"Certain parents would claim Howard the (of all things) Duck capable of corrupting their children and advancing the cause of Satan in the modern world. Yes, that Satan!”
I love this book. It has its problems, which I’ll get to in a minute, but first I can’t wait to say this is probably the best film novelization you are likely to find. I haven’t read them all (yet), so I throw that “probably” in there to leave room for challengers. As it is, Ellis Weiner is just a funny writer who recognized a terrible script and just did whatever the hell he wanted with it. There are several rambling tangents that he goes on whenever he feels like it. Some of these are marked off as “Coverage In Depth Inserts” where he will ramble about politics and government waste or why a character dresses the way he does for several pages, and they are mostly funny. Other times, he will go into the entire backstory of a character for several pages, but the character is just an Extra in the film. He might have one line in the script, but there’s several pages dedicated to who he is as a person in the book.
The first chapter might be the greatest first chapter ever written. It starts with The Universe, or God, or whatever you want to call it, talking IN ALL CAPS. Soon, the narrator interrupts and basically insults God for trying to be Carl Sagan in a Howard the Duck book. The narrator argues with GOD/THE UNIVERSE for a few pages, before deciding to ignore it and get on with Howard the Duck. GOD/THE UNIVERSE’S interruptions into the Narrator’s story become less frequent throughout the chapter, which is a decent introduction into the life of Howard the Duck, of Duck World. As Howard the Duck is mysteriously transported to Earth, he comments on how lonely it is in space. GOD/THE UNIVERSE responds and they have a brief conversation about this unfair bullshit that is happening to Howard. It’s fucking bizarre and I love it.
In the middle of the big climax, after the female lead has been kidnapped by the scientist possessed by The Dark Overlord of the Universe, there’s an entire page dedicated to her thoughts on celebrity names, like “what the hell kind of name is Sigourney?” and “how could there actually be a guy named Armand Hammer? Was that supposed to be some kind of amazing coincidence, that an oil millionaire was named after a box of baking soda? Were his parents kidding, or what—” The book is full of these ridiculous little tangents about anything.
There are multiple jokes about the book itself as well. There’s a point near the end where Ellis Weiner points how implausible the whole plot of the book is, then for good measure puts, “THE ENTIRE STORY OF HOWARD THE DUCK COULD BE SAID TO LACK A CERTAIN DEGREE OF CREDIBILITY.” Seriously. In all caps. My favorite example is his mockery of standard film/tv tropes. At the aftermath of the diner scene, he mentions all the police, ambulances, fire trucks and tv reporters, and then has this wonderful paragraph about a certain trope you should be familiar with…
"Also on hand, pointing in wonder and shielding their children on cue, was a crack squad of Para-Bystanders. Their job: to gather in a cluster and looked (sic) appalled or fascinated whenever ordinary bystanders were unavailable. At remote locations. In inclement weather. Whenever a public event required an innocent group of observers and secondary victims, the Para-Bystanders were there. It is to them, in sincere appreciation for their dedication and skill in the cause of bystanding, that parts of this book are gratefully dedicated."
Now, my problems with this book are pretty much limited to the duck/bird puns, which are abundant. Some of them are funny. The best use of them is in one of the “Coverage In Depth Inserts” where he talks about the books that Howard read that shaped his personal philosophy. But the only reason I like them here is because of the one that isn’t changed. First the was The Fountainhen, then Hatcher in the Rye and Hatch 22. And then there’s just One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
I wish I had counted the puns as I read. I imagine it almost averages out to one per page. I get the appeal and desire to make these jokes. Sometimes they are mildly amusing. But it bothers me that there’s a parallel universe that appears to be pun-centric. I’m okay with a parallel universe where ducks evolved into the intelligent, dominant species, and the world is just like Earth. But then everything has a duck pun in it. James Bond is James Pond. United States of America is United Drakes of America. philharmonic is billharmonic. Macanudos are Quackanudos. So on. If humans were prone to naming everything, literally everything, with some sort of ape pun, I might find this more amusing, as a way of mocking our tendency to name everything with a pun. We don’t do that. Neither should the ducks. It might have been funnier if some jackass kept making duck puns at Howard and was put in his proper jackass place for his assumption that everything on Duck World involved puns.
To his credit, Ellis Weiner pretty much does just that on page 73. Some jackass makes a duck joke at Howard, and the narrator says, “he was starting to get a little tired of the duck jokes. Who isn’t?” But there’s still almost 160 pages after that full of duck puns, so I don’t know how tired he was of writing duck jokes.
So the puns aren’t nearly annoying enough to dismiss the book. Ellis Weiner is funny enough that the puns don’t really matter. If the puns were the only jokes in a more strict novelization of the script, I would probably write hate mail to the publisher.
Finally, there’s two things I want to share with you. First there’s this paragraph in the climax, which I scanned because…
And second, there’s a point in the book where Howard buys children’s clothes at a Goodwill using money from Duck World. Now, I bought this book at a Goodwill using money from Earth. Coincidence? Obviously.
You should probably read this, or maybe something else Ellis Weiner wrote. I’ll probably order another of his books before I go to sleep tonight, because I’m drunk and fighting the part of my brain that knows I already have too many books I haven’t read yet. “What’s one more, really? Plus, you have to get the latest John Swartzwelder book anyway.” I won’t let you know what wins, because it doesn’t matter.