Monday, October 15, 2007

Ducks and Super Women!

Every once in a while, a comic comes out that makes us think “Hey, I didn’t know that Marvel owned that license.” With 3 blockbuster movies released, most people would think of those when asked about the Blade franchise, neglecting the fact that the titular half-human, half-vampire made his debut in the US way back in 1973 in the comic Tomb of Dracula #10. Based on the recent Blade comic series being canceled after 12 issues, it’s safe to say that most people still didn’t know Marvel owned Blade’s rights.

Which brings us to another forgotten gem of Marvel, one as storied and legendary as the Fantastic Four, Avengers, and Incredible Hulk. I speak of course, of Howard the Duck.


Our first ever review here at The Latest Issue is none other than Howard the Duck #1, written by Ty Templeton (Spiderman/Human Torch) and drawn by Juan Bobillo (She-Hulk). Now, I know you’re thinking: “Gianni, why on EARTH would you purchase Howard the @%$%#@ Duck??” The answer? I didn’t. My good friend Elmo, recently released from his position of middling importance at our sister publication Stevereads (right here on Blogspot), came to me with a bag of comics that Steve felt he had no need for anymore. Never mind he just wrote a deep, focused review on a dictionary, he apparently has no practical use for Elmo or his comics, so we here at The Latest Issue get to bring you what he won’t.

To catch up, Howard briefly appeared in the Marvel one-shot “Choosing Sides” during the whole Civil War “thing”, as he and his “adorable but mostly hairless” companion Beverly Switzler went to register Howard’s “superhero identity.” This resulted in Howard discovering that S.H.I.E.L.D. (and therefore the entire U.S. government) has a policy that the “duck-man” of Cleveland does, in fact, not exist. This means that Howard does not have to pay taxes, parking tickets or the like. He’s quite pleased.

Howard the Duck #1 opens with a dream sequence, with Howard playing cards in what can only be described as Foxwoods on a weekday. He’s at a poker table with such notable Marvel monsters as Man-Thing, Yeti, Frankenstein, and - in a shot at the Fantastic Four - Ben “The Thing” Grimm. Waking up after Frankenstein bursts into flames, Howard finds himself in no more envious a position, waking up in the back seat of his cab.

While it’s moving.

“So we can score this as a bad way to wake up. This could be a kidnapping, or mortal danger or something. If I was more awake, I’d have turned my head by now.

“Hmm. Beverly is driving. So it’s mortal danger after all.”

Apparently, Howard wouldn’t wake up in time for Beverly to make it to the dress rehersal of her new show, The Oldest Story, so she decided to simply plop him in his cab and she would drive until either they got there, or he woke up. Thankfully, he woke up before “a truck hits us, since, ya know... you don’t know how to DRIVE!” We learn that Beverly is focusing on her acting career, which to this point includes only a Super Bowl commercial in which she has one line (“Come here, stud.”) before falling out of a blimp when a fat man farts. Sounds better than some of the Super Bowl commercials I’ve been forced to sit through lately. Anyhow, Beverly is so proud of it she’s even has this new catchphrase as the ring tone on her phone. Howard is less than impressed, as not only does he not see her current accomplishments as any sort of “career” but he realizes upon their arrival at the dress rehersal (he calls it an “UN-dress rehersal, Bev -- I’ve seen the two-ounce costume they gave ya”) that she in fact managed to ding his cab while she was at the wheel.

After the duo arrive, they are approached by Lance Pierce, apparently a famous stage director who has seen Bev’s Super Bowl commercial (apparently only Howard was unimpressed with the ad) and wants her to be the lead in his new play, “Dip Thong.” It’s only after Beverly takes his card and heads into the theater that our boy Lance realizes that standing next to him is a talking duck.

“Astounding what you notice when the half-naked woman leaves.”

If you haven’t noticed by now, what’s really great about Howard the Duck is the dialogue. Howard rambles in some instances, but many of his monologues and the dialogue between characters is pure gold. While listening to the radio in his cab a talk show host rants on about the evils of Tony Stark, and Howard perfectly mutters “Yadda, yadda, Stark is bad, Cap was good. NEXT!” Another host wants to talk about REAL heroes, like the “Great Lakes Champions,“ known to a few readers as the former Great Lakes Avengers. Only in Cleveland.

About halfway through the book, a couple of game hunters come home from a failure of a duck hunting trip. The Twin Barrels, as they call themselves, exit Grand Central Train Station and hail a cab, moaning about how poorly their hunting trip went, how they’ll never bag that duck trophy. Guess who’s cab they manage to get.

The book is not without it’s faults. Besides Howard’s meandering monologues, the art is almost TOO cartoonish. Bobillo’s art looked good on She Hulk, but he definately does better work drawing monsters than humans. The proportions don’t always seem to match. For instance, sometimes Beverly looks pretty damn good, other times, “frumpy” might be putting it nicely. He seems to like drawing Howard the most, not surprising since he’s the main character. But a little more consistency with the other characters would do well in the future. Speaking of Howard and Beverly, it’s never really explained WHY they’re together. My retinas flare up every time I think of the George Lucas crap-fest from the 80’s, so Howard’s backstory isn’t too well known to me. I’m sure most of you feel similar. Howard obviously cares for Bev (even if he doesn’t always show it well) but I can’t imagine why she would be with him. Maybe it’s Cleveland. However, their relationship is pretty much a mystery for anyone who doesn’t know about their past.

I don’t want to give too much of the story away, but it includes riffs on gun and hunting laws, college-theater bashing, retching about how there’s no REAL heroes anymore, a new giant-headed A.I.M. (Advanced Idea Mechanics) creation called M.O.D.O.T. (Mental Organism Desaigned Only for Talking), crude sexual references (theater is art, folks), mannequins used as weapons, and even Beverly’s cell phone jingle has a say in the end. There’s a lot to like in this first issue, but casual comic fans might be turned off by the fact that this is a Marvel story that doesn’t need the Marvel Universe to make sense. If Marvel didn’t own Howard, it would be an indie hit. Since Stan’s company does own the title, though, don’t be surprised if Captain Rectitude makes an appearance sometime in the future.

It’s a fun read. Maybe you’ll like it, maybe you won’t. It’s not all there yet, but give these guys a couple of issues to get started, and we may really have a real good series on our hands, instead of some good issues.

Our second review will be none other than the woman who wishes she was Wonder Woman, Ms. Marvel. The run on Ms. Marvel has been pretty good lately, as in the current storyline has Carol Danvers not only leading America’s greatest heroes, the Avengers, but she is also in charge of her very own S.H.I.E.L.D. strike team, codename Lightning Storm. This team’s roster was at first manned only by S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, but after a recent mission in which one was killed and another severely injured, Ms. Marvel asked deputy chief Maria Hill for superhero replacements, straight out of the Initiative’s ranks. The answer? Rick Sheridan, who has an alien parasite in his head named Sleepwalker who comes out when he sleeps; and Aaron Stack, the android formerly known as Machine Man.

The best part of these new characters is that Stack is not portrayed as the purple Machine Man from his early days with the Avengers. He is Nextwave’s Aaron Stack, an alchoholic, foul-mouthed bastard who’s never above insulting his enemies (or his allies for that matter) and takes great pride in his violent encounters. His dialogue is always top notch, with many memorable quotes from the last few issues of Ms. Marvel being among the best written lines in comic history.

“Now then! I wish to drink heavily and investigate the worthiness of this craft’s floors for laying about unconsc...”

“I am NOT impressed with YOUR ship. My previous ship had five TESSERACT ZONES. YOU don’t have ANY tesseract zones.”

“My old ship also had a mini fridge. Do YOU have a mini fridge?”

“Google is your friend.”

“I was trying to irritate you.”

“Hello. I am Aaron Stack. The fleshy thing is Sleepwalker. We are super heroes.”

Comic gold.

Ms. Marvel #20 opens with our heroes in a precarious situation. The rest of Lightning Storm has been placed in a small Chilean village, where they have confronted and for the time being beaten Ms. Marvel’s old sidekick, Arana. Apparently, Arana has been brainwashed by the Puppet Master, who has been using a special clay found in Chile to create new statuettes with which to ply his trade. It seems his latest game is slave trade, as he has control over the minds of dozens of women (a few of them super-powered) with intent to sell them to the highest bidder. To these ends, he’s also brainwashed members of the Chilean Army, who carry out the kidnappings. And now he’s added Ms. Marvel to his collection.

Actually, this doesn’t last long. Not long after he takes control of her mind, SOMETHING happens. It’s really tough to figure out. She turns blue, and another voice takes over her body, if only for a second. After this, Marvel returns to normal, and, free of her mind control, proceeds to chase the VERY surprised Puppet Master through his villa. Immediately, Marvel sees the multitude of women Puppet Master has under his control and pretty much freaks out. She’s about ready to beat him to a pulp when he reveals the ace up his sleeve. This is followed by a fantastic fight scene between Ms. Marvel and former Young Avenger, Stature. The fight is quick, but effectively put together, including one bit where Stature throws a house at Marvel, who enters through a window, rescues the poor slob sitting on the toilet as this was all happening (Didn’t he hear the commotion outside? Must’ve been a huge dump) and all in one motion knock Stature senseless.

The story is well written, even if the twist at the end (anyone who remembers what Wonder Woman went through about a few years ago with Maxwell Lord can guess where this is going) isn’t Brian Reed’s (New Avengers: Illuminati) best work. The art work by Greg Tocchini is good if not great, but the fight scenes stand out and it’s obvious this is where his strength lies.

With the current cast of characters, solid writing and art, this is a title that people should be checking out on a regular basis. Even if you don’t LOVE Ms. M, I dare you to read a line of Aaron Stack’s dialogue in the last few issues and not crack up, just a little. It’s an enjoyable title, and Marvel has got to be hoping that soon Ms. Marvel will be right up there with the FF and the Avengers as one of it’s flagship titles. I fully endorse it.

That’s it for now! I want to thank everyone who’s reading the first posting of The Latest Issue, I’m real excited to be here on Blogspot, and I’m always game for any suggestions on titles I might review for future issues! Hopefully by the end of the week I’ll release my next post, focusing on two guilty pleasures I know you all can enjoy. Here’s a hint: boom stick.

See you then!


steve said...

Welcome, Gianni! A sane and enthusiastic voice dealing with comics is always a good thing!

As for suggestion for future reviews, I've got one: how about reviewing titles that AREN'T set in a crypto-fascist dystopia in which all the main characters were complicit in the arrest and death of Captain Friggin America? Every issue of Ms. Marvel in which she doesn't fly to S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters and punch her fist through Tony Stark's head is just another issue set in this Dark Nightmare version of the Marvel Universe, where 'What If ...' has been replaced by 'What the Fuck?' - an alternate present in which the BAD GUYS WON and we the readers aren't supposed to CARE.

Aside from that, good on ya!

steve said...

These 'heroes' run a friggin GULAG, for gawd's sake! A GULAG!

Gianni said...

Thank you Steve. Steve, of Stevereads, everyone.

Gianni said...

As for your earlier suggestion, I have every intention of branching out from JUST Marvel comics once DC's new titles come around. For the time being, I'm afraid the reviews will be a little Marvel-heavy, but only because it's the organization I'm more familiar with right now. Elmo should be helping me with that.

brian said...

Nice Review, Gianni. One suggestion, can you include cover images for each review. I'd love to see some of the Howard art work. Also, I find it hard to believe Howard was in the "civil war" series. Really?

Gianni said...

Yeah, it was a one-shot issue that I never actually laid my hands on, but was collected in the Civil War: Marvel Universe trade. That collection featured previews to Irredeemable Ant-man (since canceled), Immortal Iron Fist (going strong), US Agent, Omega Flight (hoping it goes more than mini-series), the new Thunderbolts, the return of Captain Marvel (supposedly leading up to the new series starting soon), Venom, the Sentry, and yes, Howard the Duck. The artwork in Howard the Duck #1 was much better than in the one-shot.

Elmo said...

But SteeEEeeve, Civil War has refertilized the Marvel Universe. And we never even see the GULAG- it's like they forgot it exists.

Gianni said...

Not quite, Elmo. We do see it briefly in Avengers: The Initiative #2 and in the "Return of Captain Marvel" one-shot that took place during the Civil War, It was revealed that the "gulag" had some instability problems that Reed Richards must've left unaccounted and "Warden" Marvel was last seen speeding off into Captain Marvel #1. Of course, this was months ago, and the first mention we get of it is in Thunderbolts #116, which came out only a couple of months ago.

Wow, geeked out there, now I'll try to finish writing an actual review.

steve said...

The spies we here at Stevereads have carefully planted in Gianni's little outfit report that he's about to embark on a VACATION! Let's all guilt him into writing another post BEFORE he goes!