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The Duck That Roared, Part 2

Steve Gerber, the creator of HOWARD THE DUCK, resurrects the cigar-chomping mouse...wait a minute! Mouse?!

By Arnold T. Blumberg     February 04, 2002


Doctor Bong is back in the new HOWARD THE DUCK series written by Steve Gerber.
© Marvel Characters Inc.
Gerber's first run on Howard ended with a lawsuit concerning ownership of the character. While the issue was settled out of court, Gerber was soured on the whole situation and a mid-'80s revival went nowhere thanks to editorial intervention.

And then there was the movie.

"I was shown the script pretty much as a fait accompli," says Gerber. "They said, 'This is the script we're going to shoot. If you have any suggestions, let us know.' I made a couple of suggestions, they took one or two little dialogue things that I suggested to them, but basically I had no control over the film at all."

"Unfortunately, I saw the picture with members of the cast at [a] Universal screening," admits Gerber. "I wound up walking away with one of the assistant producers and saying, 'We're going to get killed.' It's a shame too, because the movie has a worse reputation than it actually deserves. It's not a good movie, but there are so many worse things."

Howard's world was thrown for a loop after Disney forced Marvel to redesign the duck.

When it is suggested that part of the film's bad reputation may be the result of fans eager to tear down icons like producer George Lucas, Gerber suggests another possibility.

"That's part of it, [but it's] also the fact that the movie was publicized as having cost so much. At the time it was $45 million dollars, which doesn't sound like a lot now, but it was an enormous budget at the time. And then you just have the problem of the damn duck suit that didn't work!"

Ultimately, Gerber doesn't believe that faded memories of the film will harm the new series one bit.

"Most of the reviews of the picture were sadly along the lines of, 'How the hell did they get this movie out of that comic book?'" explains Gerber. "People who read the comic already knew that wasn't really Howard, [and] enough time has gone by that we're starting with a clean slate."

Gerber doesn't plan to leave any pop culture icon unscathed in the new HOWARD THE DUCK series. After all, he has years of material to catch up on.

"Oh, God yes!" agrees Gerber. "It's going to be a total critique of the current culture, starting with boy bands and working all the way through Oprah, 'Bad Girl' comics and television news. We've left virtually nothing unscathed."

HOWARD THE DUCK returns...sort of...in an all-new series under Marvel's MAX imprint.

Fans will be happy to hear that Howard's girlfriend Beverly will also be returning. The success of this six-issue relaunch will determine if they are soon joined by other former costars as well.

"There's at least one villain from the old series coming back," says Gerber. "There are other characters I would have liked to use, but the problem is we're limited to six issues for this series, so I'm hoping [the new title] does well enough that we can continue and ultimately bring back a lot of the old characters. But for now it's mainly Howard and Beverly."

In addition to HOWARD THE DUCK, Gerber may even take on additional Marvel assignments should the opportunity arise.

"I'd love to do something new for them," says Gerber, putting aside notions of returning to Man-Thing. "I've just done so many of those stories, I don't think I'd want to do it again. It's time for somebody else to take it and do a different take on the character."

Gerber even offers an insider's look at how to handle potential conflicts with industry competitors. When MAN-THING was running concurrently with DC's own muck-encrusted heap, SWAMP THING, the respective writers came up with an original way to avoid overlapping content.

"Gerry Conway, who created Man-Thing, and Len Wein, who created Swamp Thing, were actually roommates at the time, and neither of them knew what the other one was doing [laughs]. They found out later they had created similar characters and were doing similar stories. When I got the MAN-THING assignment, one of the first things I did was sit down with Len and tell him, 'Why don't you tell me what you're doing, and whatever you're doing, I'll do something completely different.' And we just shook hands on that, and the two books diverged. They're completely different books."

Now the company that published MAN-THING is completely different as well, having revitalized itself in a turnaround that has fans and industry press raving. Gerber does think Marvel has turned a corner, but the path ahead still stretches into the distance.

The infamous HOWARD THE DUCK movie, based on Disney's redesign of the duck.

"There's quite a transformation under way, [but] it hasn't gone far enough yet in my opinion," says Gerber. "They're still re-doing versions of forty year old characters. The next step is going to have to be doing something original for a change. All of the stuff is very nice, and yes, there is a real creative renaissance going on there, but until they take that next step, I don't think it's gone far enough."

"I really do feel that most of those characters at this point are really played out," adds Gerber. "Everything that needs to be done with Batman or the Hulk has already been done. You have to bring either a really fresh perspective to it, or deal with what's going on in the real world in order for these things to be interesting."

"There have been very few altogether new ideas in comics over the past twenty years. Most of what has been new has come from the small and independent publishers, and almost nothing from Marvel and DC, with some notable exceptions-Neil Gaiman's SANDMAN, Garth Ennis' PREACHER. But for the most part, the main DC line has pretty much remained static creatively for the past forty years. The same is really true of Marvel's creative line. They're still doing riffs on stuff that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby did forty years ago."

Gerber also believes that introducing numerous versions of a character, as Marvel has done with Spider-Man in the main books, the ULTIMATE title and now the new Mangaverse line, is a slippery slope well worth avoiding.

"They now literally have three different versions running concurrently of certain characters," says Gerber. "It dilutes those characters and overexposes them. Ultimately I think it's going to be very unproductive if they don't start generating something altogether new."

As for Gerber's "new" Howard, it may be just another revival of a familiar title to some, but Gerber hopes it will be something a bit more interesting. For his part, it's a project he's waited to tackle for a long time.

"[Howard] always felt like work that I left unfinished," adds Gerber, "so it's like coming back to complete the mission."

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