Howard the Duck

From Academic Kids

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Howard_The_Duck_-8.jpg
Howard the Duck #8 (January 1977), art by Gene Colan

Howard the Duck is a comic book fictional character created by Steve Gerber for Marvel Comics and featured in several comic book series of the same name. Howard's adventures are generally parodies of science fiction and fantasy—usually set in mundane surroundings such as Cleveland—written in a tongue-in-cheek style and combined with a degree of metafictional awareness of the limitations of the medium, often very experimental for a non-underground comic.

There was a film adaptation with the same title in 1986.

Contents

Publication history

Howard the Duck was created in 1973 by Gerber (with artist Val Mayerik designing Howard's original look) in the comic book Adventure into Fear, as a secondary character in that comic's "Man-Thing" story. In his appearances with Man-Thing, Howard confronted bizarre horror-parody characters such as the Hellcow and the Man-Frog.

He acquired 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, 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 (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 created by Gerber and Colan, later written by Marv Wolfman and drawn by Alan Kupperberg.

Due to Howard the Duck being one of Marvel's few non-superhero titles, and Gerber's status as one of Marvel's better-known and most unusual writers from his earlier work on Man-Thing and The Defenders, Gerber gained a degree of creative autonomy that was unusual for mass-market comics writers of the time, and the stories became increasingly dark and experimental. At one point, unable to meet deadline for his regular script, Gerber substituted an entire issue of text pieces and illustrations satirizing his own difficulties as a writer.

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 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 (Kirby himself helped pave the way for creator-owned comics with his series Captain Victory) and Stewart the Rat with Gene Colan.

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), but fans of the original series did not respond well to the loss of Gerber. Marvel then re-launched Howard the Duck in 1979 as a bimonthly magazine—an unusual format for mass-market comics at the time—with scripts by Mantlo, art by Colan, and unrelated backup features by others; this series was cancelled after nine issues. Issue #32, written by Steven Grant, appeared in early 1986; #33, by Christopher Stager, some nine months later, along with a three-issue adaptation of the movie.

Howard the Duck #1-27 and other Gerber-written Howard the Duck stories have been reprinted by Marvel in a paperback collection, The Essential Howard the Duck (ISBN 0785108319).

In 2001, with Marvel under new management and launching its MAX imprint of "mature readers" comics, Gerber returned to his former publisher to write a six-issue Howard the Duck miniseries, illustrated by Phil Winslade. Featuring several familiar Howard the Duck characters and, like the original series, parodying 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 was generally well reviewed.

Characters

Howard, as his name suggests, is a three-foot-tall anthropomorphic humanoid duck from another dimension (populated by his own kind) who finds himself on Earth due to a shift in "the Cosmic Axis". He wears a tie and shirt, and is almost always found smoking a cigar. It is implied (through taglines and various references) that, in his own dimension, Howard had been a scholar - the writers, at various times, reference Hegel, the Bronte sisters, and other figures of philosophical and political significance. In a parody of the Marvel comic character Shang-Chi, he was trained in the art of Quak-Fu. Originally, like many cartoon ducks, he wore no pants; after Disney threatened legal action due to Howard's resemblance to Donald Duck, Marvel redesigned the character so that Howard now wears pants. Howard was once briefly transformed into a human being, and in the 2001 miniseries, as a mocking response to Disney's complaints, he turned into various animals including (ironically) a mouse.

Howard has an irritable and cynical attitude to the often bizarre events around him; there is nothing special about him except that he is a duck, and he has no goals but comfort and to be left alone, but he is often dragged into dangerous adventures simply because he is visibly unusual. His series' tagline, "Trapped in a world he never made," played off the genre trappings of 1950s science fiction, but also reflected the sense of alienation that Howard shared with the majority of his readers.

His constant companion is former art model and Cleveland native Beverly Switzler. Like Howard, Beverly wants an ordinary life but is frequently singled out for her appearance, though she is a beautiful woman rather than a duck. Their only other friends are Paul Same (a painter who briefly became a sleepwalking crime-fighter) and Winda Wester (a lisping ingenue with psychic powers).

His antagonists, who usually appeared in only one story each, are often parodies of science fiction, fantasy, and horror characters, and sometimes political figures, but also include ordinary people simply making life difficult for Howard. The chief recurring villain, Doctor Bong—modelled on Doctor Doom, Bob Greene and Lester Bangs—is a former tabloid reporter who has the power to "reorder reality" by smashing himself on his bell-shaped helmet; his main goal is to marry Beverly. After several issues, she agrees to marry him to save Howard from his evil experimentation, and remains married to him for some time.

Other Marvel Comics characters have occasionally appeared, including Spider-Man, Daimon Hellstrom, and the Ringmaster.

Other Media

In 1986, Lucasfilm and Universal Pictures produced the movie Howard the Duck, starring Lea Thompson, Jeffrey Jones, and Tim Robbins. In the film, Howard was brought to Cleveland by a laser experiment gone awry, which also summoned an evil alien spirit intent on destroying the Earth; besides Howard (who was portrayed by an assortment of stunt actors in a duck suit), the only character borrowed from the comic book was Beverly Switzler, though in this version she became a rock singer. It was widely panned and was a box office bomb, but it renewed enough attention on the character for Marvel Comics to keep using the character on occasion. It is considered by many as one of the top 100 worst films ever made.

Howard the Duck was seen on Beast's shirt on the animated series of X-men the Phoenix saga part 2.

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