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Pipeline, Issue #444

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Pipeline, Issue #444

DUCK! IT’S CHRISTMAS!

Marvel’s history with Howard the Duck is cloaked in some very dark shadows over who owns what rights. A famous lawsuit from Steve Gerber against Marvel ended in an agreement forever sealed to the public. But in the late 1990s, Marvel began toying with the character again and the Duck returned to Marvel for a brief time. Later on, during Joe Quesada’s EIC-ship, Gerber even returned for an all-too-brief mini-series with the duck, drawn by the criminally underrated Phil Winslade.

It was during that period in the mid- to late-1990s that Marvel put together the HOWARD THE DUCK HOLIDAY SPECIAL. With a cover date of February 1997, this one shot featured Howard the Duck saving Christmas and the North Pole from — Hydra?!? Welcome to another Marvel Christmas spectacular!

Our story starts with Howard working behind the counter of a video rental store. Since I’m always one to compare and contrast the social norms from comics of different periods, I have to mention the decline of the video rental store. It’s not the all-encompassing place it once was. On-line video rental and game rental services are starting to take their bite out of the traditional Blockbuster model. And I don’t see the job of “Blockbusters clerk” as being the cultural touchstone of slackers, wannabe film makers, and unemployable losers any more. I think CLERKS killed that, anyway.

In any case, we have Howard working the counter and offering up bootleg copies of the SPIDER-MAN movie. No need to consult the IMDB. Your first thought is right — this was well before the movie went into production. This causes the Copyright Police to come after him in a fight that no Duck could possibly win. In today’s day and age, that would likely be the center of the story. Copyright law, piracy, P2P file sharing, Hollywood buffoonery, RIAA suing its users, etc. would make for the basis of a great Howard story. Here, it’s a few panels that don’t add a whole lot to the story, sadly.

Thankfully, Bev comes crashing through the door at the exact same time with an even bigger emergency. She’s working as the helpful Santa elf at the local mall. Her costume is quite low cut. In fact, it goes down so low that Marvel Production had to color her chest yellow to pretend there was a shirt underneath.

The Mall Santa had a deadly encounter with the bottom of the mall escalator, and Howard is drafted into service to replace him. While there is some good fun had at the expense of the mall in Larry Hama’s script, this is hardly at the same level of the cultural satire of Gerber’s original series. I might just be hard on this script since the mall issue of the original HOWARD series is my favorite of the ones I’ve read.

Needless to say, Howard’s job is a nightmare, until he’s saved from this one by an elf seeking help to rescue Santa’s operations from the nefarious grasp of Hydra, which took over the North Pole just before Christmas.

Howard goes in with full paramilitary gear — or, at least, a parachute and a pair of Really Big Guns — blasts his way through the bad guys, rescues Santa, and saves Christmas.

I left out a couple of running gags, cameos, and sight gags, but that’s about the story in a nutshell. It’s entertaining and occasionally clever, a fun diversion for $2.50. But there’s one important part I’ve left out of this review thus far:

The art is by Pascual Ferry, now Pasqual Ferry. This is the kind of big foot cartoony style of work I love so much when it comes out of Europe. Ferry’s usual style has always had a fairly sizeable “big foot” influence to it, but he gets to let loose in this book completely. Howard looks great. Santa and the Elves are well designed and well animated. The storytelling is solid, and the book is just attractive on the whole. Coupled with Jon Babcock’s lettering and Joe Rosas’ coloring, you have one of fine looking book. Everything works well together, from top to bottom.

I would love to see Ferry let loose again to draw a humor book here in America.

Speaking of slightly Big Footed cartoonists, the final page of this issue is an ad for Marvel’s new DEADPOOL series, written by Joe Kelly and drawn by “Ed McGinnis.” He was new back then, so you can almost excuse Marvel’s inability to spell McGuinness’ name right.

The Bullpen Bulletins page touts the forthcoming STAR TREK: MIRROR, MIRROR one shot that follows up on the events of the Original Series episode of the same name. Tom DeFalco wrote it, and Mark Bagley drew it, proving that the man can draw just about anything thrown at him in a script.

In the same month, GHOST RIDER/BALLISTIC came out, written by Warren Ellis with art from Billy Tan. That’s now available again in a trade paperback. Everything old is new again.

THE HOWARD THE DUCK HOLIDAY SPECIAL is not Howard’s finest story, but it is good for a few laughs and as a breezy read. It’s Ferry’s art that dominates the package.

One quick update: Last week’s Spider-Man cover was an homage to the original TERMINATOR movie. I can’t believe I missed that.

THE PURGE II

It was at about this time last year that I started what would become known around Pipeline World Headquarters as “The Purge.” An ever-growing stack of unread comics proved to me that something in my reading habits was changing. Either I was reading fewer comics in lieu of something else, or that I had lost interest in a great many comics, or that my reading habits had just plain changed thanks to the trade paperback economy. Some books I just didn’t care for anymore and needed to go. Some books were perpetual TPB Farms, built in six issue storylines that I wouldn’t read until the Book-With-Spine appeared at my comic shop shelves.

I cut back on my pull list dramatically. I spent more money on trade paperbacks. But I also discovered that I wasn’t as interested in certain series as I thought I was. When the trades came out, I didn’t want to commit myself to $15 and six issues’ worth of reading time. I silently and quickly dropped them. Looking at my year to date stats, I can see that I’ve purchased about 40% less monthly comics this year through November.

I stuck to almost all of the decisions I made in that column last year, I notice now. I planned to drop NIGHTWING, but stuck with it anyway. It’s a satisfying monthly read that I’ve kept up on. I dumped STRANGE to wait for the trade, but didn’t pick it up when it came out. Blame the negative reviews of the book for that, although Brandon Peterson’s art still tempts me to pick it up. Books like SUPREME POWER and BONEYARD I’ve read in collected formats in 2005, even if I never got to reviewing either of them. I’m still waiting for the ULTIMATE X-MEN hardcovers to catch up to the books I didn’t read. That’ll show up next in the series. JLA CLASSIFIED survived just because of the run by Ellis and Guice. I think I’ll be sticking around for the next storyline from Simone and Garcia-Lopez. It’s the book I really want to dump, but can’t.

It’s not enough, though. I still have books that fit all of the above categories. I took a good first step last year. Now, I need to do a second round of purging. If you listened to the podcast last week, you heard me talk about this already. I’m calling it, for simplicity’s sake, “The Purge II.” (If you talk to me in person about it, please pronounce that last part “aye-aye” for kicks.)

With each week’s new release list, I’m looking for books that I might drop for any of the above reason. This past week, a few challenged the list and a couple made it.

We can start with MARVEL TEAM-UP. I like the book, but I’ve not kept up with it. I’m about six issues behind already, and Marvel continues to keep pace with the series by issuing trades. If I drop the book now, I’ll have six months to catch up on it before the next trade comes out. If I don’t find the time to do that between now and then, it means I won’t pick up the trade and I’ll quietly drop it off my radar all together.

POWERS is tricky. It used to be one of my favorites. While it still lands atop the reading pile of each week it is releases, I don’t feel the momentum behind it anymore. I end up rereading each story arc after it’s complete. The monthly chunks are getting harder to follow as the universe expands. And I just want the storyline to focus on Deena’s troubles right now, not all the ancillary super-powered mischief. I want to drop this one for the trade.

The thing that’s stopping me is the letters column. It’s a classic and not to be missed. If all they did was reprint Newsarama interviews every month, this would be easy. But that’s not always the case.

I think I’ll keep it on my monthly pull list for another couple of issues, but it’s on the watch list.

ULTIMATES 2 falls into a similar camp. I love the art, and I’ve always enjoyed the story, but the latest issue left me feeling empty. I lost track of where the story and all the various characters were at. I had to play catch up as I went along, and that seriously hurts the impact of the story. I’m the last person to cry wolf about late books, but I’m starting to become a believer, especially when I’m still reading so many books. This one would be much easier to drop for the hardcover, since there’s no multi-page letters column in the back as a draw. On the other hand, there’s only three issues left in this go-around of it, so why stop now? Suck it up and deal. Rethink it all when Jeph Loeb and Joe Madureira come on.

ALL STAR BATMAN AND ROBIN will likely get a hardcover or three when it’s all done. I’m hoping it goes straight to an ABSOLUTE edition, but I’m sure they’ll milk it with a standard size hardcover first, then maybe a trade, and then an oversized ABSOLUTE edition. I have no insider information on that, mind you. It’s all cynical experience. I’ve enjoyed the first couple of issues, but it’s already running later than expected, and I just don’t care that much. It’s mostly eye candy for me, anyway.

Y THE LAST MAN is a title I’ve fallen behind on a lot in the past year or two. The trade paperback program is a given, so skipping the monthly issues in favor of those books with spine would involve very little hardship. The only thing that keeps me from doing it right away is that it’s a very easy book to catch up on. I can read through six issues of the series very easily. It’s a breezy read, as entertaining as it is.

EX MACHINA is very similar, actually. Both titles are written by Brian K. Vaughan, so the similar pacings shouldn’t be too unexpected. I’ve fallen behind on that one, too. Maybe I should dump both for the trades and see how interested in them I really am in a few months?

I’m so far behind on GOTHAM CENTRAL that I’d dump it right now if it weren’t for the fact that it’s just about done already. I’ll just be careful that its replacement series is left off my pull list in the future.

DC presents some problems with its One Year Later lineup of titles. I’m not getting into the on-going CRISIS thing, but a couple of the revamped new series pique my interest. Chaykin and Simonson on HAWKGIRL is one of them. Kurt Busiek and Butch Guice on AQUAMAN is another. Do I wait for those trades, or just hope aboard at the start? Or do I keep my pull list light of DC books in general? I have a couple of months left to ponder that, thankfully.

Over at Marvel, I’ll be soon dropping AMAZING SPIDER-MAN. I usually save up a few issues at a time to read it once the current storyline is complete. This current crossover has killed my interest across the board, though, so I can safely dump the flag bearer series for the eventual BEST OF SPIDER-MAN hardcover collections.

I’m also looking at my collections of collections. A recent example of this would be X-FACTOR VISIONARIES: PETER DAVID. The first volume collects some well-remembered issues, but the truth of the matter is that I already own them once and know where they are. I should be saving my money for the higher end collections (such as the ABSOLUTE volumes from DC and the regular Marvel hardcover books) and the absolute cream of the crop trade collections. Into that latter category would fall the collected EXCALIBUR series from Chris Claremont and Alan Davis.

I don’t have to worry too much about manga. I don’t buy too much of it anymore, to be honest. IRON WOK JAN is the biggest one. I’m very far behind on it, but I’m not willing to give up on it just yet. One of these days, I’ll get to them. And thanks to the Pipeline Book Club, I’m slowly catching up on BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL.

The only question this leaves me now is, what books do I read anymore? The pull list has to be comparatively tiny to recent years. I should put that one together some day and report back.

What books don’t excite you anymore? What books are getting collections that you don’t necessarily need to collect? What books are just good enough to own in their original 32-page pamphlet versions? Which books lost you in 2005 and would be dead weight in 2006?

Next week: ‘Tis the week before Christmas. Maybe it’ll be all Christmas comics. Maybe it won’t. Tune in to find out.

Check the Pipeline message board for updates on the Pipeline Comic Book Podcast. You can subscribe to the podcast through iTunes now, too! This week’s podcast will show up over here this week. Last week’s is forever posted over here.

Don’t forget about the VandS DVD podcast, while you’re at it.

Various and Sundry continues its link dumps, DVD talk, and more.

You can e-mail me your comments on this column, or post them for all the world to see and respond to over on the Pipeline Message Board.

More than 600 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They’re sorted chronologically.

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