This post includes spoilers for Guardians of the Galaxy.
When a clip first emerged this week showing that the post-credits sequence for Guardians of the Galaxy would feature none other than Howard the Duck, many fans could hardly believe their eyes. Outlets like Vulture and the Telegraph wondered whether the bootlegged video was leaked “as a fake out” or “to generate further publicity for the film.” Even now that it’s been confirmed that the leaked post-credits sequence really is what’s playing after the movie, most fans aren’t taking it too seriously—surely, the thinking goes, this couldn’t be setting up the next big character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
It makes sense that fans would be on guard. As Hypable pointed out, Howard the Duck has been “a running joke for years in the Marvel community.” The idea of a Howard the Duck reboot has long been taken as preposterous on its face. The last time a Howard the Duck movie was “announced,” it was an April Fools’ joke from movie site GeekTyrant. When Joss Whedon told Yahoo! Movies, “I think it’s time for the Howard the Duck reboot that nobody expects,” everyone took it for granted that he couldn’t possibly be serious. After all, George Lucas’ 1986 Howard the Duck was a terrible, horribly misguided movie, and a debacle big enough to kill off any chances at a Howard the Duck movie franchise for good—right?
But what if this time Marvel isn’t joking? Hear me out. First of all, Marvel Entertainment seems strangely invested in using its resources to get the character back in front of audiences. Just this week, Marvel digitally released a slew of Howard the Duck-related comics, including a new digital rerelease of Howard The Duck No. 1 (1976) and new installments of the ongoing series Original Sins–installments in which Howard makes an appearance. Could it be just a coincidence that these are coming out the same week as the Duck’s big return to the silver screen?
In fact, Marvel may have begun paving the way for Howard’s arrival in its Cinematic Universe all the way back in 2012. That’s when Disney, which owns Marvel Entertainment, bought Lucasfilm, creators of the 1986 Howard The Duck movie. Everyone assumed that Disney made the $4 billion purchase because it was interested in Star Wars—but what if it was also interested in Howard the Duck? As of publication I can’t confirm that Lucasfilm remained the sole owner of Howard The Duck’s screen rights, as many assumed at the time. But that same year Marvel Entertainment COO Joe Quesada was personally appealing to George Lucas to release a Howard The Duck 25th anniversary edition Blu-ray, so the bird was clearly on their minds. Lo and behold, at almost the exact same moment Lucasfilm was acquired, Guardians went into pre-production.
The importance of the Marvel post-credits cameo shouldn’t be underestimated, either. So far, every character introduced in a post-credits scene has or will become a major player in a future film. (Guardians is no exception: Benicio del Toro’s The Collector, a major character in Guardians, first appeared in the post-credits of Thor: The Dark World.) Why should Howard be any different?
And Howard the Duck is just what the Marvel movieverse needs. In the comics, Howard is a cynical, loudmouthed, cowardly extraterrestrial, brought to Earth by accident and dragged on adventures against his will primarily because he looks funny. He’s a vehicle for delivering weirdness and provides a satirical window on the sometimes overly serious Marvel universe. His creator Steve Gerber believed that the joke was that there was no joke; he’s just a duck in a hero’s world. (Gerber has also awesomely cited Camus’ The Stranger as an influence that was “directly responsible for the creation of Howard the Duck.”) Treated right, Howard could be the perfect straight-duck and audience stand-in for an increasingly self-serious world of brooding Norse gods and Titanian Eternals. After we all just enjoyed a movie about a sarcastic, gun-toting space raccoon, is Howard The Duck really a stretch?