SPOILER WARNING: This daily list contains light spoilers for Guardians of the Galaxy. If you’re one of the millions of people that earned it a record breaking opening weekend, you may proceed. Otherwise you may want to turn back, although the title and header image probably ruined the surprise for you anyway. My apologies to readers in countries where it hasn’t opened yet. Of course the rest of the Internet probably spoiled you already because it’s a dick like that.
So if you stayed through the Guardians of the Galaxy’s credits or just paid attention to the background during the Collector’s scene, you know that Howard the Duck is now officially part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (voiced by an uncredited Seth Green). Rumors are circulating that this stinger sets up Howard to star in one of the recently announced Marvel mystery movies because that’s how these post-credit scenes work. (How quickly people repress the stinger for Iron Man 3!) A new Howard the Duck movie sounds like a big gamble considering how the last one bombed critically and financially, but Marvel Studios did just beat the odds and strike box office gold with a movie about a B-list team including an anthropomorphic raccoon and tree. So far Marvel has done gangbusters by embracing the spirit of its comic characters on screen, but unfortunately it’s the spirit of Howard the Duck that’ll keep him from his second shot at silver screen stardom.
8. Defining Story Arcs Aren’t His Strong Suit
Most movie adaptations don’t directly follow one story arc, but they still draw inspiration from the most influential stories in a character’s publishing history. While Howard headlined his own series and makes frequent guest appearances, it’s questionable if he has any truly iconic stories that would translate well into a new medium. Howard’s a cool character, but he doesn’t exactly have a “Dark Phoenix Saga” or “Days of Future Past” of his own that cries out to be butchered by Hollywood. His stories stress comedy over coherence.
A new Howard the Duck movie would probably show him being transported from Duckworld to Earth via Man-Thing’s (whose name was attached to an even worse solo movie that went straight to SyFy) Nexus of All Realities, romancing Beverly Switzler, and battling the criminally underused Doctor Bong (no, the other kind of bong). Maybe they can work in his Presidential campaign if the movie comes out during an election year. While talented filmmakers could still craft an entertaining movie from these sparse plot points, it’s not an argument in his favor as to why he deserves a movie more than the rest of Marvel’s character inventory. Lots of changes and updates from the source material would still need to be made to make his movie work, and I’m not convinced the end result would be markedly better than his 1986 outing. Though I’m sure they can still get KISS to show up.
7. He Is the Uncanny Valley
Many people found the duck costumes in the 1986 movie to be too creepy, even though they’re spot on to how Howard would look in real life. The CGI Howard in GOTG disturbingly resembles a Toon Town version of Eraserhead’s Henry Spencer. So if audiences are skeeved out by how the main character looks in either costume or CGI, who is the studio expecting to see this movie? Puppetry is another option that also tends to unsettle a chunk of the populace. They could try to soften this unease by making the entire movie stylized animation like Big Hero 6, but then the impact of seeing a humanoid duck interact with regular humans will be almost entirely lost.
Maybe he’d look less freakish if they spent most of the film’s budget on high-end motion capture? In addition to helping out with mo-capping on Avengers: Age of Ultron, Andy Serkis has a mystery role in the film. Could he be taking over the role of Howard the Duck? It’d be kind of a waste of his talents because Serkis would be better as MODOK. He also has the experience needed to finally get an Oscar for bringing Mandrill to life!
6. Rocket Raccoon Is More Dynamic
Rocket Raccoon proved skeptics wrong as one of the breakout stars of the GOTG movie. It’s only natural that Marvel would try to catch lightning in a bottle twice with Howard the Duck. While the two are similarly ornery anthropomorphs, the problem is that Howard comes up short when compared to Rocket. Howard is upset about being stuck on Earth, but that doesn’t make him as sympathetic as Rocket’s Frankensteinish origin does. Audiences expect a certain amount of action from Marvel movies, but being an action hero isn’t Howard’s forte. While Rocket is a gun-toting mercenary and mechanical genius, Howard is only a master of Quack-Fu. He was once Iron Duck, but that’s derrivative of Iron Man. Ditto the time he gained the powers of Daimon Hellstrom, the Son of Satan. He recently acquired a BFG to re-kill zombies, but that feels like a cynical attempt to piggyback on Rocket’s revival rather than emphasizing what makes Howard unique.
Unlike Rocket, Howard doesn’t have a colorful team to play off him either. The giant-size Man-Thing talks even less than Groot and he’s not exactly BFFs with Howard. More importantly, Howard is generally more passive than most reactionary of superheroes. The central joke of his existence is that kooky things happen to him, not that he sets out to do things that are exciting or funny. Giving Howard a starring role in the wake of Rocket’s success would just give him egg on his face.
5. The Humor Is Too Bizarre
Howard the Duck was an outlier, in that it was a humor comic well before Deadpool became overexposed. His late co-creator Steve Gerber envisioned it as an existential satire about an average duck “Trapped In A World He Never Made!” full of superheroes. Screenwriters Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck opted for broader hijinks in his first movie, and produced occasional highlights like a Cajun sushi restaurant and Jeffrey Jones possessed by a Dark Overlord from the Nexus of Sominus. While that movie is reviled for this approach, I don’t foresee today’s screenwriters doing things drastically different, because making a topical comedy isn’t easy when it’ll be in production for years. It’s hard enough to do biting satire in comics with a three-month lead time. The humor on the page was often weird even by Marvel standards (including literal financial wizard Pro-Rata and Bessie the vampiric Hellcow) and wouldn’t fly in the MCU. He was the closest Marvel had to a counterculture character, so part of his charm was Gerber being able to do bizarre things like take a break during the middle of a story to devote an entire issue to a free form prose rant against deadlines.
If Marvel Studios wants to branch out into comedy, it should give She-Hulk a movie instead. She-Hulk can contain all the smashing you’d expect from a sequel to The Incredible Hulk with the added benefit of its protagonist being far more endearing than Dr. Angst & Mr. Roid-Rage. It’d combine superhero action, courtroom drama, slapstick romance, less toxic name recognition and more mainstream comedy stylings. And since Marvel just registered trademarks for her, they damn well better cast Kristen Schaal in a supporting role in Shulkie’s film as Squirrel Girl!
4. Effects-Heavy R-Rated Comedies Are Financially Risky
Fans’ biggest complaint about his first movie is that it was too watered down to represent the foul-mouthed fowl that smokes like a chimney and seduces Earth women. With Marvel in the driver’s seat, a reboot could certainly go edgier with the humor: Howard’s comics were groundbreaking for everything they snuck past the censors. The best way to recapture that feeling without it feeling tame or dated would be to go all-out with an R-rated comedy.
The problem with R-rated comedies is that they don’t tend to be as lucrative as PG-13 movies. The expectation that a mo-capped CGI Howard be used to dazzle viewers with its technical wizardry (rather than using a cheaper but just as effective duck costume) would drive up its production costs. Even if they do practical effects for Howard, they’d still insert plenty of special-effects spectacle to convince people to rush out to see it in IMAX 3-D rather than wait for Redbox.
While Ted showed this kind of movie can perform well, does another Howard the Duck movie really offer something special that audiences haven’t already seen and would be willing to pay for? Was Howard’s comic book success just a zeitgeist fluke that can’t be recaptured for modern moviegoers? Has pop culture already pilfered his best bits and moved beyond him? At this point Marvel is riding high on a string of successes but it’s likely that a new Howard could lay an even bigger egg than its reviled (to an unfair degree) predecessor. If Howard is a two-time laughingstock of Hollywood, however, Marvel Studios’ goose will be cooked. It won’t close its doors forever, but it’ll be too scared to take more chances on unproven characters that don’t fit its formula.
3. It Doesn’t Fit Marvel’s Master Plan
In case you didn’t notice, the Marvel movieverse is building towards Thanos acquiring all the Infinity Stones to complete the nigh-omnipotent Infinity Gauntlet. This will happen either in Avengers 3 or an Infinity Gauntlet crossover movie with the Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Dr. Strange and everybody that’s getting a Netflix series. Potential Marvel movies that don’t support this overarching story are not being greenlit.
GOTG co-writer Nicole Perlman revealed that Drew “Iron Man 3, No Heroics” Pearce’s script for Runnaways, the acclaimed series of interracial teens rebelling against their supervillain parents, has been shelved because it didn’t fit the masterplan. A similar fate befell her pitch for a long awaited Black Widow solo movie. Marvel’s Kevin Feige dithered on the possibility of a superheroine film because it’ll delay the the franchises they’ve already planned. Of course, a Ms. Marvel (currently going by Captain Marvel to rub salt in DC’s wounds even though Carol Danvers has earned a higher USAF rank) movie would be the perfect bridge between the Avengers and GOTG. Marvel also should get a Black Panther movie into production so that white guys named Chris don’t monopolize all the starring superhero roles. James Gunn wants to make a Thunderbolts movie about incognito supervillains pulling an epic long con. Marvel has also made little progress trying to revamp Inhumans as a cinematic X-Men substitute with with Game of Thrones intrigue.
With all those films either in the pipeline or on the backburner, I don’t see how Marvel has any room for a Howard the Duck movie. I haven’t seen the official master plan, however, so it is possible that Howard’s movie could be its lynchpin. As much as I like Howard, if Marvel’s epic cinematic vision spotlights him at the expense of Ms. Marvel, Black Panther, She-Hulk, Thunderbolts, Black Widow, Inhumans, and Runaways films, that blueprint needs to be burned.
2. He’s Too Close to Disney’s Other Ducks
Disney once threatened to sue Marvel if it didn’t put pants on Howard because he looked too similar to Donald Duck. (This was, of course, part of the joke.) Now Disney owns both Lucasfilm (which made the original Howard the Duck movie) and Marvel. So there shouldn’t be any problems with Marvel making a new Howard film, right? That’s true logistically but not conceptually.
Howard the Duck probably needs a more extensive overhaul for a viable solo film than most comics. If they emphasize his crimefighting shenanigans so he fits in with its superhero crowd, he veers into Darkwing Duck territory. If there’s a focus on globetrotting adventure hijinks to differentiate him from the superhero fare, it’ll come off as a poor man’s DuckTales. If they get the point and make it an edgy R-rated comedy, it’ll tarnish Disney’s wholesome reputation when confused audiences mistake it for a gratuitously crass and gritty reboot. If they completely miss the point by diluting it into a family friendly CGI cartoon like Big Hero 6, audiences will be even more likely to confuse it with Disney’s famous duck cartoons to the point where it might as well not be Howard.
Even if the stars align and Chris Miller and Phil Lord pitch a Howard the Duck movie where everything is awesome, Disney is still not going to let Marvel greenlight it. DuckTales and Darkwing Duck have much wider mass nostalgia appeal, so any brilliant ideas for Howard will be cannibalized into those relaunches. If they’re going to spend millions on an anthropomorphic duck comedy, it’d be on their own IP instead of a Marvel C-lister that already tanked at the box office.
And now let’s get to the elephant in the room that you’ve all been waiting for: interspecies fornication! Howard and Beverly have shtupped repeatedly. This isn’t just reading too deep between the lines like whether April was getting down with the TMNT off-panel in the original Mirage comics. Gerber made their relationship as obvious as he could under the Comics Code Authority and even more blatant once Howard got a MAX mini series for “Mature Readers.” His romance with Beverly is the core relationship of Howard’s life, so you can’t make a movie without it. The 1986 flick even included this. Although movie Beverly and Howard were interrupted pre-coitus, it was obvious what they’d get up to after the credits rolled. That movie also garnered a PG rating for gifting the world with duck tits. The only explanation is that the MPAA did a lot of coke in ’86.
One could argue that their relationship isn’t really beastially because both are consenting adults, but this is not a conversation that a conglomerate with a multi-billion dollar, mega-movie franchise at stake wants to have. Since the popularization of the Internet, it’s virtually impossible to escape the fact ducks have corkscrew penises, and whether or not the new cinematic Beverly is a compelling character is going to be completely overshadowed by how kinky she is. When Howard and Beverly went to Duckworld, even his fellow ducks thought they were degenerates. Since the general public is still squicked out by Furries, I can just imagine them avoiding this movie like the avian flu.
Even if Disney gave Marvel carte blanche to make a Howard the Duck movie, they’d still be too chicken to do a truly faithful adaptation. Marvel Studios wouldn’t let Jon Favreau properly adapt “Demon In A Bottle” because they’d have to admit that Iron Man has a drinking problem. Then they ripped off the villain propaganda twist from Batman Begins over fear that The Mandarin could come off as a racist caricature rather than making sure he was presented as a sympathetic three-dimensional character with alien power rings. The Hulk is born of an attempt to recreate the process that made Captain America rather than the testing of an even more fanciful Gamma Bomb. They keep trying to suck out all the epic fantasy trappings that make Thor unique to the point where the Dark Elves became the dullest aliens possible. Star-Lord’s obsession with his mon’s mix-tape was added to make him more empathetic. Big Hero 6 doesn’t look like it has much in common with its comic book inspiration beyond sharing some names. They’ve discussed making the sorcery in Dr. Strange “quantum physics” instead of genuine supernatural magic. In Ant-Man, they’re potentially going to fridge the Wasp offscreen and make Yellowjacket a separate character from Hank Pym so that they don’t have to address his infamous spousal abuse. If they’ve already made (or are going to make) these huge deviations from their own source material, then they’re not going to have Howard and Beverly make the beast with two backs, even though it’s pointless to do the movie without it.
Howard the Duck is a surly transdimensional humanoid duck who curses, drinks booze, smokes cigars, and has sex with a buxom human lady. That sounds like a great Adult Swim cartoon or an Axel Braun porn parody. It does not sound like a multimillion dollar tentpole movie in a superhero mega-franchise. Nobody wants to be accused of brainwashing children to be DTF ducks.
You may remember Matthew Catania from such Daily Lists as
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