This week saw the debut of two disparate Marvel limited series — the latest incarnations of Omega: The Unknown and Howard the Duck. But these properties have more in common than a publisher. Not only are both resurrected creatures of the 1970s, but they’re the brainchildren of one particular writer: Steve Gerber. Oddly enough, Gerber is not involved in either of these two relaunches, which is fodder for another column altogether (for someone more in the know about the politics of comics publishing than myself).
With or without Gerber’s participation, the question is: are these two oddball Marvel comics three bucks a pop?
Howard the Duck #1
“The Most Dangerous Game Fowl”
Writer: Ty Templeton
Pencils/Cover artist: Juan Bobillo
Inks: Marcelo Sosa
Colors: Nelson Pereyra
Editor: Aubrey Sitterson
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $2.99 US/$3.75 CAN
Ty (Bigg Time, Batman: Gotham Adventures) Templeton is an interesting and logical choice to helm a new stab at this comedy series, and he does an excellent job of providing an accessible script to introduce new readers to the central characters. The main conflict here is the title character’s efforts to escape the buckshot being fired at him by a couple of Nobel-prize-winning professors/frustrated hunters through the streets of Cleveland. But what it really seems to be about is Howard’s own sense of self-loathing, the result of being the odd duck out in a world full of humans. Templeton’s plot takes an awfully long time to get going. The villains of this particular issue don’t show up in about halfway through the book, leaving the first half of the book to focus on Howard’s relationship with the ditzy Beverly Switzler. Bev’s cute, but her cluelessness is only endearing for so long.
What’s really interesting about this book is its visual component. Juan (She-Hulk) Bobillo’s new look for the title character is, as I understand it, the result of a dispute with Disney over cartoon ducks, but I have to say, I like the change. Howard looks older, more grizzled and more bitter, and that’s in keeping with his inner conflict. Bobillo even manages to make his movements look genuine and natural. Now, while I enjoyed his depiction of the title character, the rest of the cast aren’t rendered in as clear and confident a manner. Furthermore, the figures get looser and sketchier as the issue progresses, giving the latter pages a rushed appearance.
Templeton’s sendup of American gun culture is amusing, especially in that he does a complete characterization reversal when it comes to the duck hunters; in such satires, one usually finds a couple of rednecks pointing the firearms rather than intellectual academic types. It was also a pleasure to see a different incarnation of a certain big-headed villain who’s very much in vogue among Marvel creators these days. Ultimately, the story isn’t satisfying. Templeton doesn’t really to say anything terribly new about Howard, and what plot there is doesn’t advance at all. The situation is the same at the beginning of the issue as it is on the last page. 5/10
Omega: The Unknown #1
Writers: Jonathan Lethem & Karl Rusnak
Artist/Cover artist: Farel Dalrymple
Colors: Paul Hornschemeier
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $2.99 US/$3.75 CAN
This project has been in the pipeline at Marvel for some time, and as expected, it’s unlike any other title the publisher has in its stable of books. Science-fiction novelist Jonathan Lethem and co-writer Karl Rusnak offer up a challenging story, but the central theme is clear. The story features characters that are completely out of their element when they enter mainstream, urban society, albeit in different ways. The chronology of the storytelling isn’t clear until the latter part of the issue, which makes for a dizzying reading experience at first. The dialogue and narration boast a distinctly surreal, disconnected tone that’s in keeping with the odd nature of the plot as well. I expect this will alienate many readers, but those looking for something different will no doubt be drawn further into the story. I was put off by the unusual approach to the storytelling at first, but as the picture came into focus at the end of the issue, the writers won me over.
Farel (Pop Gun War) Dalrymple’s weird style and awkward figures are a perfect match for the unusual tone of this story. The main characters — Alexander, his parents, Omega the Unknown and Nurse Edie — don’t seem to move the same way as everyone else, and that’s a visual cue that they’re not like everyone else. Dalrymple’s robot characters exhibit an oddball design as well, reminiscent of the sort of thing we’ve seen in the past from Guy (B.P.R.D.) Davis or Mike (The Coffin) Huddleston. Hornschemeier’s muted colors further reinforce the surreal quality of the story and art as well.
The greatest strength of the script is how the writers manage to humanize characters that aren’t human. The stilted, cold personalities of Alexander and his “parents” make it difficult to relate to them on any level at first. However, Alexander’s innocence is what wins the reader over. The same can be said of the timid Edie, who quickly comes to feel a motherly attachment to the weird kid. Edie’s complete lack of confidence makes her seem one-dimensional at first, but against the backdrop of everyone else’s disinterest in Alexander’s plight, her kindness and caring grant her greater depth and make her much more likeable. 7/10