreign mastermind from, of all places, Canada. So Howard and Beverly head up north, where they meet a square-jawed Mountie named Sergeant Preston Dudley, whose name alludes both to Jay Ward’s Dudley Do-Right and to the now nearly forgotten radio and television series, Sgt. Preston of the Yukon (which was–what a small world!–originally produced by George W. Trendle, who also presided over the creation of The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet).

When Howard and company finally encounter Pierre Dentifris, “Canada’s only super-patriot,” he turns out to be a bearded recluse who rants against America and the “way you barbarians invaded and polluted us with your industry, your so-called culture–!” Surely Gerber was satirizing rabidly anti-American foreign critics. But in 2008, I think that Dentifris has a new relevance that Gerber could not have anticipated. Now to me Dentifris looks like a satiric foreshadowing of Osama bin Laden, raving from his isolated hideaway against American culture and employing fanatical youths to carry out his plots against the United States. Dentifris is conducting his own sort of secular jihad against America. Coincidentally, he even takes control of an airplane as part of his scheme; Sgt. Dudley comments that this is “his modus operandi. . .Pierre always uses bellboys and robot planes.”

Ultimately Dentifris, costumed as “Le Beaver,” has a showdown with Howard on a rope suspended over Niagara Falls. And yes, Gerber even makes an allusion (“Slowly he turns. . . .”) to the classic vaudeville routine about Niagara Falls, probably best known to Baby Boomers from the 1944 Three Stooges short Gents without Cents. Once again choosing a rational but unexpected alternative to standard heroic behavior, Howard decides that the fight is stupid and waddles off the rope back to safety, while Le Beaver falls to his apparent demise. (But considering that the Canadian dollar is now worth more than the American one, I’d say that Le Beaver has finally gotten his revenge.)

Howard’s harrowing experiences leave him on the brink of a nervous breakdown, and Howard the Duck #10 (March 1976) consists of an issue-long surrealistic dream sequence which Gerber titled “Song-Cry of the Living Dead Duck,” kidding his own Man-Thing classic. I could easily keep on going analyzing this brilliant series, but this week’s column is long enough, and this is a good place to stop.

So, yes, Gerber’s Howard the Duck not only stands the test of time, but its satire even proves unexpectedly relevant to current events.

In the 1950s and 1960s Walt Kelly’s Pogo ran for President every four years, and over the decades I hoped that Howard would likewise run–or waddle– again for the Presidency, but he never did, Mind you, this would only have worked if Steve Gerber had written the stories. Others have tried, but Howard is so personal a creation that no one but Gerber ever truly captured the character or the feel of his series. Some years back, Gerber wrote a new Howard the Duck miniseries for Marvel’s MAX line, and I worried that, after so many years, he would be unable to recapture the magic of the original. But he did, and the MAX series matched the standards Gerber set in his 1970s Howard stories. One of my only regrets was that Gene Colan didn’t draw the mini-series.

My other regret was that Gerber never did a follow-up Howard series, for reasons I do not know. And now it’s too late.

Its like the new Batman mini-series that Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers were working on when Rogers passed away, and that now will never come to be. It’s disconcerting to think of the stories that could have been done by comics creators who died too early, if only they had been asked when they were still here.

Imagine if Steve Gerber had written about a new Howard presidential run during the Reagan years, or the Clinton administration, or during the regime of George W. Bush? But the point is that we can’t. No one else as yet has fully recreated Gerber’s unique satiric vision.

-Copyright 2008 Peter Sanderson


One Response to “Comics in Context #215: Wauugh and Remembrance”

  1. Rick B. Says:

    Surely it can’t have been over 30 years. The current parallels are disconcerting, and discouraging - a good reminder that satire such as this serves us well when it prompts us to action. I certainly agree about the power of
    Colan’s art. When DC ran the ‘Nathaniel Dusk’ series directly from his pencils, I was astonished at just how evocative and beautiful his work was in its ‘raw’ state. Looking back now at some of the 70’s Marvels, it feels to me like they are overwritten, but Gerber knew to let the art speak for itself. Thanks for pointing out some of the more subtle and clever bits of his humor that I missed the first time around - how could I not see the wordplay on ‘Get Down’, and ‘Beaver Bite’ is just wicked. I passed on the latest series, but you now have me thinking that was a mistake. And, I suppose the magazine could have been considered a follow-up series, though that too was short-lived.
    Thanks for this good remembrance,
    Rick B.

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