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Howard the Duck: A Cult Tribute

Updated on June 15, 2015

After watching my Sega columns sink like LeBron James' championship hopes, I thought it might be time to go back to basics today. Which pretty much means to get even weirder. Thus, today will be a Cult Tribute to a comic book character who, let's be honest, isn't exactly Batman. Or Superman. Or even Man-Bat (alright, he's totally better than Man-Bat). He's an...anamorphic duck of simple tastes, like cigars, Quack Fu, and ripping off Donald Duck's look (while doing it better than Donald Duck). I think that pretty much spoils who it is. So sit back, relax, and enjoy an ode to the weirdest comic book creation ever and another entity ruined by George Lucas, Howard the Duck!

What You Already Know


Howard the Duck is a Marvel Comics character created by legendary comic book writer Steve Gerber in 1973. However, the Cleveland native is most famous for his two film appearances, as the main character in 1986's Howard the Duck and in a cameo role in last year's Guardians of the Galaxy. One of those films was excellent, one of them made The Lone Ranger look like a competent piece of filmmaking. Unfortunately for Howard, his standalone film was the latter, and has the recognition of being one of the worst films ever made, one of the worst comic book films ever made and one of the biggest box office bombs ever made. Even Jack Evans' rocker hair has a better reputation than the duck.


What You Didn't Know


Because his movie was such an abomination, most people look at Howard the Duck as a joke. He's not a joke; in fact, you could make the argument that Howard is one of the most unique characters in the Marvel canon. Gerber, fittingly underrated in the same way his greatest creation is, designed Howard as a vastly different kind of super hero (and I use that term as loosely as possible), viewing his creation as an existentialist, a creature "trapped in a world he never made." It was that sort of thinking that led to Howard having some of the most bizarre, hilarious adventures in Marvel during the 1970's. Some of Howard's stories included a stint as a professional wrestler, numerous sci-fi parodies and even a run for President of the United States for the All-Night Party. Perhaps unique wasn't a strong enough word to describe Howard. It was these types of adventures that made George Lucas a fan and led to the making of the original film a decade later. Of course, Lucas and his team understood Howard as little as I understand the rise of Fall Out Boy, but still.

Howard the Duck in Chip Zdarsky and Joe Quinones new series
Howard the Duck in Chip Zdarsky and Joe Quinones new series

All of that being said, Howard does have moments of interacting with other, bigger Marvel characters. You'll perhaps be shocked to know that one of Howard's most frequent partners is Spider Man. Yes, the same guy who shoots webs out of his hand, fights Doctor Octopus and continues to allow Sony to screw up his box office appeal. I'm not particularly sure how this partnership started, but it did, and the two characters have teamed up frequently over the years, even being joined by the X-Men's Gambit on one occasion. Having first appeared in Gerber's Adventures of Fear series, Howard would also become associated with Man-Thing, who is pretty much Swamp Thing, except he's not. I know, big difference. Finally, Howard's closest confidant is Beverly, an art model in Cleveland who would eventually become Howard's on again, off again lover. Yes, I know, human/duck romance is a tad disturbing, though the comics (from what I can tell) never went as far as the 1986 film did. And yes, Beverly was in the movie, the only other character from the Howard comics to appear in it (and you wonder why the film sucked).


One last bit of trivia on that movie, even though I loathe to talk about it. Believe it or not, Howard the Duck was the first Marvel character to have a feature length film made. No joke. Back in 1986, characters like the X-Men, Spider Man, Daredevil, Hulk and the rest of the Avengers weren't getting serious consideration for films, and wouldn't until after Tim Burton's Batman was released in 1989. Thus, Howard was indeed the first Marvel character to get onto the big screen, and that was mainly because Lucas, the guy who made Star Wars, wanted to do it. How about that for a history note? In the end, that was probably the worst thing to happen for Howard and the best thing to happen for Marvel. Imagine if they had something like Spider Man or Iron Man released at that time and it flopped the way Howard did? People forget now, but the critical and commercial shellacking Howard took ruined the character; it's only now that Howard comics are starting to be written again, and it's been damn near impossible to find any Howard comics at all here in Rhode Island. If that had happened to one of the bigger Marvel properties, perhaps the MCU would be radically different than it is now. I reckon it would still exist though. It's Marvel. They're like the WWE of movies; people will go see them, be disappointed, and then see it again because...I still don't know!


Best Moment


The Guardians of the Galaxy appearance. If Howard's own movie was Frieza making Krillin explode, Guardians was the Dragon wishing him back to life. I don't even care if it was less than a minute; that post credits scene where Howard shares a drink with the Collector was the best reboot since Batman Begins. It was funny, it was to the point, and it's the reason a new Howard the Duck series has been started by Marvel, with Chip Zdarsky (real name Steve Murray) writing and Joe Quinones (there's a Quiznos joke here, isn't there?) drawing. What else can possibly take this section? The only thing close is the Presidential run, and despite being a devoted member of the All-Night Party myself, that didn't get Howard the notoriety his Guardians appearance did. Plus, it should be pointed out that his post credits scene was the main reason I even went to see Guardians. And hey, if a post credits scene is important enough for you to shell out $8 bucks, it has to go number one on something (and yes, I did enjoy Guardians of the Galaxy very much. I still enjoyed the Howard scene more though!).

Conclusion


My wrestling buddy Pen (who by the way inspired a column coming later today about the worst hair in wrestling history) asked me the other day why I had a soft spot for second tier things (I'm using kinder words; he referred to them as losers. Thanks Pen!). I responded to him by simply saying that I liked underdogs. Howard the Duck is the ultimate underdog; think Daniel Bryan with a beak or Jack Evans without break dancing skills and better hair. I was drawn to the character from the failings of the 1986 film, and the more I've learned, the more convinced I've become that Howard is a special creation. I haven't read as many of the comics as I'd like (again, Rhode Island's Howard selection is minimal. Thanks Rhode Island), but from what I have, Howard the Duck is as funny, creative and odd as it gets. He's sure as hell worth checking out, and I look forward to eventually seeing what Zdarsky and Quinones do with the character. I also look forward to seeing if Guardians of the Galaxy was just the start of Howard's new big screen adventures. The fact of the matter is that comic book films (and particularly Marvel ones) are in serious danger of becoming stagnant and repetitive in the next few years, to the point where I think it's time for some more out of the box, original ideas. Howard the Duck is one of them, and I think this is the right time him to get a second chance. Plus, tell me you don't want to see the adventures of Howard and the Collector. That's an intergalactic buddy film I can believe in!


That's it guys. As mentioned earlier, I'll be back with a column on wrestling worst haircuts later on. Blame Pen. Till then, a word of advice to those close with 'Plan and Mazza; friends don't let friends root for Roman Reigns. Come at me dudes!

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    • FatFreddysCat profile image

      Keith Abt 2 years ago from The Garden State

      Cool stuff here. I **loved** Gerber's 1970s Howard the Duck comic series. It was very smart, mature, subversive stuff...closer in tone to what you would've seen in the "underground comix" of the time, which is probably why it never caught on. I sold off most of my comic collection in the late 90s but hung onto my HTD run.

      I was sixteen years old when the Howard movie came out, I actually paid to see it in a theater (judging from its famous box office crash and burn I think I'm one of only a few dozen people who can say that). It was big, loud, dumb, action packed and bore no resemblance whatsoever to the comic series, but I loved it anyway. If nothing else, it captured Lea Thompson at her absolute peak of '80s big haired hottie perfection.

      The movie has spent so many years being hated that now it's almost underrated. People who see it for the first time nowadays usually say "Yup, it's bad, but it's not as bad as I've heard/expected."