Howard the Duck 27 (September 1978)

Howard the Duck #27

Howard is mad as hell and he’s not going to take it anymore. So what does he do? He stops the Circus of Crime. Why? See the first sentence. Is he mad at the Circus of Crime? Not so much. Is he worried about his friends being hospitalized? Not so much. Does Howard finally admit he’s got deep feelings for that hairless female ape Beverly? Sort of.

Did Marvel just not let Gerber get crazy with Howard’s affections for Beverly? There’s got to be an explanation. Because this issue isn’t just strange–it’s an action comic, one with good art and good dialogue, but an unambitious action comic. And Gerber is usually all about the ambition for what an issue can do.

So when this one doesn’t do much, the mind has time to wonder what else is going on with the comic. Hence my questions.

Though troubled, it’s solid.

CREDITS

Circus Maximus; writer and editor, Steve Gerber; penciller, Gene Colan; inker, Klaus Janson; colorist, Phil Rachelson; letterer, Gaspar Saladino; publisher, Marvel Comics.

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One thought on “Howard the Duck 27 (September 1978)

  1. It’s a postmodern comic book, that’s its curseblessing problem.

    “…this issue isn’t just strange–it’s an action comic, one with good art and good dialogue, but an unambitious action comic. And Gerber is usually all about the ambition for what an issue can do.”

    When Gerber does a book that’s all Obligatory Comic Book Fight Scene, it’s worth noting the line about circus as metaphor.

    “Did Marvel just not let Gerber get crazy with Howard’s affections for Beverly?”

    If you keep going into the stories Bill Mantlo wrote, you’ll find they were happy to let that go further than Huyck&Katz did. It was Gerber who found Howard & Beverly an untenable relationship. Gerber took a couple of characters who back in issue #2 were in the same bed and moved them further and further apart to the point that they’re now on opposite sides of the planet. Why? What’s going on?

    “There’s got to be an explanation.”

    There is, and there isn’t, and it’s all down to a facet of comics that make them/it different from most other media.

    One way to distinguish literature from fiction, or more broadly art from illustration, is the sense that something’s going on beneath the surface: that there’s something more to the work than is what is simply being presented. Some art is entirely about the interpretation and has nothing below; surrealism and dadaism both have that Rorschach-blot quality. For other art the author’s intended meaning may or may not be discerned by very careful observation. If you develop a certainty that something’s going on in HTD and read very carefully you can sort of approach its understructure. If you bear in mind that the difference between a duck and a hairless ape can be eliminated by Doctor Bong, whose power fundamentally springs from a typewriter, and go back to issue 16 and Howard’s analysis of the Ramsludge Hawthorne story (“two hairless apes can’t share the same planet if one of them happens to be him”), and so on, you might get a hint.

    But that’s as far as you’ll get, because you’re overlooking something — and if you’re reading the black-and-white Essential HTD, unavoidably, because it’s just plain gone: namely, the communication loop.

    Comics have letters columns.

    In the case of HTD the letters column is an integral part of the book. The story’s not complete without it. (#16 had a letter in it even though Gerber had to write it himself — in which he name-checks Tom Robbins & Thomas Pynchon.) Without the letters column, without the letters Gerber selected and responded to (either with words or with empty space), HTD at bottom can never be more than a Rorschach blot.

    Gerber had to stop writing HTD at this point and didn’t resolve this story until 2002’s MAX miniseries. That item can be described as a John & Leela Hort “Inessential Shakespeare” style condensation; he tried to cram about 12 issues of story into 4½, and nearly succeeded. If you go straight to that…well, you may still be left hanging, because what Doctor Bong does in the end doesn’t — can’t — make sense without those old “Wise Quacks”.

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