Monday, November 5, 2007

Howard the Duck #2

Howard the Duck is back in Marvel’s regular rotation with a new monthly series. Last month, the feathered title character had a run-in with a pair of struggling scientists in the back seat of his cab, a disagreement that escalated into an all-out brawl with various foreign objects randomly thrown into the mix. This issue follows Howard and his longtime lady friend (and YouTube costar) Beverly Switzler’s fifteen minutes of fame, as a video of the beating becomes a viral hit online and the pair suddenly find themselves internet celebrities.

The premise is a little thin, and the characters who constantly invent an excuse for Howard’s appearance get to be pretty redundant, but the book’s really in its element when it’s playing around with oddball humor and random situations. The way these characters float through life, oblivious to the strange shit that’s going on around them, is actually a lot of fun in the same vein as Flaming Carrot. The driving force behind this comic has always been social and political satire, and on that front it doesn’t shirk.

When the title character first appeared in the early ‘70s, the climate was perfect for that style of humor. Pop culture was in a sad state and it was fashionable to hate on the political scene. When the ‘80s and ‘90s rolled around, a lot of things changed (including the way the character was written) and Howard lost his relevance. The mindset of today’s world bears a striking similarity to that of the ‘70s, though, and writer Ty Templeton has noted and reacted to those social changes by returning the character to his jaded, sarcastic roots.

I realize that’s probably a lot more elaboration than is necessary for what’s ultimately a cartoon about a humanoid duck and his overly-buxom partner, but those underlying themes are ultimately what keeps the book moving. When the duo make an appearance on a faux-Bill Mahr late night panel discussion, for instance, the satire kicks into overdrive and the issue finds its groove. Templeton has a firm grasp of what makes this character relevant, and he’s venting most of the public’s shared disdain for the current state of things by presenting a parody of pop culture that’s shockingly similar to the real thing.

Juan Bobillo’s artwork does a fine job of masking the issue’s venomously sarcastic mood with a bright, colorful façade. He brings a lot of flair to the proceedings, and the no-rules nature of the story allows him a lot of creative liberty that would be lacking in a more structured, serious book. In those situations, where the plot couldn’t have contained more than a simple instruction like “Howard climbs aboard the wooden train with a taser in his hand,” Bobillo takes control of the story and grants it a personality all its own. He’s giving us wild, tilted camera angles, great silhouettes, stylized backdrops and surprisingly developed characters, which somehow match the mood of the story perfectly and bring it to life.

This isn’t tearing down any walls or anything, it’s not a landmark achievement in the art of comics, but it’s still an entertaining read. If you’re as fed up with the current state of society as I am, whether it’s the 24-hour Paris Hilton watches on CNN or the talking heads on Fox News who press their own agendas ahead of the facts, Ty Templeton shares your pain. Don’t be ashamed to ask a buddy if you can borrow this, it’s lots of fun wrapped inside of a genuinely relevant package.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 7

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