The day after I saw Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, I ran into some 10-year-old boys in my neighborhood and the second question they had for me, after “is it good?”, was “is Howard the Duck in it?” They went and saw the movie over the weekend, and when I ran into them afterward, they again brought up Howard and their excitement upon seeing him. I thought it an interesting, probably rare delight until I heard film critic Drew McWeeny on our One Perfect Shot podcast tell of his sons’ own thrill when Howard appears midway into the movie. The younger of the two boys, aged nine, actually stood up, pointed, and yelled at the screen, “Howard!”
I’m not going to claim based on two sets of kids of a certain age that Howard the Duck is popular among all preadolescent boys, but I would like to assume that random samples from two sides of the country are good indication that it’s not that uncommon. Why is the character catching on with these kids, if so? He appears so briefly in both Guardians movies and is given no context. There are so many weirdos on screen, so why him? Do kids just respond that well to anthropomorphic animals with attitude? Isn’t he just another Rocket type but in duck form? Are they more excited and intrigued by the one they’re given so little information about?
Whatever the case, if it is true — and I’d love to hear from other parents (or kids, if you’re that young and reading this site) about Howard fandom or interest in the character — then now is the time for a spinoff to happen. Capitalize on the growing popularity before the fascination dies down. I know there’s no immediacy with comic book movies, but if Marvel could manage to put out a new Howard the Duck at least in the next six years, that might be perfect. These new fans will be in their teens, which will put them in the target demo for the current Howard comic book run and at a point where a less kid-friendly movie could be released.
Of course, the trickiest thing about Howard is that he’s not appropriate for 10-year-olds but obviously appeals to them in being a rude talking duck. The George Lucas-produced Howard the Duck movie was such a confusing effort because it seemed to be for kids, which it attracted (I was 10 when it came out, and I went opening weekend — and I also loved it), yet it has a lot of sexual content that isn’t right for children. Even the Guardians movies, which to be fair are rated PG-13, depict Howard as a lewd character who drinks and smokes and makes sexual comments about women being “out of luck until you’ve gone duck.”
Howard could be the MCU’s own Deadpool as a foul-mouthed fowl who satirizes his own genre and breaks the fourth wall. But it would be interesting if he could do that job as a more family-friendly hero. Marvel doesn’t need to copy Fox’s success with Deadpool. And kids need meta-culture, too, after all. It’s both novelty and stimulation for them. Parody, homage, and deconstruction actually account for much of the best children’s books, cartoons, comics, and movies. It wouldn’t be too difficult to tone down Howard’s language and behavior to tailor him to a younger audience. Would that turn off the larger MCU crowd, though?
While there are no plans for a new Howard the Duck at the moment, James Gunn has stated that he will continue to have a relationship with Marvel after the third Guardians installment. That could be a Howard spinoff if he wanted, I’m sure, and considering it’s one of his favorite characters, that wouldn’t be so unlikely. Of course, Marvel could have other ideas for Howard. Kevin Feige recently stated, “The fun thing about Howard is he shows up where you least expect him, so like who knows where he’s going to appear next?” Might he just be a floating character in the MCU? Will he be in the colosseum stands in Thor: Ragnarok? And cameoing again in Avengers: Infinity War?
The more he makes appearances, the more fans will want to see him get his own feature. Of course, that happens with other characters, most notably Black Widow, and surely there would be hell to pay if Howard got another movie after bombing 30 years ago before Black Widow got one of her own. Perhaps he’ll just join the Guardians of the Galaxy team down the line since Gunn has teased the current incarnation won’t last. Either way, the duck isn’t going anywhere. And technically, so far his modern cinematic presence can be seen as a box office blessing. Maybe he’s right. Maybe it’s good luck when Marvel goes duck.