Published in 1976 and sold for the then-hefty price of $1.50, Marvel Treasury Edition #12 focused on Steve Gerber’s baby, Howard the Duck, then the coolest character in comix. They had to give Howard his own giant-sized special, of course; America was celebrating its bicentennial, or trying to, and Marvel had made the duck their write-in candidate for the presidency.
The issue features an original tale and several pages of reprints. The main story teams Howard and his sidekick, the lovely Beverly Switzler, with the classic 70s Defenders: Doctor Strange, the Hulk, the Valkyrie, and Nighthawk. Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson also appear, briefly, along with one of the more bizarre teams of villains in comic history.
"The Duck and the Defenders"
Writer: Steve Gerber
Artists: Sal Buscema, Klaus Janson, Marie Severin
"The Black Hole sucks!"
The prologue— "Five Villains in Search of a Plot"—introduces our villains. Sitting Bullseye, an embittered former CIA
operative who had a target tattooed
on his chest by the Native American group he had infiltrated, after they broke his cover, Tillie the Hun, a bruiser of a woman who seems to be role-playing Brunhilde
full-time, the Spanker
, a former teacher fired for excessive use of corporal punishment, and the Black Hole
, the only one of the lot with an actual super-power. They’ve met in Central Park
for a marshmallow roast
. Their activities bring them up against the New York Police Department
. The park is, after all, closed, and open fires violate a city bylaw. Few aspiring super-villains have made so inauspicious a debut.
After they deal with the police, the group meets Dr. Angst, an inferior adept who wants them to form the Band of the Bland, a loser’s club of villains. He convinces them that they can get free publicity and notoriety by assassinating a presidential candidate. The easiest target, the one with no real security is, of course, Howard the Duck. Howard's run for the presidency wasn't only a real-life write-in; in an ongoing plot, an organization called the All-Night Party had convinced Howard to throw his undersized hat in the ring.
Howard and Beverly, meanwhile, are being unceremoniously evicted from their hotel; the All-Nighters failed to pay their bill. After a brief encounter with Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson, they head to Greenwich Village, where they hope to find some stewardess friends of Bev's. Inaccurate directions bring them instead to Dr. Strange's sanctum santorum.
Nighthawk: Y-you’re a duck!
Howard (scoping Nighthawk's superhero garb): No offense, pal—- but you're hardly in a position to criticize.
While Howard and Beverly get to know the Defenders, the Band of the Bland receive energizing spheres in Dr. Angst's dingy apartment. Angst discovers that the Duck is with the Doc, and sees his chance to raid the Sorcerer Supreme's mystic arsenal. As Strange examines whether he can send Howard back to his home dimension, the villains attack.
As one might expect from a Howard the Duck tale, the plot takes increasingly ridiculous turns. Howard must channel Strange's magic; Bev gets spanked, and the Hulk finally fights back when he realizes that Tillie wants to make him her mate—- for, Red Sonja-like, she will only marry he who can defeat her in battle.
In the end, Bev and Howard save the day, and the villains learn the Angst has deceived them. The spheres are mere placebos. Like Oz the Great and Terrible, Angst cannot give them what they do not already possess.
The Band of the Bland returned in She-Hulk #15-17. They faced ignoble defeat and have not been heard from since. Perhaps in the twenty-first century, they will go up against the Great Lakes Avengers, who seem a fair match.
HULK LIKES LITTLE DUCK! DUCK IS HULK'S FRIEND! VOTE FOR DUCK OR HULK WILL SMASH YOUR FACE!
A bonus feature provides information on Howard's candidacy.
...Late one night, while Hans slept, a desperate strange came to the little town. All the doors and windows of the village were locked. And this stranger was very thirsty... And not for milk.
The remainder of the comic features Howard's first four appearances. From Fear #19 (December 1973), we see 11 pages of the story that introduced Howard to the Marvel Universe. From the unfortunately-named Giant-Size Man-Thing #4 and 5 (May and August, 1975), we have the back-up stories that presented the Duck’s first two solo outings: "Frog Death," which brought him to Cleveland, Ohio and up against the Manfrog, and "Hellcow," in which he stalked and staked the titular bovine vampire. The final story reprints Howard the Duck #1, in which Howard meets Beverly Switzler, Spider-man, and mad financial wizard Pro-Rata in an interdimensional adventure entitled "Howard the Barbarian." This first issue nicely sets the tone for what would follow. Howard breaks the fourth wall, commenting on the absurdity of his situation; Spider-man gets on and off an island in the middle of the Cuyahoga River by hitching lifts on a "convenient helicopter."
It's these reprints that put the "treasure" in this Treasury Edition. Gerber's writing in the lead story is amusing, but the tale really uses Howard as just another Marvel character. He's more absurd than the rest-- though, of course, part of the joke is that he isn't much more absurd than, say, a green guy who smashes things or a photographer with sticky hands and the proportional strength of a spider. The villains show the less glamorous side of being a costumed character, as the original Red Tornado did in the Golden Age of Comics, or as the Mystery Men later would for the fanboy era. Typical of Howard the Duck, the artwork also shows a less-idealized version of the world than one typically found in comics of the time. The story clearly takes place in sleazy 70s NYC, with bedraggled winos and run-down massage parlours. The reprints of Howard's early days, however, show more satiric wit, vaguely disturbing horror comic atmosphere, and astute mockery of comic-book conventions.
If you're unfamiliar with Howard, or only know him from George Lucas's disastrous movie adaptation which (all together now) laid a really big egg, this collector's edition gives a good idea of the off-kilter humour that made him, briefly, one of comicdom's greatest stars.