4 out of 5
Self-indulgence is an integral part of Steve Gerber’s writing. Whether he was writing from a more comical or serious perspective, time was always taken for an inner journey on part of the lead character. This differs from the commentary that would get stuck in there as well – snipes at society, at commercialism – but would also function as a representation of what the author was likely going through while working on whichever book.
In Howard the Duck, Steve transitioned his character from an everyman curmudgeon voicepiece – rallying against randomness that represented the Irk of the Day – to a put-upon reactionist, and then, in the inevitability of that integral self-indulgence, to a character completely unmoored from himself and the book in which he starred, truly bringing the ‘Trapped in a world he never made!’ tagline to art + words life. Howard walks away from a fight with a ridiculous villain (Le Beaver), suddenly unclear why he was fighting in the first place, and then loses it. He goes insane. And amusingly, when the title reaches out for some wacky guest stars – Daimon Hellstrom; Kiss – the title also becomes its most grave. To the extent that Steve questions, in the letters column, whether or not this is an acceptable path for the book… and although the responses seem generally favorable, by issue 14, he’d decided to reel it back in a little bit, giving us something of a mini-arc in which the Duck explores his own mind, and Steve’s creative process as well.
It’s not all text scrawl, of course. Hardly. We’re introduced to a new lisping companion, Winda; a presumed nazi psychologist; we experience a hilarious trial between Kidney Lady and the duck; and we get a sense of Steve’s awareness of the transitions mentioned above, with all of our previous “villains” reappearing in #10s surreal dream sequence. Howard ends up incarcerated due to how this experience exacerbates him, separating him and Bev; this brings in another interesting aspect in which Howard – Steve? – questions what the nature of their relationship is. Can a girl love a duck?
Colan looks amazing, and perhaps his amazing-est yet when inked by Klaus Janson in issue 14. Janson just seems to naturally “get” Colan’s line, enhancing its denseness without foregoing the clarity Steve Leialoha had been bringing to the book.
Due to the way the potential direction of the series may have changed hereabouts, some things don’t feel like they exactly pay off. It’s not clear what Steve was going for with some of the random word association he uses at the start of the “arc”, and there’s an interesting dynamic with the male nurse in charge of Howard at the insane asylum in which he’s interred that, again, seems like its fizzled out without clarity. Nonetheless, this is classic Gerb, and the kind of magic, unhinged but still somehow focused writing that boggles the mind, whether it would have been reading it in the 70s or nowadays.