Howard the Duck, of course, in case the tag-line in the title did not clue you in.
A wise-cracking humanoid duck from another planet, Howard first burst on the Marvel comic book scene as a side character in a 1973 issue of Adventure into Fear, wearing a rumpled business suit and chomping cigars.
His initial success as a side character earned him a few short pieces of his own in other Marvel Comics until they finally gave him his very own comic in 1976. The social satire and bizarre humor fit the times well, and Howard’s popularity soared.
And, as they say, “a star was born.”
Frankly, Howard became just about the biggest deal in comic books at the time, partnering with various Marvel superheroes in odd adventures. Marvel compiled the stories from before his own comic into one of their giant-sized Marvel Treasury Editions for collectors.
Naturally, such huge popularity led to a movie offer — which was a very Big Deal, indeed: this would be the first feature film to be developed from a Marvel Comics series. With young director George Lucas, hot off the Star Wars movies and Raiders of the Lost Ark, acting as Executive Producer, hopes for Howard’s eminent Hollywood success were high.
Eschewing animation, Lucas decided to shoot it as a live action movie, and his crack effects team at Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) studios designed an elaborate “Howard” suit to be worn by a child actor. Instead, up to 6 different actors “worked the suit,” performing opposite Lea Thompson (hot off the Back to the Future series), veteran actor Jeffrey Jones, and a relative newcomer, Tim Robbins, the future Oscar-winner.
No more Mr. Nice Duck: Howard demonstrates Quack Fu
The Big Deal movie turned out to be a big flop. Costing over $36 million to make, Howard the Duck made just over $16 million, a true box office bomb. Reviewers panned the film mercilessly that year.
“The film received seven Golden Raspberry Award nominations in 1987 including Worst Supporting Actor (Tim Robbins), Worst Director and Worst Original Song (“Howard the Duck”). It won four trophies for Worst Screenplay, Worst New Star(“the six guys and gals in the duck suit”), Worst Visual Effects, and Worst Picture.”
To this day, Howard the Duck shows up on various lists of “Worst Movies Ever Made.” It would be years before another movie based on Marvel Comics would get green-lighted for production.
George Lucas tried to disown the film and sought to have his name removed from the credits. Some of the actors reported having a difficult time finding work after this debacle. One, however — Ed Gale, who wore the duck suit more than any of the others — was cast in the spoof, Spaceballs, specifically because Mel Brooks said, “Anybody who was in Howard the Duck can be in my movie.”
The film was such a huge flop it threatened the viability of George Lucas’s finances. Having sunk a lot of money into creating Skywalker Ranch, he was counting on a box office payback from Howard to help him out.
Faced with the fallout from the film’s financial failure, he decided to sell off the computer animation group within his larger Industrial Light & Magic production group. To help his buddy out, Steve Jobs agreed to buy the group, which would eventually become Pixar, for an eventual $10 million.
So in a way, both Woody and Buzz Lightyear owe their existence to our favorite transdimensional space duck, Howard.
And it seemed the film had killed off Howard, as well, with his comic book petering out of popularity. It was not so much killed off as faded away. Legal battles between Marvel and co-creator Scott Gerber further mangled his prospects. Howard’s stardom seemed like one seriously dead duck.
Or was it?
With the recent rise of so many Marvel Comic Universe movies springing forth, many loose threads from long ago are being tied up in new and unusual ways. For example, astute viewers of 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy may have spotted Howard in a “easter egg” moment in the scene where we meet the Collector. He then got his own moment in that movie’s now almost-routine post-credit scene where once again, we get to hear Howard wise-cracking as he wakes up yet again in a world he never made.
Yes, it seems Howard has been sighted again in comic-book land with a new series circa 2015 amid heavy hints that the weirdest wise-cracking duck ever known will indeed soon return to the silver screen.
Until then, though, we can always watch Howard’s first movie again (rent or buy on YouTube). Though it still shows up on those worst movie lists, it has slowly gained cult status among fans — which, after all is short for “fanatics.”
Finally, for your viewing pleasure — the grand finale from Howard the Duck.