Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The death of Howard the Duck

I got on the HTD train late. My first issue was #25, released in June 1978. I was about to turn ten. In those days, my parents would let me hop on the 55C RTA bus (by myself) at the corner of Dwight and Osborn, which wound its way onto Lake and then Clifton and into Lakewood. I got off at Wagar and walked south to Detroit to a comic book store whose name I forget. The owner was a dick, he hoarded every copy of HTD he could and jacked up the price. They were in demand in Cleveland because theoretically they took place here. I paid, however, and worked my way back through the series.

I got to enjoy three, first-run Steve Gerber penned issues. Issue #27 ended on quite a cliffhanger, with Howard and friends in Skudge, PA (don't ask.) He watches helplessly as Paul is hit by a stray bullet and in another part of town Winda is beaten comatose by some low-life. I didn't notice the change in author, but the next issue is simply from another planet - the Planet of Crap. It makes no sense whatsoever, it is like a cross between a Playboy Magazine comic and a Warner Brothers cartoon.

Beverly, who had gone off with Dr. Bong several issues earlier is inexplicably present, and Howard is set on some mission without any prodding at all, which is entirely out of character. The artwork is hideous. It's just a lame, lame book. It's followed by another guest writer, trying to "get" the HTD style. What had been a brooding, quirky, hip book had instantaneously become a funny aminal comic.

There was finally an explanation, regarding Mr. Gerber and how he was leaving the comic, for reasons they said were "complicated." The fact is, the difficulties Gerber recounted in issue #16 had finally caught up to him, he was chronically behind deadline on not only the book, but the companion comic strip and every other project he had his hands in. They pulled him off the strip, he sued Marvel and so left the book itself.

The final two issues of HTD (amusingly, the editor reassures fans in the penultimate issue that the monthly color comic will never go away!) are thankfully drawn by Gene Colan, and in two issues preemptively ends the Doctor Bong saga in a sock-pow, and largely unsatisfying conclusion.

Interestingly, the final issue (#31) includes the only actual, literal reference to the city of Cleveland. In one panel, Bev holds up a copy of the "Cleveland Plain-Dealer." Other than that, the entire series could have taken place in Detroit and you wouldn't have had to change a thing.

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