Howard the Duck 23 (April 1978)

Howard the Duck #23

Leave it to Steve Gerber to do the impossible here. Wow. He takes this peculiar story arc (which ties back to Howard’s first appearance and ignores everything else in the series so far) and throws in these (intentionally) painfully obvious Star Wars references and then goes loose with it all.

The result is a good Spaceballs. The result is the perfect mix of subversive material, mainstream gags and storytelling intelligence. The comic’s called Howard the Duck and the duck’s been paddling around in a circle. Why’s Gerber do it? To make the return to him here work. It’s a strange thing–this issue is so tied to the previous one, it might have worked better as a single issue. Maybe double-size.

Because this comic–with gorgeous Mayerik art (wonderful depth)–is amazing. It’s “space humor” done better than anyone’s done it since or before. Even Dark Star.

It’s magnificent.

CREDITS

Star Waaugh; writer and editor, Steve Gerber; artist, Val Mayerik; colorist, Janice Cohen; letterer, Irving Watanabe; publisher, Marvel Comics.

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Howard the Duck 22 (March 1978)

Howard the Duck #22

I’m not sure Howard is back on track so much as Gerber has found someplace to take it. The existing narrative of the series is on hold; this issue continues Howard’s first appearance (and death) over in Man-Thing. Now he’s back with Man-Thing, Jennifer Kale (Man-Thing’s blondie girlfriend), a blond Conan and an old wizard. His mission, save the universe.

In a very Star Wars fashion. It’s a little weird to see Gerber so obviously–and appreciatively–aping Star Wars at the same comic book company printing a monthly Star Wars comic book. Maybe Howard would have had legs as a zeitgeist parody, but it’s only because Gerber brings such personality to the homage.

Val Mayerik is back on pencils, which is cool, especially given the integral Man-Thing guest appearance, which works so well because it’s got Gerber writing it.

It’s a solid issue. Real solid.

CREDITS

May the Farce Be with You!; writer and editor, Steve Gerber; penciller, Val Mayerik; inker, Bill Wray; colorist, Janice Cohen; letterer, John Costanza; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Howard the Duck Annual 1 (June 1977)

Howard the Duck Annual #1

The Howard the Duck Annual is a fantastic comic. Writers Mary Skrenes and Steve Gerber wisely go for an extended story as opposed to some special, annual-like one. Unless there’s something to Howard being in Arabia. Did Donald Duck ever have an Arabian adventure?

With Howard–especially with Val Mayerik on the art–there’s frequently a strange moment where the panel seems extremely iconic… only Howard’s not the iconic one. Between the visuals and the script, the comic often requires a moment of reflection from the reader. Crazy hijinks are going on, but Gerber handles them all so well, for a moment they don’t seem too crazy.

Gerber gets in quite a few good jokes here too. Some great situational punchlines. The issue also has Winda and Paul tagging along with Bev and Howard. It’s a very strange team comic or something.

I wish Howard was always annual-length.

CREDITS

Thief of Bagmom!; writers, Mary Skrenes and Steve Gerber; artist, Val Mayerik; colorist, Janice Cohen; letterer, Joe Rosen; editor, Gerber; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Man-Thing 4 (April 1974)

The Man-Thing #4

Abel inks Mayerik even better this issue; occasionally there’s an almost Eisner-like roundness to the figures and the faces. The hair too–the hair’s not Eisner-like, but there’s often a lot of phenomenal hair.

Gerber continues with the Foolkiller, recounting his origin. It’s a tad much, actually. There’s some anti-religion, anti-military propaganda in Gerber’s story for the character and it’s not effective. It might have been a big deal at the time, but it’s really just a shortcut to not having to do much character work.

The art and the rest of the comic smooth out those bumps. The outlandish humor aspect–down to the Foolkiller having a van and car setup from “Knight Rider” (but before the television show; wonder if Marvel got a check for it)–and the way Gerber doesn’t try to do anything with Man-Thing except as the lumbering deus ex machina… it all works out.

Works out well.

B 

CREDITS

The Making of a Madman!; writer, Steve Gerber; penciller, Val Mayerik; inker, Jack Abel; colorist, Linda Lessmann; letterer, Dave Hunt; editor, Roy Thomas; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Man-Thing 3 (March 1974)

The Man-Thing #3

I almost want to cut this issue slack for the art; Jack Abel inking Val Mayerik is an interesting thing. Abel adds not just a lot of detail–to Man-Thing in particular–but comic expressions for most of the characters. Man-Thing all of a sudden seems to recognize its humor.

And a good deal of the issue has Gerber dealing with his human civilian cast. While they aren’t the most engaging people ever, Gerber’s coming up with new situations for them and plotting these situations well. It’s like he can’t ever screw up too much because his storytelling instincts are strong.

But then there’s Foolkiller, who makes his first appearance this issue. Gerber runs him through the issue, tying together all the subplots, but it’s all too obvious. The character feels way too artificial.

The worst part of the issue might be the cliffhanger–because Gerber doesn’t make it a rewarding one.

C 

CREDITS

Day of the Killer, Night of the Fool!; writer, Steve Gerber; penciller, Val Mayerik; inker, Jack Abel; colorist, Linda Lessmann; letterer, Jean Simek; editor, Roy Thomas; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Man-Thing 2 (February 1974)

The Man Thing #2

One problem I can see Gerber having with Man-Thing is what to do on the regular issues, the ones where he has a somewhat ambitious narrative structure, but isn't doing anything fantastical. Gerber excels at the fantastical. This issue is not fantastical.

The structure's kind of neat. Man-Thing saves a guy who runs into a girl in trouble while Schist is plotting against Man-Thing (though Gerber tries too hard on the humor of the big scheming scene) and then Man-Thing runs into the trouble the girl's running from (a biker gang). It all comes together at the end.

Maybe if the guy, the protagonist for a lot of the issue, were a better character, it would work. Instead, he's a comical doofus; Gerber goes for jokes for his backstory without thinking them through.

It's a dense issue, however, and Gerber's plotting is a success. Mayerik and Trapani keep it moving.

B 

CREDITS

Nowhere to Go But Down!; writer, Steve Gerber; penciller, Val Mayerik; inker, Sal Trapani; colorist, Petra Goldberg; letterer, Jean Izzo; editor, Roy Thomas; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Man-Thing 1 (January 1974)

The Man-Thing #1

At one point during the issue, the editor–or writer Steve Gerber–apologizes for the visual madness in Gerber’s script. This apology is for the reader. But given all the insanity Gerber throws together, which ranges from superheroes, Howard the Duck, wizards, barbarians, politicians in big cars and then army guys–not to mention castles, swamps and cosmic walkways–one has to wonder how artist Val Mayerik felt about it.

Ostensibly–and from the title, Man-Thing–this comic is about Man-Thing. But not really. Especially not since Gerber does a slight retcon on the character and removes its ability for maintaining thought. So, while the comic’s great and Gerber uses Man-Thing to good effect, it’s hard to say where he can take the comic.

But it certainly seems like it’ll be somewhere great. Part of Gerber’s charm is his unexpectedness.

It’s a brilliantly written comic book with these fantastic little moments. Gerber and Mayerik are awesome.

A 

CREDITS

Battle for the Palace of the Gods!; writer, Steve Gerber; penciller, Val Mayerik; inker, Sal Trapani; colorist, Dave Hunt; letterer, John Costanza; editor, Roy Thomas; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Adventure Into Fear 19 (December 1973)

Fear #19

Apparently Mayerik and Trapani are keeping this new style, which is Trapani doing bad faces most of the time. Very unfortunate.

The issue is a mess of alternate realities, barbarians, ducks, GIs and something else. Magicians. Gerber is writing about the walls of reality collapsing and somehow he’s just got to get Man-Thing involved. But he doesn’t until towards the end of the issue and not well.

The story’s imaginative but there’s just no point to it. Man-Thing isn’t a full character in the comic, not with Gerber constantly trying to pull away from him–which is fine, so long as you don’t pretend otherwise. And the Jennifer girl is a problematic protagonist too. She’s the one who’s having the great adventure, yet Gerber can’t stick with her.

So he sticks with the guest stars, then brings in Man-Thing. It’s an okay hodgepodge. Except the weak art.

B 

CREDITS

The Enchanter’s Apprentice!; writer, Steve Gerber; penciller, Val Mayerik; inker, Sal Trapani; colorist, Stan Goldberg; letterer, Artie Simek; editor, Roy Thomas; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Adventure Into Fear 18 (November 1973)

Fear #18

It’s really bad art. From Mayerik and Trapani too. Maybe the inks are a little off but I think a lot if it must be the pencils. I really hope it’s not some new style they’re working on. Because it’s bad.

Gerber tries very hard with this story, which is sort of a talking heads disaster story, very self-aware microcosm of American life thing. He tries so hard and he fails. He fails miserably. The tone is off and none of the many things Gerber does to even establish one fails. It’s like he’s got an earnest idea and no way to honestly do it in this comic.

But then there’s the bit action finale and it’s great. It’s a classic horror problem with a modern, slightly askew approach to it. Gerber sort of saves the issue; he gets credit for the attempt.

That art is really bad though.

B 

CREDITS

A Question of Survival!; writer, Steve Gerber; penciller, Val Mayerik; inker, Sal Trapani; colorist, Linda Lessmann; letterer, Artie Simek; editor, Roy Thomas; publisher, Marvel Comics.

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