Last seen in the Guardians of the Galaxy end credits – Howard now returns to Marvel comics! Howard was created by Steve Gerber and Val Mayerick and he quickly became one of the most subversive characters in comics.
The character first appeared in Adventure into Fear #19 (Dec. 1973) and several subsequent series have chronicled the misadventures of the ill-tempered, anthropomorphic, “funny animal” trapped on human-dominated Earth.
Howard’s new ongoing comic-book series will be written by Chip Zdarsky (Sex Criminals) and Joe Quinones in which the talking duck from another planet sets up shop in the Marvel Universe as a private investigator.
Howard is no stranger to controversy, both as a character and the writer, Steve Gerber, who created him.
Howard’s adventures are generally social satires, while a few are parodies of genre fiction with a metafictional awareness of the medium. The book is existentialist, and its main joke, according to Gerber, is that there is no joke: “that life’s most serious moments and most incredibly dumb moments are often distinguishable only by a momentary point of view.”
Screenwriter Gloria Katz, was diametrically opposed to this view, 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”. Howard was portrayed by Ed Gale and voiced by Chip Zien in the 1986 film Howard the Duck.
Gerber wrote 27 issues of the series (for the most part ditching the horror parodies), illustrated by a variety of artists, beginning with Frank Brunner. For Gerber, Howard was a flesh and blood duck and that, “if Wile E. Coyote gets run over by a steamroller, the result is a pancake-flat coyote who can be expected to snap back to three dimensions within moments; if Howard gets run over by a steamroller, the result is blood on asphalt.” Gene Colan became the regular penciller with issue #4. Gerber later said to Colan: “There really was almost a telepathic connection there. I would see something in my mind, and that is what you would draw! I’ve never had that experience with another artist before or since.”
Sporting the slogan, “Get Down, America!”, the All-Night Party was a fictional political party that appeared in Gerber’s Howard the Duck series during the U.S. Presidential campaign of 1976, and led to Howard the Duck receiving thousands of write-in votes in the actual election. Gerber addressed questions about the campaign in the letters column of the comic book and, as Mad Genius Associates, sold merchandise publicizing the campaign.
Marvel attempted a spin-off with a short-lived Howard the Duck newspaper comic strip from 1977 to 1978, at first written by Gerber and drawn by Colan and Mayerik, later written by Marv Wolfman and drawn by Alan Kupperberg.
Gerber gained a degree of creative autonomy when he became Howard the Duck’s editor in addition to his writing duties. With issue #16, unable to meet the 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 one of the first highly publicized creator’s rights cases in American comics, and attracted support from major industry figures, some of whom created homage/parody stories with Gerber to fund a lawsuit against Marvel; these included Destroyer Duck with Jack Kirby. The lawsuit ended with a confidential settlement between Gerber and Marvel.
Around this time The Walt Disney Company threatened to sue Marvel for infringement of copyright claiming that Howard looked too similar to Donald Duck and enforced a different design, including the use of pants (as seen in the movie and some later comics).
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 as part of a contract fulfillment.
Issue #31, dated May 1979, announced on its letters page that it would be the final issue of Howard the Duck as a colour comic. Marvel then relaunched the series that year as a bimonthly magazine, with scripts by Mantlo, art by Colan and Michael Golden and unrelated backup features by others; this series was cancelled after nine issues.
Articles in these issues claimed that Howard was Mayerik’s idea, though this is contrary to statements by both Gerber and Mayerik. In issue #6, Mantlo introduced the concept of “Duckworld,” which Gerber loathed. It depicted an all-duck parallel earth in which there were equivalents of all famous people, such as “Ducktor Strange” (a parody of Doctor Strange) who later appeared in She-Hulk (vol. 2 #19) and Truman Capoultry (Truman Capote), who narrated the issue. As Gerber told Mediascene, “Howard’s world, which would never be depicted visually, was inhabited by other anthropomorphized animals like himself. Like the cartoon worlds of Disney and Warner Brothers. Unlike the Disney and Warners worlds, however, Howard’s reality was beset with the same plethora of social ills and personal vicissitudes which human beings confront daily. And the same, or similar, laws of nature applied there, too.” The first story of issue #9, written by Bill Mantlo, had Howard walk away from Beverly Switzler, and what happened to him next was documented in a story by Steve Skeates the same issue. Steven Grant followed this with a story in Bizarre Adventures #34, in which the suicidal Howard is put through a parody of It’s a Wonderful Life.
The original comic book series reappeared in early 1986 with issue #32, written by Grant. Grant had in fact written the story as a topical humour four years before, and as a result the jokes were outdated at the time it was published. Issue #33, a parody of Bride of Frankenstein, written by Christopher Stager, appeared nine months later, along with a three-issue adaptation of the movie. A text article in Howard the Duck #33 explained that Harvey Pekar, himself a Cleveland resident, was mentioned as a possible writer for that issue, but he was unavailable, and nothing came of it.
Issue #32 was originally written by Gerber. In the story, Gerber explained that “a Krylorian Cyndi Lauper” named Chirreep had made up the events in the Mantlo stories much like the events in The Rampaging Hulk magazine were considered made up by Bereet. Marvel’s then-editor-in-chief Jim Shooter considered this an insult to Mantlo, and Gerber’s story was never published. He identified Howard’s parents as Dave and Dotty, names that differ from the Mantlo stories, in which his parents are named Ronald and Henrietta. Gerber’s script lampooned Secret Wars, written by Jim Shooter, but Shooter has denied this played any role in choosing to reject the story, insisting that he only took issue with the insults to Mantlo.
Gerber brought back Howard in The Sensational She-Hulk #14-17, again living with Beverly, now working as a rent-a-ninja. How they got back together is never explained, and Beverly is not involved as She-Hulk takes Howard on a trip through several dimensions with a theoretical physicist from Empire State University.
Gerber returned to Howard with Spider-Man Team-Up #5, around the same time he was writing a “Savage Dragon/Destroyer Duck” crossover for Image. He had the idea to create an unofficial crossover between the two issues, where the characters would meet momentarily in the shadows, but which would not affect either story. Soon after, Gerber discovered that Howard was scheduled to appear in Ghost Rider vol. 3, #81 (Jan. 1997) alongside Devil Dinosaur and Moon Boy, and issues of Generation X leading up to issue #25 and the Daydreamers miniseries by J.M. DeMatteis. Gerber was not pleased with this development, and changed the “unofficial crossover” somewhat.
In Spider-Man Team-Up #5, Spider-Man, Beverly and Howard meet Elf with a Gun and two shadowy figures (presumed to be Savage Dragon and Destroyer Duck) in a darkened warehouse, grab a disc, then leave shortly afterwards. But in the Savage Dragon comic, Elf with a Gun creates thousands of clones of Howard during a fierce battle.[volume & issue needed] As Savage Dragon and Destroyer Duck escape the warehouse with Beverly and a Howard hidden in a bag, they reveal that they rescued the “real” Howard, while Spider-Man left with one of the clones. Howard has his feathers dyed green, and is renamed “Leonard the Duck”, and Beverly has her hair dyed black and is renamed “Rhonda Martina” which are now characters owned by Gerber, who went on to appear in Image Comics and Vertigo comics. Gerber considers this the real Howard, and Marvel’s Howard an empty shell.
In 2001, when Marvel launched its MAX imprint of “mature readers” comics, Gerber returned to write the six-issue Howard the Duck miniseries, illustrated by Phil Winslade and Glenn Fabry. Featuring several familiar Howard the Duck characters, the series, like the original one, parodied a wide range of other comics and pop culture figures, but with considerably stronger language and sexual content than what would have been allowable 25 years earlier. The series has Doctor Bong causing Howard to go through multiple changes of form, principally into a rat (possibly as a parody of Mickey Mouse, in retaliation for the earlier lawsuit), and entering a chain of events parodying comics such as Witchblade, Preacher and several others, with Howard ultimately having a conversation with God in Hell.
Howard had cameo appearances in She-Hulk #9 (Feb. 2005) and vol. 2, #3/100 (Feb. 2006, the 100th issue of all the various She-Hulk series). He returned in a limited series by writer Ty Templeton and artist Juan Bobillo in 2007. This series is rated for ages 9 and up, though it has been published with a Marvel Zombies tie-in cover with a parental advisory claim.