What the Duck?!
Okay, first of all: I am so, so sorry for that pun. I wanted to avoid it, but I knew I had to do it. I figured getting it out of the way early would be best.
Moving right along, this week we’ve got another suggestion from zerozzz, and boy oh boy am I excited for this one! As much as I love DC (despite how many times they’ve hurt me over the years), it’s really refreshing to be writing about a Marvel character again. Especially Howard, he’s just such a tremendously fun guy. I mean, not actually, he’s usually pretty glum, considering his situation, but we’ll get to that later. What I’m saying is, he’s just… well, he’s fun to read. A sarcastic, cynical, multidimensional duck man… come on, what’s not to love? I mean, the 80s movie, I guess, but we’re just all going to continue to collectively pretend that that never happened, like any given middle school experience, or most of the fourth season of Arrested Development.
But enough about all of that, let’s fake an education in comics!
But Seriously, Who the Duck is He?!
I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry. They aren’t going to stop.
SCENARIO: Alright, look. You want obscure comic knowledge brownie points without having to look too hard for comics? You’ve chosen the right character to know about. You want to be able to talk about one of the more interesting creator’s disputes outside of Bob Kane and Bill Finger? Perfect, I’m gonna do a whole bit on Leonard the Duck towards the end of the article. Howard the Duck is awesome, and people will think you are awesome for knowing things about him. And if they don’t, well, that’s probably because they aren’t collectively blocking out the movie like the rest of us, and you will be able to change their mind with your knowledge of the character. Let’s dive on in.
Step One: Quack Kills
Howard is a guy (duck?) who gets around. Originally from Earth-791021 (retconned from Earth-47920), Howard was raised in a fairly normal way. Hatched in New Stork, New Stork to one Ronald and Henrietta, a Catholic couple of ordinary means, Howard grew up alongside his two siblings Theresa and Orville. At a young age, he discovered he had a great intellect, however, merciless bullying at the hands of the other children caused him to all but give up on his studies. Years later, Howard would be dislodged from his home dimension and sent spiraling towards Earth-616 (or whatever it’s called post-Secret Wars). The exact circumstances of his forced departure are a bit muddled, with several conflicting accounts, however, the most cited is when a demon named Thog the Nether-Spawn shifted the interdimensional cosmic axis, resulting in several inhabitants of various alternate realities vanishing from their home dimensions and winding up elsewhere. Howard, for example, landed in the Florida Everglades, which was home to Earth-616’s Nexus of All Realities. In a desperate effort to set things right and return to his home on Duckworld, Howard teamed with a fellow dimensional misplacement, Korrek the Barbarian, as well as Jennifer Kale, Dakimh the Enchanter, and the Man-Thing, everybody’s favorite nightmarish swamp creature not named Swamp Thing. The battle was largely successful, however, Howard fell off of the Stepping Stones of Oblivion, plummeting through the cosmos and landing in one of the worst hellscape in all the multiverse: Cleveland, Ohio.
Soon after making earthfall, Howard was forced to contend with Garko, the Man-Frog, which is hands down one of my favorite names for a villain ever. Garko put up enough of a fight to last exactly one issue, before the serum that transformed him into a Man-Frog turned him all the way into a Frog-Frog, resulting in his death at the hands of a police car. Perhaps this incident is what inspired Howard the Duck to seek out a reputation by joining the local police force. He sought to accomplish this goal by taking on Bessie, the Hellcow, a vampire cow who had been terrorizing the local populace, and who is also the second coolest comic book bovine, right next to Batcow.
After a pitched battle, Howard managed to (seemingly) stake the creature, however, Cleveland PD still denied him a spot on the force. Understandably, Howard was rather upset about this, and he spent some time more down in the dumps than usual. However, after saving a young woman named Beverly Switzler from a magical accountant named Pro-Rata, Howard found one of the greatest friends he would ever know, someone who would stand by him through everything, including fighting a guy named Turnip Man.
Step Two: Beverly, Clearly
Howard and Beverly moved in together, with Beverly practicing her modeling and with Howard just sort of doing whatever came up. Together, they took on all manner of Z-list villains, from Count Macho to Emile “The Goat” Clout. No, I am not making any of these up. Their adventures continued along this path of charming absurdity and slightly uncomfortable sexual tension, and eventually, Howard finally began to gain notoriety as he (some fucking how) wound up as a very minor political party’s pick for president. Somehow, this continued for a while, even resulting in an opposing politician putting together an assassination attempt by hiring Doctor Angst and his Band of the Bland to try and get Howard out of the race permanently. Luckily, the Defenders were on the scene, and together with Howard, the would be assassins were halted. Of course, it proved that this plot wasn’t even necessary, as most of the general public was of the opinion that Howard was not, in fact, a genuine talking duck, but a dwarf in some sort of duck suit, leading to them taking him even less seriously than they already would have. returning home defeated and bitter, Howard went back to his life of fighting ridiculous villains, like Kidney Lady, or Kong Lomerate, with the occasional run in with a more serious villainous group, like the Roxxon corporation.
Of course, all of these threats pale in comparison to a man who is arguably Howard’s arch-nemesis/the single greatest name for a villain of all time: Doctor Bong.
Seriously, the amount of crazy horseshit this guy has pulled is legendary. But I’ll talk about him a bit later, as he didn’t get any super memorable stories until a little while later. Anyways, Howard would also go up against S.O.O.F.I (Save Our Offspring From Indecency), making another recurring group of foes, and all around just tiring him out. He needed a break from all this hero crap. Of course, that wasn’t going to happen, because it was time for the advent of Bzzk’Joh, the leader of the Imperium Emporium.
After being attacked by a salt shaker with limbs and a giant house fly, Howard was reunited with his “friends” from when he first arrived on earth, and reluctantly agreed to help them stop Bzzk’Joh from doing whatever the hell he was going to do. Honestly, it wasn’t super clear, and I was still trying to recover from the ridiculousness of the salt shaker guy. Howard would have used his BFG (no relation to the Doom weapon that lives in all of our hearts as the greatest gun in any FPS ever) to help his allies, however, it was revealed that all it did was pop out a comedic flag, so Howard and Friends were relegated to sneaking into Bzzk’Joh’s universe on a delivery truck. After landing in what was very clearly a parody of Mos Eisley Cantina, they were forced to attempt to negotiate with the Real Californians, however, after Korrek the Barbarian accidentally started a bar fight, Howard had to save them all by truly believing in himself, channeling the power of the Farce to actually fire the BFG and making it painfully clear that this entire arc was making fun of Star Wars. Eventually, Bzzk’Joh’s warehouse-themed spaceship was blown up, and Howard was deposited safely in New York, where he returned to a life of cynicism and chain smoking stoagies.
After a brief and extremely bleak encounter with the Circus of Crime (There’s not that much to get into, but a female supporting character is implied to be raped by a hobo, so… y’know. Gonna steer clear of that whole mess.), Howard went his own way again for a while, returning to Cleveland. Here, he would briefly team with Claude Starkowski, a mentally ill Vietnam Vet who believed himself to be the man behind the creation of the Iron Man armor. Claude built Howard his own suit of Iron Duck armor in order to stop Doctor Bong from mildly inconveniencing the city. Of course, the armor was largely unnecessary, as Howard was able to counter Doctor Bong’s bell-based abilities by stuffing cotton balls in his ears, however, he would never have been able to defeat the villain if it hadn’t been for Beverly creating a bunch of cloned babies and threatening to out Doctor Bong to the media as a negligent baby daddy. Comics are weird.
Shortly after this, Howard was thrown into an adventure involving Dracula, where he was thought to have turned into Duckula, but was actually just delusional, so it’s all good. Then, Howard and Beverly managed to arrive on Duckworld, where Howard was finally at home and Beverly was considered the freak. However, once it was discovered that Howard was the duck who had mysteriously vanished from Duckworld years prior, he became the subject of worship, making him just as uncomfortable as Beverly. Howard eventually deposed the religion that had formed around his disappearance, and got into a series of misadventures involving terrible poultry-based puns (really, just fowl) and a brief reunion with his family. However, tensions just proved to be too high, and Howard and Beverly were forced to seek out Ducktor Strange in order to return to Earth-616.
After a brief reunion with Man-Thing, Howard and Beverly returned to Cleveland, where Howard got a new job as a cab driver. After driving a client all the way out to New York, something that would bankrupt most people in the real world, the client became a super villain named Status Quo, who was determined to stop things from changing all the time. Perhaps sensing that this man would ruin Marvel’s plans of changing god damn everything every year in the future, Howard teams up with Spider-Man, beginning a beautiful friendship that Spidey would really rather pretend doesn’t exist. After eventually discrediting Status Quo, Howard began to return home, only to find a police officer waiting to write him up on all manner of traffic citations. Such is life as Howard the Duck.
Step Three: Quack Hole Sun
One Christmas Eve, Howard found himself standing on the Golden Gate Bridge, contemplating suicide, as most of us do at one point or another. However, because Howard had never parodied It’s a Wonderful Life yet, an angel named Andy arrived to stop him by showing him how his friends’ lives would have turned out if Howard had never arrived on Earth-616. However, all of Howard’s friends had much, much better lives without him. Not only reinforcing Howard’s decision to commit suicide, it also drove Andy to the brink, who believed that he would never be able to earn his wings. Howard wound up having to save Andy from jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge, and took him out for drinks afterwards, having realized how pointless suicide would have been. Ironically, this caused Andy to earn his wings anyways, as he was technically successful, the best kind of successful. Shortly after this, Howard leaves Beverly at her request, continuing Howard’s slow spiral into ever darker territory. After winning the lottery, Howard’s ego became inflated, and he decided to grow himself a mate using duck and human DNA. The result was Alexis the Duck, a spoiled gold digger who drove Howard into bankruptcy and back to Cleveland.
However, things would get slightly lighter for Howard after the Whoatcher (no relation t the Watcher) got heartburn and let loose a cosmic burp, which sent both Howard and the Spectacular Spider-Ham to the castle of Ducktor Doom. All things considered, it went pretty well, especially after the Whoatcher took some cosmic antacids. Howard continued to have multiversal adventures, hung out briefly with She-Hulk, and even reunited with Bev, who had begun working as a Rent-a-Ninja. Soon, Howard would pick up members of Generation X Chamber and Skin while they were hitchhiking. It’s worth noting that both of these characters are on total opposites of the cool spectrum, with one of them being an eternally burning flesh cauldron of psychokinetic fire, and the other being a guy who looks like he’s made out of spare elephant scrotum. Howard ends up hanging out with Leech and some other younger mutants, who take him to their treehouse. After discovering that the children had been hiding a Rigelian named Tana Nile in the treehouse, Black Tom appeared and attempted to kill them. However, as Black Tom was in the phase of his life where he was a plant guy for some reason or another, Howard was able to repel him fairly easily by setting him on fire with the lit end of his trademark cigar. However, this sets pretty much everything else within the area on fire, and Howard and the others are forced to escape by diving into Man-Thing’s gross, shitty body, where they became Howard and the Daydreamers, trapped between realities.
Eventually, they landed in Nevernever-Narnozbia, a bizarre fantasy world. Crash landing the chunk of earth that served as their transportation on top of a woman who looked suspiciously like the Scarlet Witch, they discovered she was the Wicked Witch of the Southeast, and a bunch of tiny Things run out take the parts of the Munchkins in what is probably one of the weirdest, least necessary takes on the Wizard of Oz ever made. A man in drag, calling shimself Strange, appeared, using the Eyeliner of Agamotto to direct them towards the king of the land. After a series of dumb, dumb things, including Howard getting wishes from a genie who looks like the Green Goblin, Howard and friends meet the King, who looks like Doctor Doom. However, things are soon interrupted by the Dark Hunter, who had come looking for Franklin Richards. Oh, uh, Franklin Richards was one of the kids with Howard, by the way. Wasn’t really worth mentioning up to this point.
Strange sends the group to yet another cartoonish fantasy land, this time resembling the works of Dr. Seuss. Everyone speaks in rhyme, and this causes some friction when Howard the Duck refuses to speak in rhyme when ordering at a nearby diner. After another encounter with the Dark Hunter, the group ends up on Duckworld, where Howard is now considered a hero of the people. Of course, this all turns out to be an illusion, and following some more reality shenanigans, it is revealed that the Dark Hunter is the manifestation of Franklin’s inability to cope with his parents’ “death” at the hands of Onslaught, and it turned out that this entire event was basically the lead up to the end of the weird Heroes Reborn pseudo-reboot that absolutely no one enjoyed.
After the Reborn-verse is shattered, it is discovered that Howard has a fragment of the Nexus of All Realities inside of him, making him an object of desire for many factions, including the Cult of Entropy. After a brief dust-up with Namor and Man-Thing, Howard decides to return to Cleveland once again. Howard would continue to interact with all manner of Marvel characters, teaming up with Ben Reily, as well as meeting the Savage Dragon and Destroyer Duck. One of these interactions, this time with Doctor Strange, resulted in the accidental summoning of Moon Boy and Devil Dinosaur to Earth-616, which required Ghost Rider to step in and help save the day. Sensing a kindred spirit in Moon Boy and Devil Dinosaur, Howard sympathized with their plight of being dragged into a world they had never made (a famous tagline on almost every Howard ongoing), and wandered off, gaining employment as a mall Santa. Of course, this led to his being dragged in front of the real Santa, who had sold out to Hydra, which is probably one of my favorite things to have ever happened.
During his very own Marvel Max run (an imprint that usually dealt with characters developing in their own world away from any other comic book influences, with more adult themes), Howard was transformed into a mouse by Doctor Bong after Beverly got a job working at a company owned by the villain. Howard would cycle through multiple forms before once again settling on the mouse, but not before this could make us all super, super uncomfortable:
The run mostly featured Howard the “Duck” dealing with all manner of demons and satanic talk show hosts, eventually coming to a climax where Howard used Freud’s cigar to defeat Deuteronomy. However, after taking a puff on the cigar himself, Howard was disintegrated and sent to Hell, where he was saved by God himself, and restored to his Duck form as thanks for dealing with Deuteronomy. Shortly after, the arc ended in true justice, with Howard suing George Lucas for screwing him out of a movie franchise.
Step Four: The Webfooted Flatfoot
Once again at the forefront of the Marvel Universe, Howard became a mouthpiece for how ridiculous the state of things in comics were, appearing as a key player in his own Civil War tie-ins. See, Howard and Beverly were technically compelled to register with the government due to their interdimensional status. However, in attempting to do so, it was revealed that Howard’s bizarre status had caused so much bureaucratic trouble that he was simply left out of the system, making him exempt from parking tickets, jury duty, and taxes, making Howard possibly the only character to come out of Civil War better off than when he went in. However, this carefree state of life was ruined for him by his attorney, none other than She-Hulk, who restored his citizenship. After being almost entirely left out of Secret Invasion (he only appears for one panel), Howard was hired by A.R.M.O.R. to join the 50 State Initiative, where he spent most of his time helping Morbius the Living Vampire collect zombie DNA samples from around the multiverse, as well as helping Machine Man recover from a depression after Jocasta had left him for her ex-husband, Ultron.
During Fear Itself, Howard joined up with She-Hulk, Frankenstein’s Monster, and Nighthawk to stop Man-Thing, who had gone berserk. Calling themselves the Fearsome Four, the heroes had to deal with a multitude of alternate versions of heroes and villains brought out by Man-Thing’s connection to the Nexus, before finally calming the beast and going their separate ways. Shortly after this, Howard and Beverly were brainwashed by S.O.O.F.I. into becoming Cynical Duck and Swizzle, and had to be saved by Spider-Man in order to stop a plot to brainwash the Earth. Howard and Beverly then journeyed back to Florida, hoping to reconnect with the Man-Thing. However, Howard was soon conscripted to lead what he dubbed the Ducky Dozen, a squadron of Golden Age heroes alongside Dum Dum Dougan and Battlestar. Having been chosen because of his experience in dealing with zombie threats, Howard was a sort of ideal leader for the team, helping them go to Earth-12591, where they fought to stop a horde of zombie Nazis and Asgardians. Then, after a brief return to 616, Howard is seen helping Doop (arguably the greatest mutant of all time) battle with Robo-Barbarians in Dimension ZZZ, and together, they repel the horde with nothing but a broken sword, a rubber chicken, and a gun that shoots bees. Sure, it’s a one off gag in Wolverine and the X-Men, but god damn if it wasn’t funny.
Finally, this brings us mostly up to date, with Howard returning to New York and opening a business as a PI, where he would work out of the same building as She-Hulk in Brooklyn. Here, he made a new friend named Tara Tam, who can shape shift, as well as continuing his tradition of screwing around with more famous Marvel characters. As for the rest, well, this whole development is still relatively recent, so I’m not gonna spoil the series for you guys. Plus, it’s great, so you should go check it out anyways.
BONUS ROUND! LEONARD THE DUCK:
Okay, so I’m going to keep this one relatively short, because this article has already run on way, way too long. However, I would be remiss if I talked this much about Howard the Duck without bringing up Leonard.
So back in the 70s, Steve Gerber birthed Howard the Duck, and originally shelved him after one appearance. However, due to powerful fan backlash, Gerber brought the character back and wrote him for a while longer, up until his departure from the House of Ideas. So, as so often happens, Howard was passed around from writer to writer, with many of them failing miserably to capture the incredibly bizarre and unique flavor of the character. Disgusted with many of their decisions (including a sex scene between Howard and Beverly), Gerber began to push forward with a lawsuit in order to regain the rights to his creation. Eventually, the lawsuit was settled out of court, however, thanks to an NDA, we have no idea what concessions were made to keep Gerber happy. However, mostly due to Jim Shooter being a colossal choad-wrinkle, Gerber was soon irate once again, and slowly, with the help of Savage Dragon creator Erik Larson, the inklings of an idea began to form. Around this time, a Savage Dragon/Destroyer Duck one shot was conceived, as well as the Ben Reilly Spidey team-up I mentioned a while ago. Then, a crossover was, against all odds, agreed upon between these two comics, with both sets of characters meeting up in a darkened warehouse full of Howard clones. In the Spidey book, all the characters escape, and they believe they have brought the correct Howard with them. However, there is a piece of dialogue in the Image side of the crossover that wasn’t present in the Marvel one. One that presented a very, very interesting idea.
Imagine, if you will, that the real Howard had actually been left behind in the warehouse. Imagine that the real Howard, and even the real Beverly, were secretly spirited away the Image characters in the crossover, and put in the witness protection program, changing their names and appearances and moving to Buffalo, as well as technically giving back the original character to Steve Gerber. It sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? It can’t be that Marvel would allow such a thing to happen. It can’t be that they would be telling you stories about the wrong character for almost twenty years now, can it?
It can. Here’s the real Howard, renamed Leonard, in all his glory:
Sadly, he only really made two appearances, but hey, Gerber got the last laugh, and that’s sadly more than Jack Kirby or most of the other original Marvel character creators got.
Wow, almost twice as long as the average article, and that was with me trimming quite a bit of fat. Crazy.
Anyways, that’s about all I have to say on our feathered friend for now. And hey, he may not be the real deal over at Marvel, but his more recent stuff has been real enjoyable, so go ahead and look into that if you love weird, wacky, absurd satire and mystery featuring a duck man. Oh, and do NOT watch the movie. Seriously, if you haven’t already seen it, it’s basically the equivalent of paying George Lucas to beat up one of your childhood friends in a back alley. Plus, this happens:
Well, with that, I’m about done for now. See you all next week, and thanks for reading!