Friday, September 25, 2015


Under the auspices of his original author, Steve Gerber, Howard the Duck was the perfect target for shadowy and squeaky-clean conspiracies. A feathered every-duck representing the institutional malaise afflicting the Boomer generation during the Seventies, Howard carried a little bit of Potter Stewart with him in his quest for something resembling a comfortable, happy, worthwhile existence - he couldn't define it, but he'd probably know it when he saw it.

In the interim, Howard was bounced around a full prog-rock concept album's worth of institutional absurdity, ending up everywhere from the wrestling ring to the booby hatch in his quest to make it in a world he never made. So in addition to absurd foes like the Space Turnip, Doctor Bong and the Turnip Lady, he was also subject to the squeaky clean intentions of SOOFI and their living man-soap monster, Sudd.

Most of Howard's colorful enemies were somehow institutional and authoritative, people or organizations whose aims were objectively beneficial but whose zeal made them greater menaces than the filth they fought. Such is the case with SOOFI, standing for Save Our Offspring from Indecency. Being a radical terrorist organization with an inclination towards suicide bombing, however, meant that the offspring enjoyed by SOOFI members would have been few and far between.

Joe Simon wasn't alone in seeing a claustrophobic, all-consuming menace in the insipid glare of the ubiquitous Happy Face symbol, using it as the visage for Prez's Boss Smiley. Gerber saw it too. The happy-go-lucky, all-signing and all-dancing SOOFI armada - decked out in spotless white janitor suits and bearing pushbrooms - wore them as well, as did their Supreme SOOFI, a faceless army of bland, meaningless smiles. Did I say Prog Rock, earlier? This is definitely some Dead Kennedys material.

They explode in the next panel, and never would the "B-ROOM" sound effect have been more appropriate.

In any case, more to the point: Sudd's origin involves a lowly dishwasher and over-devoted advocate of a pornography-free civilization who blithely plops a can of lemon-scented cleaner into a microwave and switches it on, transforming his whole body into a mass of abrasive, cleansing, sentient and homicidal suds. You might think it's ludicrous, but the Flash got hit by four shelves full of chemicals and a lightning bolt, which burn wards across the United States will inform you only helps you run very fast because you're on fire. 

Avoiding her creditors?
His crusade to clean up filth becomes very literal even as his mind is submerged beneath soapy brutality, and Sudd takes to the streets. He murders a few bums along the way, but wipes literally decades of gross muck off the streets and buildings, and the local residents see that as a pretty fair trade-off.

Defeating Sudd brings Howard to the attention of the Supreme SOOFI, whose operatives are busily walking into adult bookstores, dirty movie theaters and glam rock concerts in order to blow themselves to pieces. Naturally, the death toll is still considered slightly acceptable, if only because it cleans the streets. Same thing happened when Giuliani Disney-fied Times Square, and now everyone wants the hookers back.

The end of the conflict involves Howard being kidnapped by SOOFI, dressed up to disguise his animal nudity (where did they get square shoes anyway?) and defeating the entire magilla with the one tactic no one thought of: hitting a girl. Slugging the Supreme SOOFI breaks her mask, revealing the back of what was clearly meant to be anti-gay activist Anita Bryant's well-coiffed noggin.

These days it would probably be Kim Davis, or the Chik-Fil-A guy, or whoever the anti-gay activist at the moment is, because the twenty-teens are feeling a lot like the 1970s in a lot of ways. And the only reasonable reaction to that may be the way Howard handled the unmasking of the Supreme Soofi herself -- he just walked away disgusted.


BillyWitchDoctor said...

I'd probably curl up and die if you did an article about Howard's hamfisted adventures in his black-and-white phase. Not even reaction to the usual subject regarding those "mature" rags, just an analysis of that mortifying Captain Americana story or maybe the time Howard and Bev parodied a certain competitor's Dynamic Duo (and their villains).

Calamity Jon said...

The black-and-white Howards are on my to-do list for a few possible entries, not the least of which because I believe it's the first fictional portrayal of a relationship falling apart I'd ever seen committed to paper, and it might've scarred me a little. Whatever the vices and shortcomings of that series - and there were a few, it's a pretty good early example of a character being kept cosmetically alive after its creator left, even if the stuffing was removed - it did at least take the absurd chicken-themed villain Black Talon and make him even more absurd by putting him in a duck suit.

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