Odds are you've heard of Howard the Duck before, either from his 1986 feature film debut or his recent cameo in "Guardians of the Galaxy" last year. But despite his unusual appearance and unsavory reputation, there's a lot more to Marvel's most misunderstood mallard than you probably think.
In honor of his newest series by Chip Zdarsky and Joe Quinones -- the first issue of which flaps its way out of comic book stores today -- we're here to fill you in on the character's rich and colorful history.
Howard was the first Marvel-created character to get his own feature film.Lucasfilm
Okay, so if we're going to get super technical, Howard isn't actually the first Marvel character ever in a full-length movie; that honor belongs to Conan the Barbarian, who also had a bestselling comic book series by Marvel when his 1982 film was released. However, no one at Marvel actually created Conan -- their version was inspired by the pulp fiction character invented by Robert E. Howard in the mid 1930s, which also inspired the movies.
Howard the Duck, however, was a completely original creation by Steve Gerber for Marvel, who first introduced him as a throwaway gag in an issue of "Adventure Into Fear with Man-Thing." The duck became so popular with fans that he was spun off into his own comic series soon after, and then got a theatrical release in 1986.
Howard wears pants because of a legal dispute with Disney.Marvel/Disney
Howard the Duck is a foul-mouthed, rude, ill-tempered duck in a satirical film-noir setting, but he is still a duck -- who, for a while, didn't wear pants. So of course Disney objected on the grounds that Howard looked very similar to their cash cow, Donald Duck, and almost sued Marvel before giving them a chance to redesign the character. Not only does he get to wear slacks now, but his forehead and beak are generally shaped differently then they were when the character first broke out in 1976.
The "Howard The Duck" movie is the only reason Pixar Studios exists.Marvel
The 1986 film was George Lucas' first commercial flop and couldn't even make back its $37 million budget -- $5 million more than it cost to make "Return of the Jedi," by the way. Lucas was already in debt at the time, having just spent all of his money on Skywalker Ranch, and had to sell off some of his assets to stay solvent. One of those assets? His newly launched computer animation studio, which he sold to Steve Jobs at Apple and which eventually became Pixar Studios.
Howard was most recently played by a Robot Chicken.Marvel
Wonder who actually voiced Howard in his "Guardians" cameo? It was Seth Green of "Family Guy" and "Buffy the Vampire" fame, who also writes and stars in "Robot Chicken" for Adult Swim.
Howard only exists in the MCU because of Captain America.Marvel
According to director James Gunn on an episode of Q&A With Jeff Goldsmith, "Guardians of the Galaxy" was originally going to have the cool Quicksilver/Scarlet Witch reveal as its end-credit sequence -- but then "Winter Soldier" stole it from them.
"We were trying to cut footage together that we already had to create an ending," Gunn further explained. "And then Fred Raskin -- our editor -- said, ‘It’s kind of like Benicio looks over at this box for a minute. We could probably cut something into that.’ And that’s when we came up…and I honestly can’t remember if it was me or Fred…when we came up with putting Howard the Duck in the box."
Somewhere in the Marvel Universe there are duck versions of all your favorite superheroes.Marvel
After Gerber left Marvel, Howard's origin story was retconned so that he hailed from a place called Duckworld, where the primary form of intelligent life evolved from ducks rather than apes. You might remember this from the movie as well.
Gerber hated Duckworld, particularly for its ridiculous duck-pun names -- like Truman Capoultry, for example -- and tried to kill off the entire parallel planet once in 1985 after settling with the comic book company over his character (more on that later). Marvel's editor at the time objected to aspects of his intended script, which was then pulled... although you can read all of it on Gerber's website, if you're interested.
In the meantime, Marvel's gone back to Duckworld here and there when they want to get really weird. As of now we only have a few confirmed duck heroes like Ducktor Strange and Deadpool the Duck (above), but c'mon, with "Secret Wars" coming? It's only a matter of time before we get an all-duck Avengers team or something.
Howard the Duck ran for president in 1976.Marvel
In one storyline during his first comic run, Howard travels to New York City with his girlfriend Beverly (played by Lea Thompson in the movie) where he is nominated as the All-Night Party's candidate for President of the United States. He lost, but Marvel sold real campaign buttons that you could order, and it was rumored that he even received a few write-in ballots in the real election, though that's probably just a myth.
There was also a "Howard the Duck" video game.Activision
It was called "Howard the Duck: Adventure to Volcano Island," it was produced by Activision in 1986 for the Commodore 64 system to tie into the film's release, and it was pretty weird.
The Howard that Marvel owns the rights to publish is actually a clone of the original. Maybe.
When Gerber was fired from the Howard the Duck book, he sued to regain the rights to his character back from Marvel in what became one of the most infamous comic copyright battles of all time. It was eventually settled out of court, but Gerber had one final trick up his sleeve -- near the end of the Spider-Man clone saga, he wrote a team up issue where Peter Parker joined the gang, and also managed to cross it over with another team-up he was writing, Savage Dragon/Destroyer Duck (the latter was a parody he'd written with Jack Kirby to pay his legal fees).
In the story, both teams are part of a giant battle taking place across Cleveland, with Spider-Man and Howard on one side, and the Savage Dragon and Destroyer Duck on another. In the issue of "Savage Dragon/Destroyer Duck," however, it's revealed that the two heroes swapped out Howard and Beverly for clones of themselves, and that the "real" characters are now living under assumed identities in Buffalo, New York. So basically, Gerber stole his characters back out from under Marvel's thumb -- in spirit only, of course, but it's clever all the same.
Expect to see a lot of other Marvel heroes in Howard's latest comic book.Marvel
"My assumption is that Marvel will come to their senses and fire me by issue three," Chip Zdarsky told Comicosity in a recent interview. "So I’m putting in all the characters that I’ve wanted to write since I was a kid. Spider-Man shows up in issue one so I can at least have 'wrote some Spider-Man dialogue' on my tombstone. Also, Spidey helped Howard kick off his original series! I’m a sucker for stuff like that."
Fans of the "Guardians of the Galaxy" will really dig the second issue, too.Marvel
The first arc of Zdarsky and Quinones' new series involves Howard getting captured by The Collector, which is the character Benecio Del Toro plays in the "Guardians of the Galaxy" movie. The Marvel Cinematic Universe and the regular Marvel Universe are two different continuities (for now, anyway!), but if you liked Howard's cameo at the end of the film, this storyline will be a good place for new comic readers to jump in!