Howard the Duck might have made his triumphant return to the big screen this summer thanks to Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy,” but the inter-dimensional mallard is no stranger to fame. In addition to being one of the most beloved characters created by Steve Gerber, Howard starred in his own comic book, film, newspaper strip and much more.
Gerber himself felt a strong connection to the character, a sentiment he documented in the introduction to the HOWARD THE DUCK OMNIBUS, which he penned a month before passing away.
“He was my voice--my alter ego,” Gerber wrote on January 16, 2008. “He was the conduit for my political views, my wacky sociological theories, my outrage at society’s ills, and my all-too-frequent confusion about the intricacies of personal relationships.”
These elements not only appealed to Gerber, but also the legions of fans and readers who felt such a strong connection to Howard that they made him a wildly successful comic book character and even wrote him in as a candidate in the 1976 presidential election.
This two-part look at Howard’s history in the 70’s and 80’s will chronicle Marvel’s favorite fowl from his comic roots on through his cinematic debut with a few looks at what he's been up to since.
THE MAN-THING CONNECTION
Howard first appeared in the pages of 1973’s ADVENTURES INTO FEAR #19 thanks to writer Gerber and artist Val Mayerik. The book, which began life as a horror and sci-fi reprint series, became the home of Man-Thing with #10, but the swamp-dweller exited with #19 to move into MAN-THING #1 the next month. Howard joined him on the ride.
In those fateful issues, readers met a cigar-chomping anthropomorphic talking duck who strolled out of Man-Thing’s swamp to introduce himself to a fellow inter-dimensional traveler by the name of Korrek; this unconventional trio teleported to a mystic dimension with Dakimh the Enchanter. While on their way to the Congress of Realities, Howard unfortunately tumbled off a floating step and fell into the ether. He didn’t surface again until 1975’s GIANT SIZE MAN-THING #4 when he landed in Cleveland.
Mere moments after touching down, our feathered hero befriended a pair of kids who he later protected from the menace of Garko, the Man-Frog. It would be the first of many offbeat enemies joining Howard’s rogues gallery. Speaking of which, Howard saved the Ohio city again in GIANT-SIZED MAN-THING #5, this time from the menace of the vampiric Hellcow.
THE ORIGINAL SERIES
HOWARD THE DUCK #1 launched in 1976 and ran for 33 issues and an Annual until the book’s 1979 conclusion. For most of the run, Steve Gerber steered the ship, though he left after #29 over creative differences. Along for the ride were a series of stellar artists like Gene Colan, Frank Brunner and even Mayerik who popped back in on a few occasions.
The first issue found a dejected Howard looking to end it all by leaping from a huge tower that happened to house his soon-to-be best friend and roommate Beverly Switzler as well as the evil financial wizard Pro-Rata. Luckily for everyone, Spider-Man showed up to save their feathered and non-feathered butts.
From there, Howard tangled with the likes of The Deadly Space Turnip, Doctor Bong, Count Macho, Le Beaver and even the Circus of Crime. With each issue, Gerber crafted a deft social satire or parody of existing pop culture all the while keeping Howard the same old cantankerous, yet heroic fowl.
As Gerber wrote in the OMNIBUS introduction, “Howard railed against kung-fu films at the height of their popularity. Howard made merciless fun of bogus cult leaders and their doe-eyed followers. Howard ridiculed the bodice-ripping romance novel fan when publishers everywhere were attempting to imitate it. In America’s Bicentennial Year, Howard took the political parties, their cookie-cutter candidates, the media, and willfully ignorant voters to task for the way our leaders were chosen.”
Not technically being a citizen of the United State didn’t stop Howard from finding his way onto the presidential ballot in 1976. The storyline kicked off in HOWARDTHE DUCK #7 which featured a party called Get Down America encouraging and backing our hero’s bid for the White House. Before that, in the pages of the previous issue, a bulletin ran with information on how to order an actual button with “Get Down America!” and “Vote Howard The Duck In ‘76” emblazoned on the front.
When asked by Gerber why he wanted to become President in the pages of the MARVEL TREASURY EDITION #12, Howard answered simply and honestly: “All the standard reasons. Your power. Your fame. Your niche in history. But mostly it’s the salary. See, I'm currently unemployed, and 200 grand a year would fill the void nicely. Especially with four years’ free rent tossed in to sweeten the deal.”
Rumor has it that the gag didn’t just take place in the pages of the comics, though, but in the real world as well. While the actual numbers have never been officially released, it is believed that Howard received a number of write-in votes that year in the election between Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford. Carter, of course, won the election. You can bet Howard never made a concession speech.
Back in the pages of the comic book, fiction mirrored reality as Howard lost the election. In addition to a number of assassination attempts, a “Daily Bugle” cover story featuring a picture of Howard and Bev in a bubbly bathtub together under the headline “Scandal Plucks Duck” put several nails in his political coffin. With presidential aspirations behind him, Howard had time to focus on more important things.
One major focus for Howard became the daily newspaper comic strip that ran for over a year between June 1977 and October 1978. Steve Gerber kicked the series off along with artist Gene Colan, but the latter eventually left the project with Val Mayerik filling in. Before long Gerber and Mayerik both stopped working on the strip, replaced by Marv Wolfman and Alan Kupperberg who would both go on to write their own Howard comic stories in HOWARD THE DUCK #28 and MARVEL TEAM-UP #96 respectively. Unfortunately, the strip proved nowhere near as popular as the comic and soon went the way of the dodo.
After Howard's first and longest running comic series came to a conclusion in 1979, he moved over to the pages of HOWARD THE DUCK MAGAZINE, a black and white offering that ran for nine issues from 1979 to 1981. All of the adventures found in these issues were penned by Bill Mantlo with artwork by the likes of Michael Golden, Gene Colan, John Buscema, Klaus Janson and Marshall Rogers. Much like the monthly series before it, the stories within took shots at everything from hardboiled detective stories and Christmas tales to Dracula and voodoo thrillers. Howard even got to return home to his planet in issue #6.
For more Howard the Duck history come back later this week to read about his entries into the world of film, video games and more! And for more on the 75th anniversary of Marvel, visit marvel.com/75