#NotAllDucks or Yes, I know Howard The Duck is in Original Sin. Please Stop Telling Me
by Nevs Coleman 03-Jul-14
Nevs Coleman goes “WAUGGH!” about matters, duck-related and otherwise.
I suppose this is the price you pay for having your standards formed by The Comics Journal as a teenager.
Understand that I was a proper Marvel Zombie as a kid. As much as I spent time as a kid in the library reading RAW, Mr A, Valerian, The Incal, A1, Love & Rockets and Tintin, I was also that kid who would bunk off Double P.E. on a Wednesday afternoon to walk three miles from school to my closest comic shop to spend a week’s worth of saved lunch monies and bus fares so I could pick up your Spider-Man 1, your Generation X 1, even… Wizard. I would not eat for two days so I could buy Spawn 1. Yup. Really.
And I wish I could remember exactly how it happened, but I ended up with a few copies of The Comics Journal. I suspect it may have been the issue with the sexy Michael Kaluta Shadow/Starstruck cover that caught my interest, knowing me as a fourteen year-old. Sitting down and reading those magazines in the park one summer’s day was as transformative an experience as getting hold of the Anna Nicole Smith issue of Playboy, watching Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and The Rocky Horror Picture Show back to back when I was thirteen, or discovering Naomi Klein’s No Logo as a student.
What the Journal did for me as a teenager, due mainly to the reviews and Gary Groth’s editorials, was make me realise that I was wasting my money on rubbish. Not only that, but by going in to a comic shop and funding the status quo of polybagged comics, crossover events, fake death comics and the like, I was helping to ensure that not only would modern comics be rubbish, but that they would stay rubbish. If I wanted to read good Spider-Man comics, I’d have to wait until someone I liked was working on it to buy it, rather than picking it up to see exactly what the deal was with Peter’s parents being alive.* It took a bit of hammering home for this delirious and often drunk teenager, but I finally realised, by way of Howard The Duck, that the person writing the comic was more important than the character featured in said comic and far more important than who was publishing it.
Howard The Duck was one of those comics that constantly featured in creator lists of “Things they liked”. I’ve always got into things via word of mouth and recommendations by people I respect. When everyone I liked kept saying “Howard The Duck“, I gave in. I’d try it to see what everyone was on about.
Except I screwed up and picked up the Playduck covered Howard The Duck magazine instead. I read it, thought it was all right and figured it was just one of those things where one influential person says they liked a thing, and everyone wants to seem cool and hip, so they say they like it as well. See: Peepshow (the comic and the TV show).
Students of Howard will know the mistake I made here. Howard The Duck magazine featured work by lots of Marvel regulars from the ′70s but not the person who made Howard who he is, Steve Gerber. A few years down the line, I managed to find the Essential Howard The Duck and understand why everyone I like liked the work so much. It’s a tour de force of social commentary, sensitivity, satire on the times and observations on modern times. Most of the points that Steve made about the world in the ′70s still hold up today.
That, and Beverly is somewhat #hubbah.
The thing is that, for me, having read the history of Marvel and DC, it’s quite difficult not to see their pantheon of characters as essentially a portfolio of legal manipulation and corporate swindling. I’d like to sit down and just enjoy a run of Spider-Man or Superman, but I keep hearing the names “Steve Ditko” or “Jerry Siegel” in the back of my head as I work through the comics. Most of my friends are fairly aware of my stance on this, and probably find it slightly difficult to recommend things to me, as when they try to mention a particularly good run of The X-Men to me, I’m more than likely going to bring up the state of Dave Cockrum. Mainly because I think we shouldn’t really be allowed to forget that this stuff happened for the sake of being able to get one more movie added to the pile of Marvel Film output.
They do know I love Howard The Duck, though. So when I saw that he was going to featured in Marvel’s Original Sin, I tried to think of ways to tell them I probably wasn’t going to be interested.
How do I put this…?
Most of Marvel & DC’s characters are just action figures that anyone can pick up, write and draw a fairly inoffensive story with and put down again, in my opinion. They’ve been through so many convolutions and such that they’re fairly far removed from their original concept and background. There’s really not much that’s personal about them that couldn’t be replicated by any number of hacks needing to knock a mini-series to pad out this year’s crossover.
There are some works that almost seem to slip through the cracks, though. Some books that are so much the idiosyncrasies of the creative team that one dreads the idea of anyone taking over the title in much the same way that you wouldn’t want anyone but Bill Watterson to work on Calvin & Hobbes, or have to read any Pogo that isn’t Walt Kelly. James Robinson’s Starman springs rapidly to mind, as does J.H Williams III’s run on Batwoman, Gillen & McKelvie’s Young Avengers (although in my continuity, their Nov-Arr is a Skrull and the real Marvel Boy, i.e. the one Grant Morrison wrote, is still in Space Prison), or Giffen and DeMatteis on Justice League.
Yeah, Marvel own the copyright to Howard The Duck. If they want, they can publish Ultimate Howard The Duck, they can give him the Infinity Gauntlet, have Doctor Bong take over his body in Superior Howard, he can make terrible decisions but then reinstall his own mind with a back up brain USB or whatever, they can do all that. I realise. This business is geared so that it really doesn’t want to recognise the fact that the people who work on the comics have more to do with their success than the concepts they’re publishing, otherwise anyone could be writing Batman next month and it’d still sell, right? Except that’s clearly not true, but the corporate response to, say, JMS writing a best-selling Spider-Man comic is obviously “Well, Spider-Man is back in vogue because the Four Moons Of Atlantis must be in alignment. Let’s knock out 5 Spidey mini-series, that certainly won’t dilute the brand quality by not being as good at all.”
And, sure, the same can be done with Howard. Marvel own the copyright, but not the soul. It’s like Rob Liefeld doing Bone or literally anyone else writing besides Dave Sim writing Cerebus for all it matters to me; it won’t be Steve Gerber writing it. Some things transcend copyright law. And when you literally wait for a man to die before reprinting his defining work, you lose any say in the ethical bit of the argument.
Anyway, it isn’t the real Howard. Howard and Beverly ran away to the Image Universe in Savage Dragon/Destroyer Duck 1 quite a few years ago. More on that elsewhere.
[This article originally appeared at No One Is Innocent. Our thanks to Nevs for allowing us to reproduce it.]Tags: DC, Howard the Duck, Justice League, Marvel, Original Sin, Spider-Man, Starman, The Comics Journal