last issues surprising finale saw the unexpected arrival gender swapped counterparts of both Howard and his one-time cell mate Rocket Raccoon, this along with the success of other gender swapping titles such as the hugely popular Spider-Gwen made had me expecting writer Chip Zdarsky to take a few well intentioned and light hearted jabs at this popular but not unwelcome recent trend in Marvel comics. Instead he continues to constantly surprise, this month crafting the most heartfelt, touching and utterly captivating issue of his Howard the Duck run so far. Instead of the titular fowl, Zdarksy instead centres the action on his new creations Shocket and Linda and delves into the pair’s back story.
This being a Howard-less issue is perfectly conveyed by regular collaboratorJoe Quinones beautiful cover, and with the artist on a break this month art duties fall to Veronica Fish who will also be lending her considerable talents for two issues of Robbie Thompson’s Silk in February. Coming in at a point in the story with new characters and a flashback in makes perfect sense and feels like a natural move to include a guest artist and her cartoony style is a lovely fit for both the characters and the story. Bold and expressive she draws an achingly cute Shocket and Linda in all their short, adorable glory and small moments like Shocket reassuring her sister, muzzle full of corn on the cob make for some amazingly cute and emotional moments. Just when the pages start to seem too regimented and strict in their panel layout, some subtle tricks and touches such as skipping twenty-five years over three panels and literally breaking the borders of the panels shake things up. Although next month marks the return of Quinones, I hope it doesn’t mean the last we will see of Fish on Marvel titles in the future.Steeped in Marvel lore and featuring clones and time travel this is pure comics. Inventive, silly and funny but with a real heart and emotional pull, in equal parts from Zdarksy’s writing and his new created characters. Introduced last issues for a brief single page shock ending, Linda and Shocket are a big reason that this book is so wonderful. The pair’s entire back story is told in this single issue and yet it never seems rushed or cluttered, despite the number of things thrown into the mix. Taking time to define them as unique characters in their own right he develops the sister’s personalities and fleshes them out beyond their seemingly simple gender bent origins, emphasizing both the similarities and differences to their male counterparts. A lot of the issues sweetest moments are to be found in the girl’s unusual but loving family unit with initially reluctant father Dee, who quickly falls for the strange duo. I found myself completely invested over the course of a handful of pages and was left looking forward to seeing their interactions with Howard and Tara next issue. As a writer Zdarsky has become more ambitious in his storytelling and writing. Later in the story, on meeting a younger, angrier Silver Surfer Dee calms the Herald with an impassioned and honest speech about his future, some of the best he has ever written not to mention the issues heart-breaking conclusion.
Between them Fish and Zdarksy have put together an amazing and sweetly touching issue filled with perfect character moments. Howard the Duck continues to be a series I am completely in love with. Both funny and smart, Howard and companies adventures continue to consistently strike the perfect balance between humour and heart.
Also posted on Graphic Policy