Howard the Duck #1 (Fascimile Edition) // Review
Thanks to the Marvel movie renaissance, a literal truckload of minor and relatively obscure characters that only the most die-hard comic fans would have known about fifteen years ago have become hot properties. While people knew guys like Hulk and Captain America, you’d be hard pressed to have found a general member of the public who knew about someone like Starlord or Drax the Destroyer. Howard the Duck, thanks to his box office bomb of a movie in the 1980s, has straddled the line of obscure and forgotten pop culture icon. Formerly popular in his heyday of the 1970s, Marvel’s Howard has received something of a resurgence thanks to his brief guest-appearances in both Guardians of the Galaxy movies and a general interest in the stranger parts of Marvel.
Capitalizing on the revitalized love of superheroes, Marvel has not just been making books easier to find and putting out enough collections to fill the Library of Alexandria, but they’ve also been putting out facsimile copies. Items like Fantastic Four #1 or early appearances of the Silver Surfer have been selling in comic shops at current prices as complete reproductions, both as full facsimile copies and with the label of Marvel True Believers. In this case, Howard the Duck’s first issue ever has been reprinted, from way back in January 1976.
Written by Steve Gerber, the man also shared co-plotting duties with Frank Brunner. Brunner also illustrated and colored each page, while Steve Leialoha inked the pages. John Costanza lettered the issue as well.
Having been saved the city of Cleveland twice in not-included adventures, Howard the Duck finds himself getting drawn into a parody of a sword and sorcery adventure. Without his beloved cigars, and completely lacking in any upper body strength, can Howard hope to survive the menace of Pro-Rata, a demonic being who wishes to use the Cosmic Calculator to become Chief Accountant of the Universe?
Also, Spider-Man is there. Because Marvel has always done their best to shove popular characters into new books to boost sales.
Steve Gerber is at the top of his game in this comic, and so is Frank Brunner. Their plot doesn’t involve a ton of history for Howard, instead of throwing the Duck into a fresh adventure for new readers. For those not in the know, Howard appeared as a character during Steve Gerber’s run on Man-Thing a year prior. A minor character, fans latched onto the character in droves, and Marvel chose to take a chance on the bizarre creation. The plot is equally as odd as Howard, spoofing nearly every Conan comic Marvel was putting out at the time, while also making vague references to the early days of D&D and fantasy novels. Gerber’s dialogue is also snappy, with Howard’s razor wit feeling timeless (albeit dated when pop culture comes up).
Brunner’s art is also fantastic, walking the line between Disney level cartoony and Marvel’s house style at the time. This results in Howard looking entirely out of place without looking like he’s actually in the wrong comic. Steve Leialoha also does a beautiful job on the inks, drawing out the little details that could have been lost with a lesser inker. Luckily, the digital remastering is also excellent (albeit uncredited), and preserves the comic and ad pages perfectly.
When it comes to re-creating the original comic, Marvel has painstakingly included all the ads from the initial 1976 production run. This includes Hostess Fruit Pie comics, in-house ads for Marvel merchandise and early trade paperbacks, and tons of ridiculous mail-in order items. For those looking to see what Marvel comics were like (aside from bumping the price from 25 cents to 4 bucks on the cover), this is a wonderful sampling.
In the end, Howard the Duck #1 was a revolutionary comic at the time. Focusing on a non-Superhero stuck in a Superhero’s world was unique for anything from Marvel and DC, and Steve Gerber’s dialogue was still an off-the-wall creature that predicted characters like Deadpool and Gwenpool decades later. If you absolutely need to have a copy of Howard the Duck’s first solo comic, and don’t want to go for a cheaper electronic reproduction, it’s hard to miss with this facsimile book.