Guardians of the Galaxy and Howard the Duck

Howard-the-DuckBefore I saw Guardians of the Galaxy, the latest box office dreadnought from Marvel Entertainment, I read in the Huffington Post about a post-credit sequence featuring Howard the Duck. “As fans might remember,” the article pronounced, “”Howard the Duck” was first released in 1987, and would become a giant bust for Marvel and producer George Lucas.” But that’s not what I remember. What I remember is that Howard the Duck was an incredible comic book written by Steve Gerber, one of the only comics outside of Mad and Cracked magazines that I read as a boy.

I also remember that the Howard the Duck of the movie, the Howard the Duck who came from “Duckworld,” a dreadful place where no duck-themed pun was too low, the Howard the Duck who romped through second-rate science fiction in the name of anemic political satire, was the Howard the Duck of writer Bill Mantlo, the writer who succeeded Gerber and drained the title Howard the Duck of all its verve and originality, the writer who co-created Rocket Racoon, arguably and surprisingly the most interesting character in the movie Guardians of the Galaxy.

For me, that Gerber’s comic has been eclipsed by Lucasfilm’s turd of a movie is a warning for writers that film adaptations can be a Faustian pact. Some time in the past two years, a novelist I admire (I can’t remember who at this point) verbally shrugged off an interviewer’s question about whether or not he was concerned about the possibility that a film adaptation of one of his novels might be so bad it could ruin his book’s reputation. The author insisted that, as bad as any movie version might be, his book would still be there for people to read. A movie could never change that.

planetapessadendingBut whoever said that was wrong. Movies can quickly become the way people know books, at times supplanting the book itself. “The Body”? Never read it. Neither have most of my friends. But we’ve seen Stand by Me. How many know that the novel The Planet of the Apes actually takes place on a different planet rather than a future version of Earth? Or how many have even heard of The Short Timers, let alone read it? But it seems that people have at least heard of Full Metal Jacket, Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of it.

One might argue that some texts, like the ones above, might be better remembered by their movie versions. I would definitely say that’s true of Kubrick’s The Shining, which is, for my money, mostly superior to Stephen King’s novel. But what about more highly esteemed novels you might know only from movie versions that significantly changed their stories? The Tin Drum, for example, ends about halfway through the events narrated in the novel ; Blade Runner only resembles the Philip K. Dick novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? in the broadest of ways. Most notoriously, to return to Kubrick one last time, A Clockwork Orange excludes the final chapter of the novel, the chapter in which Alex loses his taste for “ultra-violence,” one that upends the point where the film ends.

Admittedly, movies don’t always displace the novels they’re based on—thank goodness Catch 22 is still best remembered as a novel—and sometimes they actually give life to books that might no longer be in print were it not for the success of the movie. One wonders if Mario Puzo’s lurid The Godfather would still be around were it not for Coppola’s films. But for any writer, allowing someone to make a movie of your work is a gamble.

HowardtheDuck 08Regardless, I know this: I never need to see the Howard the Duck movie again, but after reading Ed the Happy Clown, Chester Brown’s early graphic novel that reminded me of the pleasures I got reading Howard the Duck, and seeing the cigar smoking fowl’s name in print again, I might just pull out those yellowing back issues of the comic and see what the stink is all about.

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34 Responses to Guardians of the Galaxy and Howard the Duck

  1. Pingback: Guardians of the Galaxy and Howard the Duck | Tinseltown Times

  2. awax1217 says:

    I sometimes believe it is when something comes out that affects its popularity. The Beatles were at the right time. Indiana Jones hit it at the right time. And Howard the Duck was to early or to late. Either way it was Peking poor. Not roasted enough or just plain crispy.

  3. Reblogged this on Thegrizzthatisrizz's Blog and commented:
    Excellent writing.

  4. pezcita says:

    I’m probably one of the few people born in or after 1987 who’s actually seen Howard the Duck. (For free at least, I work at a library.) It’s an interesting concept for a film, but the tone and timing are way off. Someday I should really check into the comics and see what they’re like. It seems paneled stories are always better when they’re fresh in the original creator’s mind.

  5. mirrorgirl says:

    Can I find it on netflix?

  6. vernon says:

    All I can add to this conversation is to say how very thankful I am that Hollywood waited as long as it did before attempting to do a live adaptation of “The Watchmen”. Even two years earlier would have been a disaster.

  7. msarookanian says:

    Great writing. I agree. Comics adapted into movies is always risky though, and age can deteriorate a movie. I remember loving Batman Forever when I was a kid, but now after Nolan’s versions, its really hard to see why I thought this was the definitive Batman.

  8. elblogdelconejoblanco says:

    Buen artículo amigo

  9. jfreshly says:

    I enjoyed “Howard the duck the movie,” as a child. Does that make me a bad person?

  10. Translating book to the different medium of move demands a good deal of skill if it is to be done well. I never saw Howard the Duck. But I have seen the first two Hobbit movies and am struggling to find any of the book in it. Yet the same writing team did such a great job on The Lord Of The Rings.

  11. midwestcountyfairs says:

    People read novels about which poor films have been made all the time: The Great Gatsby, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, any film starring Oprah–and The Shining. Kubrick’s film made no sense, especially compared to the greatest horror novel of the C20.

    • chaszak says:

      I agree with you. At least that people still read novels that were turned into poor movies. The example I give in my blog entry is CATCH 22. I disagree with you on THE SHINING, but that’s just a matter of taste.

      • midwestcountyfairs says:

        You’re right it is a matter of taste! Excuse my incredible impoliteness! (Enough with the exclamation points!) Good entry, though; so many people do know these books because of the film version….

  12. Bria says:

    Reblogged this on Seasoned Fool.

  13. racheld says:

    Reblogged this on My Blog and commented:
    Nostalgia is an entity that brings great happiness from the memory but when revisited may not still provide the same punch.

    I have not read Howard the Duck comics nor have I watched the film, but I planned to do both after watching Guardians of the Galaxy – three times – in theaters. I am currently progressing through a compilation of Guardians of the Galaxy comics starring the original Guardians of the Galaxy and not the individuals portrayed in the film.

    I am grateful to live in an age with technological advances so that I can find and consume copious amounts of electronic books and comics without lugging them about with me.

  14. Inge says:

    I loved Howard the Duck when I saw it back in the good old days.

  15. Regarding the comic, I neither loved, hated (or understood) Howard the Duck. I do ,however, recall being captivated by the always impressive cover work; mesmerized enough by some of the catchier covers to flip through the pages (who can forget the ‘KISS cameo). Graffiti legend and schoolmate of mine, Lee Quiñones, was so inspired to place Howard center stage in a watershed mural he adorned our school with (google “graffitti if art is a crime” )

    Now, as for the movie: meh.

  16. Reblogged this on Q's place and commented:
    Some great works took their inspiration from arguably unlikely sources. Having read “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” I can see how it inspired “Blade Runner,” but not WHY it did. The same can be said for “The Body,” by Steven King (which the movie “Stand by Me” is loosely based upon.

    One thing is certain, I would never have discovered PKDick’s other works had I not seen Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner.” There is, therefore, somewhat of a ripple effect that some works engender.
    Certainly not everyone feels the same literary-archaeological curiosity. read on for another perspective.

  17. TJ Johnston says:

    Another Howard the Duck? Who knows, maybe they’ll get it right this time.

  18. Matthew Hewitt says:

    Agree entirely with your points about the Duck, both film and comic book. Kubrick didn’t deliberately jettison the last chapter of Clockwork Orange btw, he used the American version of the novel (the only one he knew at the time) which omits said chapter and was Burgess’ proffered version of the text. The ‘happy ending’ was imposed on the author by his original British publisher, who didn’t like the idea of Alex neither being properly punished or seeing the error of his ways.

    • chaszak says:

      Thanks for your comment, Matthew, and for clarifying what happened with A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. Hopefully it was clear that my intention wasn’t so much to claim that Kubrick “changed” the ending–since as you point out, he didn’t–as it is to show that the ending of Kubrick’s movie is how most people who have heard of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE expect the story to end. That expectation is also compounded, it seems, by the fact that for decades the American edition of the book didn’t have the final chapter. I appreciate your insight.

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