The question “What If “The Rockford Files” crossed-over with Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham?” isn’t one that gets asked all that often. But when it does, who among us could truly say they’re ready for the answer? Yet, here we are. And, honestly, the world is a better place for having this one-shot in it.
On one level, this stand-alone rightfully serves as another shining example of the nimble-minded lateral thinking being employed by creators as part of Marvel’s grand Secret Wars eventacular “experiment”. In many other respects, though, this incarnation could ostensibly function just as well in an even more detached vacuum- the slight, passing nods to Dr. Doom’s Battleworld serving only as a convenient contemporary umbrella.
More to the point, the throughline to the current Chip Zdarsky/ Joe Quinones monthly ongoing(s) pretty much begins and ends at the “Howard The…” in the title. Instead, Rocket Raccoon architect/ resident variant cover mad genius Skottie Young and like-minded indy-arthouse parody/ homage phenom Jim Mahfood team up for something that wholly lives and dies by its own accord. And thrive it does as the strange little Scorsese-esque slice of invertedly anthropomorphic reality they’ve created is oddly transfixing and charmingly demands some manner of future revisitation despite an immediate lack of impetus for follow-up.
Young’s script wears its gumshoe pedigree unapologetically on its sleeve as an in-story namecheck goes out to Raymond Chandler. Beyond that, there’s a surplus of circa-70s vintage “street” pastiche that is equal parts Serprico and “Sabotage” (the video). Mahfood contributes his own brand of psychedelic graffiti stylization to every image as well but the crown jewel has to be the visualization of Howard himself, looking distinguishably like Ron, the assistant health inspector from “Bob’s Burgers”. But only if Ron was cosplaying as Rick Deckard from Blade Runner. Adding the flavors of Spider-Man’s rogue’s gallery and MIller-era Daredevil does nothing but sweeten the deal.
That being said, during this unabashed romp of the senses, there is still a degree of “check your head”. Young insists on using a running clock throughout the story to facilitate flashbacks as well as hammer home the plot’s time-sensitive crescendo but falls short of syncing logic with the times that get stamped. For example, it’s hard to believe that Howard breaks unfortunate news to usual Spidey femme fatale, the Black Cat (now an actual cat-lady), at a quarter past nine that gets him dangled over her high-rise balcony two hours later. Equally curious is Mouse Murdock’s walking Howard to his car wherein they chance upon gorilla-fied Wilson Fisk and his pack of ninja monkeys… forty-five minutes later (and proceed to fight for close to four hours?!). Points for trying to establish parameters but, by and large, it’s a device of self-serving affectation and not much else.
Howard The Human is the gateway Marvel comic you give to your crusty, DIY small-press skatepunk friend. The sequential art version of an expertly tagged-up alley wall behind a 7-11, it still maintains plenty of credible “rough around the edges” flair despite inherent corporate sheen. Plus you’re in and out in twenty pages. No “tune in next time”, which also speaks to a “use once and destroy” culture. Really, the Sex Pistols only made one album, right?