Howard the Duck #1
US: May 2015
Joe Quinones’ cover for Howard the Duck #1 pretty much says it all. Thor, Captain Marvel and the Hulk are speeding past Howard’s office window, while Spider-Man pauses to peer inside. On top of Howard’s file cabinet stands baby Groot, fresh from his crowd-pleasing dance number at the end of last summer’s blockbuster film, Guardians of the Galaxy, a film in which Howard himself played a small but interesting role. The Black Cat stands at Howard’s door, the classic femme fatale about to burst in on the simple world of the private eye and turn everything upside down.
And Howard? Howard the Duck stands there, his coat slung casually over his shoulder, his fedora thrown onto his desk and atop a stack of files. You can tell by the look on his face that this guy has seen it all before, is not impressed by the long underwear crowd or by the vixen in the low-cut cat-suit. He’s probably thinking that he could use a cigar right about now, that he could really use a good smoke, because things are about to get complicated.
The first issue of the new Howard the Duck has a lot of things going on.
It has Howard as a down-on-his-luck (Get it? Ducks have down?) private detective who, as his story opens, is stuck in a New York City jail cell. (A women’s cell of all places. It seems that someone in the men’s cell is allergic to feathers.) It has Howard’s mysterious new friend and business partner, Tara. And it has some pretty impressive guest stars.
She-Hulk’s law office is in the same building as Howard’s PI office. (Howard would love to go to work for her, but Hellcat already has the job he wants.) Spider-Man drops in to help with a case, but isn’t very helpful. (As it turns out, Spider-Man isn’t very good with voicemail and ducks have a hard time typing on smart phones.) Black Cat is the villain who has the object that he is after. (She’s pretty easy to find. It is apparently hard for the cat burglar to keep a low profile, what with her huge mane of white hair.) And, at the end, a real surprise guest drops in, with definite plans of his own.
The story has a mystery for Howard the hard-boiled (Get it?) detective to solve with his new partner.
It’s got a lot of sight gags and wisecracks.(Or is it “wisequacks?”)
It even has a training montage set to music.
Oh, and it also has some cosmic villainy. It looks like Howard’s private eye days may be numbered because the Collector wants this unique specimen for his collection.
The story ends where it began, in a jail cell, though this time the cell is not in a precinct house in New York City but somewhere out there in the great galaxy, and Howard isn’t surrounded by petty crooks but by colorful extraterrestrials. In either case, Howard just sits there with his arms crossed and his head down.
“No matter where I am,” Howard is thinking, “whether it’s in the suburbs of Cleveland . . . or the other side of the galaxy . . . the idiots are there. My rage is there . . . and I’m always trapped in a cage.”
So, I kind of like Howard the Duck #1.
Granted, I prefer my Howard the Duck more grounded and even more down-on-his-luck. (Ha! I did it again!) I suppose that a crummy job as a two-bit private detective suits him, even though I’ve always liked to see him unemployed and desperate. It’s fun to see some of the other Marvel characters dropping by for cameos; from the very first Howard’s been running in those circles. But Howard’s best times have always been with ordinary people just as lonely and broke as he was. And I know that most people know Howard the Duck from his appearances in science fiction movies, his own from 1986 and the infinitely better Guardians from 2014, but I’ve always thought of Howard as a down to Earth character (third down!) struggling with real problems like unemployment and corrupt politicians and crazy religions. But I’m willing to give this a chance.
Overall, this is a pretty good first issue.
There is a lot going in Zdarsky’s and Quinones’ story. Their Howard sure isn’t the Steve
Gerber/Gene Colan version that will always remain the gold standard. But they get the most important things right. They get Howard right.
Just look at him on the cover. Just look at the expression on his face. He’s trapped and he knows it. In a jail cell. In a world he never made.
If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck . . .