Sure, some of our childhood favorites have fallen into obscurity over the years, but some licenses have been reborn, bigger – and better – than ever. Let’s take a look at who’s on top of the Property Ladder.
Talking animals have had a long and storied history in the pages of comic books, but for the most part, they have stayed pretty much separate from the world of super heroes. This particular branch of comicdom has mostly been dominated by licensed books featuring well known animated figures from Disney and Warner Brothers, but in the Seventies and Eighties, a handful of original anthropomorphic animals began to creep their way into the main continuity of both Marvel and DC. One of the first of these characters to make an impact in the Marvel Universe was the wisecracking, cigar-smoking Howard the Duck, created by the legendary Steve Gerber and artist Val Mayerik. First appearing in 1973 as a backup tale in the pages of Adventures in Fear # 19, Howard was first used as a springboard for Gerber and Mayerik to satirize the tropes found in horror comics before being granted his own Marvel series in 1976.
The solo comic, entitled simply Howard The Duck and featuring the tagline “Trapped In a World He Never Made,” portrayed its small feathered protagonist as an embittered extraterrestrial refugee, plucked (no pun intended) from his home planet and brought to Earth. Gerber wrote the majority of the comic’s run, with Gene Colan providing most of the artwork, chronicling the misadventures of Howard and his human friend Beverly Switzer in stories that often poked fun at the social climate of the late 1970’s. The popularity of the series briefly made Howard a bit of a cult figure of the era, resulting in him receiving a great number of write-in votes during the 1976 Presidential Election in conjunction with a story running in the comic in which Howard runs for President as a third-party candidate. Near the end of the book’s run in 1979, Steve Gerber was forced off his writing duties after squabbling with Marvel over the rights to his character, which led him to create a parody character at another company, Destroyer Duck, drawn by none other than Jack Kirby, with the proceeds of the book going toward his legal fees in the lawsuit he eventually filed towards Marvel over how he was treated. With his primary creator gone and his book cancelled, Howard continued to appear in guest-spots in Marvel books for the next thirty years, with Gerber eventually making nice with Marvel to write a truly bizarre Howard The Duck miniseries for their adults-only MAX imprint in 2001.
In addition to his appearances in Marvel Comics, Howard is perhaps best known for the George Lucas-produced 1986 film adaptation Howard The Duck, one of the biggest box office bombs of the Eighties. The critically reviled film jettisoned all the smarmy satire of Gerber’s comic in favor of corny puns, inane sight gags, and a semi-love scene between Howard and Beverly (played here by Lea Thompson) that was beyond off-putting. Despite all of its problems, the movie does contain a fair amount of charm and is watchable enough to earn it some “so bad, it’s good” points. While it’s nowhere near as adored as the comic, the Howard The Duck movie does enjoy a small cult following among children of the Eighties and fans of weird cinematic flops in general.
As we all know by now, Howard returned to the big screen in a brief but memorable cameo in the post-credits stinger at the end of James Gunn’s Guardians Of The Galaxy (which incidentally was released on August 1st, the same day that the Howard The Duck movie was released 27 years prior.) Was this simply the director’s sly reference to that infamous earlier film or an indication of future appearances to come within the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Many Marvel fans, myself included, would love for Gunn to give us a new Howard The Duck film that would be more faithful to the comic, since he shares Gerber’s penchant for subversive humor, but as of now, both he and Marvel have remained tight-lipped about any future big-screen appearances. The scene has resulted in a slight resurgence of interest in the character, as Marvel recently announced that they will soon be releasing a hardcover Omnibus edition of the comic, so there’s always hope that Howard will show up somewhere down the line in one of the many phases of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.