Doctor Bong: For Whom the Bell Tolls

(from Deadpool the Duck #4)

As I work to get this long-overdue blog up and running, I'm fortunate to have been welcomed into the ranks of the Super Blog Team-Up, a group who joins forces periodically to blog on a shared topic.

This go-round's theme is “The Doctor Is In,” which offers a host of comic and pop culture doctors from which to choose: Strange, Doom, Octopus, Mid-Nite, Fate, Bong, just to name a few.

But clearly, one of these things is not like the others.

Doctor Doom.

What? You thought it was Doctor Bong?

Sorry, unlike Victor von Doom, who was expelled from Empire State University before completing his coursework, Lester Verde holds Ph.D.s in not one, but two fields: journalism and psychology, according to 2010's Marvel Handbook-style Deadpool Corps: Rank and Foul.

Created by Steve Gerber and Marie Severin, Lester was a portly child, whose only defense against bullies was his sharp tongue. Taught by his mother that the pen is mightier than the sword, Lester pursued a career in journalism.

In college, he wielded words as dangerous weapons indeed, destroying the career of a professor who criticized him and ending Beverly Switzler's relationship by revealing to her beau's parents that his girlfriend wasn't Jewish.

Bev rejected Lester's boorish advances. While she went on to have bizarre adventures as the companion of Howard the Duck, Lester became a journalist.

When his success didn't win him her admiration, he became a music critic. While writing about boundary-pushing act Mildred Horowitz and his Band, Lester became a part of their stage show, only to lose his left hand in a guillotine accident while dressed as the Easter Bunny.

It happens.

That portion of his origin was recounted in 1977's Howard the Duck #17 (by Gerber and Gene Colan), but he made his debut as Doctor Bong two issues earlier. His bell-shaped headpiece emitted powerful sonic waves when struck by the clapper that replaced his severed hand.

Bong's bell could paralyze, create blasts of force and force fields and even teleport (or at least activate a device to do so). It might be the most versatile weapon this side of a Green Lantern ring!

Bong used powerful illusions to spirit Howard and Bev away from a cheerily named cruise ship, the S.S. Damned, to his island hideaway, populated by himself and dozens of genetically altered creatures.

Bong demanded Bev's hand in marriage, which she agreed to give him in an effort to spare Howard's life. The duck escaped, but Bong tracked him to New York after realizing Bev still cared for him. A well-placed pipe to to head by Howard activated Bong's teleporter, separating the foes.

Bev actually tried to make her marriage with Bong work, but he was more in love with his own ego and genius than her. After Gerber's departure, Bill Mantlo took over the writing duties and set Howard and Bong up in a final showdown, with the villain once again plotting to kill his rival for Bev's affection.

A jury-rigged set of armor kept Howard alive long enough for Bev to enact her plan, cloning five little Bongs and threatening to reveal to the world that her husband is an unfit father. In a rage, Bong teleports the duo away and turns his attention to being a parent.

Obviously a comedic character, Gerber always played Bong deadly serious in the story, a real threat who was never just a punchline. Plus, he had a gift of melodramatic gab that could rival (not-)Doctor Doom's.

Ten years later, in Sensational She-Hulk #5 (by John Byrne), Shulkie and several innocent bystanders found themselves trapped in a series of Saturday morning cartoons becoming increasingly realistic. They were in a pocket dimension created by Bong to alter the contents of the shows to make them more suitable for his kids' developing minds.

As she was wont to do in that offbeat series, She-Hulk solved the problem by breaking the fourth wall, escaping the pocket dimension by tearing through the very pages of the comic and leaving Bong trapped within.

After mastering the power of the pen, genetic engineering, sonic manipulation and reality alteration, Bong turned his attention to psychology, earning his Ph.D. and taking on Deadpool as his first patient. (talk about running before you walk). He's revealed on the last page of 1999's Deadpool #26 (by Joe Kelly and Pete Woods), which must have been a delight to any die-hard Howard the Duck fans reading that issue, and thoroughly confusing to most everybody else.

In issue 27 (Kelly and Scott McDaniel), Bong decides the best way for Deadpool to work through the struggles he's having after killing a messianic being is to fight a superhero (say what you will, the man understands comic book logic). Deadpool picks none other than Wolverine to do the job. Apparently over Beverly, Bong indicates his therapeutic success should impress his new love interest, Barbara (though whether she actually knows he exists, unlike Beverly in college, is not revealed).

Bong's next significant appearance is, I believe, the only one I haven't read, due to the absence of 2001's Howard the Duck MAX series on Marvel Unlimited. As much as I love Gerber's writing, I'm not exactly eager to read his mature readers take. According to the aforementioned Deadpool Corps handbook, the story finds Bong once again pursuing Beverly and attempting to manipulate the public through his marketing firm, Molecular Management, and a genetically engineered boy band known as the Backdoor Boys.

Bong's next significant appearance came in 2010's Deadpool #28-29 (Daniel Way and Carlos Barberi), where he tried to manipulate the Merc with a Mouth into joining his cloned version of the Secret Avengers (the only other people crazy enough to try such a stunt were Marvel editorial and Gerry Duggan in the third volume of Uncanny Avengers).

Behold the power of Bong (from Deadpool #28 - 2010)

Outside of that, Bong was relegated to a background character, most notably (to me anyway) appearing as one of 100 C-and-lower-list villains taking on Dazzler, Misty Knight and Colleen Wing in a cosmic roller derby organized by the Grandmaster's son in the 2011 anthology, X-Men: To Serve and Protect #4 (Jed McKay and Sheldon Vella).

When his greatest foes – Howard the Duck and Deadpool – not only teamed up but merged into a single being in 2017's Deadpool the Duck limited series (Stuart Moore and Jacopo Camagni), it came as little surprise that Doctor Bong was behind their troubles. Moore had fun with the villain while sticking close to his core traits: genetic manipulation, a thirst for vengeance and being really lousy and creepy around women.

(from Deadpool the Duck #5)

Perhaps this wasn't enough to convince you that Doctor Bong belongs among the pantheon of comic and pop culture doctors, but at least next time you hear the name, it might ring a bell.


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