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Comic Book / Howard the Duck

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Modern Howard

Trapped in a world he never made!
— Original Tagline

Trapped in a world he's grown accustomed to.

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 readers' 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" (as Howard always refers to 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 Switzler.

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 even got a new ongoing series —his first since The '80s— 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's Lobo 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.

In 2019, it was announced that an adult-oriented Howard the Duck animated series would be airing on Hulu, as part of their nascent The Offenders franchise, alongside shows based on M.O.D.O.K., Dazzler & Tigra, and Hit-Monkey. However, due to Marvel Television getting shut down and absorbed into Marvel Studios, everything sans M.O.D.O.K. (2021) and Hit-Monkey got canned.

Howard the Duck provides examples of:

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    Steve Gerber's Howard the Duck 
  • Actually a Doombot: Gerber managed a pre-emptive example: According to his super-secret Howard and Spider-Man/Destroyer Duck and Savage Dragon crossover (in which both sets of characters raided the same warehouse in different books), the real Howard actually ended up in the Image Universe under the name Leonard (although officially Leonard the Duck was an entirely creator-owned character) while the Howard left in the Marvel Universe for other writers to use was just a clone.
  • Alliterative Name: Winda Wester.
  • Arch-Enemy: Dr. Bong.
  • Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy: The egotistical and Hair-Trigger Temper-afflicted Count Macho.
  • 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.
    • The last issue of the MAX series mainly amounted to being a rant on the negative aspects of religion.
  • Beautiful All Along: Winda Wester, whose beauty makes a stark contrast to her speech impediment and general weirdness.
  • Beware the Silly Ones: Dr. Bong, who, despite his goofy conception, was the most dangerous foe that Howard ever faced.
  • Brawn Hilda: Tillie the Hun is a muscular and super strong woman who serves as The Brute of the Band of the Bland.
  • Cleveland: Where most of the original series took place.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Most of the villains appear to be this, particularly the Kidney Lady.
  • Crime Fighting With Cash: Deconstructed in the Iris Raritan arc. Iris decides to try to become a vigilante because rich people always seem to be able to do it with ease, but she's so incompetent that even usual Marvel loser villains the Circus of Crime end up being a serious threat to her, and the resulting debacle leads to Paul being shot and Winda getting severely beaten and possibly raped.
  • 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 Daimon 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.
  • Death of a Child: The little girl who created a gingerbread monster in Vol. 1 #6 ended up getting killed.
  • Elmuh Fudd Syndwome: Winda Wester. Weally cute, though.
  • Expy: Dr. Bong is clearly a parody of Doctor Doom, while borrowing a few traces from Dr. Moreau with his experiments regarding metamorphosis on animals.
    • Dr. Bong (real name Lester Verde) is also a Take That! to Bob Greene, who'd written a column criticizing Marvel's special KISS issue, which Gerber wrote.
    • The MAX series introduced the Interminable, a clear parody of the Endless who speak with the same speech bubbles as their originals and have similar, but parodic designs.
      Snoozy: We are seven beings who aren't gods. Who existed before humanity dreamed of gods and will exist in a never-ending procession of mini-series after the last god is dead and the final comics shop has turned to dust.
      • Dream is Snoozy, who wears a pajamas and carries a teddy bear.
      • Desire is Horny, who is dressed in a red Stripperific outfit.
      • Destiny is Dicey, who is centered around gambling, wears a pair of fuzzy dice around his neck and instead of his book of destiny carries one called Secrets of Winning Black Jack.
      • Delirium is Ditzy, who looks mostly similar to her original counterpart.
      • Death is Mournful, who wears a Hannibal Lecter mask, a female sign as a necklace instead of a cross and is Ax-Crazy.
      • Despair is Mopey, who is taller than the others and fatter than Despair was in the comic.
      • Destruction isn't parodied, but is instead Doc, who embodies hard drugs and says he is the reason the others exist.
  • Fictional Political Party: Howard ran for President in 1976 for the All Night Party.
  • Frankenstein's Monster: Created in one issue by a little girl Mad Scientist. Oh yes, and it's made of gingerbread.
  • Gender-Blender Name: Beverly's uncle, who she was named after. He got around it by going by "Lee".
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: Steve Gerber included a sentient space turnip named Phelch in the second issues of the original run; felching is the practice of using a straw to retrieve one's own sperm from a partner's orifice. As such, Phelch's name violates both the profanity clause and the ban on "sex perversion or inference to same" in the 1971 revision of the Comics Code.
  • 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.
  • 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: Dr. Reich
  • "How I Wrote This Article" Article: An entire issue is about author Steve Gerber's writer's block. So it's essentially a comic issue that illustrates how the creator is lacking ideas for a comic issue.
  • 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.
  • Killed Off for Real: Nearly every antagonist aside from Dr. Bong and the Kidney Lady ended up getting killed off and never came back.
  • 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,
  • 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!.
  • Postmodernism: 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.
  • Take That!:
    • Steve Gerber wasn't afraid to use ol' Howard as a mouthpiece.
    • "Count Macho" is an extremely hostile parody of the real-world martial arts charlatan and frequent comic-book advertiser Count Dante.
    • 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!
    • The MAX series contains some digs toward Disney and their threats of legal action over Howard resembling Donald Duck.
      • The 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 sixth issue has God tell Howard that if he stayed on Duckworld, he'd be stuck doing demeaning tasks for his billionaire uncle, being nagged by an unappreciative girlfriend, and having to look after his sister's sons.
    • The sixth issue of the short-lived B&W illustrated magazine version of Howard the Duck, which came out after legal action from Disney forced Howard to don pants, features a parody of Scrooge McDuck named Scrounge McDrake, who got his first dime from killing someone rather than an honest living as a shoeshine and in general was very corrupt.
  • Ultimate Universe: In the MAX series, God suggests Howard could be reborn as "Ultimate Howard the Duck."
  • Unexplained Recovery: Dr. Bong's French duck maid Fifi was apparently killed in the 19th issue of the original series, but turned up alive and well in the fifth issue of The Sensational She-Hulk, where she assisted Dr. Bong in his plan to "improve" television by making it more realistic and accurate to reality.
  • Yandere: Bong for Beverly. He just can't accept that Beverly doesn't love him and is willing to kill her if she continues refusing him.

    Bill Mantlo and Gene Colan's Howard the Duck 
  • Sexy Discretion Shot: The last story in the first issue ended with Howard shutting off the lamp before getting into bed with a naked Beverly. The very next panel shows the aftermath of their lovemaking.

    Chip Zdarsky and Joe Quinones' Howard the Duck 
  • Author Avatar: Chipp, a "Sparkitect" tasked by an organization of purple-skinned Author Avatars tasked with making the Marvel Universe interesting one character at a time through the use of cosmic powers in what's blatantly an allegory for Marvel Comics.
  • Alliterative Name: Tara Tam.
  • Big Applesauce: This run had him move to New York City. He sub-lets office space from Jennifer Walters (better known as She-Hulk).
  • Butt-Monkey: Spider-Man goes through a series of Heroic BSODs thanks to Howard that culminates in Vol. 5 #5 with Howard "saving" him by pulling his foot out of a tiny amount of rubble. Spidey is so distraught over "owing Howard one" that the end of the issue has him hugging Johnny Storm for emotional support.
  • Captain Ersatz: Biggs the cyborg cat is a blatant take-off of "2," the cat from WE 3.
  • Celebrity Paradox: As if the franchise didn't have enough Postmodernism, Vol. 6 features Lea Thompson hiring Howard. While the 1986 movie doesn't exist, it's revealed there were moments where X-Men villain Mojo kidnapped Thompson and had her play Bev against someone in a Howard costume, to fill in the gaps where Howard had no adventures (i.e. when he did not have a dedicated title) and "[his] life was the equivalent of a post-credits cameo".
  • Clue from Ed.: Parodied with repeated mentions of comics that were never made.
  • The Friend Nobody Likes: Howard is widely known in the superhero community, but he's not particularly liked. She-Hulk is practically a Sitcom Arch-Nemesis. The only known exceptions are Beverly Switzer, Aunt May, Tara Tam, Doctor Strange and Rocket Raccoon.
  • No-Respect Guy: Invoked for laughs (and to keep him a 'joke character' within the Marvel Universe). Even Nice Guy Spider-Man has urged Howard to 'lose my number!' when he crosses paths with him. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl for the first time, she looks him up in her set of 'Deadpool's Guide to Super-Villains' trading cards, only to discover that the usually reliable (...sorta) author just didn't care.
    Howard the Duck: (completely inaccurate picture) Look at this guy! I guess he's a weird... duck... man? [...] Anyway I'm pretty sure his powers include a) talking to ducks b)controlling ducks c) teaming up with 100 regular-sized ducks to form one giant duck - That's all I know (and all I care to know) about this guy, so here's a joke to fill up the rest of this card...
    • Played with in his S.H.I.E.L.D. (2014) appearance (from about a year before this run); S.H.I.E.L.D. actually do respect Howard, but they also know he's at his best when he feels hard-done-by, so they don't act as if they do.
  • Opposite-Sex Clone: In Volume 6, it's revealed that the Collector created one called Linda the Duck, and also Shocket Raccoon.
  • Postmodernism: As detailed under Celebrity Paradox, Vol. 6 culminated in Howard discovering Mojo was transmitting his adventures to the multiverse. And then he hired someone to put him in some outrageous stories...two purple aliens with Author Powers named Chipp and Jho (who work next to Ta-Nehi-C, Ry-N and Air-Icka).
  • Rage Against the Author: The 2015-16 run culminates in Howard fighting Chipp and Jho and complaining about how they make his life difficult.
  • Recursive Canon: As per the Celebrity Paradox entry above, the 2016 series revealed that Mojo had made knockoff Howard adventures starring a brainwashed Lea Thompson and an alien actor in a duck suit. Mojo's fake Howard was, of course, a dead ringer for the star of the 1986 movie.
  • Self-Deprecation: Played for Drama. In Vol. 6, Howard is assaulted by "Chipp", an alien version of author Chip Zdarsky, who informs Howard that members of Chipp's species have been fucking with Howard since Howard arrived on Earth to create interesting stories. Howard quips that Chipp's predecessor (implicitly alien!Steve Gerber) made Howard's life way more interesting than Chipp ever did, and Chipp, in a fit of rage, murders him.
  • Shout-Out:
    • In The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl crossover of the 2015-6 series, the villainous Mrs. Sugarbaker calls Kraven a "commie traitor".
    • In the finale of the 2015-2016 series, Tara transforms into an Eva, Jun the Swan and Judge Dredd during the final battle, quipping "Tara is the law" while dressed as the last one.
    • In the same issue, Johnny Storm does the Lin Beifong pose.
    • On one occasion Howard is accosted by a bigot at a gas station who bares an uncanny resemblence to Soos from Gravity Falls.
  • Stealth Pun: This picture has Guardians of the Galaxy selfie with duckface. Also, notice Drax in the background.
  • Take That!:
    • The first issue of the 2015 series has Howard mention a band called Quacking Pumpkins and describe them as being "horrible" and "the worst".
    • In the first issue of the 2016 series, Howard fails to use the Abundant Glove to return home. To make sure whether he's still in the current dimension and not a similar one, he asks who the President is. Tara Tam answers that Donald Trump is the current President and then explains that she was only kidding, remarking "God, could you imagine that universe?"
  • Voluntary Shapeshifting: Tara Tam gained Skrull shapeshifting powers after eating the meat of a Skrull that had been turned into a duck.
  • Went to the Great X in the Sky: In the back-up story of the third issue of the 2015 series, Howard informs a Wolverine impersonator that the real Wolverine has gone to the big Canada in the sky.