The Behind- the- scenes story of
Savage Dragon/Destroyer Duck #1
by Steve Gerber
This story is long and aggravating. If you're not the type who
revels in all the mundane, petty crap that goes on behind the
scenes in the creation of comic books, then stop here. This will
be your only warning.
The story behind Savage Dragon/Destroyer Duck actually begins
in 1978. For the previous six years, I had been a writer and editor
for Marvel Comics. Among the characters I created during that
time was Howard The Duck. In '78, I parted company with
Marvel as a result of a bitter dispute over who owned Howard.
For brevity's sake, let's just say that the difference of opinion
ultimately became the topic of litigation.
Lawsuits are expensive. At one point, it looked like I was going
to have to pack up my briefs and chuck the whole thing, until
I came up with the idea of publishing a comic book to help finance
the suit. That comic book was Destroyer Duck #1.
The legendary Jack Kirby, who'd had his own problems with
Marvel over the years, was among those who donated their talents
to the book. Together,, Jack and I created Duke "Destroyer"
Keep in Mind: Destroyer Duck came into being specifically because
another duck creation had been taken out of my hands by Marvel
Comics and placed in the care of writer who, frankly, had absolutely
no idea what to do with the character. You won't fully appreciate
the irony of this little tale-or the astonishing stupidity of
the person telling it-if you forget this fact.
Anyway, the lawsuit was ultimately settled out of court. Marvel
got custody of the duck but made certain concessions in return.
The precise terms of the settlement were confidential at Marvel's
insistence, so I can't discuss them here.
After the settlement, Marvel approached me about reviving Howard
the Duck. I enthusiastically set about writing the script for
a new first issue of the series. The script came back to me from
Marvel with large chunks deleted and/or changed by the company's
then-editor-in-chief. In light of the mauling the script suffered,
I didn't want it published. I "pulled" it, and that
was the end of the Howard the Duck revival.
Some years later, I brought Howard back in a multi-part story
in She-Hulk, but Marvel did nothing to promote that guest appearance,
and it went mostly unnoticed by the fans. Flash forward several
more years to 1995 and the fourteenth issue of a comic book called
Codename: Stryke Force, published by Image Comics. In that issue,
an enigmatic figure known only as "Specimen Q" emerges
from cryogenic freeze in the sub-sub-basement of Gregory Brainard's
New Jersey factory. When the story was plotted, the plan was for
Specimen Q to lead Stryke Force into an encounter with Destroyer
At the last moment, though, Marc Silvestri whose Top Cow
Productions published Stryke Force, changed his mind and decided
that, well, on second though, maybe a talking duck wasn't really
in keeping with the tone of the book. I was crushed and, frankly,
tempted to walk off the book, even though I didn't want to. I
enjoyed writing Stryke Force characters and valued my working
relationship with Marc and the Top Cow editor David Wohl,
which had overall been among my most pleasant experiences in comics.
I didn't feel it was worth dynamiting that relationship over this
one incident, but, at the moment, couldn't see an alternative.
Enter a close friend and advisor-hereinafter, "Mr. Close
Friend and Advisor Esq."-with a suggestion that made
it possible to tell the story more or less as I originally intended,
although absent Destroyer Duck. I took Mr. Close Friend and Advisor
Esq.'s suggestion. David Wohl and I made the necessary adjustments
to the story and resumed the ongoing mad dash to meet our shipping
dates. David also made a crucial phone call.
As every reader of The Savage Dragon has surely noticed, Erik
Larsen has a penchant for embracing bizarre characters and
concepts. In what other series would expect to encounter a super-villain
with the head of a chicken? Or a group like Body Function? Where
else would you expect to witness an actual fist-fight between
God and the Devil? David thought Erik might be inclined to publish
a Dragon/Duck team-up. Erik said "yes," and we all vowed
to put out that duck book. Someday. Soon.
Time passed. Codename: Stryke Force was cancelled. The comic
book market went into a tailspin from which it still hasn't recovered.
Erik and I were still discussing the Dragon/Duck team-up, and
it seemed both of us that the time for it might be right. With
the industry in a state of stagnation, with almost every new "spandex
title" crashing and burning as soon as it hit the stands,
the return of Destroyer Duck might provide a welcome change from
the ordinary superhero fare.
So, naturally, that's when Marvel called. I should have been
expecting it. My life and career have obviously never been uncomplicated.
But no, I got caught off-guard. The editor of Spider-Man Team-Up
asked if I'd be interested in writing a Spider-Man/Howard the
Duck story. The real answer was "no, " I was much more
enthusiastic about getting Destroyer Duck back into print, and
I knew exactly what would happen if I wrote a Howard story at
the same time: the Marvel publicity machine would combine with
the blindly nostalgic tendencies of many comic book readers to
draw all the attention away from what promised to be the more
interesting of the two stories.
Mr. Close Friend and Advisor, Esq., though, was urging me to
write the Howard book, because the character was an "asset"
for me at Marvel. (More about the rationale in a moment.) Various
other friends and fans were of the same opinion. Even my mother
wanted me to write the character again. They all thought it was
my Big Chance to return to my Great Creation. Personally, I thought
it was a gigantic opportunity to voluntarily step in dog doo,
but I figured, okay, I'll give Erik a call and see what he thinks.
After all, he was going to be publishing what might be considered
the rival book. To my surprise, Erik agreed with everyone else
and came up with an outrageous idea I couldn't resist: that we
orchestrate a sort of "crypto-crossover" between the
stories, a scene that would happen in both books and bring all
the characters together in some oblique manner. I couldn't resist,
but I was a Sno-Cone's chance of Tiera del Fuego that Marvel would
ever agree to the proposition. Once they turned it down, I could
walk away from the Spider-Man Team-Up story and still feel I'd
acted responsibly, career-wise and all that. Marvel agreed to
the proposition. I plotted the Spider-Man Team-Up story with Howard
and, to be honest, enjoyed it a lot more than I expected to. Instead
of thumbing my nose at the nostalgia buffs. I decided to give
them every damn thing they'd been asking for-not only Howard and
Beverly, but also the Kidney Lady and even the Homicidal
Elf from my old Defenders stories. a '70s extravagaza!
Plip. That's the sound of dog droppings dropping. While working
on the plot I learned that Marvel had commissioned another Howard
the Duck story, by another writer, in a book called Generation
X- scheduled for release the month before the Spider-Man book.
Plip.Plip. I was not happy about this, but I'd made the commitment
to write the story, and I intended to stick with it. Plip.Plip.
Plip. After the plot had been finished, I learned that Marvel
had scheduled two more Howard stories, also by other writers.
Plip plip. Plip plip. Squish. I'd stepped in it again. A simple
rule for identifying assets: If it's located in somebody else's
dog run, it isn't one. In other words, no character that anyone
creates for Marvel Comics can, by definition, be an asset to the
person who creates it, because Marvel owns it and can do anything
with it they want. It's only an asset to Marvel. After everything
I had gone through with Howard, I though I had a reasonably firm
grasp of that concept. I guess not. I was steamed. My concentration
was shot to hell. Sufficiently son that was having difficulty
writing a plot for Savage Dragon/Destroyer Duck. Erik was expecting
the story, and I owed him an explanation for why it was taking
so long. I gave him a call and told him, essentially, the story
I've just told you. Erik chuckled. "Hey, guy, I known what
I'd do in a situation like this, " he said. Erik's suggestion
was, in the current vernacular, very empowering. You see, the
"crossover" scene in Savage Dragon/Destroyer Duck plays
out a little differently than the version in Spider-Man Team-Up
"Howard the Duck" still belongs to Marvel, but you
and I now know that the duck is not only an empty trademark, a
clone whose soul deserted hem forever at the corner of Floss and
Regret. The real duck and his girlfriend now reside in Chicago,
boarding the Amtrak for Buffalo.
Jack Kirby died in 1994. If there are comic book stores after
death, I hope he gets to see a copy of Savage Dragon/Destroyer
Duck. I think he'd appreciate the sheer audacity of what we've
done, and I know it would keep hem laughing for the better part