Comicbook: Howard the Duck
Howard The Duck
is one of the strangest comic book characters ever published by Marvel Comics
, best known today because of its movie adaptation
, believed by many to be one of the worst films ever made; this is unfortunate, as the comic was both funny and full of social criticism, and was one of Marvel's best known titles during the 1970s
. While not an underground comic
in of itself, Howard the Duck
is widely cited as an example of the underground comix movement's influence on mainstream media.
The character was apparently created as a sight gag; in "Adventure into Fear
" #19 (December, 1973), in a Man-Thing
story involving the "Nexus of All Realities" characters from several universes
appeared, many of them being obvious homages to fictional characters such as Conan the Barbarian
and (in Howard's case) Donald Duck
. However, writer Steve Gerber
, known for both his love of strange characters and playing with reader's expectations, decided to continue using Howard, and convinced Marvel to give the character his own series. Although Marvel had to strike a deal with Disney
in order to use the character, including such things as requiring Howard to wear pants
, the character proved popular, most likely due to Gerber's writing.
Gerber had the "duck" accidentally transported to Cleveland
, where the "hairless apes" (humans, as Howard called them) refused to believe he was anything but a midget in a duck costume and treated him as a weirdo. "Trapped in a world he never made" (the series' catchphrase) Howard tried to live a normal life (and got a series of jobs, such as driving a taxi) but kept running into bizarre people and creatures
and ended up having to confront them. The vast majority of these were just wannabe supervillains with silly names and goals
such as "Doctor Bong" or humorous menaces like a vampiric cow. More importantly, the series used the short-tempered and sarcastic duck as a way to snark on modern human society. At one point, Howard even runs for President of the United States (!) only to retire after a false accusation of having sex with his friend, a human woman named Beverly Switzer.
Howard, despite running into superheroes occasionally, was no superhero himself, and had no superhuman powers (other than the occasional unexpected skill
such as "Quack Fu") though he still did end up helping people, directly or indirectly, mostly because of Beverly.
The character's popularity led to his being adapted into the live-action movie, but since other than the Beverly/Howard romance, nothing from the comics made it in, especially not the humor, fans of the character hated it. It was universally poorly-received among critics and fans alike, and was a major flop for Marvel, seemingly killing any chance of more stories involving Howard. Thankfully, time has been kind to him and he makes a cameo appearance in The Stinger
of the hit and critically acclaimed film Guardians of the Galaxy
, confirming him as a canon part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe
continuity. He'll also be getting a new ongoing series —his first since The Eighties
— starting in March 2015, with Chip Zdarsky and Joe Quinones at the helm.
Howard was also the cause of a legal dispute between Marvel and Gerber, who claimed to own the character. This caused Gerber to leave the company and led to many years of legal wranglings; in the end, the situation was settled with Marvel keeping ownership of Howard. Howard has appeared occasionally in various Marvel titles since the 1970s, and a few years ago starred in a miniseries (again by Gerber) that made open references to his sexual relationship with Beverly (it was part of Marvel's adult-oriented MAX line, which may not be a canonical part of the Marvel Universe
.) He was one of the major parodied characters in the Amalgam Universe
, merged with DC Comics
as Lobo The Duck
. Seriously. He appeared again as an agent of the dimensional-patrolling agency ARMOR in the "Marvel Zombies" comics, starring alongside various heroes such as Aaron Stack, the Machine Man, and also had an appearance in the LEGO Marvel Superheroes
game as an unlockable character.
Tropes featured in the comic:
- Arch-Enemy: Dr. Bong.
- Alliterative Name: Winda Wester.
- Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy: "Quack Fu".
- Author Avatar: Painter Paul Same, who physically resembled Gerber and was more or less an Expy from Richard Rory, another Gerber's character that he also used as an alter-ego.
- Author Tract: Lots of stories were devoted to Howard ranting on how stupid, lazy, self-centered, and shallow humanity had become.
- Beautiful All Along: Winda Wester, whose beauty makes a stark contrast to her speech impediment and general weirdness.
- Belated Backstory: Howard reveals his past to Winda in issue 13, telling his origins and how his life in his original universe was before getting trapped in ours.
- Beware the Silly Ones: Dr. Bong, who, despite his goofy conception, was the most dangerous foe that Howard ever faced.
- BFG: Howard owns an unnamed big gun which he literally calls it as Big Freaking Gun (BFG)!
- Breakout Character: Howard was initially intended as a single-appearance character, but fate (and popular demand) wouldn't have it.
- The Bronze Age of Comic Books
- Catch Phrase: Howard's whining "Waaaugh!"
- Character Title
- Cleveland: Where most of the series takes place.
- Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Most of the villains appear to be this, particularly the Kidney Lady.
- Deadpan Snarker: Howard.
- Driven to Madness: Poor Howard suffers a psychological breakdown after encountering with several weirdos at some point. Fortunately, he gets better with the help of Damon Hellstrom and Dr. Avery (but not before causing a complete chaos while he is accidentally possessed by Hellstrom's demonic soul).
- It gets subversive, too: the real cause of Howard's madness is that at a crucial moment he refuses to fight Le Beaver, thus repudiating the entire ethos of Marvel comics at the time, which is that every issue had to have a fight scene. Howard essentially rejects a major trope of the very medium he's a part of. In-universe he says he failed to live by the dictates of his male social conditioning, but read between the lines and it's clear he has a breakdown because, like Dr. Manhattan, he's a puppet who was able to see the strings.
- Elmuh Fudd Syndwome: Winda Wester. Weally cute, though.
- Expy: Dr. Bong is clearly a parody of Dr. Doom, while borrowing a few traces from Dr. Moreau with his experiments regarding metamorphosis on animals.
- Dr. Bong is also a Take That to Bob Greene, who'd written a column criticizing Marvel's special KISS issue, which Gerber wrote.
- Fictional Political Party: Howard ran for President in 1976 for the All Night Party, as noted in the picture at the top of this page.
- Foo Fu: Howard is a self-proclaimed master of Quack Fu.
- Frankenstein's Monster: Created in one issue by a little girl Mad Scientist. Oh yes, and it's made of gingerbread.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: The comic ran on the tension between the funny-animal kiddie comic it appeared to be and the actual very-for-adults comic it was. As a result, double entendres, cleverly concealed X-rated references ("Phelch" the space turnip) and near-obscenities ("Big clucking deal") were regular features. Not to mention the occasional implication that Howard and Beverly's relationship went beyond the platonic (leading to a particularly uncomfortable moment in the live-action film).
- Averted when the comic was revived in 2001. It was published by Marvel's "mature" imprint, MAX Comics, so there was no radar to get past and the content was much more explicit.
- Gone Swimming, Clothes Stolen: Happened to Howard during a crossover with Spider-Man in an issue of Marvel Team-Up after he waded naked in a pond to avoid getting attacked by the minions of Status Quo.
- Good Smoking, Evil Smoking: Howard smoked cigars.
- Half-Dressed Cartoon Animal: Only in his earliest appearances. A threatened lawsuit from the creators of a similar pantsless duck resulted in Howard donning a pair of trousers, becoming a Barefoot Cartoon Animal. And now Disney owns Marvel. Huh. However, Howard was able to get away without wearing pants in his Marvel Zombies appearances.
- Hearing Voices: Howard is haunted by them during his temporary state of insanity.
- Heroes Want Redheads: Beverly Switzler was a redhead and it was occasionally implied that she and Howard regarded one another as more than friends.
- Herr Doktor/Those Wacky Nazis: Dr. Reich
- Humanlike Hand Anatomy: Howard has White Gloves on human-like hands, but has webbed feet.
- Infant Immortality: Averted with the little girl who creates the Gingerbread Monster in issue 06.
- Interspecies Romance: Sometimes implied between Howard and Beverly, but nothing is made clear.
- It's a Small World After All: One of the people who Howard befriends in New York after a disastrous escape from Dr. Bong's castle happens to be Beverly's uncle, Lee.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Howard is arrogant, opinionated and selfish and doesn't hesitate in insulting people or throwing snarky comments on them... but he also helps those that have been wronged and is very loyal to his friends.
- Killed Off for Real: Dr. Bong's French duck maid Fifi and nearly every antagonist aside from Dr. Bong and the Kidney Lady.
- Knight in Sour Armor: Howard due of his jaded attitude and total lack of interest in involving with supernatural affairs.
- Knight Templar: The underground organization S.O.O.F.I. (Save Our Offspring From Indecency)
- Monster of the Week: Before Dr. Bong came along, Howard fought one-shot adversaries that often got killed by the end of the story,
- Ms. Fanservice: Beverly, who particularly in the B&W illustrated magazine version of Howard the Duck was often shown in skimpy clothing. In addition, the character's backstory included time working as a nude model. Then there's the fact that she wore a skimpy two-piece suit in her first appearance.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: The Supreme SOOFI is a never-named Anita Bryant (a singer who became a Heteronormative Crusader) — she even mentions having her epiphany in Dade County, where the real Bryant then lived — while Donny and Marie Dearth are based on the Osmonds who share their first names. See also Take That
- Only Sane Man: Howard is usually this.
- Phrase Catcher: "You're a talking duck!" Sometimes it was just "You're a duck!"
- Played with in an issue of Sensational She-Hulk - when one of the characters says this, he replies "That ain't the half of it, toots," as he pulls out a cigar. "I'm also a smoker."
- Post Modernism: Issue 16, the infamous "Dreaded Deadline Doom" issue, which included Steve Gerber soliloquizing for the whole issue about writing on top of surreal illustrations, as well as an "obligatory fight scene" between a showgirl, an ostrich, and a killer lampshade.)
- Gerber would later use the Showgirl/ostrich concept in his Vertigo Comics miniseries Nevada.
- Psychic Powers: Winda.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: In a small arc where Howard and Winda end up in a Bedlam House-like asylum, Dr. Morton Avery was the only character who wanted to help them.
- Rich Bitch: Iris Raritan.
- Rogues-Gallery Transplant: Dr. Bong is arguably Howard's archnemesis, but in recent years he seems to be slowly transferring to being part of Deadpool's supporting cast.
- Stealth Pun: This picture◊ has Guardians of the Galaxy selfie with duckface. Also, notice Drax in the background.
- Take That:
- Steve Gerber wasn't afraid to use ol' Howard as a mouthpiece.
- A 90s miniseries called Daydreamers has Howard travel to an alternate universe where he is revered as a hero. What really floors him though is that a movie was made about him...and it was a hit!
- Howard's MAX series was almost never published due to Disney once again complaining about his visual similarity to Donald Duck. Gerber responded in the first issue by transforming Howard into...a mouse.
- The cover of issue 6 of the short-lived B&W illustrated magazine version of Howard the Duck, which came out after Disney legal action forced Howard to don pants, features a number of duck characters, including one seen from the back that unambiguously resembles Donald (complete with sailor's hat), and another that resembles Daisy Duck.
- Talking Animal: Howard.
- That Man Is Dead: During Civil War, Howard attempted to register, but the government considered him to be such a hassle with his status, they just decided altogether that he didn't exist at all. He was quite overjoyed as that meant no more taxes.
- Toothy Bird: Howard is sometimes drawn with teeth.
- Unexpected Character: Of the highest degree in Guardians of the Galaxy, and even the franchise altogether.
- Unfazed Everyman: Beverly pretty much fills this role, if you consider that her friends includes a sleepwalking painter with a vigilante alter-ego, a psychic with a speech impediment and, of course... Howard.
- Yandere: Bong for Beverly.