Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Master of Quack Fu

I love me some Howard the Duck, but the book always worked best when it avoided explicit superhero parodies.
The weakest issues in the series were parodies of other Marvel titles. Sure, “Iron Duck” and the “Master of Quack Fu” made for some great cover art, but the stories were tepid (Howard as “Son of Satan” is the exception.)
The third issue is intended as a lampoon of the kung fu craze of the mid 1970s. The problem is that writer Steve Gerber didn't really know what he thinks about the fad. Howard, of course, hates it, but Gerber can’t eloquently explain why and the book frequently contradicts itself.
The story begins with Howard and Beverly leaving a kung fu movie. Howard is clearly disgusted by the violence in the film, calling it “training for the local troops.” He also takes issue with Hollywood exploiting as “ancient tradition” for its own end as he stands on the street shouting at people. All he needs is a box to stand on with the word “soap” written on it.
Anyway, the kung fu craze gets out of control when, at a local diner, Howard and Bev see a character named "Count Macho" (based on Count Dante, who ran numerous ads in comics in the 1970s) kill an overzealous karate fan.
Early in the issue, Howard proclaims that people who enjoy violence "don't have the mental equipment to be sure they exist." So what does he do when Count Macho kidnaps Bev? He takes a crash course in kung fu so that he can fight back. Like all good liberals (and conservatives, for that) Howard's real concern isn't his own ability to process reality ... it's everyone else's. He thinks he lives in a world of idiots, which is probably true. He simply can't recognize that he's an idiot, too.
I'm not really sure what Gerber's message was. It begins as a slam against kung fu movies, but the story would have felt at home in a Shaw Brothers picture. Howard abhors violence, but turns to it the first chance he gets. Because the story has no intellectual center to argue from the issue feels like nothing more than propaganda.
"The Master of Quack Fu" features guest art by John Buscema. Frank Brunner quit after drawing the first two issues when Marvel passed on a requested pay raise he believed he deserved for working on one of the company's best-selling titles (right behind Marvel's Star Wars comic at the time.)
It was their loss ... Brunner is a fantastic artist. But Gene Colan was waiting in the wings — no pun intended — and became "the" Howard artist for the rest of the title's publication.

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