My Misspent Youth: Howard the Duck by Steve Gerber and Gene Colan

I read a lot of comic books as a kid. This series of posts is about the comics I read, and, occasionally, the comics that I should have read.

As I remember it, I figured out right away that Howard the Duck wasn’t for kids. The first issue hit spinner racks when I was a mere five years old. At first glance, it bore a resemblance to the material I was excitedly reading at the time. Still, I somehow knew it was a comic for adults. I suspect that was attributable to the fact that adults were reading and talking about it, making it something of a mini-sensation in the middle of that strange decade. And the storyline that I most vividly remember swirling around the pop culture ether involved the surly, stranded waterfowl’s entry into the 1976 presidential election.

Looking back at it now, it’s remarkable how casually writer Steve Gerber slips into that particular plot, almost as if it occurred to him midway through the creative process and he decided to run with it. (Gene Colan handles art duties on these issues, with fantastic results.) The cliffhanger from the previous issue, involving a giant gingerbread man brought to murderous life, is dispatched within the first few pages, bringing the reader to what was billed in the prior issue as a “2nd BIG LAFF RIOT!” Howard and his comely companion, Beverly Switzler, hitchhiking to New York City, are picked up by country music star Dreyfuss Gultch, who’s on his way to sing “The Star Spangled Banner” at the convention of the All-Night Party, a boisterous alternative to the Democrats and Republicans. Short on cash, the vagabond duo parlay their tenuous connection with Gultch into a comped suite at the Plaza and a couple of short-term jobs at the convention, Beverly as a hospitality girl and Howard with the security detail.

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The security is hardly rigorous, with Howard’s supervisor putting his primary attention towards inspecting some of the other hospitality girls. But when Howard gets wind of an assassination attempt on one of the candidates competing for the nomination, he flaps into action, safely disposing of a bomb rigged to explode on the delegate floor. This act of Howard immediately elevates him to become the overwhelming people’s choice at the contested convention.

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Initially, Howard is swept along by the madness, lacking in control as the party bigwigs go to work finessing his image and stoking the passions of the electorate, excitedly reporting that among the major candidates he has generated the highest likelihood of facing his own assassination attempt. That means he’s making an impact, they insist.

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The campaign strategists try to load Howard up with generic stump speech malarkey (“I’m tired of hearing people run down this country! Sure, we’ve got problems — pollution, inflation, recession, crime, pervasive moral decay — just to name a few. But what nation doesn’t have its troubles?”) Howard ditches them in favor of an ad agency picked at random from the yellow pages: Mad Genius Associates. What follows is a flurry of abrasive truth-telling, with Howard collecting a steam shovel’s worth of non-disposable packaging littered around the city and dumping it at the doorway of the company that manufactured it and balancing the military budget by stripping the housing stipend from generals who demand expensive new weaponry.

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Marvel Comics was notably freewheeling in the nineteen-seventies, but this scabrous satire still feels daringly odd for a title for a mainstream comic book publisher at the time. Sure, Stan Lee was moving Valhalla and Midgard to change the perception of comic books as strictly a kids’ medium, but there’s little question that the average age of those perusing the weekly new releases was low enough that the barbed comedy feels risky. It’s anarchic in a way that might tickle younger readers, but Gerber’s wry commentary is fairly sophisticated, right up to the specific turn of fortune that demolishes Howard’s insurgent campaign: the emergence of a sex scandal.

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Of course, this is all nothing more than silly satire. There’s no way a brash, indecorous grandstander with a freakish appearance could become a serious contender for the President of the United States of America.


Fantastic Four by Stan Lee and John Buscema
Contest of Champions by Bill Mantlo and John Romita, Jr.
Daredevil by Frank Miller
Marvel Fanfare by Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum and Paul Smith
Marvel Two-in-One by Tom DeFalco and Ron Wilson
Fantaco’s “Chronicles” series
Fantastic Four #200 by Marv Wolfman and Keith Pollard
The Incredible Hulk #142 by Roy Thomas and Herb Trimpe
Uncanny X-Men by Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum
Godzilla by Doug Moench and Herb Trimpe
Giant-Size Avengers #3 by Steve Englehart, Roy Thomas and Dave Cockrum
Alpha Flight by John Byrne
Hawkeye by Mark Gruenwald
Avengers by David Michelinie and George Perez
Justice League by Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire
The Thing by Dan Slott and Andrea DiVito
Nexus by Mike Baron and Steve Rude
Marvel Premiere by David Kraft and George Perez
Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars by Jim Shooter and Mike Zeck
Micronauts by Bill Mantlo and Butch Guice
Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland
What If? by Mike W. Barr, Herb Trimpe and Mike Esposito
Thor by Walt Simonson
Eightball by Dan Clowes
Cerebus: Jaka’s Story by Dave Sim and Gerhard
Iron Man #150 by by David Michelinie, John Romita, Jr. and Bob Layton
Bone by Jeff Smith
The Man of Steel by John Byrne
Fantastic Four by Doug Moench and Bill Sienkiewicz
“Allien and How to Watch It” by John Severin
Fantastic Four Roast by Fred Hembeck and friends
The Amazing Spider-Man #25 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko
Marvel Two-in-One #7 by Steve Gerber and Sal Buscema
The New Mutants by Chris Claremont and Bob McLeod
Dark Horse Presents
Bizarre Adventures #27
Marvel Team-Up #48 by Bill Mantlo and Sal Buscema
Metal Men #20 by Robert Kanigher and Ross Andru
The Avengers by Roy Thomas and John Buscema
Fantastic Four by Marv Wolfman and John Byrne
Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra
American Flagg by Howard Chaykin
Marvel and DC Present by Chris Claremont and Walter Simonson
Batman by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli
Marvel Two-in-One Annual #5 by Alan Kupperberg and Pablo Marcos
Web of Spider-Man by Louise Simonson and Greg LaRocque
Super-Villain Team-Up #12 by Bill Mantlo and Bob Hall
What If? #31 by Rich Margopoulos and Bob Budiansky
Fantastic Four by Scott Lobdell and Alan Davis
Magik by Chris Claremont and John Buscema, Sal Buscema, and Ron Frenz
Marvel Two-in-One Annual #7 by Tom DeFalco and Ron Wilson
Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters by Mike Grell
Avengers #202 by Jim Shooter, David Michelinie and George Pérez
Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. by Jim Steranko
Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers by Jack Kirby
What If? #6 by Roy Thomas, Jim Craig, and Rick Hoberg
Iron Man #39 by Gerry Conway and Herb Trimpe
Stig’s Inferno by Ty Templeton
Avengers #221 by Jim Shooter, David Michelinie, and Bob Hall
Fantastic Four #176 by Roy Thomas and George Pérez
Fray by Joss Whedon and Karl Moline
Legends by John Ostrander, Len Wein, and John Byrne
Uncanny X-Men #153 by Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum
Marvel Team-Up #100 by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller
Sensational She-Hulk by John Byrne
Avengers Annual #10 by Chris Claremont and Michael Golden

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