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The Saturday Comics: Howard the Duck

18 Jun

June 18, 2011

If Mr. Blog’s Tepid Ride has an underlying theme or philosophy, it is that “life’s most serious moments and most incredibly dumb moments are often distinguishable only by a momentary point of view.” I’d love to boldly lie and take credit for that but I can’t, it was said by Steve Gerber, the late creator of Howard the Duck.

The blog actually does have a tagline, “an absurd look at the absurdities of this absurd world” and if you want to know what Howard the Duck would think of that, check out his first appearance from 1973’s Adventure into Fear #19. (Yes, he actually debuted in a melodramatically titled horror comic.)

He then moved to the comic whose title has launched a million lousy jokes, Giant-Size Man-Thing, and then, mercifully, to his own title in 1976.

However, outside of the comics world, and very often inside, Howard the Duck is better known for the atrocious 1986 film starring Lea Thompson. It was a Lucasfilm production and I’d say George Lucas should be ashamed of himself, but he went on to make The Phantom Menace so it is quite clear that the man has no shame.

For those of you who don’t know Howard, here is a brief wiki-duction:

Howard the Duck, as his name suggests, is a three-foot-tall anthropomorphic duck. He generally wears a tie and shirt, and is almost always found smoking a cigar. Originally, like many cartoon ducks, he wore no pants; Disney threatened legal action due to Howard’s resemblance to Donald Duck, and Marvel redesigned that aspect of the character. [They stuck some pants on him. –ye old editor, Mr. Blog]

Howard has an irritable and cynical attitude to the often bizarre events around him; he feels there is nothing special about him except that he is a duck, and though he has no goals other than seeking comfort and to be left alone, 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. A common reaction to meeting Howard the first time is a startled, “You…you’re a DUCK!”

Howard’s adventures are generally social satires, while a few are parodies of genre fiction with a metafictional awareness of the medium. This is diametrically opposed to screenwriter Gloria Katz, who in adapting the comic to the screen declared, “It’s a film about a duck from outer space… It’s not supposed to be an existential experience”.

There is no relation to Pierre D. Duck.

Howard’s adventures tended to favor the more literate fans:

Seemingly an autodidact, Howard at various times references Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Albert Camus (whose novel The Stranger Gerber considers the principal influence on the series), the Brontë sisters, and other figures of philosophical and political significance.

If you’ll pardon my cynicism, that’s probably why today he is mainly a cult character and not more popular or well-known. Even the newspaper strip lasted only about a year, replaced by the much more popular Incredible Hulk, whose movie franchise is only slightly better than Howard the Duck. The strips below were thankfully not based on the lousy movie but came out almost a decade earlier, based on the comic and it was written by Steve Gerber himself before some disputes (which tended to dog him when it came to Howard the Duck) arose between him and Marvel, and comic veteran and legend Marv Wolfman took over scripting duties.

Rarely seen now, these strips were rarely seen even when in production since the series was picked up by only a handful of newspapers. Enjoy!

by Steve Gerber and co-creator Val Mayerik

by Steve Gerber and the legendary Gene Colan

by Marv Wolfman and Alan Kupperberg

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