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Howard The Duck is one of the strangest comic book characters ever published by Marvel Comics, best known today because of its movie adaptation, believed by many to be one of the worst films ever made; this is unfortunate, as the comic was both funny and full of social criticism, and was one of Marvel's best known titles during the 1970s. While not an underground comic in of itself, Howard the Duck is widely cited as an example of the underground comix movement's influence on mainstream media.
The character was apparently created as a sight gag; in "Adventure into Fear" #19 (December, 1973), in a Man-Thing story involving the "Nexus of All Realities" characters from several universes appeared, many of them being obvious homages to fictional characters such as Conan the Barbarian and (in Howard's case) Donald Duck. However, writer Steve Gerber, known for both his love of strange characters and playing with reader's expectations, decided to continue using Howard, and convinced Marvel to give it its own series. Although Marvel had to strike a deal with Disney in order to use the character, including such things as requiring Howard to wear pants, the character proved popular, most likely due to Gerber's writing.
Gerber had the "duck" accidentally transported to Cleveland, where the "hairless apes" (humans, as Howard called them) refused to believe he was anything but a midget in a duck costume and treated him as a weirdo. "Trapped in a world he never made" (the series' catchphrase) Howard tried to live a normal life (and got a series of jobs, such as driving a taxi) but kept running into bizarre people and creatures and ended up having to confront them. The vast majority of these were just wannabe supervillains with silly names and goals such as "Doctor Bong" or humorous menaces like a vampiric cow. More importantly, the series used the short-tempered and sarcastic duck as a way to snark on modern human society. At one point, Howard even runs for President of the United States (!) only to retire after a false accusation of having sex with his friend, a human woman named Beverly Switzer.
Howard, despite running into superheroes occasionally, was no superhero himself, and had no superhuman powers (other than the occasional unexpected skill such as "Quack Fu") though he still did end up helping people, directly or indirectly, mostly because of Beverly.
The character's popularity led to his being adapted into the live-action movie, but since other than the Beverly/Howard romance, nothing from the comics made it in, especially not the humor, fans of the character hated it.
Howard was also the cause of a legal dispute between Marvel and Gerber, who claimed to own the character. This caused Gerber to leave the company and led to many years of legal wranglings; in the end, the situation was settled with Marvel keeping ownership of Howard.
Howard has appeared occasionally in various Marvel titles since the 1970s, and a few years ago starred in a miniseries (again by Gerber) that made open references to his sexual relationship with Beverly (it was part of Marvel's adult-oriented MAX line, which may not be a canonical part of the Marvel Universe.)
Tropes featured in the comic:
- Anti-Hero: Howard can swing between Types I, II and III. He is regularly Type II due of his jaded attitude and total lack of interest in involving with supernatural affairs.
- Arch Enemy - Dr. Bong.
- Alliterative Name - Winda Wester.
- Arrogant Kung Fu Guy - "Quack Fu".
- Author Avatar - Painter Paul Same, who physically resembled Gerber and was more or less an Expy from Richard Rory, another Gerber's character that he also used as an alter-ego.
- Author Tract
- Beautiful All Along - Winda Wester, whose beauty makes a starking contrast to her lisp and general weirdness.
- Belated Backstory - Howard reveals his past to Winda in issue 13, telling his origins and how was his life in his original universe before getting trapped in ours.
- Beware the Silly Ones - Dr. Bong, who, despite his goofy conception, was the most dangerous foe that Howard ever faced.
- BLAM Episode/Filler - Issue 16, the infamous "Dreaded Deadline Doom" issue, which included Steve Gerber soliloquizing for the whole issue about writing on top of surreal illustrations, as well as an "obligatory fight scene" between a showgirl, an ostrich, and a killer lampshade.)
- Gerber would later use the Showgirl/ostrich concept in his Vertigo Comics miniseries Nevada.
- Breakout Character - Howard was initially intended as a single-appearance character, but fate (and popular demand) wouldn't have it.
- Bronze Age
- Catch Phrase: Howard's whining "Waaaugh!"
- Character Title
- Cleveland Rocks
- Cloudcuckoolander - Most of the villains appear to be this, particularly the Kidney Lady.
- Deadpan Snarker
- Depending on the Writer
- Driven to Madness - Poor Howard suffers a psychological breakdown after encountering with several weirdoes at some point. Fortunately, he gets better with the help of Damon Hellstrom and Dr. Avery (but not before causing a complete chaos while he is accidentally possessed by Hellstrom's demonic soul).
- Elmuh Fudd Syndwome - Winda Wester. Weally cute, though.
- Expy - Dr. Bong is clearly a parody of Dr. Doom, while borrowing a few traces from Dr. Moreau with his experiments regarding metamorphosis on animals.
- Fictional Political Party - Howard ran for President in 1976 for the All Night Party, as noted in the picture at the top of this page.
- Foo Fu
- Frankenstein's Monster - Created in one issue by a little girl Mad Scientist. Oh yes, and it's made of gingerbread.
- Good Smoking, Evil Smoking - Howard smoked cigars.
- Half-Dressed Cartoon Animal - Only in his earliest appearances. A threatened lawsuit from the creators of a similar pantsless duck resulted in Howard donning a pair of trousers. And now Disney owns Marvel. Huh. However, Howard was able to get away without wearing pants in his Marvel Zombies appearances.
- Hearing Voices - Howard is haunted by them during his temporary state of insanity.
- Heroes Want Redheads
- Herr Doktor/Those Wacky Nazis - Dr. Reich.
- Infant Immortality - Surprisingly (and tragically) averted with the little girl who creates the Gingerbread Monster in issue 06.
- Interspecies Romance
- It's a Small World After All - One of the people who Howard befriends in New York after a disastrous escape from Dr. Bong's castle happens to be Beverly's uncle, Lee.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold - Howard is arrogant, opinionated and selfish and doesn't hesitate in insulting people or throwing snarky comments on them... he also helps those that have been wronged and is very loyal to his friends.
- Knight Templar - The underground organization S.O.O.F.I. (Save Our Offspring From Indecency)
- Morally-Ambiguous Ducktorate
- No Celebrities Were Harmed - The Supreme SOOFI is a never-named Anita Bryant — she even mentions having her epiphany in Dade County, where the real Bryant then lived — while Donny and Marie Dearth are based on the Osmonds who share their first names. See also Take That
- Only Sane Man - Howard is usually this.
- Phrase Catcher - "You're a talking duck!" Sometimes it was just "You're a duck!"
- Psychic Powers - Winda.
- Reasonable Authority Figure - In a small arc where Howard and Winda end up in a Bedlam House-like asylum, Dr. Morton Avery was the only character who wanted to help them.
- Rich Bitch - Iris Raritan.
- Take That:
- Steve Gerber wasn't afraid to use ol' Howard as a mouthpiece.
- A 90s miniseries called Daydreamers has Howard travel to an alternate universe where he is revered as a hero. What really floors him though is that a movie was made about him...and it was a hit!
- Howard's MAX series was almost never published due to Disney once again complaining about his visual similarity to Donald Duck. Gerber responded in the first issue by transforming Howard into...a mouse.
- Talking Animal
- Toothy Bird
- Unfazed Everyman - Beverly pretty much fills this role, if you consider that her friends includes a sleepwalking painter with a vigilante alter-ego, a lisping psychic and, of course... Howard.
- Welcome to The Real World
- Writer Revolt
- Yandere: Bong for Beverly.