Today we look at the surprising origins of Howard the Duck’s catchphrase – “trapped in a world he never created”.
This is Foggy Ruins of Time, a feature that provides the cultural context behind certain comic book characters/behaviors. You know, the kind of then-current references that faded into the “misty ruins of time.” Namely, twenty years from now, a college senior watching episodes of “Seinfeld” will likely miss much of the then-current pop culture humor (such as the very specific references in “The Understudy” to the scandal Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding).
This entry took a circuitous route. I first thought of it when I did a flashback last month to Hank Pym’s stint in Wonder function where he was trapped at the size of a bug for a while. In this article, I used the title “Trapped in a world he never created”, which made me think it would be a good idea to explain where this term actually comes from first place. So I started writing it, but then I realized that Howard the Duck’s origin, which involved one of Marvel’s first stories dealing with the multiverse on a high level, was interesting on its own, so I wrote about this last week. And now, place at the origins of “Trapped in a world he never made”!
MARVEL’S HISTORY QUOTING POETRY IN HIS COMIC BOOKS
No offense to Stan Lee, but it was clear that when it came to the use of poetry in Marvel Comics in the late 1960s, Roy Thomas was a step above everyone else, as Thomas stood regularly turned to poetry to great effect in his comics. The most famous example occurred in avengers #57 (by Thomas, John Buscema and George Klein). In the issue, the Avengers have just defeated Ultron through the efforts of the Vision, which caused Ultron to destroy himself…
Thomas then had a brilliant idea to insert a poem in the last page of the story. Thomas later reflected, “The first story in which Ultron fully appeared and blew himself up, I ended up with his head lying down and kicked by a kid in the South Bronx. And instead of everything dialogue, I put Percy Shelley’s sonnet ‘Ozymandias.’ When you have a character like that, he’s so over the top that you want to find something to contrast with him.”
Thomas then worked with Buscema to make it work perfectly and the boy stood out…
Barely four issues later, Thomas and Buscema have composed a striking two-page opening on avengers #61…
It was from Robert Frost’s poem, “Fire and Ice:…
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in the ice.
Of what I tasted of desire
I am with those who favor the fire.
But if he should perish twice,
I think I know enough about hate
Say that for the destruction of the ice
Is also awesome
And would be enough.
In avengers #76 (by Thomas, Buscema, and Tom Palmer), a captive Scarlet Witch begins to transform her captor, Arkon, with a poem…
and you can see its effects slowly sinking in…
The poem in question was “Flower in the crannied wall” by Alfred Lord Tennyson…
Flower in the curled up wall, I rip you out of the corners,
I hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower, but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, all things considered,
I should know what is God and man.
This, of course, wasn’t the last time Roy Thomas incorporated a poem into a comic, but I think these are some of his most notable examples. Either way, it was a clear demonstration of this stuff at Marvel to a new generation of young comic book writers who would start at Marvel in the early 1970s now that Marvel has been able to expand its comic line. as Stan Lee. stopped scripting so many comics, so Roy Thomas needed a lot of backup.
One of those reinforcements was Steve Gerber.
WHERE DID STEVE GERBER GET THE ‘TRAPPED IN A WORLD HE NEVER CREATED’ SIGNATURE OF HOWARD THE DUCK
As I detailed last week, in a scenario of the Man-Thing feature in Fear then his own series, there was a glitch in the multiverse that saw people being ripped from other worlds, including Howard the Duck from a world where talking ducks were the main lifeform on the planet. Howard teamed up with Man-Thing and a few others, but over the course of the story he lost his footing as they traveled through the multiverse and he seemingly fell to his doom.
Instead, in Giant-sized man-thing #4, in a story by Gerber and Frank Brunner, we see that Howard continued to fall until he returned to Marvel Earth…
In the next issue, Gerber and Brunner’s feature film Howard the Duck (with Tom Palmer now inking) opens by describing Howard as a “strange hen in a foreign land”…
This is a reference to Robert Heinlen’s novel, Stranger in a strange land…
Which, in turn, is a reference to Exodus 2:22 in the Bible, “And she him a son, and he called his name Gershom; for he said: I have been a stranger in a strange land.
This story led to Howard getting his own ongoing series, and the book’s tagline, right there on the cover, was “Trapped in a world he never created”…
The line is taken from A. E. Housman’s poem, “The Laws of God, the Laws of Man”…
The laws of God, the laws of man, He can keep that will and that power;
Not me: that God and man decree
Laws for themselves and not for me;
And if my ways are not like theirs
Let them mind their own business.
I judge their deeds and condemn them greatly,
Yet when did I make laws for them?
Treat yourself, I say, and they
Just look the other side.
But no, they won’t; they still have to
Snatch their neighbor from their will,
And make me dance how they want
With the prison and the gallows and the fire of hell.
And how do I deal with luck
From the torment of man and that of God?
Me, a stranger and scared
In a world that I never created.
They will be masters, rightly or wrongly;
Although both are stupid, both are strong.
And since, my soul, we can’t fly
To Saturn nor to Mercury,
Keep we must, if keep we can,
These foreign laws of God and man.
Obviously, “trapped” is added, but the gist is there. And now you know the origins of the famous Howard the Duck slogan!
If anyone else has any suggestions for Foggy Ruins of Time, please feel free to email me at [email protected]
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