Randomly Reviewed: Howard the Duck? No. 1

Fowl of Fear:
Script: Bill Mantlo
Art: Mike Golden & Klaus Janson

The $64,000 Desperado:
Script: Bill Mantlo
Art: Gene Colan & Bob McLeod

The cover to HOWARD THE DUCK? No. 1. Copyright 1979 by Marvel Comics Group.

The cover to HOWARD THE DUCK? No. 1. Copyright 1979 by Marvel Comics Group.

From Hell It Cometh…Chair-Thing:
Script: Bill Mantlo
Art: Gene Colan & Dave Simons

Letterers: Joe Rosen, Jim Novak, Mike Higgins

Editor-In-Chief: Jim Shooter
Editor: Rick Marschall
Associate Editor: Ralph Macchio
Insulting Editor: Mark Gruenwald
Consulting Editor: Roy Thomas
Production Manager: Lenny Grow
Design Director: Nora Maclin
Art Consultant: John Romita, Jr.
Staff & Such: Peter Ledger, Davida Lichter-Dale, Ed Norton

Cover: Gary Hallgren
Date: October, 1979

Like many people, before moving to Cleveland I knew only three things about the city; there was a river that caught fire, the Cleveland Indians were the team from Major League, and Howard the Duck lived there.

Since moving out here I’ve learned many amazing things about the city, and I heartily encourage anyone to come visit it. Prepare to have your expectations shattered. From an amazing world renowned Art Museum (which is free) and Orchestra (which is not), to an exploding culinary landscape and the historic Playhouse Square – the nation’s second largest theatre complex, behind only Lincoln Center in New York City – the City of Cleveland today is a long way from the ghost town landscape that was the backdrop for Howard the Duck’s original antics.

For some reason Howard always appealed to me. I was too young for his original adventures to speak to me, but something about a displaced talking duck dating a model as he navigated the human world intrigued me. So when I stumbled across Issue No. 1 of the Howard the Duck? black-and-white magazine from 1979 I had to snatch it up.

I do want to note that the question mark is not officially part of the magazine’s title, but since I also have color Howard the Duck comics I’m using the punctuation to help differentiate for future ease of reference.

Now, for those who may think otherwise, Howard’s move from color comic to black-and-white magazine was actually a step up for the character. Stories could be larger and longer, and magazines were not subject to the Comic Code Authority’s approval. This meant that writers and artists could have more freedom in their storytelling.

And yes, that means you shouldn’t hand this issue to the little ones – at least not before taping something over page 63.

Issue No. 1 of Howard the Duck? is broken up into three chapters, with one interlude. Oh, and as usual, spoilers.

Chapter, One, entitled Fowl of Fear, follows the tale of Howard, his girlfriend Beverly Switzler, and Bev’s uncle Lee Switzler, as they are driving back to Cleveland – during a rainstorm, of course. As they cross the state border into Ohio on I-80 they blow a tire. The nearest sign of civilization is the Fairer Fowl Farms, and despite Howard’s relentless pessimism the trio knock on the door.

As one would expect this chicken farm is run by a man in a chicken outfit who calls himself Mr. Chicken. Mr. Chicken is determined to see his enhanced chickens on the dinner tables of every American household. This by itself isn’t evil, but Mr. Chicken is rather insane and incapable of differentiating the humans and talking duck from unruly chickens. After Howard blows up about feeding fowl to people Mr. Chicken demands that his foreman, Hank Skidoo, place the group in the Henhouse. A scuffle erupts and Lee manages to escape.

In the Henhouse Howard is sent to the Rooster Room to begin breeding, while Beverly is taken away to be plucked by Mr. Chicken’s mechanized system. Howard pleads with Skidoo to talk sense into his boss, but Skidoo will not defy Mr. Chicken. The pair nearly escape when Bev rips one of the machine’s arms from the wall and smashes her way to Howard and the exit, but Mr. Chicken intercepts them.

The bumper of Lee Switzler’s car then intercepts Mr. Chicken’s legs. A passing farmer had help Lee replace the damaged tire, and he had driven the care straight through the front of the house. Quickly gathering into the car Howard and the Switzlers make a quick escape to Cleveland. The story implies that, taking advantage of his downed employer, Skidoo finishes off Mr. Chicken and vows to run a more humane fowl farm.

A brief Interlude now sets up Howard’s employment as a taxi driver. We are also introduced to Claude Starkowitz, a fairly adept mechanic from Howard’s past who also thinks he is Tony Stark’s cousin.

In Chapter Two, The $64,000 Desperado, Howard gets started on his new taxi career after a very unusual certification process. Claude rigs Howard’s taxi so our diminutive protagonist can reach all the important parts, and the duck and his girl head off so Howard can drop Bev at a modeling assignment.

Things don’t go as planned, of course. Howard accidentally drives onto the Cleveland Marathon’s route (I know from experience this is easier to do than you may think). As he tries to get out-of-the-way Howard and Bev accidentally uncover a plot to fix the race, coming face to face with the criminal Jackpot. Jackpot is literally a one-armed bandit – he lost one arm in a bet and is now themed himself as a slot machine. He overwhelms his victims by raising and lowering his arm, causing hundreds of coins to erupt out of his mouth.

Jackpot confronts Howard and Bev when they start to undo his plans, covering the front of Howard’s cab with coins. Jackpot is able to out manuever Howard’s Quak Fu, but when Jackpot announces his intention to snuff out Beverly our hero duck launches a renewed assault. Figuring that Jackpot’s coins have to be coming from somewhere Howard leaps to the man’s back and begins forcing Jackpot’s hand up and down. This succeeds in pumping Jackpot’s stomach empty, exhausting and sickening the man. Howard and Beverly flee and put things right with the race.

While Chapters One and Two of Issue No. 1 were mostly standalone stories, my enjoyment of Chapter Three – From Hell It Cometh…Chair-Thing – suffered as it is the repository of a lot of loose ends. Even a reference to downtown Cleveland’s long-gone Higbee’s couldn’t save the chapter for me.

In little asides through Chapters One and Two characters both old to Howard’s history and new to the story are highlighted. These little moments are usually one page cut-aways at most, and don’t really disrupt the main plot. From Hell It Cometh…Chair-Thing finally brings those strings together, which may have been fine if it wasn’t all combined with a new story featuring old enemies of Howard’s who show up with a monstrous animated chair.

Honestly, with pictures and exposition I had to read the story a few times to follow it all. I’m not even going to try to boil down everything that happened. Sometimes there is such a thing as “too much weird” but Chapter Three does manage to bring the issue’s adventures to a close, as Bev and Howard finally call it a night…on page 63.

Overall I really enjoyed Howard the Duck? No. 1. Much of the humor and craziness still holds up today, and if you live in Cleveland you really should take a look for the little touches and references to the city. There’s actually a lot in the issue I didn’t even touch on. Did you know there’s also a character called Pro Rata, Cosmic Accountant? Or that Howard and Bev get hired to be in a movie? Yeah, all that happens as well amidst all the other action I did take the time to explain.

If anything, Howard the Duck? No. 1 proved how much potential the character had as a magazine publication. Not only would I recommend grabbing it if you can, I will be actively on the lookout for Issue No. 2!


Scott T. Hicken is the Web Manager and Editor of EXIERN, and the creator of CHIBIERN. He welcomes your comments and feedback!