Howard the Duck

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Howard the Duck is a comic book character in the Marvel Comics universe created by writer Steve Gerber and artist Val Mayerik. The character first appeared in Adventure into Fear #19 (Dec. 1973) and several subsequent series have chronicled the misadventures of the ill-tempered, anthropomorphic, "funny animal" trapped on human-dominated Earth. Howard's adventures are generally social satires, and also often parodies of genre fiction with a metafictional awareness of the medium.

Publication history

Howard the Duck was created in 1973 by Steve Gerber and Val Mayerik in Adventure into Fear as a secondary character in that comic's Man-Thing feature. He graduated to his own backup feature in Giant-Size Man-Thing, confronting such bizarre horror-parody characters as the Hellcow and the Man-Frog, before acquiring his own comic book title with Howard the Duck #1 in 1976.

Gerber wrote 27 issues of the series, illustrated by a variety of artists, beginning with Frank Brunner, who left because he considered Howard a cartoon in the real world, which Gerber did not, with Gene Colan eventually becoming the regular penciller. The series gradually developed a substantial cult following, possibly amplified by Howard's entry into the 1976 U.S. presidential campaign under the auspices of the All-Night Party (an event later immortalized in a brief reference in Stephen King's The Tommyknockers). Marvel attempted a spin-off with a short-lived Howard the Duck newspaper strip from 1977 to 1978, at first written by Gerber and drawn by Colan and Mayerik, later written by Marv Wolfman and drawn by Alan Kupperberg.

Gerber gained a degree of creative autonomy when he became Howard the Duck's editor in addition to his writing duties (as evidenced by the credits on later issues), which was unusual for mass-market comics writers of the time, and the stories became increasingly experimental. At one point, unable to meet the deadline for his regular script, Gerber substituted an entire issue of text pieces and illustrations satirizing his own difficulties as a writer. One of those illustrated text pieces inspired Gerber's Vertigo series Nevada.

In 1978, the writer and publisher clashed over issues of creative control, and Gerber was abruptly removed from the series. This was the first highly publicized creator's rights case in American comics, and attracted support from major industry figures, some of whom created homage/parody stories with Gerber to dramatize the case; these included Destroyer Duck with Jack Kirby.

Disney also threatened to sue Marvel for infringing Donald Duck's copyright and enforced a different design, including the use of pants (as seen in the movie and some later comics).

The series continued for four more issues with stories by Marv Wolfman, Mary Skrenes, Mark Evanier, and Bill Mantlo. Gerber returned briefly to write, though not plot, #29 as part of a contract fulfillment.

Issue #31, dated May 1979, announced on its letters page that it would be the final issue of Howard the Duck as a color comic. Marvel then relaunched the series that year as a bimonthly magazine, with scripts by Mantlo, art by Colan and Michael Golden and unrelated backup features by others; this series was canceled after nine issues. Articles in these issues claimed that Howard was Mayerik's idea, though this is contrary to statements by both Gerber and Mayerik. The first story of issue #9, written by Bill Mantlo, had Howard walk away from Beverly. Steven Grant followed this with a story in Bizarre Adventures #34, in which the suicidal Howard is put through a parody of It's a Wonderful Life.

The original comic book series reappeared in early 1986 with issue #32, written by Grant. Issue #33, a parody of Bride of Frankenstein, written by Christopher Stager, appeared nine months later, along with a three-issue adaptation of the movie.

In a story rejected by Jim Shooter, Marvel's then-editor-in-chief, Gerber explained that a Krylorian Cyndi Lauper named Chirreep had made up the events in the Mantlo stories much like the events in The Rampaging Hulk magazine were considered made up by Bereet, though those stories, as originally conceived, were intended to fill in material left by the publication gap between Incredible Hulk #6 and the Hulk's appearances in Tales to Astonish. Shooter considered this an insult to Mantlo (as well as to himself, as the story lampooned Shooter's Secret Wars), not regarding the insult Mantlo's stories may have been to Gerber, and Gerber's story was never illustrated. He also identified Howard's parents as Dave and Dotty, names that differ from the Mantlo and later DeMatteis stories, in which his parents are named Ronald and Henrietta.[2]

Gerber brought back Howard in The Sensational She-Hulk #14-17, again living with Beverly, now working as a rent-a-ninja. How they got back together is never explained, and Beverly is not involved as She-Hulk takes Howard on a trip through several dimensions with a theoretical physicist from Empire State University.

Gerber returned to Howard with Spider-Man Team-Up #5, around the same time he was writing a "Savage Dragon/Destroyer Duck" crossover for Image. He had the idea to create an unofficial crossover between the two issues, where the characters would meet momentarily in the shadows, but which would not affect either story. Soon after, Gerber discovered that Howard was also scheduled to appear in Ghost Rider vol. 2, #81 (Jan. 1997) alongside Devil Dinosaur and Moon Boy, and issues of Generation X leading up to issue #25 and the Daydreamers miniseries by J.M. DeMatteis. Gerber was not pleased with this development, and decided to change the “unofficial crossover” somewhat.

In the Spider-Man comic, Spider-Man and Howard meet two shadowy figures (presumed to be Savage Dragon and Destroyer Duck) in a darkened warehouse, then leave shortly afterwards. But in the Savage Dragon comic, a villain creates hundreds of clones of Howard during a fierce battle. As Savage Dragon and Destroyer Duck escape the warehouse with a character hidden in a bag, they reveal that they rescued the “real” Howard, while Spider-Man left with one of the clones. Howard has his feathers dyed green, and is renamed “Leonard the Duck,” which is now a character owned by Gerber, who went on to appear in Image Comics and Vertigo comics. Gerber considers this the real Howard, and Marvel's Howard an empty shell.

In 2001, when Marvel launched its MAX imprint of "mature readers" comics, Gerber returned to write the six-issue Howard the Duck miniseries, illustrated by Phil Winslade and Glenn Fabry. Featuring several familiar Howard the Duck characters, the series, like the original one, parodied a wide range of other comics and pop culture figures, but with considerably stronger language and sexual content than would have been allowable 25 years earlier. The series has Doctor Bong causing Howard to go through multiple changes of form, principally into a rat (possibly as a parody of Mickey Mouse, in retaliation for the earlier lawsuit), and entering a chain of events parodying comics such as Witchblade, Preacher and several others.

Howard had cameo appearances in She-Hulk vol. 1, #3 (February 2005) and vol. 2, #3/100 (February 2006, the 100th issue of all the various She-Hulk series). He returned in a series by writer Ty Templeton and artist Juan Bobillo in 2007. This series is rated for all ages, though it has also been published with a Marvel Zombies tie-in cover with a parental advisory claim.

The Movie

In 1986, Lucasfilm and Universal Pictures produced the movie Howard the Duck, starring Lea Thompson, Jeffrey Jones, Tim Robbins, and, as the voice of Howard, Chip Zien. Besides Howard (who was portrayed by an assortment of stunt actors in a duck suit) the only character borrowed from the Marvel Comics mythos was Beverly Switzler, though in this version she was a rock singer. In the film, Howard is brought to Cleveland by a laser experiment gone awry, which also summoned an evil alien called the Dark Overlord of the Universe who was intent on destroying the Earth. The film was widely panned and was a box office bomb, but still has its own appreciative cult, which was strong enough to see a 2007 DVD release in Europe.

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