4 out of 5
Howard gains a legit nemesis; Steve goes insane; we turn toward farce.
Howard the Duck, as one of Steve’s few long-running titles, also had the unique disposition of being a creator-driven concept ‘trapped in a world’ – the Marvel World – that wasn’t tailored for him. And so we see Steve, over 30ish issues, trying to figure out how to make the Howard satisfying for him to write, and worth his audience’s attention. He starts out on a tirade against what ails him, peels back toward something more internal, and then stumbles into the genius point of view of being the observer: being Steve Gerber, the guy who cracks wise as everything happens around him. That boils over into some brilliance, and along with that came some ideas too brilliant to contain to a single issue, such as the reality warping Dr. Bong and his ‘Neez’ spouting creations. Bong is a journalist, ‘reading’ headlines to make predictions and writing his own to influence the world’s events, somehow (as far as we know at this point) translating into a bell-shaped helmet that he can ‘bong’ to warp reality. He also has a machine that can warp physical things, such as Howard, leading up to another genius wrinkle with Howard’s ‘mutation’ into Howard the Human, whose curmudgeonliness, problematic as a duck, turns out to be ultimately appealing as a hairless ape.
But Steve can only focus for so long, and so towards the tail end of this he starts to get goofier, and we get some mentions of Star Wars – which precedes a full on spoof coming up – and then issue 21 goes full topical with a humorous war on censorship, which veers hard to directly make fun of Anita Bryant (linked, for relative youngsters like me who had no idea what that was about).
And even prior to this, Steve has to interrupt himself with the infamous ‘album issue’ 16: Gerber, already known to be regularly late with his scripts, was editing and writing a small handful of title, but instead of going reprint with the ish, decides to just offer up a non-fiction, full text meditation on the process of creating, accompanied by full page pin-up spreads from various artists. It’s fascinating and insightful, but ironically, he can’t even stay on point here, and the latter half turns into a short story which Steve then critically analyzes… It’s the kind of thing that could only come from Steve, especially when he’s editing his own book, natch.
So a somewhat uneven set of issues, but kicking off with some of Steve’s best work, and frequently spotted by some genius touches and his flair for hilarious oddities.