Superhero Films: Howard The Duck (1986)
A unique character joined the Marvel Universe in 1973.
Howard the Duck would be much different from his fellow caped superheroes battling villains in their comic pages. This grumpy intelligent duck would end up living with the cute Beverly Switzer in Cleveland as he embarked on his own irreverent misadventures on a planet he was suddenly dropped in the middle of. The cigar-chomping fowl would literally be the odd duck on a planet full of humans or as Howard would refer to us as a bunch of “hairless apes”.
Created by Steve Gerber and artist Val Mayerik, they would use Howard to satirize our Earth society, pop culture and the comic book form itself. Howard would become an unlikely Marvel superstar enjoying a strong devoted following with his unique adventures and abrasive perspective.
Gerber would describe the comic as an existential experience. “This is no joke! There it is. The cosmic giggle. The funniest gag in the universe. That life’s most serious moments and most incredibly dumb moments are often distinguishable only by a momentary point of view. Anyone who doesn’t believe this probably cannot enjoy reading Howard the Duck.”
Amongst the cult of readers that did enjoy reading Howard the Duck was George Lucas. Now after having made a bit of name for himself after completing the Star Wars trilogy and currently in the middle of an Indiana Jones hat trick, Lucas would wield his power to bring Howard to the big screen.
What was once going to be an animated project, Howard the Duck would be reworked as a big-budget summer release for Universal Pictures. With the cache of Lucas’ name attached as one of the producers, special effects contributed by Lucas’ own Industrial Light and Magic and a $37 million budget, Howard the Duck had a lot of hopes to become a giant success.
However, Howard the Duck would lay a giant egg. The film would end up being one of the most famous cinematic disasters ever. Critically panned, Howard the Duck would take a beating and become a laughing stock by film fans. Film critic Gene Siskel famously asked, “Who was this stupid film made for?”
Audiences stayed away. After Howard the Duck barely managed to make it’s budget back after being unleashed onto the world, it would fade away that summer.
It did leave an impact though. Shakeups at Universal were attributed to the failure left by Howard, director Willard Huyck would never direct another movie again, the cast had trouble getting back to work after the cold reception the film received and shaking the stink from being associated with it.
It would also mark a huge blemish on Lucas’ resume that would follow him for the rest of his career. The only honors Howard the Duck would receive was at the end of the year it tying with Under the Cherry Moon as the Worst Picture winner at the annual Razzie awards.
I take a look at this oddball character of Gerber’s, how a movie starring this cult character came to be and the film starring Lea Thompson, Tim Robbins and Jeffrey Jones, the legendary Howard the Duck.