Monday 31 May 2010

Does this mean I have to buy a posh frock?

Mike Reid's Runaround. Watching it was always a traumatic experience for me as a kid. I lived in fear that one day I'd be forced to appear on it and be present on the afternoon when Mike Reid finally lost it and murdered one of the child contestants. Over the last few months, I've known a similar fear, a dread of winning a Kreativ Blogger award. The main dread being that, in accordance with its rules, I'd have to think of seven interesting facts about myself. I always knew I'd be struggling after three.

Well, it's finally happened. Ol' Groove of Diversions of the Groovy Kind has nominated me for one and so now I must go through that terrible ordeal.

But first, it seems, under those rules, I have to post a copy of the Kreativ Blogger logo, which I've already done, and I also have to thank him for nominating me (thanks, Groove). I also have to provide a link to his site, which I've also just done.

OK, so let's see if I can think of seven interesting things to say about me.

1) I wrote the novels Danny Yates Must Die and Mr Landen Has No Brain, still available at all good online bookstores

2) As a child, I'd make paper cut-out super-heroes and keep them in my shoes in case I ever needed them. I never did.

3) I once saw the shadow of a ghost, while I was listening to an England match on the radio.

4) I play the ukulele but never use the fourth string, as I don't like how it sounds.

5) Right now, I seem unable to stop singing Germany's Eurovision winning song Satellite - and doing so in the appropriate Lena-esque accent.

6) I've never won anything in my life.

7) I was a mural designer for the city of Sheffield, for all of two months. No murals got designed.

That all done, it seems I have to nominate seven other Kreativ Bloggers, provide links to their sites and tip them off with a comment on each of their blogs in order to pass the whole thing on. So (apologies to anyone who's already had one), my nominations are:

Saturday 29 May 2010

Luke Cage, master of disguise. Power Man #34.

Luke Cage, Power Man #34, cover
Luke Cage is the Marvel Comics hero who disguised his true identity by changing his name from Lucas to Luke. He also spurned wearing a mask, walked around New York with his shirt open to the waist in the middle of winter and became a hero for hire, a job that required he advertise his existence in all the local papers. Given such a cavalier approach to the concept of "low profile" perhaps we shouldn't be surprised then that Power Man #34 finds Luke Cage's office under seemingly permanent siege, first from the Mangler, then from a man called Spear and then from the IRS.

If this makes him feel hard-done-by, at least our hero can console himself he isn't Dr Noah Burstein.

Noah Burstein might sound like a man who writes musicals but, if I remember rightly, he was the scientist who gave Luke Cage his powers in the first place. Now, Spear and the Mangler - who're clearly brothers on a revenge trip for the death of their third brother Jack - are out to get the scientist.

I've mentioned before that nothing brings home to me how my perspective's changed since my youth quite like the writing of Don McGregor. While, as a kid, I loved Don McGregor's wordy, portentous style on strips like Killraven and the Black Panther, I was back then disappointed to find his story telling far more conventional in this issue of Power Man. At the time I assumed it to be a deliberate choice. Maybe he felt such a style less appropriate to the more mundane nature of Cage and his New York world.

Looking at it now, I suspect it may simply be that Frank Robbins' crowded, fussy panels simply didn't leave any room for McGregor to be adding too many words. And so, what as a kid, seemed to me to be a failing, now, as an adult seems a blessing as, mostly un-bogged down by pretension, the story's allowed to tell itself more naturally through dialogue, character and action. I have to admit that, thanks to this, I enjoyed this tale far more than any other McGregor story I've read since I started re-buying all these old mags.

Luke Cage, Power Man #34
As for the artwork, it's exactly what you'd expect from Frank Robbins. Everything looks like we're viewing it through some narcotic, with figures in poses that seem only possible for those with broken bones. His style doesn't fit Power Man as well as it did The Shadow but fits him much better than it did Captain America.

In the end, whoever the writer, whoever the artist, it's Luke Cage, one of Marvel's less stellar heroes, and that should make this tale not over-memorable but, in retrospect, I really do like it. Despite his pseudonym, Cage's relative powerlessness makes the strip depend much more on the strength of its characters and setting rather than empty spectacle and I can't help feeling that, like Blade, Luke Cage would work on a cinema screen far better than a lot of Marvel's more celebrated heroes.

But then again, what else would you expect of a man who spends his entire working life in a cinema?

Sunday 23 May 2010

Marvel Two-in-One #16. The Thing meets Ka-Zar.

Marvel Two-in-One #16, the Thing and Ka-Zar, cover
There are times when twenty pages seems long enough for a story, and times when it doesn't. This is one of the times when it doesn't. Warned by Reed Richards that seismic disturbances at the South Pole are going to set off a chain of volcanoes whose eruption will destroy the world, Benjamin J Grimm parachutes into the Savage Land and teams up with Ka-Zar, lord of the hidden jungle. They then find themselves up against a would-be super-villain called Volcanus who's going to tap into the power of the erupting volcanoes and turn himself into a being of living flame. Needless to say our heroes soon put a stop to that.

Trouble is they put a very quick stop to that. A stop so quick it makes you wonder if the story was even worth telling at all. In twenty pages there's simply not enough time to establish Volcanus as a major threat - not when the first half of the tale's taken up with the Thing getting to the Savage Land, fighting a pterodactyl, fighting an allosaurus and meeting and swapping notes with Ka-Zar. And so, just as Volcanus leaves no ripples on the lava he ultimately falls into, he leaves no ripples on comic book history. The, "Bad man with a big vehicle invades the Savage Land looking for power/wealth," concept is the standard Ka-Zar plot line and so, on its own, was never going to thrill. That meant it needed an imaginative handling and a memorable villain. It gets neither.

Marvel Two-in-One #16, the Thing and Ka-Zar
And a dinosaur -- of sorts.
It's a shame, as this is one of the most fondly remembered stories of my childhood and one of the comics I was keenest on getting when I started rebuilding my collection. I mean, on paper - and that's where comic book stories exist - what's not to love about it? It features my favourite pile of talking bricks. It features my favourite lord of the jungle. It features my favourite hidden land that contains dinosaurs.

Unfortunately, it doesn't feature a very interesting story.

To make matters worse, the Thing is completely annoying - spending the first half of the mag cracking an endless stream of unfunny jokes - and the set-piece scene featuring the Thing and Ka-Zar vs an allosaurus is seriously marred by the fact that Ron Wilson's pencils make the allosaurus look more deformed than threatening.

That's not to mention that, at the end of the fight, we get Ka-Zar celebrating, Tarzan-style, at having killed the beast. I don't know, somehow Ka-Zar celebrating killing things doesn't sit right. You sort of feel he should have more respect for dumb animals, even ones that go around trying to eat people.

Friday 21 May 2010

Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #200. Bouncing Boy marries Duo Damsel.

Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #200, Bouncing Boy marries Duo Damsel, coverWere there ever two super-heroes more useless than Bouncing Boy and Duo Damsel? One had the power to bounce around a bit and the other had the power to split herself in two so there'd be two powerless women at each emergency instead of one. Presumably writer Cary Bates also had his doubts about the characters' utility because Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes' gala 200th issue kicks off with them losing what little power they have and deciding to quit the Legion.

But not before getting married.

Love and marriage. As we all know, they go together like brain and damage, and the words brain and damage bring us to the typical super-villain. If you're evil, weddings are the greatest thing ever. They give you a chance to go to a place where every super-hero in the world is and challenge them to a punch-up. The fact that every single person there could, on their own, beat you to a pulp is of course no obstacle to the determined megalomaniac.

And so Starfinger crashes the wedding of Bouncing Boy and Duo Damsel and does the Bwa-ha-ha thing in the faces of forty seven super-heroes. He must be relying on the fact that Mon-El and Shadow Lass are absent to even-up the odds.

Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #200, Bouncing Boy marries Duo Damsel
But he's had a great idea. He's had his giant space reptile kidnap one half of Duo Damsel, and now he orders the Legion to hand over the other half so he can study her powers and learn how to split himself into more than one person, thus becoming unbeatable. Why he didn't just get his giant space reptile to kidnap both versions of the girl at the same time, like it could have done, rather than risk a confrontation with every hero in the known universe is anyone's guess but he's a super-villain and so can't be expected to do things the obvious way.

For some reason, only four Legionnaires bother to respond to the threat. The other forty three seemingly overwhelmed with apathy, it's left to Superboy, Brainiac-5, Saturn Girl and Cosmic Boy to deal with the villain. In the end, only Superboy actually does anything.

Although it's a landmark issue and gives us a landmark event, a wedding, it's an oddly slight-feeling tale, possibly because so much is crammed into so few pages and because Superboy gets most of the action, sidelining the Legion in their own book. But, despite their uselessness Bouncing Boy and Duo Damsel are an oddly endearing pair and it is a beautifully drawn thing. Apparently this is the issue that led Dave Cockrum to quit the title after DC refused to return his full page spread of the wedding. Oh well, the Legion's loss was the X-Men's gain and he did at least hang around long enough to make the Legion one of DC's stand-out series, after years in Reprint Hell.

Tuesday 18 May 2010

Superman Family #164.

Superman Family#164
 The Els, what a dysfunctional family they were, making the Borgias look like the Waltons. In 1974, they finally got their own joint mag - and what a mag it was, featuring a hundred pages of stories, action and special features.

This is the first ever issue. And so, with the kind of logic that exists only in the world of comic book publishing, it's labelled #164. The idea was that each issue would focus on one particular member of the Superman family and, with the sort of logic that got the first issue labelled #164, this debut centres on Jimmy Olsen who isn't in any way shape or form a member of the Superman family. Still, up until this point, the mag had actually been Jimmy Olsen and so clearly some sop to fans of that comic had been felt necessary.

This means that the only new tales in the mag feature Superman's pal, with the rest being reprints. It has to be said the reprints are more interesting than the new stuff, mostly because they're not centred around Olsen. No disrespect to him but he's never going to be as interesting as a bunch of super-beings.

Superman Family #164, 100 pages, Jimmy Olsen

In the first tale, Jimmy investigates when someone starts blowing up his father's orphanage type place. I'm a bit vague as to what the complex in question actually is but, this being the early 1970s, it's full of angry teens who're suspected of being behind the attacks. Needless to say they're not and, with the aid of a psychic, Jimmy captures the real culprit who turns out to be the character who practically had the word "culprit" written all over him from the very first page onwards.

Superman Family #164, 100 pages, a Supergirl caged

Next up, Supergirl takes on Brainiac in a story that, rarely from the era in question, involves neither weird boyfriends nor our heroine worrying about being unpopular. Clearly, she's unpopular with Brainiac though because he tries to kill her. Even better, from the point of view of dramatic tension, he nearly succeeds. Still, the maid of might's nothing if not resilient and sees off the villain in double-quick time. When she's won, Superman turns up and declares he's been watching her fight from a distance but couldn't get there in time to help her. Given his track record of treating the poor girl like dirt at every opportunity, you half expect him to say he could've got back in time but decided to let her die to teach her a valuable lesson.

Superman Family #164, 100 pages, Superboy, Krypto

Next, Krypto the Superdog becomes a Hollywood star and, his nose put out of joint and acting mainly out of spite, Superboy completely wrecks Krypto's life. Upon being told Superboy was responsible for this, Krypto's delighted and loves him all the more for it, when the correct response would've been for Krypto to go mad and savage Superboy to death.

After this, Jimmy Olsen has an adventure involving a house brick.

Meanwhile, in The Death March, Daily Planet boss Perry White basically sets out to kill his staff in the desert, to prove to a rival publisher that they're willing to die for him. At the tale's denouement, his staff, previously furious with him, are delighted to discover that, although he nearly killed them, he was at least trying to kill them for a good reason - winning a bet.

Finally we get an imaginary tale in which Superman marries the three loves of his life (not all at once) Lois Lane, Lana Lang and Lori Lemaris. Drawing a veil over the fact that Lori Lemaris is a fish and such a marriage would be illegal, it says it all that Superman's directly responsible for the death of each of them - and, for once, he didn't do it to teach them a valuable lesson.

So there you have it, Superboy wrecks Krypto's life, Perry White tries to kill his staff, and Superman marries a fish and gets Lois lane, Lana Lang and Lori Lemaris killed.

So, is the comic any good? Actually it is. There's nothing substantial about it but, featuring plenty of art by the likes of Kurt Schaffenberger and Jim Mooney, it's visually more appealing than a lot of DC's reprint-packed 100 pagers, and all the tales, although reason-defying on a grand scale, are a fun read.

I still wouldn't want any of those people round for dinner though.

Sunday 16 May 2010

Warlock #11. "The Strange Death of Adam Warlock."

Warlock #11, Jim Starlin, the strange death of Adam Warlock, coverBrace yourselves, tigers, because this is it, the senses shattering conclusion to the Magus saga.
And guess what?

It's fab.

No it's not. It's more than fab. These twenty or so pages might just be my favourite single issue of any 1970s' comic book. Let's face it, there can't be many strips in history where the hero triumphs by committing suicide or where his victory's basically a victory over himself. But then there aren't many strips like Jim Starlin's Warlock.

Things are getting tense and fate's conspiring to turn our hero into our villain, the mad (and purple) god that is the Magus. And so, in alliance with the Titan of death Thanos, Warlock flings himself into a metaphysical world to do something or other. What it is, he doesn't yet know.

But then he does. Using the soul gem on his forehead - the thing that's clearly responsible for him becoming the Magus in the first place - he purifies the timeline that'll turn him into the villain, then hops into the future where his pre-Magus self is dying. There, he steals his future self's soul before it can become the Magus. There's also a character called the In-Betweener who's there for some reason though I'm not sure what.

Warlock #11, Jim Starlin, the strange death of Adam Warlock
Generally when stories get metaphysical they fall apart and, under any kind of scrutiny, reveal themselves to be nothing but sleight-of-hand, designed to create the illusion of meaning by a writer who simply couldn't figure out a proper way to end a tale. But not here.

The more you think about it, the more it makes sense. In fact, you could argue it makes a little too much sense, making Warlock's triumph perhaps a little too easy, although his meeting with a future self completely defeated by his ordeals in life and welcoming death reminds us that, in the world of Adam Warlock, even at the moment of success, things are never easy.

And, at the end of it all, a great big reset button's been pressed and none of it ever happened. Mostly in any fiction this'd ultimately feel like a cheat and a letdown because you'd have to ask what the point of all that drama was when it turns out none of it ever happened. It's the old Bobby Ewing in the shower conundrum. We might be glad to see normality restored but why have we spent all that time watching what's basically the world's longest dream sequence?

And yet there's no feeling of that here. Perhaps it's because we discover the Magus' church has simply been replaced by another false religion. Or maybe it's because we now know, with the Magus gone, there's no one left to stop Thanos' plan of bringing death to every living creature in the universe. Or maybe it's because we've seen a hint of the darkness that lies in store for our hero. Whatever it is, despite none of it ever having happened, at the end of it all, it still feels like everything - and a whole lot more - has happened.

Wednesday 12 May 2010

Savage Sub-Mariner #69. The Sub-Mariner vs Spider-Man!

Savage Sub-Mariner #69, Sub-Mariner meets Spider-ManThis is more like it. Spider-Man vs Namor, twenty pages of rip-roaring action, web against water, sticky toes vs ankle wings. At last that question answered; "Who'd win a fight between Spider-Man and the Sub-Mariner?"

Well, no, in fact, it isn't.

Despite what we're promised on the cover, there is no fight between Subby and Spidey. They meet early in the tale, have a chat in which Namor gives us an info-dump on what's been going down in Sub-Mariner-land and then go their separate ways, as Subby basically stages a re-enactment of what happened last issue, in Sub-Mariner #68, by fighting and defeating Force. It has to be said that, for all his boasts of being unbeatable, Force is again, as super-villains go, a noticeably useless foe for Namor who defeats him in double-quick time.

But our anti-hero's not the only one doing re-enactments. In a sub-plot so prominent it practically becomes Plot, a group of characters re-stage the Beatles' Yellow Submarine movie by rescuing a place called Zephyrland from the spell of the dreaded She-Beast.

Savage Sub-Mariner #69, Sub-Mariner meets Spider-Man, Dr Strange
Who are these people? And what have they done with the "A" Plot?
It being Yellow Submarine Mark 2, they do it of course by using music. I don't see what these events have to do with anything and have no idea who these people are - or what guest star Dr Strange has to do with it all - but the truth is that, with Subby spending the first half of the tale info-dumping and the second half quickly defeating a foe he quickly defeated last issue, it's this somewhat odd subplot that actually gives the issue most of its appeal.

The other thing that lends it appeal is the artwork. It's pencilled by George Tuska who I know isn't everyone's cup of tea, and inked by Vince Colletta who I know is even less everyone's cup of tea, but their style's mesh pretty well here, to some degree nicely cancelling out each other's weakness - although I do have to admit Tuska's Spider-Man looks too muscular and has a strange shaped head (NB: not a Dr Strange shaped head).

It seems that, after this, there were only three more issues of this title, which is a shame because The Savage Sub-Mariner was one of my favourite strips as a kid, and it's a pity not enough people shared my enthusiasm to keep it going. Oh well. As we all know, like the tide itself, Namor may sometimes recede but, in the end, he'll always come back.

Tuesday 11 May 2010

Frank Frazetta RIP.

Frank Frazetta, Death Dealer
Frank Frazetta: February 9, 1928 – May 10, 2010.
I just thought I'd express my sadness to hear of yesterday's death (10th May 2010) of legendary fantasy artist Frank Frazetta. It seems Frazetta, who was 82, died from a stroke.

Although he drew comics, Frazetta doesn't quite fit into the remit of this blog, as I never read any of them as a child. He did, however, paint a classic line of covers for the Conan paperbacks whose re-popularisation of Robert E Howard's barbarian led Marvel Comics to launch their own Conan comic, without which I would've had far fewer happy childhood memories.

My first exposure to his work came through seeing those Conan paperbacks in a bookshop on Sheffield's Chapel Walk. Sadly, that shop's long since gone and now Frank Frazettas joined it but, regardless, the memory of his work will live on for all of us who have a love of escapism.

Sunday 9 May 2010

The Defenders #44. The Red Rajah.

Defenders #44, the Red Rajah
Harmony. It's not just a hairspray. It's a way of life.

Sadly, in the world of comicbookland, it's the worst possible thing that could happen.

Without conflict, there's no action and, without action, there's no story. Take away the story and our heroes would no doubt evaporate, exposed as the figments of our imagination they really are.

Hardly surprising then that when the Red Rajah appears, striving to impose harmony, peace and unity on the human race, the Defenders know exactly what to do; give him a quick punch in the bracket.

With a villain called the Red Rajah, one could be forgiven for thinking Steve Gerber's still with us. As it turns out, Steve's gone and, in his place, we have Gerry Conway, Roger Slifer and David Kraft. Gone too is Sal Buscema, replaced on art duties by Keith Giffen and Klaus Janson. So, without its previous creative team, how does it get on?

It gets on great. The randomness is gone, as is most of the humour but the sense of the Defenders not being like other super teams and, frankly being somewhat inadequate to whatever task they're facing, is still going strong. Issue #44 sees them starting off with a squabble before discovering their de facto leader Dr Strange has been possessed by a gem and is the man behind the Red Rajah's mask.

Needless to say, by the end of the tale, Luke Cage, Nighthawk and the Hulk have been flattened and it's up to the girls to try and stop him.

Defenders #44, Hellcat
Hold on. Where's the punch-up?
But something that leaps out at me about this tale is how much we've been indoctrinated by Marvel Comics. When Hellcat turns up, unannounced at the Defenders HQ, it's a genuine shock to the system when a fight doesn't break out.

We're so used to the idea that, when Marvel heroes meet, they first have to have a punch-up before realising they're on the same side, that the sight of the Valkyrie and Red Guardian actually having a reasonable conversation with a masked woman who's just broken into their HQ really does feel weird. Even more so that Hellcat acts like the Valkyrie's number one groupie.

I like it, it's nice to see costumed adventurers acting like grown-ups for once but it doesn't change the fact that it feels weird. In that instant, we get a little glimpse of how the world would be if only harmony really did break out and it's an oddly unsettling thing.

Thursday 6 May 2010

Detective Comics #450. The hit man and the house of wax.

Batman Detective Comics #450As I roam the streets of Sheffield, people tell me that, like a fine wine, I'm of a certain vintage.

And possibly should be kept locked in a cellar.

Well, like many people of that vintage, my first exposure to super heroes came through the old Adam West Batman shows, which, with me being about three at the time, I completely missed the irony of and took dreadfully seriously.

By the 1970s, DC Comics were taking Batman dreadfully seriously too, with as much of the old silliness removed as possible in a strip about a billionaire dressed as a bat.

By one point, the Batmobile, the Bat Plane, the Bat Copter, Wayne Manor, the Bat Cave and even Bat-Mite had been ditched in a blatant attempt to move the strip as far away from the TV show as possible.

This issue, Detective Comics #450, seems as a good an example of that as any, as we get a tale of a tycoon who wants to get his hands on Batman's mask and cape as a trophy. To do it, he hires the services of a hitman and a house of wax.

Detective Comics #450, Batman and the house of wax
As it turns out the whole thing's just a set-up to catch the hitman. Needless to say our hero does it with remarkable ease and a bit more blood splattering than I was used to. The story's quite neat and pulls a twist that I didn't see coming - possibly because, unless Batman's a Slitheen, it's physically impossible.

Admittedly, on recently re-reading this for the first time since the '70s, my tiny brain was somewhat confused by the twist and it took me a second reading to figure out what was actually going on.

This could be a failure on my part or it could be a confused bit of story telling. It's drawn by Walt Simonson in a dirtier, messier style than I was familiar with after years of Neal Adams, Jim Aparo, Irv Novick, Dick Dillin and Dick Giordano and, although it's not quite the Batman I was used to, it does feel oddly appealing and possibly hints at the grittier years to come for the dark knight detective.

Detective Comics #450, Batman and the house of wax, Wormwood
But Detective Comics was rarely just about Batman and so we get a back-up tale in which Robin the boy wonder's up against a man who snatches women's bags in car parks.

I don't want to demean the plight of women who get their bags snatched in car parks but it probably sums up Robin that this is the level of foe he's up against.

Even worse that he seems to be somewhat out of his depth against even that level of opponent.

It's a two part whodunit and, never having got the next issue, I don't know who the wrong-doer turns out to be. The finely honed senses that left me confused by the twist in the lead story tell me it's either the college treasurer or Chief McDonald and therefore I'll guess that it's actually Mrs Roberts the secretary.

Sunday 2 May 2010

Howard the Duck #22. "May The Farce Be With You!"

Howard the Duck #22, Man-Thing, May the Farce be with you, cover
Thanks to George Lucas, we all know Howard the Duck was a new breed of hero. We also know he was box office poison, his movie instantly becoming one of the most notorious flops in cinema history.

How could it not?

How could a live action movie ever hope to capture the feel of the most cartoony of comic strips?

Still, we can hardly hold that against the comic that inspired it. So, what to make of the mag itself?

As a kid, I only had two issues of Howard the Duck, and this, Howard the Duck #22, is the second of those. Reading it now, as an adult, I'm not totally sure what to make of it. It's a comedy title that's humorous but isn't actually ever funny - although it does have one or two amusing moments, not least Howard's soliloquy on a castle's battlements while the Man-Thing makes unlikely gestures behind him. On top of that, it's a tale where the stakes are high but the drama low. It's also by Steve Gerber which means that, although it's never quite as clever as it thinks it is, it has a randomness and a determination to avoid the conventional, which means you can't help warming to it even if you're not totally sure whether it's actually any good or not.

So, what's the story? Well, in this tale, our anti-hero's lounging around on the roof when he's attacked by a giant salt shaker with a gorilla's arms and legs. Next thing he knows he's being whisked off to another dimension by the ghost of Dakimh the Enchanter, to be reunited with the Man-Thing, Korrek the Barbarian and Jennifer Kale. I have to admit that, Man-Thing aside, I don't actually know who any of these characters are but it seems there's a depressive-but-mad villain called Bzzk 'Joh on the loose and only the combined joyousness of Howard, Man-Thing, Korrek and Jennifer can stop him. Clearly this is the equivalent of drafting in the Carry On gang for their karate skills.

Needless to say, by the end of the issue, Bzzk 'Joh has shown up and is threatening a whole heap of non-threatening trouble for our cast. The story's thin and some of the jokes, including the title, are terrible but Howard the Duck's personality is what carries it through. Never impressed with anything, never sold on anything; like Donald and Daffy, our feathered friend complains his way through everything that happens to him. Praise should go to Val Mayerik who draws the tale beautifully and manages to bring a level of personality to a duck that can only be admired.

Circumstances dictated that I never got to see the second part of this tale.

Do I feel a need to track it down and read it?


Did I enjoy re-reading this issue?


Would I read another issue of Howard the Duck if it was placed in front of me?

Yes I would.

Would I save up my money to buy The Essential Howard the Duck?

No I wouldn't.

Would I be happy to take it if it were offered me for free?

Yes I would.

Granted, it's hardly an unequivocal declaration of enthusiasm but, knowing Howard the Duck, I don't suppose an unequivocal declaration of enthusiasm is a thing he could ever respect.