Sure, he may be flying (waddling?) high now thanks to his well-received cameo in Guardians of the Galaxy and a current comic book revival written by Chip Zdarsky, but for the longest time Howard the Duck was the most maligned character in Marvel Comics’ storied history.
Originally created as a throwaway joke by the late Steve Gerber in a December, 1973 issue of Adventure into Fear, the character quickly took on a life of his own and became both a counter-culture icon and a comic book sensation. At the peak of Howard the Duck mania in the 1970s, he ran for president and was featured on a 7-11 promotional glass – let’s see your beloved Wolverine try to pull that off. But then came the dark times – ushered in by 1986’s notorious Howard the Duck film, a George Lucas production from the creative team of Willard Hyuck & Gloria Katz (who provided some rewrites for Star Wars and penned Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom). Instead of Gerber’s trademark wit and weirdly Kafkaesque storytelling, the film featured duck boobies and puns-a-plenty. It was a bomb of such magnitude that it remains a go-to punchline used to emphasize failure. But as anyone who has actually sat through it will be quick to point out, even though the film isn’t exactly faithful to its source material it still stands on its own flawed webbed feet. There’s a lot of pleasures to be found in the flick, from Lea Thompson’s stand-out pop songs to Tim Robbins’ goofy performance and some enjoyably weird tonal shifts that have characters making jokes one second and then straight up killing state troopers the next. It’s a cult masterpiece, which is why we thought we’d take some time out today to look at the most memorable lines from the flick.
“Hey, if I had some place to go I certainly wouldn’t be in Cleve-Land”. – Howard the Duck
One of the goofier elements of Steve Gerber’s original work was how it was set in the seemingly unlikely location of Cleveland, hardly your typical comic book setting. But like a feathery predecessor to Harvey Pekar, Howard the Duck was a working class waterfowl whose irritation with the status quo and working class roots made his new home in urban Ohio feel like a match. He is trapped in a world he never made after all — a sentiment echoed by most of his fellow Clevelanders.
“No one laughs at a master of Quack- Fu!” – Howard the Duck
One of the film’s gags ripped directly from its source material is Howard’s assertion that he is a master of martial arts. We’re guessing on Duckworld that puns hit just as hard as fists. Unfortunately for Howard, this line proved eerily prescient, as the box office receipts indicated.
“He’s my boyfriend!” – Beverly Switzler
When Howard’s life is threatened by some hicks at a truck stop restaurant (Joe Roma’s Cajun Sushi, by the way, which I alarmingly knew right off the top of my head), Beverly attempts to stop the madness by declaring her love for the feathery little dude. Does this make her the first plushie? Not quite sure.
“No More Mr. Nice Duck!” – Howard the Duck
As Howard mentions in the flick, every Duck has its limits. So who can blame him for wanting to take on some low-rent refugees from Quincy‘s punk rock episode when they start harassing Beverly? These lame-o threats do serve a purpose however, they bring Howard into contact with Lea Thompson’s Beverly for the first time, setting in motion the weirdest would-be romance of the 1980s.
“You think I might find happiness in the animal kingdom Duckie?” – Beverly Switzler
No discussion of Howard the Duck is complete without mentioning the movie’s weird bestiality overtones. This is essentially a kids film after all, so the fact that there are both bare duck breasts, a seduction scene, and the condom just add to the movie’s mystique — in the weirdest way possible.
“If you got blasted millions of miles through space, ended up on another planet and were given an IQ test by a janitor you’d be a little pissed off too”. – Howard the Duck
God, if only all science museums were this fun. In a rare dramatic scene (well, one that doesn’t feature Jeffrey Jones’ Dark Overlord character callously evaporating a man of the law), Howard and Beverly have their first lover’s quarrel. But haven’t we all had moments in our love lives when the person we were with seemed so very alien to us? Howard the Duck is truly universal.
“Duck!” – Phil Blumburtt
“And proud of it!” – Howard the Duck
Arguably the biggest laugh in the movie comes from this exchange between Tim Robbins’ dopey Phil Blumburtt character and Howard during the exciting ultralight sequence (glimpsed above). Speaking of Blumburtt, is anyone else really confused by why the character suddenly gives up his science dreams to essentially become a stage tech at the end of the film? That has always bothered me. The interspecies sex implications we are totally cool with. But a brilliant mind giving up his intellectual pursuits? We aren’t having it.
“Not bad for a duck from outer space.” – Howard the Duck
So he saves the world, gets the girl, and becomes a rock star who gets to play some Prince-lite jams? Not bad at all, in fact.
“Me Phil. You Howard. We be friends.” – Phil Blumburtt
Before he was very serious actor Tim Robbins, he was just trying to pay the rent by taking whatever role came along. So like Fraternity Vacation before it, Robbins spends most of his screen time as the human male lead being an absolute goofball. And you know what? I still enjoy his performance here better than anything else he’s ever done. Except for maybe High Fidelity.
“Hickory Dickory Duck, ain’t about to get plucked. Too groovy for gravy too precious for pate.” – Thomas Dolby
As a bonus, here’s the rare “Howard the Duck” music video which features exclusive footage, a cameo from P-Funk icon George Clinton (who worked on the movie’s soundtrack) and some truly stellar lyrics from “She Blinded Me With Science” hit maker Thomas Dolby. . I won’t lie to you (not now, or ever… #promises), I straight up love this song. Remember: If it ain’t funk, you don’t feel it!