It’s a homecoming of sorts for the title character in Chip Zdarsky and Joe Quinones’ “Howard the Duck” #1 as a very familiar webcrawler makes a guest appearance alongside Howard, just as he did in the original ongoing series back in the 1970s. For Zdarsky, there’s also a return to comedy behind bars, a theme he addressed in his “Prison Funnies” strips and self-published comics back in 2001. Howard doesn’t spend the entire issue in the slammer, but there’s plenty of humor both in jail and outside of it, and Zdarsky and Quinones deliver no shortage of laughs in this punchy and comedic debut issue.
Zdarsky largely eschews the satire that longtime Howard fans might be expecting or hoping for, but the issue doesn’t suffer for it. Instead, the laughs come in various forms, from witty zingers to situational humor to sometimes even slapstick. Combined with Quinones’ loose and whimsical art, every attempt at evoking a laugh succeeds right from the very opening sequence. Howard’s narrative takes place over a seemingly unrelated occurrence in a distant corner of the Marvel Universe and then starkly transitions to him sitting in a jail cell next to a mouthy cellmate who readers come to know as Large Marge. Quinones’ standalone image is good for a snicker or two just by its appearance alone but, combined with Zdarsky’s script and structure, it’s funnier still, setting the tone of the story up for the jokes to come.
Zdarsky expertly paces the humor by cutting between scenes to give different context to what is otherwise implied in his script; Howard has indeed been seen on movie screens, for instance, but what this precisely means is superbly and hilariously structured by Quinones. The issue is peppered with witticisms like what a smartphone’s auto-correct feature will do to text typed with a duck’s feathered digits, as well as Spider-Man’s subsequent reaction to it. Quinones’ quirky style goes a long way towards enhancing the laughs, providing near-perfect comedic timing that makes Zdarsky’s gags even funnier.
Somewhere along the line, Howard has become a private eye; yes, a duck detective. It’s a terrific plot device that gives a plausible reason for a tense and comedic business relationship with one of the Marvel U’s best-known attorneys. He’s quite a retro-fashionably dressed duck-tective, too, as rendered by Quinones, who has seemingly found the definitive look for Howard that’s been lacking ever since the Donald Duck look was abandoned due to legal reasons. Zdarsky introduces Tara, a tattoo artist and now Howard’s detective partner, who gives Howard the lucky break he needs in their first case together with another exchange brilliantly captured by Quinones.
Just as Zdarsky gives a nod to the very first “Howard the Duck” #1, Quinones does the same by way of a couple of props lying around Howard’s dilapidated office that will be familiar to longtime fans. Despite these acknowledgements to creator Steve Gerber’s era, Zdarsky gives the duck a decidedly modern spin along with yet another guest appearance at the issue’s end: a currently very popular character that sets the stage for an oddly logical but fun team-up next issue.
Finally, Zdarsky and Quinones poetically, ironically and comically bring the events of this issue full circle before wrapping up this impressive debut. As a character, Howard the Duck has seen a lot of misfires over the past few decades, but this “Howard the Duck” comic is not one of them.