The creative team of “Howard the Duck” really found their groove with the previous issue and, in issue 4, they continue on that streak, developing the book as a very funny commentary on the nature of the Marvel Universe, while finding new ways to use Peter Parker as a punching bag. Chip Zdarsky uses Howard to explore pretty much whatever he wants, this time following Howard and “Dr. Straaaaaaaaaange” as they continue on their quest for the remaining gems in the Abundance Glove, which is also sought out by Tellos the Tamed, as revealed at the end of last issue. Joe Quinones and Joe Rivera have just as much fun with the visual storytelling of the book as they get comfortable with Howard and give readers an issue full of well-acted characters and funny gags.
What is most impressive about the new version of this book is how it takes the spirit of the original and adapts it for the times. Much like Steve Gerber, Zdarsky deconstructs the concept of a Marvel comic through character commentary and action. The writer skillfully does so while keeping the action moving forward, which is harder than it looks. There are laugh out loud scenes, like Dr. Strange’s “showdown” with Trog or the Human Torch’s recollection of the original “Secret Wars”; even the editor’s notes are in on the joke, such as when Howard mentions Dr. Strange and the editor reminds us to check the cover of the issue to get the reference. There are no sacred cows for this comic book and, in Zdarsky’s hands, the results are incredibly fun. The pacing and joke density per page has increased as the writer settled into the book. While there’s nothing quite as funny as last issue’s undercover scene, there’s still plenty to love, like Dr. Strange’s recounting of the Abundant Glove, an item begging for cosplay.
Quinones and Rivera are a spectacular art team. Their cartooning is fairly straightforward in this issue, but the action is always clean and easy to read. Character acting is huge highlight, accentuating the script perfectly. Johnny Storm’s smug looks and Dr. Strange being caught off-guard by having to lie to maintain his cover with Wong work well with what Zdarsky tries to convey. The final page reveal allows them to unleash utter insanity as Tellos assembles his glove and fills the page with pure craziness. It is, once again, a testament to the creative team that they also understand Howard’s place as the stable element in a world full of oddities.
This comic is at the vanguard of a new wave of books that strike a balance between deep cuts and reader-friendliness, while reveling in the fact that they are comic books. As Marvel approaches their new publishing initiative in the fall, there’s hope that there will still be a place for fun like this. “Howard the Duck” #4 continues to show that, as long as you have a strong grasp on character, you can do anything with a story. Howard may be trapped in a world he never made, but what he makes of that world continues to be hilarious.