No matter what happens to the Marvel Comics multiverse, Howard always ends up an outsider in his world, even when it’s one co-created by Doom per the events of “Secret Wars.” His incarnation on Battleworld is pretty self-evident from the title of Skottie Young and Jim Mahfood’s “Howard the Human” #1, where he’s now the sole hairless ape on a planet full of animals. Howard’s uniqueness isn’t the only similarity carrying over into Battleworld, though; he’s also still a detective, just as he is in Chip Zdarsky’s “Howard the Duck,” and he still finds plenty of ways to get into trouble with all of the wrong people — or animals.
It seems fitting somehow that Mahfood’s Howard looks like a gumshoe straight out of a 1970’s TV series, and equally fitting that everyone else looks like they stepped out of countless other anthropomorphic comic book stories. Connors’ Bar is packed with an eclectic lot of crazy patrons, cobbled together by Mahfood with his own kind of exaggerated wackiness that immediately makes it difficult to imagine any other artist trying to pull it off. Justin Stewart adds colors that highlight the craziness of this locale that — with its hardboiled and over the top sequences — works best knowing that it’s supposed to be fun and not taken too seriously.
After all, when Curt Connors is shown to be a local bartender in this region of the world, it’s pretty evident that the story is meant to be taken with forked tongue planted firmly in cheek. Readers will only need one guess to learn exactly what kind of animal Connors turns out to be in this story, which is perfectly fine as Young doesn’t try to make any kind of mystery out of it, and the simple brilliance of it generates an early laugh, with plenty more to follow. Many of Spider-Man’s familiar villains show up in quasi-familiar roles; Adrian Toomes is around, too, and it won’t be hard to guess what kind of animal he is.
There’s even more understated brilliance in Young’s story; dogs are the cops who can be bribed with treats, and organized crime figures are cats. It’s fun to guess who each leader is, and what kind of animal a blind lawyer might take after. Young’s story isn’t all about animal symbolism, though; amidst that backdrop, Howard investigates the disappearance of an informant who appears to be dead, only it turns out that the character was playing — well, you’ve probably guessed it. However, Young adds enough twists to make a genuine comedic thriller out of it. Howard’s insatiable craving for bacon and eggs is played for laughs and considerable irony considering Howard’s better known version.
Young brings it all together nicely at the end, making a light but tight done-in-one that uses the backdrop of “Secret Wars” as an excuse to construct a story that likely never would have come to be otherwise. “Howard the Human” #1 is a strongly assembled comic that serves up all kinds of craziness but doesn’t forget storytelling basics.