Howard the Duck is more than a semi-obscure Marvel Comics character and the star of a particularly infamous ‘80s live-action adaptation. He’s also the most famous creation of late writer Steve Gerber, who used the talking waterfowl as a vehicle for biting social commentary in the 1970s. Few are as keenly aware of Howard’s significance as Stuart Moore, the writer of this week’s Spider-Man: Back in Quack #1 one-shot.

“Howard was such a ground-breaking character when he first appeared in comics,” Moore said in a phone interview with Newsarama. “To me, the real issues are the one Steve Gerber wrote early on. I just love those books.”

As the title implies, Back in Quack teams Howard the Duck and Spider-Man, who have a history dating back to 1976’s Howard the Duck #1. For Moore, it was a natural pairing.

“I like the idea of contrasting the two characters’ senses of humor, which are very different, even though they’re both known for their jokes and their wiscecracks,” Moore said. “Howard’s humor is a lot more cynical and a bit darker — Spider-Man’s always like the kid poking fun at his elders. His humor’s a little more gentle.”

The story, called “Human Slavery for Beginners,” sees forgotten villains from Howard’s past brainwashing and rebranding him as the catchphrase-spouting “Cynical Duck.” Moore described Howard the Duck as an ideal mouthpiece for writers.

“There’s some pretty broad, far-reaching social satire,” Moore said of Back in Quack. “You almost can’t do the character if you’re not going to get into that. He’s so angry at the world. You can use him to make all sorts of points and observations about the way the world is going now.”

Though Moore is quick to point to out that the book, drawn by Mark Brooks and Ray Height, is full of traditional superhero action rather than preachy subtext, he admits it’s also a response to current events.

“The original Howard the Duck series are very much of their time, the ‘me generation,’ people being self-absorbed,” Moore said. “I wanted to look around at where the world is now, coming out of the Iraq war, going through a pretty bad economy.”

Moore previously worked on the character as an editor, on a 2001 Gerber-written Howard the Duck miniseries for Marvel’s mature readers imprint, MAX.

“That was a very odd one,” Moore said. “He actually spends a lot of that series as a rat, but it really didn’t make any difference in the character. He was just the same cynical, nasty, and very, very likeable character that he always was. And that’s kind of what I’m trying to live up to here, in a small way.”

In a full-circle touch, the 22-page main story of Back in Quack is followed by an eight-page back-up starring Man-Thing, illustrated by Joe Suitor.

“Howard’s first solo stories were in the back of Giant-Size Man-Thing, which is the greatest title ever for a comic,” Moore said. “We’ve got a lead Spider-Man/Howard story with what I call a ‘tiny-size Man-Thing’ in the back, and I am secure enough in my masculinity to advertise it that way.”

Moore said Man-Thing is a “tricky” character to write, being mute and without an inner monologue.

“My favorite Man-Thing stories were always the ones about ordinary people having to deal with one kind or another of fear,” he said. “This is a very small story about an Iraq war veteran who’s trying to put his life back together in Florida. There’s a car accident, there’s some mysterious going-ons, and Man-Thing is crucial to whatever peace he may or may not find in the end.”

Back in Quack marks the first starring appearance of Howard the Duck since Gerber’s death in February 2008, but not much has changed since the last time readers saw him — still in an unconventional relationship with Beverly Switzler, and, yep, still angry.

“To me he’s just a great everyman sort of character. You don’t want to screw around with him too much, because he just works,” Moore said. “There are a lot of problems in the world right now, and I think it’s a perfect time to tell more Howard the Duck stories.”

And, just maybe, enough time has passed to heal any lingering wounds inflicted by that 1986 film.

“I have a lot of affection for it. I really like Lea Thompson in it,” Moore said. “Everyone in the country knows who Howard the Duck is because of that movie, and that’s a good thing.”

Spider-Man: Back in Quack #1 is on sale now. Click here for a seven-page preview.

Trapped in a world he never made!

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