Wednesday 24 June 2015

Howard the Duck #21, The Sinister Soofi.

Howard the Duck #21, The Sinister Soofi Holy Hotpoints, Batman! I've recently managed to install a washing machine in my dread domain without flooding my Kitchen of Mystery!

Such a triumph can only mean one thing.

I have to review a comic that features a washing machine.

But which comic?


Where in all the world can I find a comic that revolves around such a device?

There can be only one place.

And that's Howard the Duck #21 which is one of only two issues of that mag I ever owned.

You can find my review of the other issue right here but, as for this comic, I got it in one of those polythene-wrapped triple-packs that Marvel experimented with in the 1970s.

What the other two comics that came in that triple-pack were, I don't recall but those packs always seemed to contain comics written by Steve Gerber and/or Steve Englehart, so they may well have been The Defenders, Guardians of the Galaxy or Omega the Unknown.

As for Howard, what happens is this. Having killed a vigilante called Sudd, in the previous issue, Howard and his restaurant-owning boss are fleeing an angry mob.

Howard the Duck #21, The Sinister SoofiThey escape but Howard's then captured by the head of a cult dedicated to cleaning up the nation's morals and is shoved into a washing machine in an attempt at brainwashing him into being a suicide bomber for Family Values.

Needless to say, against a character as immune to reform as our hero, such actions are futile and Howard is totally unchanged by the experience and lives to be a misanthrope another day.

The first thing that strikes you about the issue is that it's drawn by Carmine Infantino. While I've always liked what little I've seen of Infantino's 1960s work on Adam Strange and Batman, I'm not oblivious to the fact that 1970s and 1980s Infantino has his critics. For some reason, by then his characters had become strangely wide and a visual flatness and angularity had crept into his style, often making it difficult to look at.

But to be fair to him, in this issue, his artwork softened and given greater visual depth by Klaus Janson's inking, it's possible to appreciate his composition and story-telling skills and to be reminded of the genuine - and at times sophisticated - talent that lay behind those oddly wide figures and angular flatness.

Howard the Duck #21, The Sinister Soofi
On the writing front, Steve Gerber gives us what we expect from Steve Gerber. The thing that strikes you is that the satire works best when he's not being overly humorous, and it's hard not to feel the comic would have worked better had Howard's wise-cracking been completely expunged from the strip and the whole thing played far straighter.

In total, it's a startlingly thin tale. Basically, Howard and his boss run down an alleyway, go back to Howard's home, have a chat and then Howard is grabbed and put in a washing machine.

Howard the Duck #21, LeeThis is actually a good thing, as it allows the story time to breathe and the tale becomes dominated by Howard's getting-to-know-you chat with his boss, during which nothing of any import is actually said. This might sound like a bad thing but I've always had a liking for stories where nothing much happens.

But there is one thing that's always baffled me about the tale.

Howard the Duck #21, The Sinister Soofi revealedAnd that's the identity of the villainess of the piece.

We're never shown her face but her and Howard's comments at the finale are seemingly meant to refer to a real-life person with whom we're already familiar.

Sadly, not being American, I don't have a clue who that woman is. I assume she's some sort of US equivalent to Britain's Mary Whitehouse but have no idea if this is so.

So if you happen to know who she's meant to be, feel free to reveal that dread fact in the comments box below - and, at last, a near-forty year old mystery will be solved for me.


Anonymous said...

I believe that's supposed to be Anita Bryant. She did commercials for Florida orange juice (hence the "sunshine state" reference) and was a very vocal and annoying anti-gay hate activist in the 70's.

Steve W. said...

Thanks, Brendan. She's not someone I was previously aware of but your explanation makes sense. :)

pete doree said...

Yep, as Brendan says it's Anita Bryant, America's very own Mary Whitehouse, who Gerber of course loathed with every fibre of his being.
Great piece Steve, though it staggers me that an august personade ( in jade? ) such as yourself only ever owned 2 copies of Howard. Did the Duck make into British Marvel, by the way, I'm not sure he ever did.

Anonymous said...

Howard did make it to the UK, as I recall finally catching up with the first issue in a British Marvel reprint. Not sure which title, but it was around the end of the 70s, when short lived new comics were appearing and disappearing rapidly. Might have been Frantic..?

Howard the Duck seemed to be one of the better Marvels at the time, but I found it really didn't hold up well when I tried re-reading a load of issues recently. Great Brunner and Colan artwork, but otherwise disappointing; I was surprised by how much of a conventional Marvel comic it actually was, so it makes sense to me, Steve, that you think this issue would have been better played straighter.


Anonymous said...

As annoying as Anita Bryant was, declaring war on everybody who happened to be gay, as if anybody with any sense gave a crap, she's like Mary Poppins compared to some of the full-on fanatics on our political scene in the U.S. right now.
Michelle Bachmann was talking about a loyalty oath at one point. And Sarah Palin is armed and incoherent.

Unknown said...

I always enjoyed " Howard the Duck" at the time (and Im one of the few folk that even thought the film was ok ) although I also never got all the references (not being American and a bit dim on World events at that time).

Howard did appear in Marvel UK in "Frantic" magazine which was based on Marvels "Crazy" magazine during Dez Skinn's time at the helm..

Simon B said...

The very first HTD solo story "Garko The Man Frog" ( reprinted from Giant-Size Man-Thing ) appeared in, I believe, an issue of Super Spider-Man, possibly after the change back to "portrait" format. This was in the form of a half-size pull-out comic, for some unknown reason...

Shamus said...

Yes Anita Bryant is who came immediately to mind. She was a born again Christian in the 70s who shilled Orange Juice and homophobia.