The latest offering of writer Mark Waid’s rotating super-spy cavalcade takes a maximum effect “What If?” slant to the tail-wagging-the-dog edicts of comic/movie synergy. For an offbeat story as cartoonishly outlandish as it is meta-steeped, the formula still delightfully reduces to elemental simplicity.
Basically, ask the questions: Do you like the “Agents of SHIELD” TV show? Do you like Howard the Duck? And even if you don’t enter completely convinced of a “yes”, by the time you’ve made it across the twenty pages, you will be hard-pressed not to be entertained.
It’s not like Waid’s script gives anyone much of a choice, though. Much like Howard being conscripted into doing the job, the audience is thrust into the thick of it- picking up mid-crisis, whether we like it or not. Seriously, there’s no apologizing for the “big and bold”, so just go with it when you see Agent Fitz and a dude with an owl head running around with a leftover from Wile E. Coyote’s Acme catalog.
For all that the story is a glowing love-letter intersection to Steve Gerber, Carl Barks and Monty Python, it still executes with minor hiccups. In the mad dash to get through the zany, details almost immediately slip through the cracks. The exo-suited goons chasing Agents Fitz and Warrick on the first page exist more as a plot device than specific characters, bereft of affiliation much less motivation. The flip-flop nature of the fast-food/dry cleaner SHIELD front is also confusing and flatly expressed. Perhaps best to chalk it up to the core issue of reality’s unstable mutability.
Additionally, looking for insight into Howard’s constant out-of-the-blue “piano” refrain yields a Google search that throws the 1980s George Lucas disasterpiece front-and-center into the mix. So… thanks for that?
Supplying the art is Evan “Doc” Shaner. Bouncing back from a last-minute scheduling conflict keeping him from the gritty 1872, Shaner’s layouts keep the pacing comedically light and breezy. Sight gags abound but the crowner has to be the climactic framing nods to Drew Struzan’s iconic “Goonies” movie poster.
From cover to cover, “The Duck Called H.O.W.A.R.D.” is amusingly solid and even features an educational component. You might not become fluent but you sure do get a crash-course in belligerently gastronomic French. More than anything, the unlikely team-up of a curmudgeonly talking fowl and a secret agent organization could easily work as an ongoing (in any medium). Consider this the “pilot episode” if the whole Inhumans angle doesn’t pan out…