Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Bus ride to Madness (or Cleveland, whichever we hit first): Howard the Duck


Remember: as Steve Gerber was wont to say, "the joke is, there IS no joke."

All Howard's done since Le Beaver tumbled from his tightrope above Niagara Falls is hallucinate, with stream of consciousness free word association and restless sleep. Beverly Switzler stands over the exhausted duck; she worries that the doctor's declared a nervous breakdown. She agrees to go for coffee with him. That's when Howard finally awakens, still dealing with some dementia.

(Remember, he's not a cartoon, he's a flesh and blood being with limits to how much disruption and absurdity he can handle, because while he'd be content to walk away from what will needlessly complicate his life, it's followed him everywhere since arriving on Earth.)

In this state he finds Bev at the coffee shop, but rather than go in, he storms off in self-pity and spends the last of his "campaign money" on the next bus out of town. Great gesture. The vendor tried to warn him. Too late. As he discovers after the seat nearly squashes him ("all machines hate you"), he's sitting next to lisp-challenged Winda Wester...on the bus to Cleveland.

As irony rolls Howard towards his circular futility, he's accosted by Alvin, a fervent disciple of Gnosticology. "Are your emotions in deep freeze?" The survey questions amuse Howard not in the least; after much banter about this new brain technique, Howard begs off as nicely as possible: I'm not up for a new religion today. Alvin: "But it's not a religion! It's..." "--a scam! Yeah, I know!"

This attracts a man dressed alarmingly like popular depictions of a certain savior...but this very uncertain savior offers support, then venerates his one book with all the answers. It reads: "Martyrdom for the Millions."

"Hare, Hare Krishnu!" come the cries, as an acolyte approaches with "To Sri With Love." (No! Please! Not another one! Aren't there any non-believers on this bus?")

"Lose illusion of separateness---your ego---your..."

"Stop!!" Howard shrieks. "I don't wanna thaw my brain---I don't WANT a roadmap to Heaven---and I don't wan'na forget who I AM!"

All he wants is to be left alone. But voices tell him "no duck is an island. Nor even a pennisula." "We're with you always."

Four hours later, Winda breaks Howard's agitation with silly faces. This is the big problem her parents have with her---why they say she's possessed! But "it's very thewapuetic. And it keeps people away in droves." Best yet, after sharing "this tewiffic wewease" she offers to go back to sleep; "see you in Cwevewand." But dreamless sleep? No...a cane on the head...random word dis-association...and the return of the Kidney Lady.

KL is an absolute shrinking violet: massive, and armed with her cane and "the truth," which will free her from his "kidney-poisoning conspiracy!" Having seen him previously with Beverly, she accuses Howard of subduction of the innocent, as he "hooks them on fried food, tobacco, and fast living---just to get at their KIDNEYS!!!" When she asks where he "dumped" "the redhead," it's just a toll bridge too far. "Ya finally hit a nerve!" he screams, as the duck socks his senior menu- indulging bully.

She flings her accusations as he topples her. "Ridicule and denial---the first refuse of the hopelessly guilt-ridden! But you can't deny the evidence of your eyes, can you, world? Would a decent, honorable, moral creature---whup the tar out of a helpless old woman in public?!?"

The white-robed figure from earlier thus speaketh: "Indeed. You should love thy neighbor and be true to your school. Let him who is without sin cast the---"

"You stay outta this, you dirty HIPPIE---" says the face-kicking Kidney Lady; "the forces of goodness can do without you!"

As the chanter of "Hare! Hare! Goo-goo-goo-joob!" intervenes, the mind guy touches his temples and amidst the violence declares "I shall abort this brawl by force of mind! Yes...Yes...I'm getting it.."

"Bird of Prey" Howard's lost in the futile desire to strike back, as the driver yells over the "brouhahah" as a tire blows. "The bus!" KL screams. "Its kidneys have burst!!!"

"Buses don't have..." "No! No! My mind BLEW it! Forgive me!" "Only ask for forgiveness, and it is thine!" "'Thine'? Nobody talks wike that anymowe!" "Hare reasoner! Hare reasoner!" (60 Minutes pun, my young friends.)

Howard decides looking at KL's "ugly face!" is a terrible way to go, "but not so bad as seeing my life flash"...CRASHH!



mORNING COMES. The accident clean-up is on. And Winda and sedated Kidney Lady sit in the back of a paddy wagon...with a straight-jacketed Howard the Duck.

The end! And yet, not.

So that's it: the bus to Cleveland equivalent of Satre's No Exit. Imagine feeling alone, confused, and surrounded by fervent believers in one System of Answers after another. I'll bet it's not nearly so difficult to imagine as most things in an old comic book.

Hallucinating KISS in a sanitarium? That's what I call making it up as you go along. But I don't have that one (nor the next three). So I guess we'll see you in BagMom, as Bev and Winda are called to the (magic) carpet.

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