It’s amazing what a post credits scene and the right creative team can accomplish for even the most ridiculed and belittled comics characters. Once an iconic and important character in Marvel’s history all it took was one truly awful movie, widespread misconceptions and fierce disagreements between the company and creator Steve Gerber to overshadow the work on his wildly inventive, silly and hysterical five year stint with the melancholy mallard. Until December at least Howard now stands as one of the most rehabilitated properties connected with Lucasfilm. When the new series was announced it felt more an inevitability than a shock. Howard back in his own title again? Obviously! Zdarsky as writer? Well of course! Why did it take this long to set up? However beyond the novelty and initial laughs to be had at one of comics more eccentric ‘new’ talents working on a character reduced to an industry joke, Howard the Duck is already a whip smart book with genuine warmth and real humour.
Throughout the original Gerber run and beyond Howard the Duck has always been a comic that thrived on it’s cameos, with Spider-Man swinging in as early as the ducks second issue. On other titles this reliance on other more well known characters might be considered a weakness but here it works as a strength. Luckily it’s one of the many aspects continued in the new series and a clever choice by Zdarsky. He clearly has a deep knowledge of the source material and of a love of all things marvel. Especially it’s strange and silly corners. Chips irreverent humour and fond jabs at it’s weird history is evident on every page as he takes us on a mirthful, magical mystery tour of the Marvel Universe. Already in the first arc contained in this volume the far reaching reference include Morrison and Millar’s mid nineties creations the Skrull Kill Krew (Marvel Edge? Anyone?), Aunt May marrying villains and Reed Richards propensity (seriously once is sketchy. Twice is…worrying) for turning hostile alien invaders into cows.
In five issues Doctor Strange, The Fantastic Four, She Hulk and the much missed legal team all make it onto the pages with Howard, now self employed as one of Marvel’s many private eyes, surely the career b-plan for their stable of characters. It’s a tactic currently being employed by the team on Groot’s solo book to great effect and gives both comics a greater depth and scope as well as a distinct place and impact over the rest of the Marvel Universe. If comics cohort and fellow brimper Matt Fraction’s run on Hawkeye was “what he does when he’s not being an Avenger” than Howard’s wide circle of friends definitely gives Zdarsky the chance to showcase a lot of other heroes on less than noble and productive days.
Oh, and fun. Lets not forgot cameos are fun! Everyone likes to see their favourites show up, and Zdarksy likes them too. Like Gerber he has your friendly neighbourhood Spider-man show up pretty early on, even if it is only to poke fun at the webhead. Here, tongue firmly in cheek he comically reduces the wallcrawler down to the essential and most easily recognisable character traits for comic effect. Playing up his basic concept to absurd and hilarious levels makes for some of the books most noteable laugh out loud moments. With strong hints that Aunt May might be a supporting character when the book returns later this year (please, please be true!) we could see Parker as Chip’s whipping boy for the foreseeable future. The only minor misstep in my mind is the appearance of Guardians of the Galaxy. While it’s a downright funny issue it’s the only one that feels slightly forced, perhaps owing to these also once fringe characters now being hot properties. Again the issue is uproarious and farcical with witty repartee between Howard and a certain racoon, but as a second issue is does rather derail the pacing and the development of the new partnership with Howard and the books other lead, Tara Tam.
Quinones playful and energetic artwork (expertly inked by Rivera) along with his strong and innovative panel composition also makes Howard the Duck one of the most unique and striking books on offer right now. While a world away from Gerber’s look, Quinones style feels like an appropriately fresh and modern take on the cantankerous canard. Every characters is wonderfully detailed and sharp, and his comical and varied facial expressions make for some of the best moment in the book while Rico Renzi’s coloring gives the book a bright and bold feel, his bright hues perfectly complimenting the already dynamic artwork. Perfect for a book filled with bright spandex clad heroes. Not forgetting of course, Jason Latour who lends a hand for some of the volumes shorts. A more scrappy and sketchy style that lends itself well to the short, ridiculous backups.
Zdarksy and Quinones definitely share a vision for this comic and have crafted a fitting reintroduction for Howard back onto the comic book shelves. Even with a handful of guest appearances over the years and a Marvel Max series, this feels like the natural extension of the ducks original outing and is already up there with the likes of other comedy driven titles like Squirrel Girl and the Superior Foes of Spiderman.