This Saturday, September 25 is National Comic Book Day so in honor of the holiday, throughout the week, I’ll be looking back at some “classic” comics that relate to Asian and/or Asian American subject matter.
If most people know about Howard the Duck at all, it’s probably from the 1986 George Lucas-produced movie, which starred a short man in a duck suit and was hailed as one of Hollywood’s biggest bombs. However, the fast-talking, cigar-chomping, “trapped in a world he never made” duck first started life as a Marvel comics character in 1973 courtesy of creators Steve Gerber and Val Mayerik before getting his own title in 1976.
Unlike the generic special effects-heavy film version, Gerber brought a satiric sensibility to the original comic. Whether running for President or contemplating suicide, Gerber used his fowl creation to comment on the social issues of the day. Which brings us to Howard The Duck issue #3 (dated May 1976) when our titular character becomes The Master of Quack Fu!
During the mid-1970s, America was in the midst of a kung-fu craze. In the wake of Bruce Lee’s success (and recent death), martial arts movies were hot–especially in the nation’s urban centers (i.e. poor minority neighborhoods). And this was Gerber’s target in this issue: the story is both a spoof of the martial arts film clichés and a satirical examination of the real world violence in these urban neighborhoods.
The issue (titled “Four Feathers of Death or: Enter the Duck”) opens as a disturbed Howard and his gal pal Beverly walk out of a martial arts film into the Cleveland night.
Howard’s not digging the violence he’s just seen on the screen and digging even less the violence he encounters on the street by young men emulating the moves they’ve seen but have no real understanding of.
While getting a bite to eat in a diner, Howard and Bev meet the villain of the story: Count Macho—a kung-fu fighting street thug. Macho likes nothing better to show off his martial arts prowess and, despite Howard’s efforts to stop him, the guy ends up killing the young man who was earlier emulating the moves from the movie.
Marvel Comics would tap into the martial arts craze more directly with characters like Shang-Chi (a.k.a. the Master of Kung Fu and son of the evil Fu Manchu) and even classic Iron Man baddie Mandarin, but for my money, none of them can top a bad ass duck that can kick ass:
(Thanks to Michael H. for research aide)