Archive for the ‘marvel comics’ Tag

It. Exists.

Thursday, August 7th, 2014

[As the following contains a potential spoiler for “Guardians of the Galaxy,” I’ll wait a few minutes for you to run out and see the movie. … … … ok, you back? Wasn’t that great? Anyway, spoilers in 3…2…1….]


It’s a goofy, throwaway joke, but the post-credit tag in Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” kicked that summer movie up from very entertaining to A+++++. It also left anyone under 40 scratching their head and asking — “What’s with the duck?”

It was, or course, Howard the Duck. Director James Gunn had slipped in a sly homage to one of his favorite Marvel characters in the final scene. The cocktail-swilling, misanthropic talking duck once had his own best-selling comic book in the ’70s that was equal parts superhero parody, social satire, and existential musings. From the moment he appeared in 1974, Howard the Duck was a huge cult hit — and had a successful 5-year run until Marvel fired his creator Steve Gerber over creative differences, and Disney sued the pants on Howard.

Howard-the-Duck-01-00-FCHoward the Duck was also the spur to the greatest, dumbest quest of my life.

The cover of Howard the Duck #1 is still one of the best known covers of the Marvel era, with its send up of the fantasy illustrations of Conan the Barbarian and his ilk. In the issue, Howard is eventually sent on a fantasy quest dressed a la Conan, with nothing but a loin cloth, viking helmet and oversized sword. It’s ridiculous, but the spoof is so well rendered it works.

The thing is — I loved that cover. It’s so absurd but it plugged straight into all the stuff I liked at the time: Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Dungeon & Dragons, wacky cartoon animals. And then one day, some guy at a game store told me that he heard they had made a D&D miniature of Howard the Duck in that exact pose.

htdEven though he didn’t have it and didn’t know who to order it from, he swore it was true. He’d seen it … or someone he knew had told him they’d seen it. And thus began my quest. For the next several years, in every game store I entered, I looked for it. I sought it out at conventions, and asked fellow gamers if they’d ever seen one. Some had heard rumors, some imagined they had seen it, but like the Maltese Falcon, evidence of the tiny figurine eluded me. Finally, I came to the conclusion the whole thing was an urban myth, that the game store owner had simply bullshitted me.

Howard the Duck 01 - 11And then the internet showed up.

I don’t know exactly what triggered it, but slowly the old curiosity came back. I had to discover once and for all if it was real or not. Googling variations of howard, duck, miniature, sword all proved fruitless however. Given the wild, open business environment back in the day, it was highly unlikely — scratch that, no chance in hell — that any company had bothered to license “Howard the Duck”™ for a simple lead miniature.

I did get a few hits: in the intervening decades, like-minded goofs had created modules, figures and entire games around sword-swinging anthropomorphic ducks. Weird, but didn’t count — I wanted the original. It was the holy grail or nothing. And then one day I stumbled across a site archiving old D&D figures and catalogs as if they were on an archeological dig in ancient Sumeria. And there it was —

Barbarian Duck.”

It existed. The urban myth was real.

A few more searches confirmed that Archive Fantasy Miniatures had indeed put out a 25mm Howard the Duck-like figure, complete with cigar, in 1976. Eventually one showed up on eBay. Suffice to say, I was the only bidder.

It is, admittedly, hideous. A small, misshapen lump of lead, it barely resembles the figure in the pages, much less the Howard the Duck of the cover. But it’s real, and it’s mine. And it felt good to scratch that itch.

So, who wants to play some D&D?



[50/50] Genre Movie #12: X-Men

Saturday, August 31st, 2013

Genre Movie #12: “X-Men” (2000)

wolverineWhen it comes to superhero movies, there is no shortage of flicks I could pick, from the 1978 big-screen “Superman” to Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” on the DC side, to most of the Marvel films of the last decade (not counting the many unfortunate attempts at the Hulk and Fantastic Four). 1989 was a really good year, what with your Tim Burton “Batman,” and 1990 with the first Teenage Mutant Turtles, but really, nothing beats 2000 and the first “X-Men” movie. It was a near-perfect cast (Angela Bassett would have made a better Storm, but otherwise…) with Hugh Jackman nailing Wolverine, and receiving global fame as a reward for his efforts. While you can argue X-Men isn’t —now— the most entertaining superhero movie (X2 is certainly better), it did something more important: it was the first Marvel comic book movie that got it right. Without its success, none of the other movies would have happened. No Spider-man, no Iron Man, no Avengers. Director Bryan Singer showed that, if you cared about the source material and treated it with respect, you could make a great movie based on an old comic book.

[50/50] Story #7: “Queen of the Black Coast”

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

Story #7: “Queen of the Black Coast” — Robert E. Howard (1934)

conanIf J.R.R. Tolkien was the sire of high fantasy, Robert E. Howard was the mac daddy of pulp fiction that would eventually be called “sword and sorcery,” heroic fantasy concerning great warriors cutting great bloody swaths across savage realms. Howard’s influence was equally broad and memorable, which is surprising considering how short his writing career turned out to be. He wrote a few dozen short stories and created several famous characters — including Conan the Barbarian — before shooting himself at age 30.

Howard never left central Texas, instead bringing the world to him through adventure stories he sold to magazines like Weird Tales. When the market for paperback books exploded in the 1950s, his work was rediscovered by another generation of readers and writers, a few of whom picked up the mantle and continued to create tales with the same characters. Reprinted and expanded upon again in the late 1960s, these dark swashbuckling adventures became a huge influence —for good or for ill— on comics, movies, and genre fiction. Games like D&D and, well, most modern video games, owe a great deal to Howard’s inventions.

conan100Like Edgar Rice Burroughs and his Warlord of Mars, I discovered Howard via Marvel Comics in the ’70s, through Marv Wolfman and John Buscema’s epic adaptations of Conan. They capped off a great run with a retelling of Conan’s most famous story, “Queen of the Black Coast,” as the grim barbarian and his girlfriend, lusty pirate captain Bêlit, terrorize the seas of Hybornia. Alas, Conan loses his soulmate when they go after a cursed treasure, but not before she returns from the Great Beyond as an avenging angel to block a fatal blow and save the muscle-bound hero from certain death. <sniff> Ah, true love.

“Queen of the Black Coast” has been adapted numerous times for comic books (and was pretty much half the plot of the 1982 movie that made Ahnold a star.) There has been a revival of Howard’s work in recent years, as scholars, fans and critics have attempted to reclaim his rip-roaring originals and separate them from the many adapters, imitators and usurpers. You could do far worse than going back to the source: