While reading issues of Howard the Duck from the mid-seventies, one might think that Hunter S. Thomson was moonlighting as a comic-book writer. But the Fear and Loathing of it all in Howard the Duck is the Gonzo masterwork of American comic-book legend Steve Gerber. Gerber became famous (and controversial) through his bizarre creations while working at Marvel in the seventies and his use of drug-induced nightmares (including rock-band Kiss) and sexuality. Howard wasn’t really for the kiddies – as a kid, I just thought it was too weird. Now many years (but not that many) later, I am so glad to have revisited this intellectual, cigar-smoking duck. Much like wasting Orwell’s 1984 on teenagers, Howard the Duck is far more interesting with a few years behind you.
As an avid and somewhat addicted comic-book collector myself, it seemed perfectly sensible to buy up all of the Howard the Duck comics I could (#1-15 plus Annual #1) in order to read it – no trades for me, thanks. The first 15 issues had me hooked as Howard the Duck reluctantly struggles through happenstance adventure with his sexy redhead girlfriend Beverly and their weird friends. Drawn (mostly) by one of my favourites Gene Colan, they battle the likes of villains such as Turnip-Man and Kidney Lady, Vampire-Cows and Doctor Bong.
After fleeing a cult-leader and a giant gingerbread-man, Howard and Beverly arrive in New York City and get jobs at the All-Night Party convention, which coincided in the real world, with the presidential election of 1976. In Issue #7, Howard the Duck is nominated to run for President by the All-Night Party (Marvel Comics thought it would be a good publicity stunt and ran Howard in the actual election as well). In issue #9, after several assassination attempts, his reluctant campaign ends abruptly when a doctored photo is leaked of Howard and Beverly in the Tub together. Though Howard was never interested in running for president, he was outraged at the slander and the tarnishing of Beverly’s “meticulously fabricated rep” as a “good girl”. Therefore, Howard and Beverly set off to find the villain behind the assassinations, and the doctored photo.
BUT WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH CANADA, you must be asking?
Their search leads them to…Canada! Canada? That’s right. In Canada, they confront the culprit who put a price on Howard’s head and ran their names through the muck…err, bubbles. After a 7 hour and 44 minute trip (about the time it takes to drive from NYC), their remote-controlled plane crashes near the “shore of your basic crystal clear lake overlooking the snow-capped peaks and thick pine woods commonly believed to encircle downtown Toronto”. There they meet Sgt. Preston Dudley of the RCMP and his trusty horse Prince. With the valiant Mountie’s assistance, they visit the American-hating terrorist known for using bellhops and robot-planes, Pierre Dentifris, Canada’s only Super-Patriot!
Now old and in a wheel-chair, Pierre Dentifris is confronted by the Mountie, Howard and Beverly. When asked the reason for the visit, Sgt. Preston Dudley, polite as all Canadians are, greets Pierre, “I want you to meet some friends of mine, Pierre, from south of the border.”
To which Pierre responds: “Americans?! I weesh a bellboy would drop luggage on your heads!! I weesh you would die in ze crash of a robot plane!! I despise vous!”
Sgt. Preston Dudley: “Careful, young man. You’ll incriminate yourself.”
Howard the Duck: “This geezer?! Are you serious? He couldn’t hurt a gnat!”
Pierre: “I could if it were an American gnat, duckee! I was once a powerful man in Canada, a hotel and airline magnate! I loved Canada and grew sick at ze way you barbarians invaded and polluted us with your industry, your so-called culture! I turned my resources to a daring plan to teach you arrogant fools a lesson! I airlifted a million beaver to construct a dam across Niagara to make it fall ze other way!! And I succeeded! My pets and I slowed ze Falls to a trickle! I should have known your military would not allow a Canadian more than a moment of national pride! I had barely ze time to gloat when ze bombs began falling! It all happened back in February. It was kept very hush-hush, of course. Since then I’ve aged nearly 73 years and lost the use of all my limbs except my teeth!”
Beverly: “Wow…what a sad story.”
Howard the Duck: “Downright pathetic. Listen…it’s been fun talking’ to ya, old-timer…but we gotta run. Try not to be bitter. We’ll prob’ly destroy ourselves an’ save ya the bother.”
Sgt. Preston Dudley: “Wait, you two! I thought you wanted to hammer the scoundrel! Or have you chosen not to become…involved?”
Howard the Duck: “Aw, come off it, Dudley! This old coot’s outta his maple tree!”
A few pages later, the battle takes place when Howard meets up once again with Pierre at Niagara Falls. Pierre, now dressed in a robotic beaver costume declares, “It is I, Pierre Dentifris, in ze most formidable exoskeleton ever devised by man!! Vous thought I was a helpless cripple, ze way all you Americans think of Canada itself! Well, it is not vrai! I am Le Beaver!”
It is an endlessly enjoyable read and clearly written by someone who understands Canada enough to satirize it.