Sunday, 5 October 2014

Howard The Duck #1 - Marvel Comics

HOWARD THE DUCK No. 1, January 1976
Despite being my favourite comic book character of all time, I only finally bought this three-foot tall anthropomorphic duck’s first edition a few years ago. Having been content up until that point to have a notable gap at the start of my twenty-odd issue run of the “funny animal”. Cost was predominantly the reason behind my reluctance to obtain it, but compared to the prices I’ve seen it ‘fetch’ recently I think my copy, despite a slight yellowing to its interior pages, was a real bargain.

Indeed “Howard the Barbarian” is a superb example of Steve Gerber’s zany writing at its best. The duck’s creator provides a plot packed full of action, satire, fantasy adventure and even a breaking of the fourth wall, with Howard turning to the reader in one panel, cigar in bill, saying “I realize this is strange, folks… But what the heck?” Admittedly the reader’s introduction to the cynical fowl is a rather depressing one, with Howard’s first panel, a full-page illustration by co-plotter Frank Brunner, portraying the duck contemplating suicide on the bank of the Cuyahoga River. However this is pure Gerber, doing something completely different with his characters from that of the other American comic book writers of the mid-Seventies… and besides, most readers who bought this 1976 issue were already fans of the fowl following his popular appearances in “Giant-Size Man-Thing”.

This issue also enjoys some excellent artwork as Frank Brunner is responsible for both the drawing and colouring, and Steve Leialoha provides some great inking. There’s a real Robert E. Howard sword-and-sorcery pulp fiction feel to the panels, especially with Beverley Switzler’s Hyborian maiden costume, and Howard looking cartoonish yet resplendent with his horned barbarian helmet and sword scabbard. It is thus no surprise that these days Brunner is perhaps better known for having illustrated many of the covers for the 1974-1995 black and white magazine series “The Savage Sword of Conan”.

Most amusing however is Gerber’s tongue-in-cheek solution to a plot which revolves around the duck outwitting sorcerers, warriors, living stone statues and giant flying lizards. For rather than try and best all with sword and might, Howard claims the prized gem-key with a simple flick of his stogie… and then relies upon a cameo by the Amazing Spider-Man to actually save the day.
Writer: Steve Gerber, Illustrations: Frank Brunner and Inker: Steve Leialoha

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