Howard the Duck has returned from his very-brief visit into space.
For those (like myself) who need a brief recap of the setting for this HtD Volume 4, here are some key points.
Indeed, that's what happens. Aunt May knocks the duck unconscious with the butt of her automatic, steals the necklace, clears out the cash from till of whatever store they happened to be in (I forgot the details) and then high-tails with the loot. The police come and take statements. Then Howard heads back to his office, where his client "Mr. Richards" is not happy at all about Howard having lost the jewellery at the last minute. Not. Happy. At. All.
So Howard spends the next three days pretending to be a duck in the park, keeping an eye on old people, trying to get a lead on Aunt May. Which he does. Surprising really, since I never really thought that Aunt May headed into Manhattan that often – and I'm pretty sure that Howard's office isn't located in a residential district in Queens.
But we'll let that one slide. Howard spots Aunt May, and demands to know what's going on. May denies all knowledge of having committed armed robbery, but does confess to a memory blackout during that period. She offers to assist, and so Howard, Tara, and Aunt May all begin to walk the streets trying to make themselves suitable victims for other geriatric criminals.
Note: This is the point where Spider-Man makes his appearance. Aunt May was actually on the phone to her nephew Peter at the moment when Howard accosted her. Spider-Man turns up on the scene to find out what's going on, but May has already left the park with Howard and Tara. She absent-mindedly leaves behind her phone and the bunch of flowers she was carrying, leaving Spider-Man to drop to his knees among the scene of her disappearance and perform the running-gag of sobbing "aunt may... oh god aunt may... why am I so bad that this..."
But back to the main story. The plan pays off before too long. An elderly man with thick glasses and a Zimmer frame steals Aunt May's purse and then hobbles off in the direction of the docks. Following him isn't that difficult, and they soon discover the secret hideout of... The Ringmaster! Yeah, that guy. The circus chap with the green and purple suit and the magic hypnotic top hat.
Turns out that Ringmaster has been playing Fagin – with a geriatric twist. Hypnotising aged retirees to commit crimes and bring him back the loot. With his plan discovered, Ringmaster naturally orders his submissive senior servants to attack the interlopers.
They do so, with dubious effectiveness, even as Tara manages to unearth the necklace once more from the Ringmaster's stash of stolen loot. But then the interruption is further interrupted as Mr. Franklin arrives, grabs the necklace from Howard (who just got it from Tara) before proudly declaring himself to be none other than...Talos The Untamed!
Yeah. I had to go search the databases. He's a Skrull who first appeared in The Incredible Hulk #418. Originally he was a Skrull who couldn't shape-shift, but he seems to have overcome that difficulty at some point.
To be continued... (naturally).
I have to be honest. I did enjoy the original Howard the Duck. It was irrelevant and satirical, and that certainly did make it stand out from the earnest super-hero fodder which surrounded it. But I never considered it to be a master-work.
Over the course of the 50 issues, it was often rushed, confused, and inconsistent. It was, at moments, insightful and cutting. But overall it was rarely more than the sum of its parts.
Zdarsky's take in Volume 4 aims even lower than Gerber's original ambitions. The base mood of the book is "silly" and the satire and references are almost entirely limited to popular culture – typically within Marvel comics.
But I think that's a good thing. Zdarsky is not Gerber, and shouldn't pretend to be.
I wasn't very complimentary in my reviews of parts #1 and #2 of this series – they seemed confused, rushed, and messy. I also confess that the disrespect shown to characters like Spider-Man really got under my skin. That kind of "satire" lives close to the borderline, and it's all to easy to cross into a nasty place.
This issue feels like it has started to find its rhythm. The pacing is better, and everything is just... "dialled-down by one notch" and that makes for a smoother reading experience.
Mind you, Spider-Man still gets treated like a jerk, and I can't see the humour in that. Dragging Marvel's flagship character in a story just to make him look like an idiot is uncalled-for, in my honest opinion.
Still, I'll give it Three Webs.