Saturday, 2 April 2016

Christopher Woerner's Canada Conspiracy Theory

The Canada Conspiracy Theory 
by Christopher Woerner
(from the pages of "New Fun")

I only check 'A Moment of Cerebus' every week or so, and it took me some time to even notice Dave had requested this essay be posted. When I did, I hesitated to say ‘yes.’ This essay was first written and posted online (at Rick Veitch’s defunct messageboard) in June of 2001 which, as you may or may not have noticed, was at least six months ago. We’re all different people now. We’re grown up and are no longer so young and innocent. The fashions have changed and the kids are listening to this weird new beatnik stuff on the radio. And they won’t get off of my lawn!

Anyway, my hesitation was due to the amount of John Byrne-bashing contained in this essay. At the time, I was possibly one of the most vocal and incisive Byrne-bashers on the internet. Which is fine. Everybody needs a hobby, even if it’s bashing a talented and productive comic book artist whom I’ve never met and has never done me any harm. It’s better than smoking crystal meth or selling comic books, amiright?

I basically stand by the Byrne-bashing I did, but with a few caveats: First, even at the time, I recognized that he had talent and ability beyond most. I personally don’t like the comics he’s written, but the thousands of pages he’s written (never mind drawn) testify to a prolific creativity that I can certainly envy, which leads to… Two, I don’t think he’s handled his career well in the long run, nor for what would bring the greatest benefits for the comics medium. Admittedly a very subjective viewpoint, but that’s a large part of what was driving my Byrne-bashing. Even his fanboys had problems figuring out my line of attack. They certainly couldn’t accuse me of being a blind Image fan, or someone who felt “betrayed” for whatever reason and whined ‘his old work was better.’ If nothing else, Byrne has the right to ruin his own career. Which leads me to…

Three, I eventually ran out of reasons to Byrne-bash, at least for any reason that means anything to me. I said what I had to say – valid or otherwise – got it out of my system, and there’s nothing to be gained continuing on in that vein. I hope he’s doing well, I hope he has regular work, I’m glad he has a fanbase that will pay for commissions and new work. I don’t have to be bothered by Byrne’s existence unless I choose to, and I sometimes choose to, at least by looking at his internet forum. At the point of greatest remove, it’s no longer worth my time or energy to continue to bash him. This implies that at one point it *was* worth my time and energy, and I think it was, but he’s John Byrne and I’m not. If I ever happened to meet him, I’d pay a reasonable price for his autograph and thank him for his work. To this day, I still have a (very small) fantasy of having ten thousand dollars or so to spend and paying him to draw one or more of my comics. [Hey John, I’ve posted my “Dazzler” comic online. If you want to draw it, give me a call and we’ll talk terms! I’ve got other comics too!]

So with that said, I had to really consider Dave’s request to reprint this essay here. But I also had to consider whether or not to include it in my latest book in the first place. In “New Fun,” I could at least balance it out as being a part of a series of essays I wrote at the time. I gave a copy of these essays to Dave at the first SPACE I attended (2003, I think) and he even referred to them in the first “Collected Letters.” I may become a footnote for scholar squirrels everywhere. My book also has other essays dealing with Byrne’s work or influence in a much more positive way. [It’s a book of essays which, with exceptions, are almost entirely about comic books. Also jokes and one-liners I’ve made up or stolen from someone. $10 plus shipping and handling if you want a hard copy, or it’s available on Amazon Kindle for less. I swear, if I ever make enough money from sales, I’ll actually format it for Kindle, and do a better job of proofreading too! Can’t beat that deal with a stick!]

So here I am, weighing out whether I want to revisit an internet essay I wrote almost fifteen years ago which has merits beyond bashing John Byrne. And I decide to go for it, for synchronistic reasons that drew me to works like “Cerebus” in the first place.

There is a ‘let sleeping dogs lie’ appeal to saying no, or at least leaving things unexplained. Although I think it would be disrespectful to John Byrne to not explain that much [somewhere behind me, a drum crash is heard] there’s a limit to how far I want to go in setting the context for this essay.

I was very influenced by the Sim/Moore discussion in “Cerebus” #217-220, and the “Comics and the Mass Medium” essays a few issues earlier. I’d have to go line by line through the essays and everything I’ve ever written to even claim to find a point of convergence, but there was something there. I had regained my interest in Claremont’s X-Titles, and saw many points/counterpoints with “Cerebus,” which was the basis for this series of essays, and I was always on the lookout for another example. When I read “Howard the Duck,” I knew I had something. The fact that “Howard” seemed to go off the rails at the same chronological point that Byrne started drawing “X-Men” and Sim started publishing “Cerebus” seemed intrinsically meaningful.

The joke about Todd MacFarlane was just a top-of-my-head insight that someone had connected these three creators, and they’re all Canadian. Since I’d just read “Howard the Duck,” and the “Howard for President” storyline concluded over Niagara Falls, I couldn’t resist such an opportune gimmick to base an essay on. As I finished the essay, I thought of the “Niagara Falls” running joke in “Groo,” which I would not learn until much later was from a classic Three Stooges routine, the very same Three Stooges who were starting to appear in “Cerebus” when I wrote this essay.

You can understand why I had such interest in the Sim/Moore dialogue, and all the rest of the… milieu? that they carried with them in those heady 1990s. Sure don’t get that from a John Byrne comic, amiright? And this is possibly the greatest compliment one can give to John Byrne comics, that they won’t lead you so badly astray. On the other hand, Todd MacFarlane was a John Byrne fan, and look what happened to him. There but for the grace of God…

As to Dave’s question, that “LE BEAVER was the name of the ‘arch-rival’ zine to COMIC ART NEW & REVIEWS back in the early 70s. How does that affect your theory vis-a-vis the Le Beaver character that appeared in HOWARD THE DUCK?”

I’ve got nuttin’, but I’ll give it a shot anyway.

CANAR was where Dave Sim first started making his mark in the comics field. Arguably the most famous pre-“Cerebus” example of Sim’s work is the rip-off Harvey Kurtzman “Mad” #1 cover for CANAR #1. According to the internet (which has never lied to me yet) Dave contributed to all 32 issues of CANAR between September 1972 and April 1976, arguably his most consistent body of work prior to “Cerebus.”

Except for that other funny animal-strip, during the period he wanted to be a newspaper strip artist. “The Beavers.” Plural form and in English, not French. True to Sim’s work ethic – which is from England, not the 35-hour workweek France – he cranked out a ton of “Beavers” strips in a couple of weeks, just to prove he could do it, and maybe convince an editor to take a chance on him.

Assuming the internet isn’t lying to me, the French word for “beaver” is actually “castor,” which suggests several things. Castor, twin of Pollux, orbiting the Earth in the Zodiac since ancient times. [“Le Beaver” was “CANAR”s rival.] Or “Castor Oil,” made from beavers which, according to Wikipedia, is “used in the manufacturing of soaps, lubricants, hydraulic and brake fluids, paints, dyes, coatings, inks, cold resistant plastics, waxes and polishes, nylon, pharmaceuticals and perfumes.” A highly versatile substance, manufactured by man’s ingenuity, involved in everything from cleansing agents, lubrications, artistic supplies, and feminine products. “Leave it to Beaver” indeed.

And of course there is Castor Oyl, the protagonist of Elsie Segar’s “Thimble Theater,” before his younger sister took over. And her boyfriend whatsisname. There is also a town in Alberta, Canada named Castor, but with a high school sports team known as the Castor Raiders, I see nothing there that I want to think about for a single second. Ouch.

So “Le Beaver” is the arch-rival, eh? Facing Howard the Duck on a tightrope over Niagara Falls? Twins? Rivals? Older brother versus younger brother? Funny animals in a world of humans? A human world made of products from… beavers? How deep do you want to go? How badly do you want this? My copies of “High Society” are somewhere in storage, but (from memory) there’s Cerebus challenging Holland M. Hadden about avoiding a head-on collision when they’re eyeball-to-eyeball. Still think an editor would take a chance on any of this?

Um, Dave, can I opt out of this theory now? It’s getting kinda scary. I’ll even call John Byrne a doody-head if I have to. I bet editors do it all the time.


22 June, 2001

If you can read this, blame a teacher.

Someone on the internet asked:
“So what do you think [the] connection between John Byrne, Dave Sim, Todd McFarlane and Canada really is?”
I responded:
“When Howard the Duck was running for President in 1976, it turned out that his campaign and subsequent ruining had all been the work of Le Beaver, a Canadian nationalist whose plan was to humiliate the United States so badly that annexation by Canada would be the logical next step. But Howard took care of him, let me tell you… So that left Plan B. Le Beaver sent John Byrne to dominate the American comics industry and take mediocrity to superstardom. He sent Dave Sim to screw around with everyone’s heads, and shake things up with creators rights and whatnot. Byrne’s status put Marvel work-for-hire above the level of creator owned/controlled comics. Meanwhile Sim horrifies the women folk and bewitches the men. Then after a few years it’s left to Todd McFarlane to buy out the rest of the industry, and bring our nation to its knees, begging for Canadian sovereignty.”
But let’s take a deeper look at Howard the Duck, shall we?

Howard was created by Steve Gerber and Val Mayerick for a Man-Thing story. Howard was aware that he appeared out of nowhere as a comics creation, arguing with a Voice From On High who expected him to narrate the story. “It’s the readers who’ll suffer, Howard, not we. We published the story.” (Emphasis in original) A magician brings Howard and the Man-Thing to a place outside reality, where Howard falls off and vanishes. He next appears in Giant-Sized Man-Thing #4, landing in Cleveland. A lunatic named Garko gains destructive power and decides to kill everything. Garko swiftly meets his own end, but not before devolving into sub-human status. In GSMT #5, Howard gamely tries and fails to get along with the world in which he finds himself.

Then he moves into his own title by Gerber, Frank Brunner and Steve Leialoha. Cover-dated January 1976, the first issue was an early example of speculator mania. Even Spider-Man showed up because Peter Parker was sent to get some photos of this “strange new mutant menace,” so we knew it was still a Marvel comic. The issue opens with Howard “trapped in a world he never made” and contemplating suicide. Fortunately he meets Beverly Switzler, one of the better-realized females in mainstream comics. This comic is a well-done piece of weirdness with a sword-and-sorcery spoof. The second issue has a space turnip taking over the mind of a writer named Arthur Winslow [art-win-slow] and forcing him to come to terms with his immaturity and naiveté in a surprisingly in-depth manner. The merger between Winslow and the turnip is given a text page in which Winslow surrenders control of his body in exchange for power enough to attain his dream. This particular dream consists of “making whoopee” with Bev. “After all,” he says, “the body is merely casing for the eternal soul.” Also worth noting is the appearance of a large, matronly woman in the supporting cast, whose only role is to verbally and physically abuse anyone she perceives as a threat to her kidneys. It’s part of an international kidney-poisoning conspiracy. Right?

Subsequent issues do not disappoint with this fast, funny, furious fowl. #3 is a parody of violence and the Kung-Fu fad. #4, the first issue drawn by Gene Colan, is titled “Sleep of the Just,” the same title as the first issue of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. Howard attacks conformity but decides to sell out. Unfortunately he fails, prevented by either his ethical principles or technicalities like the fact that he’s a duck. Bev is supporting him financially and the kidney lady returns in #5.

So far, so excellent. High adventure, satire, funny animals, individuality versus conformity, all wrapped in a funnybook surely at or close to the cutting edge of its time and place. In fact, many of the elements present in Cerebus can be found to have their start in Howard the Duck.

Dave Sim has noted this, pointing out that he believed others had missed the element that made Howard such a popular character. As a funny animal in a world of humans, it made a perfect symbol for alienation and allowed for full use of the comic book/cartooning medium. This can all be seen to full effect in Cerebus, particularly in the earlier issues.

But Howard was not allowed to continue. Processes natural and unnatural took their toll on the character and the creators. I’m certainly not privy to what was going on in Gerber’s life or at Marvel, or in comics at large, but the case could be made that Howard the Duck began something which was stalled. As the space turnip said, the body being possessed wasn’t going to get very far, not when one’s trying to get laid. In #6, Bev and Howard wind up stuck on a mountainside in a storm, which in hindsight reads like nothing so much as a parody of [then] recent events in Cerebus. Though it’s only a rainstorm on a Pennsylvania highway and not a winter blizzard in Isshuria, there’s a sort of demented resonance in the words “We’ll have to eat each other to survive!” or “So I’m- I’m leaving you, ducky. Our partnership just sorta dissolved, get it? Nah, you prob’ly don’t. Ducks like this kind of weather, don’t they? Well, anyway, this is goodbye.” When they reunite later in the issue, Howard takes a moment to ponder “I realize ‘sanity’ is defined relativistically. But take my relationship with Beverly as a prime example. Talk about evidence of mental imbalance! Why? Why should I care if I never see her again? What possible mutual attraction could rationally exist between a duck and – that? It defies every law of nature.” Bev interrupts Howard’s reverie to point out that she’s willing to be persuaded or charmed to come back to him. “On the other hand, I’ve never felt constrained to follow convention!” he thinks as he heads to her arms. “How could this be wrong – or insane – when it feels so good?”

Not exactly the ending of Going Home, is it? But in its own way, it does seem to illustrate much of what Sim has said over the years. It’s also worth comparing the differences and similarities in the choices Howard and Cerebus made at such points in their lives.

Just after the reunion, Howard and Bev find a giant cookie creature that comes to life. In #5, Cerebus had come across a similar giant idol which, had he made different choices in the then-recent past, would have led him to reach his wildest ambitions. But the choices were made. Cerebus and Howard destroy the creatures and continue on the path, their possible destinies reflected around them.

Having passed through this part of life early instead of late, Howard is now free to get involved with politics. Along with an Elvis parody, he and Bev go to a political convention where he winds up as the presidential candidate for the All-Night Party.

Between #7-8, in Marvel Treasury Edition #12, mediocre villains try to become famous by assassinating the candidate. It’s a team-up with the Defenders, and Howard asks if Dr. Strange can send him home. He’s willing to ditch Bev and the campaign but, after all is played out in the Mighty Marvel Manner – including Howard spending a few pages replacing the Sorcerer Supreme – one hug from Bev and he’ll settle for bus fare. On with the campaign. Assassination attempts, public appearances, text pages and more follow. But the campaign is ruined by clever photographic forgery of Howard and Bev taking a bath together. This was masterminded by Le Beaver, a rabid Canadian nationalist.

Howard doesn’t want to get involved at all, but Bev insists because her reputation was smeared. They trek up to Canada to confront Le Beaver, decide he’s pathetic and leave. Le Beaver angrily attacks at Niagara Falls. “Slowly he turns…” Again Howard wants to quit, while Le Beaver is caught on his own deathtrap. He plunges into the Falls, Canada’s best-known landmark, and Dave Sim’s personal favorite place in the world. Howard ran out on Le Beaver, but he chose to stay with Beverly, a near-anagram, never mind the obvious “beaver” reference. During the confrontation, he started having headaches, and now it seems he’s been driven crazy. #10, “Swan Song of the Living Dead Duck” (the first issue edited by Gerber) is stream-of-consciousness, touching upon creation myths, Howard in the egg, socialization, indoctrination, a Kong Lomerate who cancels the title, a superhero with an Omega symbol who is asked “Why am I?” and answers “Why not?” Howard and the superhero discuss facts, 2+2=4, the law of gravity. Then rationality disappears into “the vortex at the center of the world.”

Howard hangs in dead air, and sees Bev. She takes off her face to reveal a squirting flower. After spraying Howard, she tells him “Now you can go.” And he does.

He discusses cultural conditioning with Dr. Strange, saying he’s “ridin’ their merry-go-round, grabbin’ for their brass ring.” He isn’t the brash duck who stood for the little guy, he’s just stating the facts. Again he chooses conformity over his own conscience. Still hallucinating, he meets the kidney lady again, who tells him “Your whole life has been a sordid plot to rob the world of its healthy kidneys!” He sees Le Beaver again and realizes he can no longer run away. He must stay and fight for his honor. At this point, he hasn’t achieved any higher level of existence, and at this point, probably never will. He fails, and finds himself back on the tightrope over Niagara Falls. If he can only make it to Canada, if only...

But he runs into customs. Now he’s definitely crazy. He hears voices, some of which say “Bev will make it all better.” On a bus, he meets a girl named Winda. She pretends to be possessed by devils. There are also religious fanatics and of course, the kidney lady. Morally outraged on behalf of everyone’s kidneys, she attacks Howard. When he resists, she has him arrested, like any dutiful Cirinist, and gives perfect sob stories at the trial. Howard is committed to an asylum.

The first person Howard meets there resembles a young Dave Sim (from his fanboy days) who offers Howard a cigarette. The quacks in the medical profession go to work. An exorcist discovers Winda is possessed by KISS, for whom Gerber was producing a comic for Marvel at the time, printed with their own blood.

The KISS appearance demonstrates that the series’ guiding element has become quite diluted. There’s no difference between life and cartoons anymore. Gene Simmons gives us “The word! When you meet reality head on – kiss it. Smack it in the face! That’s the word! Pass it on!” They depart with that simplistic mantra, taking more than they left I’m sure.

Howard opens up to Winda about his life when another Marvel cross-over ensues. Daimon Hellstrom, the Son of Satan [about whom I know nothing] winds up giving Howard the soul of Satan’s son (hellspawn?) Having failed to break out of previous patterns, Howard immediately abandons Winda to find Bev. He tortures her, demanding “How do you feel about me, Beverly? How did you conceive our relationship? What do I mean to you?” Fortunately (?) the Son of Satan arrives to save the day, and Howard’s soul is dispersed across the universe.

“Suddenly the duck finds himself leading a thousand lives at once, perceiving the universe through senses and sensibilities not his own... The influx of data is too rapid, too massive – and his presence is too diffuse to permit communication. He must content himself to observe – and feel – and be – with these accidental soulmates.” He’s connecting to examples of the little guy crushed by society, the sort of people he used to be one of. The people Superman was created to help. And the people (following Sim’s ideas) that keep the Cirinists and Kevillists going. This is who Howard is aligned with.

Worth noting, Dave Sim suffered a mental breakdown a dozen issues into Cerebus, a breakdown which – inasmuch as anything can be said about such things – seems quite similar to the experience here. Sim’s experience was partly based on his perceptions of the comic book creator relative to the publisher, retailer, marketplace, etc. Gerber created Howard the Duck, wrote all of Howard’s stories and had become the editor, but was still too much a part of assembly-line work-for-hire Marvel Comics mainstream to reach Cerebus’ potential. If there is a spirit in the comic book medium, perhaps it had decided the largest company around wasn’t the best place for this story. Howard was a test run which didn’t work out.

Howard the Duck was discharged from the asylum at the end of #14. The last panel of the issue tells us that the asylum was run by Nazi doctors. Der Fuhrer himself tells us that it’s time to move on “to make room for – der vun – der only–!” What would Hitler move aside for?

A trip to Bagmom. Seriously.

The HtD Annual gives us a take on the Arabian knights. Bev goes out with friends (leaving Howard alone *sigh*) and comes back with a flying carpet which takes them to the Mid-East and the nation of Bagmom. They have magic lanterns that say “‘Nuff Said,” a ruler who wants to add to his harem and a son who wants to buy what the west has to sell. Not exactly a competitor for the Sandman’s “Ramadan” issue.

Sailing home from the annual, a duck l’orange dinner confronts Howard with the subject of cannibalism, courtesy of. Bev’s old boyfriend chooses that page to attack – Like feasting on Like – and Doctor Bong kidnaps the two of them to his island.

Here the storyline is broken by text pages. Facing deadline problems, Gerber had to vamp out issue #16 with “Zen and the Art of Comic Book Writing.” He ponders the value of “a comic book without panels, balloons or even a plot? An essay for cryin’ out loud?” and tells us “Writers are like plants... Give them light, water, nourishment, a comfortable pot and an encouraging word and they’ll grow. Really.” No, not really. The parallel with Reads is obvious [if you’ve read any of this, anyway] but Sim doesn’t equate writers with plants, nor recommend that writers should be GIVEN those things. Gerber explains that, unlike Sim, he doesn’t plan his stories months in advance. He can relate to Howard because he will never become an institution. “An’ I can relate to you too, pal. But only ‘cause we got the same taste in women.” There are forced metaphors at the Grand Canyon, a two-page spread by Dave Cockrum which I found too symbolic to even begin describing here (lucky you, eh?) a story of matrimonial boredom which Professor Howard dissects in a scholarly fashion and nearly gets assassinated for doing so. “They missed. Does that answer yer question?” No, but it fills up an issue and includes a picture of outraged Marvelites tearing Howard the fluke apart. A fan letter from Gerber to himself about this issue appears in the letters column – no doubt possible as Gerber was also the editor – but doesn’t go anywhere because there’s nowhere left to go. “Make Mine Marvel” indeed.

Back at Dr. Bong, he explains his long-standing crush on Bev, forces her to marry him and places Howard in an Evolvo-Chamber. Though Howard escapes with the help of Fifi (one of Bong’s duck-women) he discovers he’s been turned into a human being. Fifi dies in the escape and now Howard is truly free. “Hooray for humanity!” he shouts. “Down with ducks!”

Finally we reach Howard the Duck #19. The cover is swiped from John Romita’s classic “Spider-Man No More” cover from Spider-Man #50. Still lost, Howard meets a girl. There’s some funny business, but basically one night with her and he’s a duck again. By now it’s meaningless. Duck or human, little guy or not, it gets old. The story continues for a while, with less imagination and more mean-spiritedness. That may be my subjective opinion, or whatever was going on with Gerber or Marvel, but eventually they came to a parting of the ways. Gerber sued for ownership of the character, and it later became a, uh, movie. Dave Sim was offered the chance to write the title just after taking Cerebus monthly, but turned it down, though he did contribute a page to the short-lived Howard magazine.

Howard the Duck #19 is cover-dated December 1977, the same month Cerebus #1 came out. The duck’s brief flowering was only a prelude to the more in-depth, creator-controlled approach Sim took. As we’ve seen, he has taken many of the elements within the Howard title and spun them out much much much longer. X-Men #108 was also cover-dated December 1977, featuring John Byrne’s first work on the title and the giant void at the center of the universe that Phoenix and the X-Men tried to stop.

[A Cerebus fanzine provides a checklist of December ‘77 comics. HtD was up to #22 and the bi-monthly but still-canny X-men was off between #109/110]

John Byrne. Mr. Fixit. Makes a point of doing other people’s characters instead of his own. When Claremont had no idea what to do with Wolverine and was ready to write him out of the book, Byrne’s fit of nationalism surely did Le Beaver proud. ‘You can’t do that to the only Canadian. Here, I’ll make him interesting!” Byrne introduced Major Mapleleaf and Alpha Flight as the first (of many) revelations about Logan’s hidden past, still part of the movies today.

Byrne took over Marvel’s main title, Fantastic Four, and reputably returned it to the days of Lee/Kirby glory. Of course, making over $300,000 a year for a title the creators signed away for 30 bucks a page doesn’t help creators rights, but it showed Jim Shooter the benefits of running Marvel his way, helpful when dealing with the suits in charge. It also encouraged the Image guys to make comics a career. The FF used to demonstrate innovation on a monthly basis. Now they were only repeating themselves.

Speaking of which, Byrne willingly participated in resurrecting Jean Grey, just as the announcement was made that DC hired him for Superman. Perhaps in retaliation by Marvel, that issue of FF was re-written and re-drawn by Claremont and Jackson Guice.

Byrne had long said that his goal was to write Superman. Once he made it, he was gone a few years later like every other thing he does, after transforming Superman into a superhero like any other in the industry. Gone were the days of Superboy, Bizarro, imaginary stories (aren’t they all?) Here was a Superman who could die, come back, get married, turn blue, turn funky, whatever the hell he’s up to these days. Having attained his career goal, one wonders what Byrne has been striving for in the decade+ since. He’s recently said that if he had to do it over, he wouldn’t do Superman again. Would Curt Swan’s version be so definitive if he’d taken a similar approach?

It’s kind of hard to keep track of his career after that. He went back to Marvel and did West Coast Avengers, She-Hulk, Namor, She-Hulk. There was a “Fantastical Four vs. Superbman” parody for What The...? which included derogatory background details about a former editor-in-chief, but fortunately Joe Quesada wasn’t yet in charge or there might have been problems.

After Claremont was fired from X-Men at the height of the books’ sales, Byrne followed him as scripter, and was treated abominably. When Image formed, he disparaged those following in his footsteps. When he finally took a stand for artistic integrity, it was to reclaim ‘his’ work on the Future Marvel project Stan Lee had begun that eventually became 2099. He turned his material was turned into 2112 for Dark Horse, which led to the Next Men. After a few years, he left Next Men, as usual, and did a few more unremarkable projects for Dark Horse. Then it was back to the big companies to find out what happens when Darkseid meets Galactus. Naturally.

Afterwards, he did Wonder Woman and Kirby’s Fourth World, then went back to Marvel for continuity implants like Lost Generation and Spider Man: Chapter One. Can this be the same artist who earned compliments on his ‘rare talents’ from no less an artsy-fartsy comics guy than Gary Groth? How far he’s come since the X-Men and the void.

In Marv Wolfman’s Blade lawsuit, Byrne testified alongside such stalwarts of creative integrity as Jim Shooter, explaining online that if Marvel had lost, every greedy artist – himself included – would line up to take their share. In short, he was helping to save Marvel from artists like himself. [Blade being the only major Marvel movie between Howard the Duck and X-Men]

Agreeing with the motive, Marvel’s new management cancelled Byrne’s latest title, X-Men: The Hidden Years. Byrne doesn’t have the self-awareness to link these two events together, so he’s taken to announcing how disgusted he is with Marvel’s insane business practices, horrific treatment of creators and he’ll never work for them again, blah blah blah, and what do you mean ‘slow of mind’?

[Perhaps in response to this original essay, John Byrne stated that he never claimed he’d never work for Marvel again. I clearly underestimated his self-destructive nature and gluttony for punishment. In my defense, he has said he thinks of Marvel as the enemy, and I don’t know why one would be willing to work for the enemy.]

X-Men: The Hidden Years featured the adventures of the original X-Men between the cancellation of the original series and the New X-Men’s debut by Wein, Cockrum and, yes, Claremont. Byrne has said it was the comic he wanted to do at Marvel for 28 years. Yet someone (or something) decided that those years would be better hidden.

The loss of Byrne’s title is perhaps the largest symbolic move made by a company that is desperate to demonstrate that it wants to make amends for what has been inflicted on the industry. The crazy Canuck Wolverine is getting his full origin revealed. Colossus, who stood at the base of the Tree of Life formed by Phoenix when the original lattice was formed around the void, has died. What happens when you cut a tree at the base? It falls and dies.

Score another for the void, for the Beaver, whatever. But mention must be made once more of this connection between Canada, comics, and that dastardly duck.

Gerber’s final issue of Howard the Duck was scripted over a plot by Mark Evanier. Evanier later helped Gerber with the ownership lawsuit, helping to produce the Destroyer Duck comic book. Destroyer Duck #1 features the first appearance of another major comic character, Sergio Aragones’ Groo, which Evanier also does something on.

Although Sergio himself might be a south-of-the-border kind of hombre, and I don’t know anything about the other Groo guys, one of the best running gags in Groo centers around... well, you know.


Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

One thing I think this article demonstrates is that Howard the Duck, like Cerebus, was a product of its time, and loses some of its resonance when taken out of its context. As Gerbs told H the D in no. 16, "As far as you're concerned, it's not 'trivia', it's history."

-- Damian

whc03grady said...

I've read most of the Groo that ever came out, I think, and can't recall any running joke having to do with Niagara Falls.

Jeff Seiler said...

This essay is so "inside baseball" that it's actually corky. And well-timed for the resumption of regular-season baseball!

Jeff Seiler said...

Plus, Damian (and we all know how much I like to agree with you), these plot synopses make Gerber sound either that he was on crack or clinically insane, or both. Or anyone else who wrote HTD back then. I've only read a few of the HTD's, as I was firmly entrenched in The X-Men, The Avengers, and Daredevil back in the late 70s (and didn't discover the Earth-pig Born until 1982). But these synopses make me want to read all of HTD just so I can say I've read the craziest shit ever.

And that's sayin' somethin'...

CerebusTV said...

As Philip K. Dick put it in his last interview, talking about how he was preparing to write his next novel, An Owl in Daylight, "I wasn't sitting around reading Howard the Duck."

ChrisW said...

"Niagara Falls" was a joke Mark Evanier started running in the letter columns where he did his own version of the Three Stooges routine, re-written for, you know, a comic book letter column.

BOPalex said...

The "Niagara Falls" routine was around since Vaudeville and the Three Stooges were only one of many acts to use it. Abbot and Costello did it in a movie the same year the Stooges did it, for what it's worth.