Monday, August 10, 2020

Marvel Immersion Project: Howard the Duck #32-33 and Uncanny X-Men #94-98

Howard the Duck: what started as an admittedly dark breath of fresh air in the late '70s was unbearable a decade later.  And yet, I have to admit that going from those final, bitter dredges back to the unsubtle X-Men (pun intended) feels like a huge let down.  Back to too many characters in too many fight scenes.  Back to villain of the week.  In short, back to formula.  Howard, for all of his ups and downs, was never formulaic, not for a single panel.  Even when Gerber was barely holding things together, he generated an issue (#16) unlike any other in the history of the company.  Howard was the jolt the entire industry desperately needed.  Now, I go back to the pre-Howard world...
Professor X - Wikipedia
Professor X, via Wikipedia
I will say this for the X-Men: it's a lot easier to keep track of everyone than it was with the Avengers.  There are still too many characters but I know for certain who is in and who is out at a given moment.  The stories are way too busy for my tastes.  Why bother with a gradual narrative build when you can get right to the brawl while everyone's sitting around the living room? 

I so wish I were exaggerating.

I know there are good stories on the way and the X-Men have strong individual characters among them, including my personal favorite: Wolverine.  The X-Men were the heart of the Marvel universe in the mid-'70s.  I could not reasonably immerse myself without spending some quality time with them.

X-Men - Wikipedia
via Wikipedia, the original X-Men, clockwise from top right: Angel, Iceman, Cyclops, Beast and Marvel Girl

The Comic Book Catacombs: 1970's Flashback: Giant-Size X-Men # 1
via The Catacombs, the 1975 X-Men, left to rightish: Storm, Wolverine, Colossus, Cyclops, Banshee, Thunderbird, Sunfire and Nightcrawler

My Recent Reads

Howard the Duck #32
Originally Published January 1, 1986
Writer: Steven Grant
Artist: Paul Smith
  • After a near seven-year hiatus, Marvel revived Howard just in time to promote the Howard the Duck film which premiered in August 1986.
  • Opens with an origin story for Howard.
  • Howard is stranded in Utah but gets picked up by a trucker, the lovely Ceci Rider.
  • Ceci and Howard discover an underground housing development run by the natural resource guzzling Morgan Erg, aka The Gopher.
  • The movie was, by all accounts, truly terrible.  It won four Razzies, including Worst Picture, and was one of the candidates for Worst Picture of the Decade along with Star Trek V.  Thank goodness for Mommie Dearest.

Howard the Duck #33
September 1, 1986
Christopher Stager/Val Mayerik
  • The final issue for the original series.
  • Howard wins $10,000,000 in a publishing sweepstakes, awarded by an Ed McMahon-type character at his front door.
  • Naturally, everyone wants a piece of the riches and Howard is a changed duck.  He's finally reunited with Bev but she doesn't like what wealth has done to Howard so she leaves him.
  • Howard throws out the first ball at a Cleveland Indians game.  There's a running gag through the story that the newly wealthy duck is rumored to buy the team.
  • The magic is gone.  I can see how anyone discovering Howard the Duck in 1986, either through the movie or these last two comic book issues, would have been severely disappointed.  How did anyone think this was such a big deal?
  • In truth, the series was never quite the same after co-creator Steve Gerber was let go.  He was fired because he couldn't meet deadlines - completely understandable but the material suffered.  Other Marvel characters - Spidey, for instance - survived changes in creative staff just fine.  Not so here.  Howard needed Steve.  Without him, the satire was merely a joke.   
  • There are some wonderful musical references in this last issue:
    • The issue's sub-title is "Material Duck," a play on Madonna's "Material Girl," released in 1984

    • Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi"

    • Diana Ross

    • Doc Severinsen, the Tonight Show's longtime bandleader 

    • Judy Garland 

Uncanny X-Men #94
August 1, 1975
Chris Claremont/Dave Cockrum
  • We join the series at a moment of transition.  Most of the original X-Men say goodbye to the team, making way for the new kids.
    • Departing:
      • Havok
      • Marvel Girl
      • Angel
      • Sunfire
      • Iceman 
      • Lorna Dane
    • Remaining:
      • Colossus
      • Cyclops
      • Nightcrawler
      • Wolverine
      • Storm
      • Professor X
      • Thunderbird
      • Banshee
  • The greatest significance of this issue, however, is that it marks the beginning of Chris Claremont's run as head writer for the series. 
Count Nefaria | Villains Wiki | Fandom
via Villains Wiki
  • There is also an external adversary in this story.  Count Nefaria and his Ani-Men take over Mount Valhalla, headquarters of NORAD.
  • Cameo: Beast, former X-Man, now an Avenger

Uncanny X-Men #95
October 1, 1975
  • The X-Men defeat Count Nefaria but at a high cost...
  • Thunderbird dies.  After Gwen Stacy, all bets are off.

Uncanny X-Men #96
December 1, 1975
Moira MacTaggert - Wikipedia
via Wikipedia
  • Introduced: Moira MacTaggart, the X-Men's new housekeeper.
  • Brooding over Thunderbird's death, Cyclops lets loose with his laser eyes in a fit of fury, accidentally unleashing two demons.  Said demons attack the X-Men in their living room.  Really, I wasn't kidding.
Steven Lang (comics) - Wikipedia
via Wikipedia
  • Also introduced: Steven Lang, leader of Project Armageddon.  He hasn't struck yet but he makes clear he has it in for the X-Men.

Uncanny X-Men #97
February 1, 1976
  • Professor X has nightmares about an inter-galactic race war.  Or are they premonitions?
Alexander Summers (Earth-616) | Marvel Database | Fandom
via Marvel Database
Polaris | X-Men Wiki | Fandom
Polaris via X-Men Wiki
  • Havok and Polaris (Lorna Dane's new superhero name) are possessed by Eric the Red and turned against the X-Men.

Uncanny X-Men #98
April 1, 1976
  • It's Christmas Eve and our gang are celebrating at Rockefeller Plaza.  There are many cameos by both fictional and real world characters: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Clark Kent, Lois Lane, etc.
  • With no regard for peace and goodwill, Steven Lang sends the Sentinels to attack.  They kidnap Marvel Girl, Banshee, Wolverine and Professor X, who had been on a fishing vacation in the Caribbean.
Peter Corbeau (Earth-616) | Marvel Database | Fandom
via Marvel Database
  • The professor's companion on his fishing trip is Dr. Peter Corbeau. 
Amanda Sefton - Wikipedia
via Wikipedia
  • Introduced: Amanda Sefton who would eventually become Daytripper, then later Majik


  1. Claremont was one of the best writers ever in comics.

    1. Oh yes, I know. I have read his outstanding Wolverine solo series. He also wrote one of the best - and most canonically problematic - stories in the original Marvel Star Wars run.

      That said, these first few issues could definitely have done with more subtle pacing.