Good to see ya again, RPM-people! Could there be a better time to sit and read retro articles on badass music websites? A better time to visit auction sites, PayPal account set to stun, searching for those “essentials” that you’ve just been reading about and simply MUST HAVE? Of course not.
For the eleventh of my PCS columns for RPM I have returned to finger the longboxes in the Schlock archive, searching for a couple of classic Seventies comics with a punk rock attitude and a hard rock guest appearance, all aimed to tie-in with the recent merchandise collaboration between KISS, the hottest band in the world, and Marvel Entertainment… and that’s where Howard The Duck comes in. But let’s backtrack a little… You may know Howard The Duck from the critically-mauled motion picture that was released in 1986. Yes, the feature film released in certain territories as Howard: A New Breed Of Hero. Yes, the flop flick that showed us that everything George Lucas touched DIDN’T turn to gold (dice) before we’d even heard of Mannequin Skywalker and Jar Jar Binks. You may know Howard The Duck from the modern Marvel cinematic universe: that post-credit scene in Guardians Of The Galaxy (and a cameo in its sequel); a quack-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance in Avengers: Endgame. For us cool kids, however, it was all about the comic books.
Howard The Duck made his debut on spinner racks in 1973 in issue 19 of Adventure Into Fear. Created by writer Steve Gerber and artist Val Mayerik, the duck, plucked from his home world and dropped into the Florida everglades, was originally intended to be just a secondary character (alongside the likes of Korrek The Barbarian and Dakihm The Wizard) in that comic’s Man-Thing strip. Within a few short years, though, and via his own back-up strip in issues 4 and 5 of Giant-Size Man-Thing in 1975, Howard would have his own comic book.
Running for 31 issues, Howard The Duck (the comic) found Marvel at its most subversive: social satire wrapped up in pages headlined by a creature deemed so similar in appearance to Walt Disney’s Donald Duck that complaints were inevitably made. Steve Gerber, surely one of the most expansive of writing minds at Marvel in the 1970s, railed against US politics by having Howard run for President in a storyline that tied-in with the 1976 presidential campaign, then in the infamous Howard The Duck issue 16 railed against his employer’s deadlines with the biting ‘Zen and The Art Of Comic Book Writing’ “rant”. But where does KISS come into all this, I hear you exclaim?
In 1977, Marvel released the first of its Super Specials. It featured rock superstars KISS, then wilfully teetering on the brink of total commercial success, battling against Doctor Doom and Mephisto. The red ink infamously contained the blood of Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley, Peter Criss, and Gene Simmons (not all of it, of course), and the story was written by… wait for it… Steve Gerber. Now, if only the writer had an ongoing monthly title where Marvel could covertly publicise the upcoming KISS comic book…
Howard The Duck’s presidential campaign failed in somewhat spectacular fashion. A fake sex scandal saw the duck fall from the cusp of political success to the depths of nervous breakdown. So bad was his fall that he found himself (in issue 12 of his monthly title, cover-dated May 1977), in a tale entitled ‘Mind-Mush!’, held in the Sauerbraten County Mental Facility. Winda Wester, a new supporting character introduced in the previous issue who spoke with a speech impediment that surely meant that her real name was ‘Linda Lester’, was possessed. Who could
feature in the “swirling, seething, savage nightmare rising in billows from Winda’s skull” on the final page of issue 12? You’ve guessed it… KISS!
“Aw-riiight! Sauerbraten County, Ohio – let this old cosmos… Rock, Roll Over, and Writhe!” yells the Starchild on the opening page of issue 13. Freezing security guards with a wild eye laser that would later be utilised in the classic KISS meets the Phantom of the Park (aka Attack of the Phantoms) television movie par excellence, the Starchild then passed the mic to the Catman who told Howard “The Word”. The Word? “When you meet reality head-on – Kiss it, smack it in the face!” More than one word, really, eh? “And then, with one awful WHOOSH, they were drawn back into Winda’s brain.” Five pages, thirteen panels, and that was KISS done with Howard The Duck. Daimon Hellstrom would turn up at the facility, Howard become a duck possessed himself, but that’s another story for another time.
Those five pages, though, as blatant an advert for the upcoming Super Special that they were, worked a treat. Okay, they weren’t the only thing pointing fans in the direction of issue 1 of the Marvel Comics Super Special – KISS was every-frigging-where – but they must have added to the swell of attention towards that blood-inked comic book that would go on to sell around half a million copies over two printings.
KISS would return to the pages of Marvel in issue 5 of Marvel Comics Super Special in 1978 in an occult adventure and, in the Nineties to tie-in with the reunion tour by the original band members, would later meet the X-Men in the KISSnation publication. The band has since met Archie, the Martians from Mars Attacks, Vampirella, and had ongoing titles published by IDW, Dynamite, Dark Horse, and Image Comics. There was even a 2013 comic series entitled KISS Kids which should not be interpreted as a command.
For all those comic book appearances, however, the first ones that you need in your collection are the two Marvel Super Specials and issues 12 and 13 of Howard The Duck. Why? Because, if you’re a child of the ’70s, or simply long to have been one, then there is little cooler than your favourite larger-than-life rock band, alongside a wise-cracking duck, in a Marvel Comic. ‘Nuff said.