Howard the Duck is back!
Does Howard’s appearance (in a speaking role no less!) suggest a bigger part for the malicious mallard in the next film? (There was a “Guardians of the Galaxy will return” consumer warning at the end of the movie…) If so, there will likely be many happy fans who hold fond memories of Howard from comics of the 1970s and ’80s, when the character was riding high and didn’t mind pointing out the absurdities of human behavior in general and skewering establishmentarianism in particular. What rich pickings he’d have in the Guardians’ corner of the universe with its amalgam of alien civilizations, warring empires, and mashed-up values! (Imagine Howard face to face with the self-important Thanos!) He might even find his way to the Earth of the Avengers where audiences can be treated to the spectacle of Captain America debating the finer points of the Constitution with him! (Howard would likely get along better with the more cynical Tony Stark.)
But first, Howard will need to convince audiences to accept him.
Which may be easier than some might believe. With today’s moviegoers mostly being under the age of 30, they have no direct knowledge of Howard’s last disastrous brush with movie stardom. And though they may feel some instinctive negativity toward the character, they likely have no idea that it has been inculcated into them by the overwhelming condemnation that had been aimed at George Lucas’ original Howard the Duck film. Over the years since, the poison has long since filtered into the public consciousness. Howard the Duck has become synonymous with camp, junk, and the worst kind of movie making.
But a lot of water has gone under the bridge since 1986 and there’s definitely a sense that audiences are ready to move on with the subject of Howard the Duck. The electricity felt in theaters over the tag scenes at the end of the new Guardians film was palpable. Thus, it’s perhaps time to review a bit of Howard’s checkered history and find out if the madcap mallard is really ready for a comeback…
10) Howard the Duck, movie star
It’s been 27 years now since Howard the Duck crashed Hollywood in a big way starring in his very own big-budget movie produced by Star Wars super genius George Lucas. At the time, following his breakout film American Graffiti and then the worldwide phenomenon that was Star Wars, it was widely accepted that Lucas, like his contemporary Steven Spielberg, could do no wrong. That belief was quickly dispelled with the release of Howard the Duck in 1986, a film roundly savaged by critics and filmgoers alike. It not only proved to be a Waterloo for Howard, but Lucas as well, as the myth of his infallibility was burst forever. For the maligned mallard however, things would be a little different. Although his comic book career continued to be much admired by fans, to the general public he was at his lowest ebb, reduced to a laughingstock and a tinseltown untouchable seemingly for good.
9) Destroyer Duck
In the early 1980s, Howard the Duck creator Steve Gerber, in a hopeless attempt to wrest ownership of the freaky fowl from Marvel, sued the company. Despite clearly working under the “work for hire” legal premise that all comics companies operated by for decades (in which characters and stories invented by writers and artists while working on the company’s copyrighted titles belonged de facto to the company), Gerber chose to challenge the obvious in court. To help raise the money needed to challenge Marvel, he produced a comic series called Destroyer Duck and even managed to get Marvel legend Jack Kirby to pencil some of the stories. (Kirby had his own ax to grind with the House of Ideas.) In the stories, Duke Duck vows vengeance against an evil conglomerate called Godcorps for exploiting and causing the death of a fellow mallard referred to only as The Little Guy (a stand in for Howard). The obvious metaphor of the the Destroyer Duck book wasn’t lost on anyone and ultimately came to nothing. Gerber lost his suit and died in 2007. But with Howard’s appearance in the Guardians movie and the unique solo credit given him afterwards, it seems the time is right to bury the hatchet and proceed with the duck’s comeback.
8) Howard’s black and white debut
With the departure of script writer and creator Steve Gerber, the regular Howard the Duck color comic was canceled in 1979 after 31 issues. But Howard returned almost immediately in the form of a black and white magazine which could not only be sold on newstands alongside such other adult oriented magazines as Time and People (coincidentally, two prime sources of targets for Howard’s acerbic wit) but without the Comics Code seal of approval. Theoretically, the magazine could now take a more mature approach to its subject matter. Satire could be more pointed and plots need not be held back by the need for such fantastic elements as super-villains, etc. The relationship between Howard and girl companion Beverly Switzler could be more thoroughly explored; a subject that new writer Bill Mantlo proceeded to do. Howard made further appearances over the years (some even written by Gerber) but the less said about them the better as they would only undermine arguments for his return to the big screen.
7) Howard meets Kiss
If hobnobbing with big time celebrities is enough to put someone on the map (if only for those few minutes of fame) then Howard the Duck must be counted among the happy few deserving of having his webbed feet imprinted on the Hollywood Walk of Fame! For it was in issues #12 and 13 of his own title that Howard ran into the members of the rock band Kiss, at the time, the hottest musical property in the country if not the world (it says here). It was only his and their misfortune to run into each other in the confines of an insane asylum. So it seems that Howard is indeed, fit to hang out with the stars of any future Marvel Studios movie.
6) Howard the Duck #1
When it was first released to a panting public, Howard the Duck #1 was a huge phenomenon. With momentum having been built up through his initial appearance in Adventure into Fear #19 and a series of back up shorts in Giant Size Man-Thing, Howard broke into his own self-titled comic book with script by creator Steve Gerber and art by white hot fan fave Frank Brunner. The issue became an instant collector’s item with copies disappearing from dealers’ shelves and demanding unbelievable prices in the secondary collectors markets. Is any more proof needed that the duck has the potential for super-stardom in a new century?
5) Introducing Howard the Duck
Howard the Duck made his first, one shot appearance in Adventure into Fear #19 written by Steve Gerber and drawn by Val Mayerik. His debut in 1973 caused an immediate sensation among fans whose letters poured in to the Marvel offices demanding that the missing mallard return. Impressed by the outpouring of support, quick action was taken and Howard soon began a series of back up stories in Giant Size Man-Thing #4 and 5. Back again was Gerber but this time joined by fan favorite artist Frank Brunner. Gerber quickly set the pattern for Howard as a wise-cracking commentator on the mixed-up world he found himself trapped on while beset by a series of offbeat menaces such as the Man-Frog and Hell Cow (vampire lord Dracula was desperately thirsty you see, and with no other options, was forced to seek sustenance from an innocent cow…) Rarely has a new character seized the imagination of so many so quickly without need for buildup over many months or years. In short, Howard was a sensation and there’s no reason that lightning couldn’t strike twice even forty years apart!
4) Howard the Duck for President!
It’s true! By Howard the Duck #8, the wacky waterfowl was an honest to gosh hit and with the hubris of success came over ambition and so, the duck launched his campaign for president of the United States. And with competition like Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, who could blame him for thinking he had a chance? Howard’s candidacy was officially announced on the letters page of issue #4 and campaign buttons offered boasting an image of a cigar chomping Howard by fan fave artist Bernie Wrightson. With a platform of unorthodox positions on the issues and the slogan “Get down, America! Vote Howard the Duck in 1976,” Howard quickly caught the attention of the national media, with the New Yorker magazine and New York Times giving him writeups. The campaign came to a screeching halt however when the media got hold of doctored photos of Howard sharing a tub with girlfriend Beverly Switzler. Oh, well, it was a noble effort anyway. But for a while, there was no stopping the daring duck; and who knows? He might yet get another shot at the White House. Why not? He could do a better job than the current occupant!
3) In bed with Bev
You’d think in our era of anything goes values, Howard the Duck would be a hit in anyone’s book. Not because of his cynical observations on mankind, not because of his constant struggles with wacky super-villains and unemployment, but because he was the first member of the animal kingdom to be shown sharing a bed with a human woman (in above ground comics anyway). It’s true! It happened in Howard the Duck #2, the black and white magazine that replaced the character’s regular (Comics Code approved) color comic. Written by Bill Mantlo, the bed scene was the culmination of a relationship that had been “maturing” in the color comic begun by writer Steve Gerber. The non-Code magazine format allowed Mantlo to show what the color comic could only hint at. The deed, more or less, was reproduced in all its icky glory in the Howard the Duck movie produced by George Lucas. So get with it, social maladroits. Howard was there first!
2) Guardians of the Galaxy tag scene
In a single 20 second tag scene at the very end of the new Guardians of the Galaxy movie, at the very end of the endless list of credits, Howard the Duck is rescued from filmic oblivion and likely seen by hundreds of times more people than his last disastrous appearance on celluloid. Only a few days before the film debuted in theaters, the internet lit up with rumors of Howard’s walk-on and excitement at his possible return built quickly from there. Fans buzzed and critics began writing columns speculating on the duck’s future role in the expanding Marvel Studios universe. Things quickly reached the point where it’ll be difficult for Marvel not to feature the misanthropic mallard in some expanded manner in the sequel. Adding fuel to the fire of how seriously Marvel Studios is taking the possibility of bringing Howard back was the unprecedented solo credit given the character’s creators, Steve Gerber and Val Mayerik ,in the very last image to be seen in the movie. All, it seems, is forgiven with the way opened for Howard to return in a big way in the near future!
1) Disney irony
The biggest reason why the way has been cleared for a Howard the Duck comeback is the fact that the Disney Corp bought Marvel Entertainment in 2009. What difference does that make? Well, back in the 1970s, Disney sued Marvel over its use of a talking duck claiming that it was an infringement on its copyright for Donald Duck. Settling out of court, Marvel forced Howard to add a pair of pants to his suit coat to help differentiate him from the trouserless Donald. (Simply removing his white gloves wasn’t enough apparently.) The irony of the whole thing is that with its purchase of Marvel, Disney now owns Howard and judging from the fowl’s appearance in the new Guardians movie, apparently is unconcerned about any resemblance he might have to Donald. The way, it seems, is now open for Howard to make a big comeback in 2016 when the sequel is due in theaters!