4 Reasons Howard the Duck Deserves a Cinematic Reboot!
Alert, Spoiler Up Ahead! Howard the Duck recently made a splash with his unexpected cameo in an after-credits scene..
..of the blockbuster Marvel comics movie Guardians of the Galaxy. Howard was such a successful comic book character in the 1970s that he eventually landed his own movie treatment in 1986, produced by George Lucas and shot by Lucasfilm, Lucas’ production company. The film was anything but a smashing success when it opened to negative reviews and poor ticket sales, receiving harsh criticism for featuring mature situations in a PG movie marketed toward a youth market. Many claimed that it was the worst movie ever made, at least until Ishtar and Garbage Pail Kids were released the following year.
These days if you raise the idea of Howard making a theatrical return in a crowd of mixed fanboys you will most likely get scoffed at in disgust, if you’re lucky. But I, for one, think it’s past time our fowl friend was once again on the big screen in his own feature, and here are 4 reasons to back up my contentious position:
1. Howard the Duck was hip, before hip was uncool.
Written by Steve Gerber, the originally Howard the Duck comic book series from the groovy 70s was one of the most subversive titles Marvel Comics had published at that time. Not only was the original book a counterculture sensation, it helped to usher in the “talking animal” books of the late 70s and 80s, such as Cerebus the Aardvark and most notably Eastman and Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. “Hip” seems to be an unpopular word these days, but without Howard there might very well never have been a Michaelangelo. Howard was never trying to be hip however (he lived in Cleveland for chrissakes), he just couldn’t help himself.
2. George Lucas has been known to demonstrate questionable judgment a few times throughout his career..
Don’t blame Howard for the 1986 dud “Howard the Duck”, that movie was produced by the same guy who thought introducing Jar Jar Binks was a good idea. We all know Lucas hit a few homers early in his career, helping to spawn the behemoth franchises Star Wars and Indiana Jones and directing the classic nostalgic teen movie “American Graffiti” (written, coincidentally, by the same team that would go on to craft the film treatment for “Howard the Duck”.)
In the midst of all this grand success, Lucas is also responsible for the dreaded Star Wars prequels and Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull. This was not the guy to trust with the sanctity of an already established property, he couldn’t even be trusted with his own properties. The “Howard the Duck” movie was such a disaster for Lucasfilm that it aided Lucas’ decision to sell off Pixar in 1986 for the measly sum of $5 million (Disney would later go on to acquire Pixar in 2006 for $7.4 billion.)
3. Howard the Duck is not a character designed for the children’s market, and his film reboot should reflect that.
People talk of the Ninja Turtles’ dark past, but even their original black & white comics weren’t *that* dark. The Ninja Turtles may not have started out as a series for kids, but it was still a light hearted satire of Frank Miller’s Daredevil and Ronin stories. Howard’s original comic book series written by Steve Gerber, however, was full of mature themes and quickly grew a cult following as Howard faced off against foes like Dr. Bong or sat out an entire issue while Gerber dished out existential musings on life. The mistake of Howard’s 1986 film was not that it featured some mature content, but the fact that it was ever produced with consideration for the children’s market at all. His reboot should steer clear of making the same mistake, finally delivering the film both Howard and we, the viewing public deserve. Howard should be shown debating liberal-arts hippies from the local university and encountering strange creatures named after double entendres, such as “Man-Thing”.
4. It might be hard to tell now, but at one time Howard was a pretty big deal.
Howard’s original 70s comic book series thrived on the spirit of underground comics while maintaining the accessibility of a Marvel title, leading to such a devoted following that the character received several thousand write-in votes for the 1976 U.S. presidential election. Howard’s success later led to his own newspaper strip and magazine series, by which time original writer Steve Gerber had already been forced out of crafting his own creation (supposedly due to a row over missed deadlines.)
Today Howard the Duck is an underdog hero for comic fans that enjoy a satire that goes against the grain, and in spite of the mud slung at his 1986 film his legacy endures to this thanks to the work of Steve Gerber, a writer who was once on the cusp of something truly magical.
It’s time to rekindle that magic.
For further reading on “Howard the Duck” I would suggest writer/creator Steve Gerber’s original run, including:
Adventure into Fear #19 (1973, Marvel): Howard the Duck’s 1st appearance
Man-Thing #1 (1974, Marvel): Howard’s 2nd appearance
Giant Size Man-Thing #4 & #5 (1975, Marvel)
Howard the Duck #1-27, #29 & Annual #1 (1976–1979, Marvel)