Howard the Duck 31 (May 1979)

Howard the Duck #31

What a bad comic. Whether it’s Mantlo’s rhyming of adjectives and nouns, the lamebrain fight scene, Bev’s silly way of resolving her situation–it’s all bad. It’s all bewilderingly disconnected, not just from the series, but from the other elements of the comic. It’s like Mantlo can’t even figure out how to move these characters in relation to one another.

And I want to be positive about it. Like anyone would be in trouble trying to followup Gerber but Mantlo does a bad job. Independent of not being Steve Gerber, he does a bad job. Howard acting like a snarky sitcom character isn’t Howard. He and Bev get together again it’s not even a scene. Regardless of having Colan on the pencils (though Milgrom’s inks weaken quickly), it doesn’t feel right.

Howard’s big adventure ends and it’s not even Howard anymore. It’s a clueless imitation. Marvel Nurse Ratchet’d him.

CREDITS

The Final Bong!; writer, Bill Mantlo; penciller, Gene Colan; inker, Al Milgrom; colorist, George Roussos; letterer, Irving Watanabe; editor, Jim Shooter; publisher, Marvel Comics.

We Stand On Guard 1 (July 2015)

wsogWe Stand On Guard is what Future Taylor of Crossed +100 might call “Really, REALLY Wishful Fiction.”

Similar to that series, Brian K. Vaughan has imagined a future one hundred years and change from now, but his speculations aren’t nearly as realistic. Imagine a future where not only has Canada NOT been assumed into the United States, they’re also a multicultural utopia. Oh, wait, that’s what Canada is supposed to be today, right? What if I told you it’s also full of brave men and women ready to stand up and take arms – you know, if they had to – against American Imperialism, after we’ve invaded them for their water? This book is such a perfect illustration of uniquely Canadian delusions it should be taught in Canadian Studies classes a hundred years from now.

Vaughan incorporates Canadiana, of course – Tim Hortons, French Bilingualism, Canadian Tire – but the two biggest cultural touchstones of the issue are an early conversation between parent and child about the War of 1812, and later, one between freedom fighters about the nationality of Superman. In the former, Vaughan momentarily tries to trick readers into thinking his story is anything but a hacky Anti-American screed by having a child informed that Canada’s burning of Washington was really by the British, because Canada “wasn’t even a country back then.” Why? “For trying to steal this land.” As if unlike the rest of North America, the British had a moral and legal right of ownership to what would one day become Canada because there weren’t any Native Americans above the 49th Parallel to kill or subjugate. Sorry, “First Nations Peoples.”

This happens mere seconds before Ottawa 2112 is bombed by the US, mere minutes after the White House is attacked. It’s either ludicrously lazy writing, or, more likely, setup for some end-of-the-first-trade reveal about the attack being faked as a pretext of military invasion – you know, like 9/11. Given that the villains of Vaughan’s incredibly overrated Saga are thinly veiled caricatures of Bush and the Saudis, it wouldn’t be a surprise.

The dialogue about Superman is a little more layered. This one smug Anglican defends his ’S’ tattoo as a mark of Canadian pride because although the city of Cleveland is, like Vaughan himself, “just where the writer was from,” the guy “who did all the real work” was “born and raised in Toronto” and that’s “actually what the entire comic is about!” So not only do you have Vaughan disparaging his own half of the craft AND Cleveland just to let this twerp make his flimsy stretch of a point, he goes on to say that America is like Metropolis – “this huge wonderland that’s mostly run by greedy bastards like Lex Luthor” while Canada is “like the planet Krypton, this peaceful place that sends our most amazing people out into the universe.” Desperate bluster like this reminds of the times I’ve been told by Canadians that guys like Jim Carrey were “stolen” by the US; any rationalization is preferable to the idea that someone born there might have good reason not to stay. Oh and by the way, Joe Shuster left Toronto around age 10 and moved to – yeah, you got it – Cleveland, where he later met Jerry Siegel in high school. No doubt the subtext of Canadian values and virtue was a frequent discussion between them during the creation of Kal-El.

Post-Trudeau Canadian pride isn’t a real belief; it’s the post-colonial self-hatred of an incredibly lucky colonial inheritance with nothing to replace it but jealous contempt for the older brother who moved out of their parents’ house instead of waiting for them to die of old age. The surest defense against existential uncertainty is to define oneself in opposition to others. We Stand On Guard will no doubt be an unwittingly thorough treatise on how Canadians can only define themselves in comparison to the big, mean USA, replete with Vaughan’s TV sitcom beats and Joss Whedon quality characterizations.

Steve Skroce’s art is really good. Awesome mechs. Matt Hollingsworth’s colors are almost as boring as Canada so good job there too, eh?

CREDITS

Writer, Brian K. Vaughan; artist, Steve Skroce; colorist, Matt Hollingsworth; letterer, Fonografiks; Coordinator, Eric Stephenson; publisher, Image Comics.

Howard the Duck 30 (March 1979)

Howard the Duck #30

Al Milgrom inking Gene Colan. And it’s not bad. It looks like Milgrom does a lot of work on Howard’s face–his lines are smoother than everything else–but otherwise, it’s not a bad job inking at all.

Milgrom’s not the only change. Steve Gerber’s gone and Bill Mantlo’s scripting. He changes some details about Howard’s current predicament, immediately removing the complications for Howard and Beverly, and gets going with the adventure.

Howard gets a suit of Iron Man armor to fight Dr. Bong. It’s really dumb and it’s hard to believe it won’t some day end up in a Marvel movie with Robert Downey Jr. doing a $100 million five minute cameo.

At one point in the issue–which is terribly written–Mantlo gives Howard a line about how death is preferable to humiliation. Howard might survive without Gerber, but Mantlo’s humiliating the poor Duck, page after painful page.

CREDITS

If This Be Bongsday!; writer, Bill Mantlo; penciller, Gene Colan; inker, Al Milgrom; colorist, Michele Wolfman; letterer, Elaine Heinl; editors, Mark Gruenwald and Jim Shooter; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Godzilla in Hell 1 (July 2015)

Godzilla in Hell #1

I’m curious how writer-artist-colorist-letterer (hah to the letterer credit but more on it in a bit) pitched Godzilla in Hell to IDW. Or did they ask him to pitch?

If so, did they ask him to pitch a comic with nothing but Godzilla walking around and fighting. If so, did they ask anyone else to pitch it, because I can’t imagine anyone but Stokoe making Hell a workable prospect.

The comic consists of Godzilla arriving in Hell. He walks around. He fights a couple monsters. He has to weather a huge storm of human bodies (presumably souls). He’s Godzilla. He kicks butt, he takes names, he uses his atomic breath.

There’s no narrative–it feels like a level in a video game, actually–but there’s gorgeous Stokoe art. Whether it’s the highly detailed damned storm or just Godzilla in a long shot, it’s a gorgeous comic book. Goes nowhere, doesn’t have to.

CREDITS

Writer and artist, James Stokoe; editor, Bobby Curnow; publisher, IDW Publishing.

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.

Sons of Anarchy 23 (July 2013)

Sons of Anarchy #23

This issue of Sons of Anarchy doubles down on everything wrong about the comic.

Not wrong about it overall, but wrong in terms of the creative direction of the book. For example, Bergara doesn’t take enough time with the panels, so what’s this issue’s solution? Over-stylize him. It feels like a spoof of “Miami Vice” at times. The heavy stylization doesn’t even try to hide the lack of detail in the art.

And Ferrier’s script brings in the IRA, because it’s actually a comic book from the past. It’s set in the late 1980s, early 1990s when you just brought the IRA into something so you could have a familiar looking guest star but nothing too exotic. Only it’s a comic book and doing a gimmick like IRA vs. SAMCRO is astoundingly unimaginative.

There’s actually some decent stuff with one guy in a trailer park. Everything else is crap.

CREDITS

Writer, Ryan Ferrier; artist, Matías Bergara; colorist, Paul Little; letterer, Ed Dukeshire; editors, Mary Gumport and Dafna Pleban; publisher, Boom! Studios.

C.O.W.L. 11 (July 2015)

C.O.W.L. #11

I guess C.O.W.L. is over. I really should be reading back matter, apparently, as I went through the issue with no idea it was wrapping up after just two arcs. Especially since the story’s weighted with an emphasis on the supporting cast and not the big plot. It seems like it’s a setup for whatever comes next.

Only nothing comes next.

Higgins and Siegel do all right with most of the issue. The last scene’s odd and a little lame and worse after realizing it’s the last scene in the series. But the rest of the comic has some good scenes and some excellent art from Reis. It’s amazing how he’s able to imply movement in his static, design-oriented work. Wish more people could.

C.O.W.L. never really hit its potential. Higgins and Siegel (and even Reis) developed over the run of the book. It just didn’t run long enough.

CREDITS

The Greater Good, Chapter Five: Coming to Terms; writers, Kyle Higgins and Alec Siegel; artist, Rod Reis; letterer, Troy Peteri; publisher, Image Comics.

Howard the Duck 25 (June 1978)

Howard the Duck #25

Well, Bev’s back this issue and… Gerber has her and her new husband getting it on. He plays it for laughs, starting with Bev complaining about being stuck in a square marriage like her mother’s and ending with the creatures of Bong’s island peeping on them.

So it’s kind of like if Sue married Doom to save Reed and then was happy about it. It’s weird.

Meanwhile, Howard’s other pals are back (after ten issues, which is way too long), and they’re hanging out in New York society.

The issue’s okay enough. Howard’s no longer the lead in his own book–not sure why Gerber thought Paul Same, failed artist, was better than Howard the Duck for a story protagonist; not much of Gerber’s moves this issue make sense.

With the Colan and Janson art, however it’s hard to get too upset. Like I said, it’s okay enough, just not special.

CREDITS

Getting Smooth!; writer and editor, Steve Gerber; penciller, Gene Colan; inker, Klaus Janson; colorist, Janice Cohen; letterer, Irving Watanabe; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Invader Zim 1 (July 2015)

invaderzim1Jhonen Vasquez is back. It sounds peculiar to make that cliche statement about a small press comics auteur who lucked into a subversive Nickelodeon cartoon almost 15 years ago. He hasn’t been heard from much since, and these days even Johnny Ryan can get a Nickelodeon cartoon. Suddenly, Invader Zim returns to Jhonen’s medium of choice and although he isn’t drawing it, how would you tell? Aaron Alexovich’s pencils ape his style as well as the most skilled of the DeviantArt generation who grew up imitating Zim. In a way, he’s drawing to look more like Vasquez’s infamously graphic, gut-bustingly hilarious and occasionally profound Slave Labor Graphics series from the late 90s, Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, Squee! and I Feel Sick, the latter of which was a direct statement of his feelings immediately following two seasons on Zim. He – and Alexovich – are more expressive than the lumbering limitations of TV animation. Simon “Hutt” Troussellier’s colors are slightly more varied than the stylized pink, green and purple tri-tone scheme of the show while Megan Lawton’s inks are also more skilled than the show’s digital uniform. Warren Wucinick’s letters complete the attention to detail in replicating the Jhonen / Johnny feel.

The comedy is what you’d hope for from Vasquez, who is long out of practice making explicity bloody and angry humor comics but hasn’t lost any of the instincts for humorous insanity that landed him the kids’ show. The comic’s audience is presumably the 13 year old children of Invader Zim fans who were conceived during the show’s brief run: on the first page a hoodied little twerp named Recap Kid who breathlessly summarizes the premise of Zim like a geek convention fanboy who ends his rant with a characteristically Jhonen Vasquez kind of statement: “…Zim is really awful at being an INVADER. Ahahhahah! HE’S SO AWFUL AND THAT’S WHY I LAUGH!” More than a replicating the surface character and background designs, Alexovich’s art flows comfortably within Vasquez’s often lightning fast pacing of dialogue using lots of panels, and mock-cinematic beats. The sole misstep in the entire script is a half page 80s movie training montage joke, but every page is crackling with energy.

In 2001 fans marveled at his spidery art and insane sense of humor being well translated into a Nickelodeon series acceptable for broadcast standards. In 2015 the marvel is the creator’s return to cartooning in any medium, let alone comics. Vasquez acknowledges the comeback by making the debut issue about the series’ protagonist kid genius Dib (one remembers, momentarily, the proliferation of kid genius characters around this time) who has become an obese shut-in waiting for the return of Zim – the real one, not the cartoon, although one also remembers Vasquez mocking his cult in his comics even before he had a TV deal. When Zim returns, Dib returns by getting back into fighting shape. An author’s auto-critique? Unlike all his comics work, the cartoon never expressed a personal point of view, and that’s one thing which a new comic can aspire toward.

I don’t think Invader Zim necessitated a new comic book, but hey, whatever draws out its talented recluse of a creator.

CREDITS

The Returnening; writer, Jhonen Vasquez; penciller, Aaron Alexovich; inker, Megan Lawton; colorist, Simon “Hutt” Troussellier; letterer, Warren Wucinik; publisher, Oni Press.

Howard the Duck 24 (May 1978)

Howard the Duck #24

I have a lot of fundamental problems with this issue of Howard the Duck. I don’t mind it being great, but I don’t like how Gerber’s not just able to get away with finally addressing the Bev situation he’s also able to get sympathy from it. The effectiveness of Howard walking the streets sad is incredible. It’s an introspective look at how the character works. Gerber’s laying it all out for the reader to examine.

It’s amazing. It’s an amazing comic book. And I don’t like how Gerber’s able to get away with it. Just because he can get away with it doesn’t mean he should. It’s frustrating.

Howard the Duck–with its realistic Colan pencils (with Palmer inks, natch)–is all of a sudden Henry Miller the Duck and it’s awesome. Gerber sells it all. He even gets to a truly great soft cliffhanger.

Frustrating or not, it’s phenomenal.

CREDITS

Where Do You Go — What Do You Do — The Night after You Save the Universe?; writer and editor, Steve Gerber; penciller, Gene Colan; inker, Tom Palmer; colorist, Janice Cohen; letterer, Joe Rosen; publisher, Marvel Comics.

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.

Hawkeye 22 (September 2015)

Hawkeye #22

I can’t even remember when this issue of Hawkeye was supposed to come out. I can’t even remember what issue twenty-two was supposed to be when the comic was going to alternate Kate and Clint and then didn’t because… well, I don’t really read the letter pages but I assume people got too busy.

And Hawkeye didn’t sell well enough after a while, which doesn’t make sense, since a lot of the comic is great. And this issue is great. It’s a great last issue. It doesn’t just bring Kate back to it, it integrates her adventures away from Clint. It sets up for a great sequel and there can’t be one.

So Hawkeye will just be that (mostly) great mainstream comic Fraction and Aja did. Hopefully there will be a nice collection, because I’ve been wanting to read it in one sitting since issue three.

Good night, Hawkeye.

CREDITS

Writer, Matt Fraction; artist, David Aja; colorist, Matt Hollingsworth; letterer, Chris Eliopoulos; editors, Devin Lewis and Sana Amant; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Mantle 2 (June 2015)

The Mantle #2

Okay, Brisson takes the route I guess I was hoping he’d take and he immediately goes unexpected places with it. Maybe not entirely unexpected–the idea of the new Mantle meeting up with the old Mantles, if possible, for inspiration, isn’t unexpected. But how Brisson gets there is a complicated and crazy. And it’s what gives the comic some energy.

Because the villain? The Plague guy whose very touch makes people’s arms fall off? He’s an awful villain. Brisson gives him a bit of personality, which doesn’t help because it gets the reader curious about answers to questions Brisson isn’t even raising yet.

There aren’t a lot of questions in The Mantle. Brisson does a good job staying on track, so when he loses control of a scene, it stands out.

The art is, once again, decent. Level has personality if not the detail (or time) for all of it.

CREDITS

Writer and letterer, Ed Brisson; artist, Brian Level; colorist, Jordan Boyd; editor, Laura Tavishati; publisher, Image Comics.

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.

The Mantle 1 (May 2015)

The Mantle #1

I want to know where The Mantle is going more than I want to read where it’s going. The way writer Ed Brisson sets up the end of this first issue, it could either go in two paths. One where the series is very episodic, one where it isn’t. Would I not continue reading depending on the former or the latter… No.

But I want to know. I want to know how to digest the material.

Simple setup. Superheroes are real. They just hide and fight their enemies in the middle of nowhere. It’s unclear how long they’ve been around, but at least a decade because the titular Mantle is like the Green Lantern rings.

Only the villain is hunting down the Mantle holder before they can get comfortable.

Brian Level’s composition is better than his detail, which gives it all a certain distinct personality.

Mantle’s okay. I think.

CREDITS

Writer and letterer, Ed Brisson; artist, Brian Level; colorist, Jordan Boyd; editor, Laura Tavishati; publisher, Image Comics.

Howard the Duck 21 (February 1978)

Howard the Duck #21

It’s a better issue than the recent norm, but Gerber still doesn’t have Howard on much of a path. At one point, Howard all of a sudden seemed like the perfect cultural relic from the Carter presidency, but it’s not.

Instead, it’s like Gerber is showing how much he can abuse the reader as far as the plot is concerned. Howard meets up with Beverly Switzler. Not Howard’s Beverly, but her uncle. What a joke. Gerber gave a fat dude Beverly’s name and ran him into Howard.

I’m not sure if the series has just gotten too tame (this issue has Howard battling the nicest, most likable murderous cult leader ever–one who even gets sympathy from the reader when Howard’s being sexist) or Gerber’s just lost interest.

But, it’s a better issue than usual. Carmine Infantino guest pencils. He and Janson are a neat team; contrasting while still complimenting.

CREDITS

If You Knew Soofi…!; writer and editor, Steve Gerber; penciller, Carmine Infantino; inker, Klaus Janson; colorist, Glynis Wein; letterer, Irving Watanabe; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Howard the Duck 20 (January 1978)

Howard the Duck #20

I’m seeing the problem with Howard. Gerber is refusing to get Howard into a comfortable situation at all. Bev is still out of the picture, but so is the new girl. Bong is even out of the picture. Howard just happens into an entirely new situation with a new supporting cast.

The problem isn’t the fluidity, it’s how little Howard cares about it all. He’s not worried about Bev being married to a Doctor Doom knock-off, he’s curious why said knock-off isn’t more enthusiastic about her. Gerber doesn’t acknowledge Howard isn’t enthusiastic enough about her. It’s weird.

The comic is nearing its two year mark and Gerber himself only seems enthusiastic about one thing–treading water as far as Howard’s character development goes. It’s stopped. But so has the plot development.

It’s too bad because Colan and Janson knock the art out of the park on this one.

CREDITS

Scrubba-dub Death!; writer and editor, Steve Gerber; penciller, Gene Colan; inker, Klaus Janson; colorist, Janice Cohen; letterer, John Costanza; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Big Man Plans 4 (July 2015)

Big Man Plans #4

Powell and Wiesch double down with the torture this issue of Big Man Plans (the last in this series, hopefully not ever) and it’s darn unpleasant. Powell seems to try to think of grosser and grosser panels to compose every few pages.

In between the torture is the flashback to the idyllic days of Big Man’s life, back when he loved a girl. The first girl, because this issue has hints at his current (or at least recent) girlfriend; she’s from his home town, she marries the sheriff. The story is sensational and horrifying but not really original. It doesn’t need to be original. What’s original is Powell and Wiesch just got people to read a whole comic about punitive torture.

And it’s not a trick. The writers get the reader to buy into it. It’s what this issue is all about.

It’s an effective comic; not sure about good.

CREDITS

Writers, Eric Powell and Tim Wiesch; artist and letterer, Powell; publisher, Image Comics.

Howard the Duck 19 (December 1977)

Howard the Duck #19

Howard’s adventures as a human continue, but Gerber sets him down a particular path. Howard ends up at the Port Authority Bus Terminal, which puts him in contact with a particular set of humans and maybe not the most interesting ones.

After a certain point–Howard is back in a hippy girl’s apartment–one has to wonder if Colan really just wanted to try out drawing someone doing yoga; the issue’s mostly talking heads, mostly Howard (the human) unable to understand the human condition while his fowl alter ego eggs him on to act more ducky. Sorry, couldn’t resist.

It’s really depressing stuff, actually. Gerber, Colan and Janson capture the misery in the bus terminal–Howard teams up with a homeless guy refused a seat in a coffee shop due to smell. The dysfunctional hippies are actually a mood booster in contrast.

The finale’s small joy is a big help.

CREDITS

Howard the Human!; writer and editor, Steve Gerber; penciller, Gene Colan; inker, Klaus Janson; colorist, Phil Rachelson; letterer, Irving Watanabe; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Garbage Pail Kids: Gross Encounters of the Turd Kind (June 2015)

gpkgross

IDW has been on a terrific run all this year of bimonthly Garbage Pail Kids specials – not yet an official continuing series but they’re now up to their fourth themed installment, with at least one more on the way. The roll call of artists who’ve contributed to these humor anthologies is impeccable, and their renditions of the beloved 80s pop culture landmark are characteristically stunning. I never thought I’d someday read Garbage Pail Kids strips by Peter Bagge, Dean Haspiel, Bill Wray, Shannon Wheeler or any of the many stylistically diverse cartoonists who take these gimmick based spoofs of a long-forgotten saccharine 80s toy line and populate an insular comedic world out of them. The stories are all a few quick pages of inventively gross humor in the irreverently and subversively juvenile spirit of those original trading cards. It’s a perfect humor comic format and is far less horrifying than placing Mark Newgarden’s Basil Wolverton Babies into our reality, as in The Garbage Pail Kids Movie.

Gross Encounters of the Turd Kind opens with some Topps-on-Topps violence as Mars Attacks Martians disintegrate a cityfull of Garbage Pail Kids with art by Hilary Barta and Doug Rice, who nail the balance of the two character designs. There’s a decent parody by Ryan Browne and Andrew Elder of The Thing, testing farts instead of blood. James Kochalka does a story starring Joe Blow – a GPK parody of Bazooka Joe, making this issue the closest Topps has ever come to a “Topps Comics Presents” comic book. For now they’ll have to be content with their precedent of having licensed the only two trading card based films in existence.

Kochalka’s talent for whimsy is in such typically pleasing form, one doesn’t even notice at first that unlike every other author in this series before him, he doesn’t depict anything grosser than ABC gum. Joe Simko, who’s contributed quality work in every special so far, does a quickie two-pager of snotty sneezing aliens. The closing story is Roger Langridge doing an astronaut and his robot sidekick on a turd planet of alien flies. It’s really touching to read a children’s cartoonist as accomplished as Langridge graduating to doody jokes with the Garbage Pail Kids.

IDW’s Garbage Pail Kids specials continue to be outstanding love letters to the phenomenon by a roster of amazing cartoonists, an absolute pleasure for longtime fans.

CREDITS

Writers and artists, Hillary Barta, Doug Rice, Ryan Browne, Andrew Elder, James Kochalka, Joe Simko and Roger Langridge; colorists, Jason Millet, Shawn Lee and Andrew Elder; letterers, Shawn Lee and Denny Tipton; editor, Denny Tipton; publisher, IDW Publishing.

Howard the Duck 17 (October 1977)

Howard the Duck #17

I don’t like Dr. Bong. It’s a strange misstep for Gerber on Howard. He creates a supervillain who seems like a cross between a Bond villain (he has all sorts of technology and a private island) and Dr. Moreau (he uses said technology to create animal mutations to populate the island). But this guy doesn’t have Dr. Doom’s backstory. He’s an angry tabloid reporter who’s hot for Beverly’s bod.

(He saw her in a modeling class in college).

On one hand, it does give Gerber the chance to let Beverly shine in Howard but he doesn’t take that route. Instead, he tells the villain’s story and Beverly is peripheral. Howard’s not even part of the main plot this issue and his subplot falls flat.

The artwork is good, but the figures seem a little fuller than usual. They look awkward against the backgrounds.

Gerber took seventeens issues to achieve mediocrity.

CREDITS

Doctor Bong; writer and editor, Steve Gerber; penciller, Gene Colan; inker, Klaus Janson; colorist, Janice Cohen; letterer, Annette Kawecki; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Howard the Duck 16 (September 1977)

Howard the Duck #16

I don’t want to call this comic book strange. Instead of a regular, strange issue of Howard the Duck, it turns out Gerber was just too busy to break out an actual plot for Gene Colan so instead he did an issue in prose.

Howard the Duck #16. It’s Gerber making fun of himself well, which makes one think about how the comic is the same thing. It’s Gerber making fun of a comic book called Howard the Duck well. And how does one accomplish that task well? By being sincere. By going through the artifice of the series to the point of sincerity.

“Howard” even co-narrates, Gerber telling the reader’s Howard’s a voice in his head. True or not, it’s a direct communication between Gerber and the reader without illusion. Gerber still spins a good yarn to go with it. Because it’s how Howard works. Through narrative disruption.

CREDITS

Zen and the Art of Comic Book Writing: A Communique from Colorado; writer and editor, Steve Gerber; pencillers, Gene Colan, Alan Weiss, Ed Hannigan, Marie Severin, Dave Cockrum, Tom Palmer, Al Milgrom, John Buscema, Dick Giordano and Michael Netzer; inkers, Klaus Janson, Weiss, Hannigan, Severin, Cockrum, Palmer, Milgrom, Buscema, Giordano and Terry Austin; colorists, Janson and Doc Martin; letterers, Austin and Irving Watanabe; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Howard the Duck 15 (August 1977)

Howard the Duck #15

It’s a strangely gentle issue. So gentle I almost went back to check to see if Gerber wrote the thing. Instead, I waited until I finished the issue.

Howard is chill. This issue has a chill Howard the Duck. Gerber takes all the previous events–like Howard’s mental health issues–into account as he lets the cast relax. Sure, they’re on an ocean liner plagued by strange, gigantic threats, but they’re relaxing while making sure they survive.

But Gerber’s humor is also gentler. For the most part. There’s some incisiveness from Howard, who then calls himself on it (confusing Bev while showing his hand to the reader). But, otherwise, it’s a fun, laid back issue.

The pace is fantastic too. Since so little is happening, even though the cast is on a big set, Gerber is able to get a lot of stuff into the book. It’s strange and great.

CREDITS

The Island of Dr. Bong!; writer and editor, Steve Gerber; penciller, Gene Colan; inker and colorist, Klaus Janson; letterer, Irving Watanabe; 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.

Satellite Sam 15 (July 2015)

Satellite Sam #15

Satellite Sam comes to a close. A colorful one.

Fraction doesn’t exactly take the story somewhere unexpected or surprising–though there are a couple, post-big revelations last issue surprises (at least one anyway)–and, in many ways, it’s a gentle finish to the series. Chaykin doesn’t get anything lascivious to draw; they are just hints.

The not exactly surprising finish has a lot to do with the television industry. Fraction finishes up all the character plots and still has time for the history lesson. He does a great job with it; Chaykin too. The issue moves beautifully; the series works just as well without all the menace the creators have been imbuing it with.

But that success is the surprise. Fraction and Chaykin quietly created this great cast underneath a sensational story. So when the sensation finished, Sam stands on its own for the characters. It’s rather fantastic work.

CREDITS

Dead Air; writer, Matt Fraction; artist, Howard Chaykin; letterer, Ken Bruzenak; editor, Thomas K.; publisher, Image Comics.

Howard the Duck 14 (July 1977)

Howard the Duck #14

And Gerber is back on with Howard. After being possessed by the Son of Satan’s demon, Howard heads to Cleveland to get revenge on Beverly for not loving him. It’s a lengthy trip, however, with Howard having little moments on the way. Gerber also cuts back to Daimon Hellstrom (the guy who’s supposed to be possessed) forecasting how dangerous Howard has become.

He is dangerous. Beverly is in danger. Gerber establishes the possessed Howard as a threat. It’s kind of real crazy for the protagonist of a comic like Howard the Duck to not just become detached from the reader, but to be what seems to be an actual threat to the others.

Klaus Janson inks Colan here; they give the characters a lot of physical weight in their scenes. Howard’s imposing, even though he’s small. It’s cool.

It’s another great issue in a fantastic run from Gerber. He’s outstanding.

CREDITS

A Duck Possessed!; writer and editor, Steve Gerber; penciller, Gene Colan; inker, Klaus Janson; colorist, Irene Vartanoff; letterer, Jim Novak; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Big Trouble in Little China 12 (July 2015)

Big Trouble in Little China #12

Big Trouble in Little China seems to have just finished its first long story arc. And it’s a doozy. The plotting of the series all of a sudden makes sense; one has to wonder if it was Carpenter’s idea for a film sequel, what he came up with for the comic or just Powell’s invention.

Strange thing about the comic is the art. Churilla is really rough. Maybe Gonzalo Duarte is a new colorist or something, but even Churilla’s lines look different. And he’s skipping backgrounds a lot more noticeably. And the visual pacing of the issue’s a little weird. His panel layouts don’t flow.

Is the comic satisfying? Not really. The doozy ending, even though it has some potential going forward, doesn’t do anything for the series up until this point. It’s a refresh; I wish Powell had taken more responsibility for things.

Still, it’s amusing, well-executed stuff.

CREDITS

Writers, John Carpenter and Eric Powell; artist, Brian Churilla; colorist, Gonzalo Duarte; letterer, Ed Dukeshire; editors, Alex Galer and Ian Brill; publisher, Boom! Studios.

Howard the Duck 13 (June 1977)

Howard the Duck #13

Maybe Colan drawing Ace Frehley just got me off on the wrong foot with this issue of Howard but it does seem like Gerber’s got way too much going on.

He splits the issue between Howard and his new lady friend, Howard’s insanity, Howard’s doctor and guest starring Son of Satan, the evil German nurse and her evil German boss and then the return of a villain from a previous issue. It’s very, very busy and not much of it has to do with Howard.

And the rest of it isn’t particularly interesting. Gerber doesn’t reveal the evil German plan (it’s German, it involves cults, it must be evil), so it’s just ominous, not ominous and funny. That disconnect might be the problem with the issue–it’s absurd, just never absurdly funny.

Gerber just never seems to get anywhere, even though he does get to a reasonably amusing hard cliffhanger.

CREDITS

Rock, Roll Over, and Writhe!; writer and editor, Steve Gerber; penciller, Gene Colan; inker, Steve Leialoha; colorist, Janice Cohen; letterer, Jim Novak; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Howard the Duck 12 (May 1977)

Howard the Duck #12

It’s another great issue of Howard the Duck. I’m even willing to give Gerber a chance to make the hard cliffhanger’s unfortunate corporate synergy guest stars worthwhile next issue. He does such a good job with the comic–this issue has Howard tried and committed–I’m willing to give him a lot of leeway.

Gerber balances the absurdity and the political and social commentary quite well. He manages to mix all three into the comic. He’ll have these absurd set pieces with multiple commentaries going on. It’s really cool to read and to follow the tangents to their conclusions.

Plus there’s Howard. Even though Gerber’s doing so much, he’s also got this really interesting character. (I’m really starting to miss Bev). By keeping Howard’s history a secret, Gerber encourages readers to get further invested in the character. But it never feels calculated, just enthusiastic.

Howard, weird cliffhanger and all, rocks.

CREDITS

Mind-Mush!; writer and editor, Steve Gerber; penciller, Gene Colan; inker, Steve Leialoha; colorist, Janice Cohen; letterer, Jim Novak; publisher, Marvel Comics.

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