Vertigo Winter’s Edge #2 – Nevada (January, 1999)
“New Year’s Demolition”
Writer & Creator – Steve Gerber
Art – Phil Winslade
Letters – John Costanza
Inks & Colors – Chris Chuckry
Associate Edits – Joan Hilty
Edits – Karen Berger & Shelly Roeberg
In our recent looks at Void Indigo, I’m finding myself in sort of a Gerber-state-of-mind… and so, I was reminded of a story I wanted to tell ages ago on the podcast… but, never got around to. That is, the story of the time Steve Gerber… duck-napped his creation Howard the Duck from Marvel Comics… and had him show up in this Nevada story for DC Comics/Vertigo (by way of Image Comics). It’s a long, twisted, and sort of confusing tale… but we’ll do our best to navigate it as best we can.
Before we start, a few bits regarding Steve and his Duck. In the early 1980’s, Mr. Gerber sued Marvel Comics for the rights to Howard and/or a whole lotta dough. Ya see, there was a feature film hitting theaters, Steve and Marvel were on the outs, it was a whole big thing. Steve got himself some prominent council, and did his damnedest to get his Duck.
|From Amazing Heroes #1|
|From The Comic Times #4|
In order to help pay his legal fees, Steve put out a new comic book… Destroyer Duck (via Eclipse Comics). Well, he wasn’t alone… in fact, he was able to get Jack Kirby to handle the art chores… for free! Amazing stuff. Anyhoo, the story of Destroyer Duck is satirical, and has the titular character embroiled in a battle with a conglomerate called “GodCorp”.
Steve did not win his lawsuit… and do-si-do’ed with Marvel for the rest of his life.
Now, what we’re here for today. First… what’s Nevada and what does it have to do with Howard the Duck? Well, Nevada was a six-issue miniseries written by Steve Gerber for Vertigo Comics which ran from May through October, 1998. It wasn’t ever supposed to be a thing. Ya see, it all started as a gag… way back in an issue of Howard the Duck in 1977 (#16 – September, 1977 cover-date), during the rather infamous… and far more interesting to discuss than to actually read, Dreaded “Deadline Doom” issue.
|From The Essential Howard the Duck|
In “Zen and the Art of Comic Book Writing”, Steve Gerber delivers us a fairly esoteric and sort of “out there” issue… which is filled with weird prose, essays and commentary regarding the comics industry at the time. On one of the pages, we can see his explanation of the “Obligatory Comic Book Fight Scene”. In it, we see a Showgirl and an Ostrich fighting an evil-looking Lamp.
|From The Essential Howard the Duck|
It wasn’t ever supposed to be more than that. Just a gag… poking fun at some of the tropes in the industry. Enter: Neil Gaiman. Back in the early 1990’s, he’d sent Steve Gerber a message via Compuserve… well, I’ll just let him tell it:
|From Neil Gaiman’s Journal|
After Gerber had a pitch for a Vertigo-take on the Inferior 5 declined, he decided to roll the dice with his Showgirl and her Ostrich… and, that’s how we got Nevada.
So, how does this come back around to Howard then? Well, this is gonna be a long one, that takes us through three different comic companies… Marvel, Image, and finally DC-Vertigo. By the time we get there… well, I tell ya, sometimes the destination ain’t worth the journey, but I hope you join me anyway! It all starts in, of all things, a 1996 issue of Spider-Man Team-Up… where Mr. Gerber pulls a fast one, with a little help from his friends.
Spider-Man Team-Up #5 (December, 1996)
Writer – Steve Gerber
Pencils – James Fry
Inks – Chris Ivy
Colors – Tom Smith
Seps – Digital Chameleon
Letters – Bill Oakley
Edits – Tom Brevoort
Edits-in-Chief – Bob Harras
From Marvel Comics
Our first story opens in New York City, on what might appear to be a pretty boring night for a certain web-slinger. Spider-Man arrives on the scene of a van that had been broken into, surrounded by folks giving some very odd first-hand accounts of everything that had just gone down. They claim that there were kung-fu tortoise-looking guys… and a guy in a spacesuit that “waddled”. Hmm. Also, on the spot is… Peter Parker? Oh yeah, this is during the Clone Saga… blonde Ben is in the webs right now.
Reilly and Parker have themselves a chat… kinda lamenting their boredom, and discussing the apparent “mass hallucination” these bystanders all seem to have shared.
We shift scenes into a nearby apartment, where the Ringmaster from the Circus of Crime is worriedly closing his window. He thinks to himself that the last thing he needs is for the Police to come around with questions. After all, he’s trying to stick to the straight and narrow at the moment. Anyhoo, his worries are interrupted by a knock at his door.
It’s… the Elf with a Gun! If you’re familiar with Steve Gerber’s run on the Defenders… you very likely know who this particular li’l fella is. The Elf shoots the Ringmaster… and the gunshot rings out through the nearby alley.
Peter and Spidey are on the case… with the former rushing into the apartment building to discover the gravely injured Ringmaster. Ringo claims that the Elf not only shot him… but also stole something very dangerous from his apartment. Our man assumes this is the Hypno-Disc. Peter and Ben reconnoiter, and wonder what if the Circus of Crime is at it again. I mean, no duh.
We now head off to Ohio, where Howard the Duck and Beverly are trying to get themselves a table at Donner’s Restaurant. This is mostly an overlong gag regarding the fact that Howard is a) a duck, and b) doesn’t wear pants. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before.
When finally seated, Howard goes to order a cheeseburger. This really ticks off a rather rubenesque woman nearby. Meat is murder… and not only that, “side-stream cholesterol” is disasterous to the environment. Howard responds by… well, suggesting he might just kill him another “cow”.
Beverly manages to nyoink Howard out of the restaurant… but fails to remember to take her newspaper with her. Ya see, she wanted to know what times the movies were showing. She forgets all about the cinema, however, when she spies a sign for the Cirque du Somnambulism… to which she suggests she and the Duck attend. He agrees to go… just not tonight.
Meanwhile, at the Sunspot Hill Fairgrounds, the Circus of Crime has gathered… with their new leader, the Elf With a Gun. We see here that the Elf didn’t actually steal the Hypno-disc… but, rather a tiny sitar? Okay then. The rest of the carnies give him a hard time for his failure… and so, he shoots them all dead.
Then… to prove just how powerful he is, he plucks the bullets back out of the baddies, thus restoring them to life. The snake-lady suggests that this makes the Elf a God. He brushes that off.
Back at the Daily Bugle, Peter Parker is able to deduce that the Cirque Du Somnambulism is a new take on the Circus of Crime… and finds out they’re putting on a show in Cleveland, Ohio. He’s able to nab a ticket from Robbie, and fills Ben in on all the deets.
Over at the E.S.U. Medical Center, the Elf With a Gun is paying a visit to the recovering Ringmaster. He demands to know where the Hypno-disc is… to which, Ringo suggests the F.B.I. probably took it… and shipped it to Chicago!
Speaking of Chicago… there’s this green-skinned, fin-headed cop that works out there. Hmm. Anyhoo, the Elf With a Gun makes a call out to the Chicago P.D., and is put on the line with Officer Drag… er, that green-skinned, fin-headed cop. And, check this out… Dra– that cop has the Hypno-disc in question! The Elf suggests a trade… the disc for the sitar. The green-guy accepts, so long as he can bring a Duck with him. The Elf says it doesn’t matter how many ducks he brings.
We pop back in on the Spider-Men, and see that Peter’s on board a plane at JFK… Ben, is tagging along, webbed to the plane’s undercarriage.
We hop over to Sunspot Hill, where Howard and Bev are about to head into the Circus. Unfortunately, there’s a sign on the tent informing them that tonight’s show has been cancelled. They peek inside anyway, and see: duh, the Circus of Crime.
Peter and Ben arrive on the scene right about now… and there’s a bit of confusion over how they know (or don’t know) Howard the Duck. Ya see, Pete’s tangled with him before… but, he ain’t Spidey at the moment. It’s really quite annoying… haven’t the foggiest idea how Marvel thought they’d be able to “stick” this particular landing. I guess that’s why the didn’t! Anyhoo, the Circus folk bail out in truck… and the heroes are in hot-pursuit.
The follow the truck to warehouse… and, we see here that they’re not the only ones tailing these geeks.
I’m… I’m just gonna call him Dragon. You know this is Savage Dragon, I know this is Savage Dragon… let’s just get that out of the way. The Duck he’s with is… Destroyer Duck. We’ll talk more about him in a bit. Anyhoo, Dragon busts in demanding the Sitar… Spidey busts in demanding the disc. Howard and Bev kinda stick to the sidelines, and try to stay out of the potential lines of fire and fists.
The Snake Lady sends, well, a snake toward Dragon. Spidey accidentally fires a wad of webbing into the guest-star’s face for good measure.
The Elf starts firing like mad… only to have his shots returned by Destroyer Duck. Bev hops in to grab the Elf, and gets pistol-whipped for her troubles. Then… Howard lunges in, and finds himself face-to-face with… a Duck! It’s almost as though this scene is purposely being written as hard to follow. Hmm…
Anyhoo, the Ducks meet… the dust settles, and Spidey and Dragon part as pals, with their bounties.
Peter, Beverly, and Howard all jam from the warehouse… narrowly escaping some pursuing members of the Circus of Crime. Not sure where Dragon and Destroyer might’ve gotten off to!
Spidey gets his bearings, and decides to use the Hypno-Disc against the clowns, geeks, and carnies to hasten their defeat.
The human-bullet fella launches toward Spider-Man, but misses… and winds up flying directly into the KISS exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame… after which, the Elf With a Gun gives us a “whatta revoltin’ development” sort of look.
We wrap up at the Cleveland Airport, where Howard and Beverly are wishing Peter Parker a safe trip home. After Pete boards, Howard runs down a list of unanswered questions from this evening’s adventure: Who or what was the Elf? What was up with that Sitar? And, just who was that big green cop? Well… we’ll have some of those answers in the next part.
Savage Dragon/Destroyer Duck #1 (November, 1996)
Writer – Steve Gerber
Pencils – Chris Marrinan
Inks & Edits – Erik Larsen
Letters – Chris Eliopoulos
Colors – Steve Oliff & Olyoptics
Cover Colors – Reuben Rude & I.H.O.C.
Cover Price: $3.95
From Image Comics
Our second story opens on the set of a televised interview with Mr. Boyle. He is one of the “Superfreaks” menacing the city. And, don’t look now, dude has a very familiar-looking trinket on his turban… could it be, a sitar?! Anyhoo, Boyle is giving this interview to suggest that the “Freaks” don’t mean nobody no harm. Pretty good message… unfortunately, this interview is cut short, however, when a Freak called Needlenose jams his… well, needle-nose through the back of an observing officer’s skull! Needlenose then unwraps Boyle’s turban, revealing his gigantic puffy, brain-filled dome… he then punctures it with his needle-nose. I… uh, won’t share a picture of that, it’s actually rather disgusting. Yes, even more disgusting than this stabbing.
Boyle’s brain, well, pretty much explodes… and since this is being televised, it sends most of Chicago into fits of puking disgrosstingness. Dragon’s on the scene… dodging projectile vomit along the way. He briefly tangles with Needlenose, before… well… snapping the nose right off his face. Wow, this is much more violent than I was expecting! I almost feel like I need a shower already.
The dust settles, and Dragon finds that strange little sitar on the ground (here it’s just referred to as an “electronic device”). He deduces that Boyle was likely murdered for this piece… and asks a fellow officer what it might mean. She suggests he ship it off to the F.B.I. for analysis.
We shift scenes to New York, where a… van is about to be broken into by a “waddling spaceman”. He is stopped by… well, not kung-fu tortoises, but the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! Remember, they had that really strange and dark volume coming out through Image Comics around this time.
They proceed to beat the hell out of the waddling space-suit man… but, nothing they do is all that effective. Hell, the “spaceman” even attempts to kill himself with a jackhammer… and isn’t even able to make a dent in his own suit! After the skirmish, just like it did in our first story, the space-suit man waddles away.
We follow this character, now called “Specimen Q” as he walks all the way to New Jersey. We learn that it’s been trapped in this suit for a dozen years… and its only hope of escape is via use of a certain “key”. Hmm. It enters an abandoned building, and steps on a newspaper… which points him toward his next destination: Chicago.
Speaking of Chicago… there’s this green-skinned, fin-headed cop that works out there. Whoa, deja vu. Anyhoo, we pop into the P.D., where Dragon gets both a message and a package. The message is to inform him that Ralph from New York called… and the package contains: the hypno-disc! Ya see, he was expecting the sitar-key thing… but, Quantico must’ve mixed up the packages!
He doesn’t get to lament this fact for long, however… as a UFO is reported as flying overhead! Dragon’s on the case… and whattayaknow, the pilot of this “UFO” is: Specimen Q!
Dragon continually batters the bot-looking-fella about the face, commandeers the rig, and… crashes it into the path of an uncoming train! Wow, they don’t mess around with the overblown action here, do they? Anyhoo, Dragon and Q are thrown clear of the crash… where they continue their battle.
Finally, Dragon is able to crack through Q’s armor… revealing the person inside to be: Destroyer Duck.
Dragon slaps the cuffs on the Duck, and begins reading him his rights. We learn here that Destroyer had actually spent a decade on the police force as well. Dragon is surprised, considering he’d never even heard of an anthropomorphic duck-cop before.
Dragon’s partner, Alex arrives… and she’s got one of those sitar-looking things. Apparently, there were dozens of ’em in Specimen Q’s UFO… however, these don’t have the electronic components like the other one did. The news arrives on the scene, and Dragon lies to them about the Pilot of the UFO… claiming that he just vanished after the crash.
This lie isn’t lost on the Freaks of the underworld. They realize right off the bat that Dragon’s hiding something. Dr. Brainard, of the… I dunno, “Freak School” knows Dragon must have captured Specimen Q… and knows that if Q were to talk, the entire Chicago underworld could be shaken. Gregory Brainard, by the by, is a character Gerber created for the Silvestri/Top Cow Image books. Anyhoo, Brainard’s got a class to teach… and teach it, he shall.
Back at the Precinct, Dragon gets a phone call… it’s the same call we saw him get in the Marvel ish. The Sitar for the Disc… Cleveland warehouse, yadda yadda yadda.
Destroyer Duck calmly breaks out of his holding cell, and tells Dragon he’d like to talk. Dragon complies… even takes the Duck out for a burger. It’s here, the uninitiated get their quick and dirty intro to Louis “Duke” “Destroyer” Duck. Ya see, he’s from another world… and came into this one in order to avenge a friend… who’d been exploited and then killed by the evil conglomerate known as Godcorp. We also find out that Dr. Brainard got into his head… tossed him into that stasis suit… and used him as a sort of guinea pig for the past decade-plus.
After a short peek into some goings on with the Freaks, we rejoin Dragon and Duke at the warehouse in Cleveland. We can see a web-slinging superhero and some others showing up from the other side.
I’m… I’m just gonna call him Spider-Man. You know this is Spider-Man, I know this is Spider-Man… let’s just get that out of the way. Whoa, deja vu all over again! Anyhoo, Dragon and Duke bust in demanding the Sitar… Spidey busts in demanding the disc.
A Snake Lady sends, well, a snake toward Dragon. Spidey accidentally fires a wad of webbing into the co-star’s face for good measure.
The Elf Nuggo the Gnome (?) starts firing like mad… only to have his shots returned by Destroyer Duck. Bev A redhead hops in to grab the Elf Gnome, and gets pistol-whipped for her troubles. Then… Howard a Duck lunges in, and finds himself face-to-face with… Destroyer Duck! It’s almost as though this scene is purposely being written as less hard to follow than the first time we saw it. Hmm…
Anyhoo, the Ducks come face to face… which, for whatever reason, gives Nuggo the idea to create a whole slew more Ducks!
Before we know it, the whole joint is absolutely crawling with ducks… anthropomorphic and otherwise! Spidey and Dragon each take their bounty… ya know, the sitar and the hypno-disc… then, curiously, Dragon and Duke each sling a person over their shoulders before running out the place.
Here’s a closer look… because, this is the reason we’re assembling here today. Dragon and Duke each have someone slung over their shoulder… a couple of characters with “no friends” “over there”… and, with all the clones shambling about the joint, nobody will ever know the difference anyway. Hmm.
Back in Chicago, Duke and Dragon get a better look at the sitar. Duke reveals that they were created by Brainard, and are called “neurotisms”… they muck about with brain chemistry… and are likely why Destroyer Duck remained so docile over the past decade-plus.
Over the next several pages, Duke and Dragon fight with the Freaks… it’s just a fight scene, so just imagine a bunch of weird-looking people punching other weird-looking people… for like a half-dozen pages. It all ends with Brainard making his escape… which really ticks off Destroyer Duck.
Once the dust settles, we head back to the Chicago PD, where a pair of characters are preparing to enter the Witness Protection Program. A certain anthropomorphic Duck… and a human woman… their feathers and hair, respectively, have both been dyed black.
Beverly the woman takes the new name “Rhonda Martini”.
Howard.. er, the Duck decides to take the name “Leonard”. Dragon informs them that they’re going to be relocated to Buffalo, NY. How… Leonard isn’t a fan.
We wrap up with Dr. Brainard thinking he’d pulled a fast one… celebrating his freedom and all that jazz, when suddenly there’s a knock at his door.
Why it’s Nuggo the Gnome… With a Gun! Blam.
And finally… The Nevada story from Vertigo Winter’s Edge #2 (1999):
It’s New Year’s Eve, 1998 (8:37 PM local time) and our story begins on the Las Vegas Strip… and, it’s quite a scene. Our gal, Nevada (dressed as Father Time with a long beard and a 1998 sash) along with her Ostrich, Bolero (who’s dressed as Baby New Year with a 1999 diaper) are part of a crazy parade. She happens to know that when the clock strikes 9, which would be midnight on the East Coast, somebody is going to blow up the Camelot Hotel. She posits this might be to take some attention away from Times Square.
Nevada gets into it with a couple of no-goodniks… one of whom appears to be welching on paying a debt. She gets in his face, and informs him that taking money out of her pocket is also taking food out of Bolero’s belly… and, her ostrich ain’t a fan of goin’ hungry, see?
She tells him that it’s up to him to tell Bolero he isn’t going to eat tonight… to which, we learn that the Big Bird has gone missing! Nevada and a shaggy haired fella are in hot pursuit.
Nevada decides to ask some of the parade-goers if they’d seen her ostrich… one of whom is… wait for it… Leonard the Duck! Yup, this single panel is the reason for all of this nonsense I’ve put you all through! Sorry bout that, gang!
Finally, Nevada is able to find someone who’d seen her Big Bird. She’s informed that Bolero was nabbed by a dude in a Devil Mask and pulled into the Camelot Hotel!
Our gal leaps the guardrail and heads into the Camelot to track down her bird. She finds the Devil Man, who tells her that he’s going to kill Bolero as revenge for Nevada impaling his brother. I’m… gonna assume that happened in the miniseries?
What’s our lady to do? Well, she runs this geek through with a novelty spear…
… and escapes the Camelot on Ostrich back, just in the nick of time!
We wrap up with Nevada and Bolero meeting back up with that shaggy-haired dude… with the promise that “the demolition” will continue in Nevada II… whiiiiiich, never came out.
So… that was a long strange trip, wunnit? I apologize if the destination wasn’t worth the journey… but, I personally had a lot of fun working my way through this one with y’all. This has been one of those pieces of “Weird Comics History” I’ve long wanted to share here on the blog… I just wasn’t quite sure how to approach it. I’m hoping this was the best way of doing so.
Where do we begin with a review? This, for the most part, is almost something that is so agenda-driven that it defies review. I mean, as far as “story” goes… it was literally all a means to an end, wasn’t it? So very bizarre… but also, if you knew what you were supposed to be looking for… so very fun. I’m sure if you were working at Marvel back in 1996… so very frustrating, as well!
Asamattafact, here are a few pages from Sean Howe’s Marvel: The Untold Story that covers this particular moment in comics history:
So far so good, right? In the very next line, however, Tom Brevoort makes it clear that this agreement (the inclusion of Dragon and Destroyer Duck in a Marvel book) is contingent on nothing that will occur in the upcoming Savage Dragon/Destroyer Duck one-shot coming back and biting him in the butt.
And there ya go… the ol’ switcheroo is pulled! Steve Gerber more or less “ducknaps” Howard. Taking things like rights and whatnot out of the equation and looking at things “lineally”, Howard the Duck is now Leonard the Duck… and is living somewhere comfortably just outside the reach of Marvel Comics. The Duck that Marvel has is just an empty clone.
Gotta feel for Tom Brevoort in this situation. Sounds like he was trying to do a solid for a creator he respected… and, that trust was shattered by this… and I hate to say it, petulant little stunt. Brevoort even feared for his job… which, I mean, Marvel was a weird, wobbly, and bankrupted place back in 1996… and he certainly didn’t have the stroke he has there now. Can’t fault him for being freaked out! This was a real cruddy thing for Gerber to do.
Though, in fairness, it would appear that Steve wasn’t actually the mastermind of the plan. In a piece included in Savage Dragon/Destroyer Duck #1 titled “the never ending battle.”, Erik Larsen fills us in on some of the details. Looks like he planted the seeds of this caper!
Gerber corroborates this… and basically lays all of his cards on the table in his own missive in Savage Dragon/Destroyer Duck #1 called “Fowl Play”.
The story isn’t quite over yet… Steve Gerber would eventually return to Marvel Comics… and to Howard the Duck with a Marvel-MAX limited series… ya know, the “mature” line, which more or less meant “Fit in the F word just as much as you can!”… and Howard’s mini was certainly no exception. I only mention it, however, because… in issue #4 (June, 2002), we meet a certain showgirl… and her pet ostrich. This ain’t Nevada though, it’s “Utah”. I think this is about as circular as this one’s going to get.
Only had to blur out a couple of F-Bombs on that page… Steve must’ve been slackin’! Anyhoo… let’s finally tie a bow on this overlong piece. As a story… this was weird, confusing, and really not much more than a means to an end. As a stunt… it was petulant, a real jerk-move, but also… I dunno, kinda brilliant? A real “FU” to “corporate comics”, which probably would’ve meant a ton more if Larsen and Gerber didn’t return to Marvel for work not long after.
The Nevada story… which was my way of back-dooring all this Howard talk into the blog… was “fine”. Really not a whole lot to talk about there. It was a short and dark little holiday ditty… maybe next December we’ll cover the rest of the Winter’s Edge Special? Who knows…
Anyhoo, if you’ve read this far, you have my sincerest thanks! I hope you all enjoyed.
Leonard the Duck Pin-Up: