Hey everybody, politics are weird, right? It’s that time again where for the foreseeable future we’re just going to be inundated with politics, with no escape in sight. Just like Christmas, Presidential Election season seems to be getting earlier and earlier each term, to the point where we have to suffer through the freak-show that is the process of finding the parties nominees a full year before the actual election. So I felt like looking into the politics of the Marvel Universe, trying to find a good story about a presidential race. And boy did I find a good one. That’s right, there was a story in the 70’s where Howard the Duck, possibly the weirdest creation in Marvel Comics, ran for President. And almost won!
Now, in case you aren’t familiar with him, let’s talk about Howard the Duck. He’s an incredibly strange creation, from comic book writer and satirist Steve Gerber, and basically was a tool for Gerber to make fun of stupid things in the 70’s culture, while also having a crazy comic story. Howard is a four foot-tall anthropomorphic duck, who wears a suit coat and a fedora, who smokes a cigar, and is just generally apathetic to everything around him. People often don’t even comment about the fact that he’s a duck, and he mainly just wandered around the country, looking at all kinds of ridiculous things that were allegories for stupid things were doing in the real world. But I think the most insane thing about Howard the Duck was that he was fully in the Marvel Universe. Hell, the first issue of his solo series had him interacting with Spider-Man. So No matter what dramatic, serious story some one is trying to tell in the Marvel universe, remember that there’s a four foot-tall talking duck out there somewhere, and people almost elected him President.
But let’s get on with the story. The beginning of Howard’s political rise and fall begins in issue 7 of his series, which opens with Howard and his human companion Bev fighting a giant Gingerbread Man who has been brought to life like Frankenstein’s Monster. Yeah, that’s the kind of stuff Howard the Duck dealt with, monster cookies. Anyway, Howard eats some of the cookie-man letting him and Bev get away before the mansion that the cookie was created in exploded, killing everyone involved in the previous story. Bev and Howard then hitchhike to their next adventure, and end up in the limo of popular country musician Dreyfuss Gultch, who is headed to New York to perform at the national convention for a new political party, the All-Night Party. Gultch creeps on Bev and condescends to Howard, but gets them to the headquarters of the All-Night Party, and even sets them up with jobs. Bev gets to be a “hospitality girl,” and Howard is a security guard.
So Howard and Bev go off to do their jobs, and since Howard’s boss is busy sleeping with interns, he decides to go wander around the convention and busy himself. He comes across a bunch of people debating about what their party should stand for, so he waddles in and gets involved. They try to get Howard to tell them what their platform should be, and he basically just tells them to try and tell the truth, which blows all of their minds. So Howard just keeps wandering around the convention floor, stopping people from arguing, while receiving these strange notes that seem to hint at some conspiracy that’s trying to get him involved, but he just ignores those and keeps working. Howard becomes aware that the leading candidate for the All-Night Party just dropped out, and they’re scrambling to find someone to be the nominee, which isn’t going well. But as Howard watches them searching for a new nominee, he finally pieces together all those messages he’d been receiving, and realizes that there’s a bomb in the crowd, getting ready to blow up the Alaskan delegation, and the people on the stage. So Howard runs out on stage while the new nominee is giving a speech, and ends up saving everyone from the bomb. He destroys their big cake, and the nominee quits, but he saved the day. Which is enough for the delegates to begin chanting his name, ensuring that Howard is the next candidate. So the 1976 Presidential race is now going to be between Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Howard the Duck.
Howard is then tossed into the political world, and everyone is fascinated with him. And almost immediately, he begins drawing fire from would-be assassins, because apparently no one wants a duck to be running for president. Howard and Bev dodge a bevy of assassins in the streets of New York, and end up getting saved by Gultch again, who has a bullet-proof limo for some reason. He gets them back to the convention hall. And as soon as Howard gets into the convention hall, he realizes that this campaign is already falling out of his hands. The party big-wigs are debating what Howard should stand for, and creaking campaign posters for him that will appeal to every demographic. They start telling Howard what he’s going to believe in, and he gets pissed off. No one tells Howard the Duck what he does or does not believe! So Howard leaves the convention hall, and begins working on his campaign as the All-Night Party nominee, by himself. He starts to go on TV and begins selling himself. And it actually starts to work great.
Howard makes his own platform, and starts stumping, getting people to vote for him. He runs as a reformer, dedicating all his time to fixing the different societal ills he’s noticed. And probably different things Steve Gerber had a particular problem with. Howard wants to crack down on pollution and get the environment fixed, he wants to cut military spending, he wants amnesty for draft-dodgers, he doesn’t care about scandals, he wants bipartisanism, and he wants to improve education. Honestly, I would totally vote for Howard the Duck, given his platform. Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter aren’t exactly thrilled with his campaign though, and begin to mock him in the press, but it doesn’t do much to stop his momentum. We see that 30% of Americans would vote for him, even though the poll also said 48% would kill him. He even becomes more of an honest politician when we see that he shoots down offers of campaign contributions from lobbyists, ensuring that he wants an above-the-board Presidency. So Howard becomes a big deal, with everyone wanting to interview him, but he’s also getting more and more assassination attempts. He and Bev survive another round of assassinations, and end up getting back to the hotel, thinking that they’re all set to keep campaigning, when the one thing that could destroy his campaign happens. Sex Scandal!
And that’s basically the end of Howard the Duck’s presidential ambitions. He ran a good campaign, but apparently couldn’t come back from this scandal. By the next issue he’s given up and moved onto his next adventure where he and Bev fight a weirdo in a Beaver costume with a Mountie. Because Howard the Duck is an insane comic. And man was this a silly story for him. I really can’t believe that Marvel was letting Steve Gerber make this comic in the 70’s. It was clearly so personal to Gerber, and made very interesting comments about American culture at the time, while basically serving as Steve Gerber’s soapbox to stand on and shout his beliefs. All with a smart-ass duck. And this story definitely seems the most satiric from the run. It has the actual real-life candidates in it, and really tries to show what Steve Gerber thought about politics at the time. It kind of reminded me of Hunter S Thompson’s Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, just a really real and bitter portrayal of how a political campaign works. The All-Night party’s mad-dash scramble to find a candidate that they can boss around is probably not that far off from what actually happens at a political convention, and the way they immediately try to compromise Howard’s opinions and make him a puppet for their interests is basically exactly how I see politics. It’s a messy world where someone trying to run an honest campaign where they express their true thoughts is brought down by a stupid scandal that has nothing to do with the issues. Honestly, and this is a little bizarre to think about, but Howard ended up coming off as a liberal Donald Trump in this comic. He’s a political outsider, basically running from a third party, and disrupting the typical progression of a political campaign by telling people what he actually believes. The only difference is Howard wanted to make the world a better place instead of creating a fascist state. Oops, getting too into my own personal politics, this is supposed to be about a ridiculous cartoon duck running for president, not a ridiculous racist troll. So that’s the story of Howard the Duck’s attempt to become President of the United States. Now be depressed when you realize that that cartoon duck was probably a better candidate than we’ve actually had in decades.
Howard the Duck #7 and 8 were written by Steve Gerber and drawn by Gene Colan, 1977.