Monday, 6 April 2015

Describing Howard The Duck #1

Or how to fix the defect in Howard The Duck #1
by Chip Zdarsky, Joe Quinones, Rico Renzi, and Travis Lanham; Marvel Comics

Howard the duck #1 is pretty good fun. A sort of madcap, zainy comic about a down-on-his-luck private investigator who is an alien, anthropomorphic duck. It's the kind of goofy good fun that I think any good comics reading list would do well to include.

It's also a comic that Marvel released with a clear printing defect.

But I can fix it!

There will be *SPOILERS* for Howard The Duck #1

Okay, so I've written before about how juxtaposition is important for certain kinds of jokes. Basically my argument is that the set up for the punchline, the complicating situation, works best when positioned right before the punchline. You are given a particular set of expectations and then confronted with a radically different situation that subverts those expectations and hilarity ensues. Drum roll. Everyone laugh.

Howard The Duck #1 has a great example of this kind of gag:

The first page of the gag is an extended montage scene, complete with hilarious montage parody song. It sets up a situation where Howard and Tara, Watson to Howard's Sherduck, are preparing for an elaborate heist. We see the pair workout, strategize, observe their target, bribe a doorman, and generally look super prepared. And then there is  page turn...

...and the pair, dressed as pizza delivery people, have tripped over each other, smashed through a door, and set off the burglar alarm!

Which is a pretty classic juxtaposition gag: we have the expectation of an elaborate and complicated heist and then BAM! we have a couple goofs executing a terrible plan. It's pretty funny (although 80% less funny now that I've explained it).

Unfortunately, I think Marvel made a production defect that damages this joke. The trouble here is this great little joke had a double page house-ad for Secret Wars buried in the middle of it.  So instead of getting the joke setup, a page turn, and the immediate juxtaposition of clowning around, we get distracted by a big dumb ad for Marvel's Unavoidable Event Comic instead. It's like the equivalent of taking a quick-cut joke in TV and jamming a commercial break in the middle; it completely destroys the immediacy and takes a great joke and waters it down to being an okay joke. Which is really stupid ad placement.

But I figure they couldn't have intentionally made such a blunder, so it's got to be a product defect, right? I mean, It's a completely unnecessary ad placement. There is a scene change a page earlier with a clear story break. It's the comics equivalent of a long cut, which makes it the perfect place to put a double page ad break. It wouldn't have impacted any jokes and would have worked like a commercial break to create a sense of time passing and might have even enhanced the rhythm of the comic. I guess they just made a mistake and put the ad in the middle of a joke and made the comic worse so we know Secret Wars is a thing. BTW, Secret Wars is a thing.

Which begs the question: why even risk having ad placement damage a comic with house ads in comics? Howard The Duck #1 has a cover price of $3.99, and with the weak Canadian dollar, I paid more than $5 for this issue. That is more than $5 for 20 pages of story, which is a lot of money/unit entertainment. This $5 comic also has 9 pages of advertisement in it counting the back cover, at least 6 of which are ads for other Marvel comics. This means that this $5 comic I've bought is filled with ads that don't make the publisher any money and detract from my enjoyment of the comic. Even weirder, its comic retailers that decide what comics to buy months in advance from solicits not comic ads and like, the internet is a thing. The fact that comic issues, already a pretty premium entertainment form, are filled with ads is kind of perplexing and annoying.

And when these ads actually hurt the contents of comic they are unforgivable. 

But, I do have a DYI solution:

Take some scotch tape, invisible-clear preferably, and tape the two pages of this joke together so that the useless, offending ad cannot interrupt your reading of this comic. 

Because Howard The Duck #1 is good, and better without a defective advertisement.

Also, guys! Secret Wars is a thing!

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