This one-shot, like so many, is a thought experiment. Howard’s creator Steve Gerber already did the titular gimmick back in Howard 19 of making him human for an entire issue, demonstrating it’s not the vessel, but the person inside who matters. He also turned Howard into a mouse during his 2001 Marvel Max mini-series official return to the character, just to prove this point after his own creation had been wrested away and humiliated by the likes of George Lucas and Disney. Given Chip Zdarsky’s utterly lackadaisical Howard reboot that Marvel squeezed out earlier this year, could another, better writer restore him to some kind of Steve Gerber-esque integrity?
Well, no. In Howard the Human, Marvel’s new “Howard” is stripped of the superficial resemblance to his avian self (and by corollary, stupid duck-related puns) and becomes solely what the company ultimately regards him as: a cipher for the Marvel Universe all-star parade of cameos by characters who’ve proven profitable in live-action. Skottie Young’s story isn’t even poorly constructed; he’s apparently a good writer as evinced by I Hate Fairyland, of which surely no coincidence is another stranger-in-a-strange land tale. The issue opens with some corporate diarrhea about this particular story’s connection to the new “Secret Wars” / “Battleworld” “event” which presumably explains why Howard is still a private detective but now a human being in a city full of talking animals (“New Quack City” – is Marvel’s target audience supposed to get a blaxploitation movie reference from 1991?) This world also hosts talking animal versions of the Black Cat, Daredevil and the Kingpin, and Howard is entangled in a blackmail/murder frame-up between them. Because what are you going to do, make a Howard story about Howard? If Zdarsky didn’t, why should Young?
I hadn’t even realized until reading this comic that Howard’s recent reboot doesn’t allow him to smoke his beloved cigars anymore. Because CHILDREN might be reading these things, and it would jeopardize all of Marvel’s anti-tobacco advertising dollars. Yet in the opening scene he’s pounding down shots in a bar. Zap! Pow! Comics aren’t just for kids anymore!
Jim Mahfood, who presumably emerged out of the same cryogenic stasis capsule from the 90s that released Jhonen Vasquez, does his Jim Mahfood-y thing on the art and does it well. Justin Stewart’s coloring compliments him perfectly. They’re actually really good choices for the funky 70s vibe the story is aiming towards.
Howard the Human; writer, Skottie Young; artist, Jim Mahfood; colorist, Justin Stewart; letterer, Travis Lanham; editor, Jon Moisan; publisher, Marvel Comics.