HERO HISTORY: Howard The Duck

by

Or – “WAAAUUUUUGH!”

Of all the heroes of the various comic book universes, I find myself drawn to those who are the most human in their makeup.  I’m not talking about “Batman Doesn’t Have Any Powers” human, but the characters who are able to express real human emotions in a way that I find relatable.  Honestly, normal humans don’t lose a parent and then vow to spend their entire life fighting crime, they usually descend into booze, drugs, and unhealthy relationships which leave them scarred for life.  I appreciate Bouncing Boy’s struggle to fit in with the cool, thin kids.  I appreciate the ways that Bruce Banner has to deal with the curse of the Hulk.  I love the fact that Luke Cage’s first thought when he got superhuman powers was how to make a buck off them.  Today’s entrant is, in an Alanis Morrisette ironic kind of way, the most human of all and his adventures are among the most unique in comics history.  Trapped in a world he never made, he still had to fight to survive, dealing with issues of money, sex, identity and mental instability just like the rest of us.  This, then, is your Major Spoilers Hero History of Howard, who fell through a dimensional portal one afternoon, and ended up in the middle of a battle to save the universe, and has become forever known to the hairless apes of his new home world as Howard The Duck!

The story of Howard The Duck begins in the swamps of Florida, where a mindless monster known as the Swamp Thing Man-Thing is known to roam.  As the guardian of the Nexus of All Realities, Manny is a weirdness magnet of the highest order.  When an extradimensional demon named Thog tries to use the Nexus as a stepping stone to domination of our reality, strange things start happening…

What does this have to do with anything in particular?  Not much, really, but it’s such an amazingly bizarre sequence that I wanted to share it.  Korrek teams up with Man-Thing and a young sorceress named Jennifer Kale (as well as her teacher Dakimh The Enchanter) and each becomes entwined in Thog’s master plan.  Just when things seem to be completely out of control, the situation gets even weirder…

(Writer Steve Gerber claimed that he was looking for an image to top the lunacy of Korrek’s Jif-induced arrival, and figured that a talking duck fit the, you should excuse the expression, bill.)  Howard, along with his ragtag group of hairless ape associates, overcomes the menace of Thog, but is himself thrown off the stepping stones of reality into a cosmic void.  While this would be the last of a lesser duck, it is hardly enough to destroy the resolve of our Howard…

In a moment of absurdity that only this duck could have experienced, Howard falls through the void, to end up RIGHT BACK WHERE HE STARTED.  It is here that he truly begins to exhibit his own personality, spurred on by the slack-jawed idiocy of the humans he encounters…

He quickly finds that his money is no good in this world (having a picture on it of George Washington with a pronounced bill) and encounters various denizens of “Cleveland” (“How could a place possess so eerie and evil a name and not be ruled by demons?” muses Howard briefly) including the menace of “Garko, The Man-Frog!”   As the monstrous amphibian attacks, Howard’s heroic inner nature emerges…

True to his luck, though, Howard ends up being taken into custody by the police after this interaction, and a humiliating physical examination leads to the frightened police officers sending him on his way, unable to explain what he is or where he came from.  This will become a them in Howard’s life, but before he can deal with his good fortune, he encounters a bovine named Bessie, who years ago crossed swords with the monster known as… DRACULA.

In the hopes of getting a job with the police, Howard engages the cow in battle, and stakes her through the heart, ending her reign of murderous terror (or was it a murderous reign of terror?  I forget…)  Left adrift in nowheresville, Howard briefly considers ending it all, finding himself on the polluted banks of the Cuyahoga River.  Disgusted by the pollution, Howard spies a strange tower in midstream, and sets out to throw himself off it in despair.  But upon arrival, he discovers another mystery…

Unbeknownst to the duck-man, the Red Sonja lookalike is a woman destined to change his life forever…  Howard engages the master of the tower, a “financial wizard” known as Pro-Rata, but is knocked unconscious in the fray, only to wake to yet another indignity.

Howard is a bit bothered that this strange woman has seen him naked, but again takes up the quest to stop Pro-Rata in his quest for power.  Howard manages to steal the jeweled key that Pro-Rata needs for his plan, and even gets to team up with Spider-Man as he takes the wizard out.

Once the evil wizard is beaten, though, Howard is once again left alone to deal with a world of strange creatures.  Thankfully, his new friend in the chain bikini has room at her place, and Howard formally makes the acquantance of Beverly Switzler, nude model and child of the 70’s, a woman who understands what it’s like to be out of place wherever she goes…

Bev and Howard immediately enter into an odd and subtle courtship, with Howard clearly digging Bev more than most hairless apes, while Beverly enjoys “Ducky’s” company greatly.  In his travels about Cleveland, Howard encounters a number of unusual characters, including the must-be-seen-to-be-believed Space Turnip, the infernal Winky-Man, and a madwoman whose unusual proclivities have left her with the sobriquet of “The Kidney Lady.”

His fighting skills are formidable, but when Howard witnesses a beating that ends in a murder, the Duck stalks the streets of Cleveland in fury, trying to understand why the hairless apes spend so much time proving their manhood.  When he wanders into the storefront of Master C’haaj, who offers to teach him the wasy of Quak-Fu, an ancient martial art of defense…

Howard is thus able to face Count Macho in combat, holding his own until the villain’s own hubris dooms him.  But four feathers of fury do not a full larder make, and they certain don’t pay the Con-Ed bill.  Howard and Beverly take stock of their material worth and find the results…  less than impressive.

The needs of the flesh drive us all, even if that flesh is feathered and pimply, and Howard is forced to find a job to make ends meet.  His first foray, in show business, goes about the same way as everything else in the duck’s life:  Somewhat haltingly.

The search for a paying gig gets surreal when Howard takes a security position at the All-Night Party’s presidential convention.  When radicals try to take out the party’s candidate, Howard once again gets involved, with… interesting results.

Now, officially making a paycheck (sort of), Howard hits the campaign trail with the All-Night party, only to find that the forces that tried to take out his predecessor to the role are still out there, and they’ve now targeted him for elimination…

The plot to assassinate him ends with Howard interacting again with the heroes of the Marvel Universe, as Doctor Strange and his Defenders oppose the schemes of Dr. Angst.  When the Sorcerer Supreme is taken out of action, he needs a creature of strong will to channel his powers and aid the Defenders (and, not coincidentally save Bev.)  Witness the power of Howard, Master of Mystic Arts!

Back on the campaign trail after Angst is defeated, Howard insists on telling it like it is, refusing to play the political games of his colleagues-in-arms.  The response to his campaign is phenomenal, as the voters love his straight talk…

“Why a duck?” Howard asks in his campaign commercial.  “Why NOT a duck?  You’ve had turkeys running this country for 200 years!”  The country is suddenly studded with “Get Down, America!” buttons and stickers as the common man falls in line.  Unfortunately, for everyone who loves him, Howard is forced to deal with another who wants him dead, and his campaign (which was quite successful in our real world as well, reputedly earning him votes in the actual 1976 election) gets poleaxed by scandal.

The photo is a fraud, doctored by Canadian dissidents, but Howard’s run for the presidency ends, and his attempt to find the man responsible ends with a super-villain called the Beaver falling to his death, and Howard suffering from the first signs of a nervous breakdown.  Leaving Beverly and his increasingly ridiculous life behind, Howard finds that he can’t outrun his own mind…

His situation is exacerbated not only by Winda Wester (who weminds me of someone, but I can’t wemember anything but a swowd and magic hewmet) but by the appearance of an old nemesis on the bus back to Cleveland…

An altercation with Kidney Lady wrecks the bus, and when she presses charges, Howard’s instability leads to him being institutionalized in the very same mental ward where Winda’s parents have sent her.  His deteriorating situation leaves the duck in what Ulysses Everett McGill would term “a tight spot.”

Hallucinating and confused, Howard even starts to see things, like the first Marvel Comics apearance of the stars of our latest Retro Review, who give him some very helpful advice…

The Sauerbraten County mental personnel are not up to the challenge of an extradimensional duck with identity issues and a disassociative fixation, so they call in a consult from a familiar face, an old colleage of Stephen Strange’s named Daimon Hellstrom.  Unfortunately, Daimon runs afoul of another of Howard’s foes, Reverend Joon Moon Yuc, who wants control of Daimon’s demonic Darksoul…

His interactions with the Darksoul end with Howard experiencing dozen of lives at once, experiencing the emotions of many lives all at once, which restores his balance and sanity.  Reunited with Beverly, Howard takes a vacation in scenic Bagmom, only to get captured by the sinister Doctor Bong, a former schoolmate of Beverly’s who still bears a torch for her.  Howard is captured, and finds that Bong has been genetically engineering human-animal hybrids, such as the loverly Fifi…

Doctor Bong forces Bev to marry him, but his plans for Howard are even more sinister and disturbing…  Behold, the most horrifying sight of my long comic-reading experience: Howard The HUMAN!

He kinda looks like Paul Reiser, now that I look at it.  Howard entreats Fifi to help him, and breaks free of Bong’s control, escaping the island and hitting the streets of New York.  Doctor Bong is not pleased.

While Beverly languishes in Bong’s prison, Howard encounters her uncle (also named Beverly Switzler) and fights off the Sinister Soofi and reunites with his old pals Man-Thing, Korrek, Dakimh and Jennifer, stopping ANOTHER universal catastrophe and saving the world.  Upon returning to reality, Howard finds that even if his mental issues have abated, he still has one thing going for him:

His Anger.  (The preceding, by the way, was a dream sequence…)  Deciding to confront Doctor Bong and save Beverly from his evil clutches, with a little help from Tony Stark’s cousin Claude Stark’s engineering prowess.  It’s time for Howard to step aside, and the debut of Iron Duck!

Howard’s armor isn’t entirely successful, but Beverly manages to outsmart Doctor bong anyway using a cloning device and social services (it’s actually pretty clever) and she and Howard return to Cleveland.  Once again, Howard needs to find a way to find some scratch, and ends up working for Claude Stark’s taxi garage, a job that he finds himself good at…

Soon after, Howard is attacked by a group claming that his lack of pants leads to immoral behaviors and such, and is forced to take a drastic and unheard of step of… wearing pants.

(In reality, Marvel was forced to put pants on the Duck to keep him from resembling Donald, as part of a redesign that would allow them to keep publishing the character, but I don’t deal in reality.)  Howard’s life with Beverly takes a more mature turn as well, and their relationship, always suspected to be more than spiritual, hits a new level.

Howard even crosses swords with Dracula directly (after fighting the cow that Dracula had bitten years earlier) and is himself bitten and vampirized!

Howard’s strength of will and chutzpah allows him to overwhelm even the Prince of Vampires…  After this experience, Howard muses about all the odd super-powered types that he has encountered in his life, and comes to an important conclusion…

Over a long period of time, Howard disappears from the public eye, fading into the background of Cleveland.  The Duck has always been a creature of multiple universes, falling in and out of realities seemingly at random.  On one of those possible worlds, he left behind a friend named Duke, who always wondered what happened to his pal, whom he called “The Little Guy.”  Years after disappearing, Duke is stunned to find that The Little Guy has returned from the world of hairless apes…

Duke’s rage causes him to dub himself Destroyer Duck, and set off to revenge his pal.  Some say that the Little Guy CAN’T be Howard, some say he is, others say that it’s another world of a multiverse…  The Hero History neither adjudicates nor decides, it only reports.  Some time later, Howard is stunned to find an emerald green hand reaching out of his refrigerator to grab him, dragging him through yet another world portal…

…into She-Hulk’s living room.  Howard and She-Hulk face down the menace of old enemy Doctor Angst, and keep an alternate universe called the Baloneyverse from overwhelming the core reality of the 616 Marvel Universe.  When his old friend Jennifer Kale relocates to New York City, Howard pays a visit for his regularly scheduled attempt to send him back home.

It’s interesting to note that the wormhole Howard refers to never happened, make of that what you will.  In his job as cab driver, Howard interacts regularly with other denizens of the Marvel Universe, including passengers Skin and Chamber of Generation X…

Howard even gets involved with the Man-Thing’s Nexus of realities is endangered again, and only the assistance of Franklin Richards, Leech and Artie can save the universe…

Interacting with the kids, Howard finds that they have an alien (a Rigellian named Tana Nile) hidden, and ends up acting as guardian for the kids as they travel through time and space.  The Daydreamers (as they call themselves) even travel to Duckworld and find that Howard is a celebrity and hero in that reality…

Turns out it’s just a construct of Franklin Richards’ telepathic powers, but their return home is complicated by the shattering of the Nexus of Realities.  (Seems that the Heroes Return from Counter-Earth broke the universe, making it Rob Liefeld’s fault.)  A shard of the Nexus ends up becoming lodged inside Howard’s body…

Things are brought right with the assistance of future X-Man, Prince Namor, allowing Howard to return home to Beverly for the first time in many moons…

Once home, Howard and Beverly again run afoul of the madness of Doctor Bong, who this time is genetically engineering boy bands from undiferentiated cells.  Knocked into a vat by Bong, Howard’s genetic makeup shifts, changing him from duck to another form…  That of the common field mouse.

Howard the once and future Duck returns home to his shack, only to find that his DNA is still unstable, and getting close to Beverly somehow triggers an emotional reaction that sets his genes off on a tangent…

In a turn of events that are even bizarre when you’re explaining the life of a talking duck from an alternate universe, Howard ends up fighting someone who strongly resembles Oprah, and then ends up talking to someone who resembles the Almighty himself, discussing the nature of conceptual reality and the universe at large…

Returning home to Cleveland, Howard and Beverly lead a quiet existence again, until the heroes of the Marvel Universe go to war over the matter of Superhuman Registration.  Iron Man pushes the Superhuman Registration Act through Conress, Captain America goes rogue, and Howard?  Howard is forced to do the unthinkable:  Government Paperwork.

But when he makes it through the interminable line, he is told an unexpected truth:  “You’re the Duck Man!  Everyone here knows about you.”  The surly woman working the line calls over her supervisor, who explains to Howard what he’s always suspected:  He’s a non-person.

Of course, not long after, the Civil War between superheroes ends, and things get really complicated when it is revealed that Skrulls have infiltrated their number.  As the aliens attack, Howard joins the superheroes, grabs a gun and gets serious…

After the climactic battle, as the heroes wrench with the moral ramifications of what has happened, Howard takes a more down-to-Earth approach…

…kicking one of them when he’s down.  You gotta give him credit, though.  In some realities, Howard is a much feared predator, as we find in a world where The Sentry ruined everything.  Not the way he ruined everything in the mainstream reality, but by bringing a zombie virus that infects everyone and makes our ducky pal eat Bruce Campbell’s head…

There’s a certain sense of balance in this reality, though, as Howard finally makes good on his attempt to find a steady paycheck by signing up with A.R.M.O.R. (Alternate Reality Monitoring And Response) in their attempts to find and isolate the zombie virus in the various realities of the multiverse.  Teaming up with Aaron Stack (previous Hero History entrant Machine Man) Howard is tasked with gathering samples of different types of ghouls across the universe to help create a vaccine.

Howard even finds a new outlet for his healthy enjoyment of violence, enhancing his Quak Fu with high-caliber weaponry from various universes…

Traveling into a world that purports itself to be our own reality, Howard and Aaron finally isolate the last type of zombie (“The Marvel Zombie”) and head home to A.R.M.O.R. to end the threat of the undead forever, but before they go, Howard gets in the last word…

Howard’s tale is an existentialist fable, crossing realities and boundaries of thought with equal disregard, as the Duck man represents anyone who has ever faced a Wal-Mart parking lot, a line at the DMV, or a horde of superhuman zombies.  (Some of those examples are more common than others, mind you.)  Howard’s creator, the late Steve Gerber put is best in that that joke of Howard The Duck is that there is no joke: “Life’s most serious moments and most incredibly dumb moments are often distinguishable only by a momentary point of view.”  Howard quiet heroism in the face of his ludicrous enemies, in the face of his own failings, in the face of his own lost sanity, is the same sort of heroism that each of us is forced to evoke every day, going back to a job that we might not like, or balancing a budget that doesn’t ever want to meet…   Trapped in a world he never made, Howard represents anyone and everyone who does what they have to do in order to survive another day in the face of social maladies and personal inadequacy.  And his lawyers tell him he’s ALWAYS worn those pants…

**If you’ve enjoyed this Hero History, you might want to ‘Read All About It’ at your Local Major Spoilers! You can just click “Hero History” in the “What We Are Writing About” section on the main page, and read about a hundred or so other guys who are awesome as heck…  Howard The Duck is published by Marvel Comics, and appears pretty regularly in their titles, much to the chagrin of Brian Bendis.

Next up: I’ll still be looking to the Hero History section of the Major Spoilers forums for an expectation of where you, the Faithful Spoilerites would like to see the Hero Histories go. I’m not making any promises (Witchblade is problematic) but I’m willing to hear what you, the readers would like to see. As always…

Watch.

The.

Skies.