Marvel Announces New Printing Of ‘Howard The Duck’ Omnibus, So Let’s Revisit Steve Gerber’s Battle For The Character
This week, Marvel Comics announced that it’s planning to publish a new printing of the Howard the Duck Omnibus in October, collecting the character’s first appearance, all 33 issues of the original Howard the Duck series, and several other appearances in Marvel Team-Up, Marvel Treasury Edition, and Man-Thing.
It’s the first time the omnibus has seen print since 2008, and it’s a great resource for anyone looking to familiarize themselves with Howard — a great, satirical character often held in low regard because of the 1986 movie. It’s also an opportunity to get to know the work of Steve Gerber, the writer who co-created the character with artist Val Mayerik. Gerber died in February 2008, six months before the original release of the omnibus, and did not hold very positive feelings towards Marvel for decades after his Howard the Duck comics were first published.
Gerber returned to Marvel in 2002 for a Howard the Duck MAX series, which lasted six issues. Prior to that, in 1980, he famously sued Marvel for ownership of the character after being fired from both the Howard the Duck comic book and daily strip. Gerber was particularly angry that Marvel planned to use the character in TV and movie projects. That suit ended in 1982 with a confidential agreement and Gerber’s concession, after two years of fighting, that Howard was Marvel’s property.
Former Marvel Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter has a ton of info about the suit, along with documents, at his website.
In 1981, Gerber teamed with Jack Kirby to create the Eclipse Comics series Destroyer Duck, chiefly as a means to raise funds for Gerber’s lawsuit against Marvel. Gerber wrote the first five issues of the series, which told the story of an anthropomorphic duck seeking to avenge his best friend — a thinly-veiled Howard — who had been abducted and exploited by a heartless corporation named Godcorp.
Gerber’s relationship with Marvel fluctuated in the years after — the Howard analogue from Destroyer Duck was eventually retconned to be a different character — and he worked for the publisher here and there through the 1980s and 1990s.
The MAX Howard series was Gerber’s final work for Marvel during his lifetime (the series Infernal Man-Thing, which used decades-old Gerber scripts, was published posthumously in 2012). There doesn’t seem to be any evidence that his relationship with the early-2000s Marvel ended on particularly bad terms, but he opted to do most of his later work at DC, including the fabulous series Hard Time and a Doctor Fate series tied to Countdown.
Would Gerber have approved of the Howard the Duck omnibus or of the character’s subsequent appearances in Marvel media? It’s impossible to guess at how he might feel about the publisher today, but for those readers just getting into the little guy’s adventures, it’s good to get some context.