Today, we’re looking at the surprising origins of Howard the Duck’s mantra – “Trapped in a world he never made.”
This is Foggy Ruins of Time, a feature that provides the cultural context behind certain comic book characters/behaviours. You know, that kind of then-objective reference that faded into the Misty Ruins of Time. As a matter of wit, twenty years from now, a college student watching episodes of “Seinfeld” would likely miss a lot of the then-popular cultural humor (like the very specific references in “The Understudy” to the Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding scandal).
This entry took an indirect route. I first thought about it when I looked back last month about Hank Pym’s time Marvel feature Where the size of the defect was trapped for a while. In that piece, I used the headline “trapped in a world never made of it”, which made me think it would be good to explain where that term actually comes from in the first place. So I started writing it, but then realized that Howard the Duck’s Origin, which included one of Marvel’s first stories dealing with the multiverse on a large scale, was pretty interesting in itself, so I wrote about it last week. And now, to the origins of “trapped in a world he never made”!
Marvel’s history of quoting poetry in his comic books
No offense to Stan Lee, but it was clear that when it came to using poetry in Marvel Comics in the late ’60s, Roy Thomas was a step above everyone else, as Thomas routinely turned to poetry with great influence in his comics. The most famous example occurred in Avengers No. 57 (by Thomas, John Bussima, and George Klein). In this case, the Avengers have just defeated Ultron through the efforts of Vision, who tricked Ultron into essentially destroying himself…
Thomas then had a great idea of writing a poem on the last page of the story. Thomas later reflected. . . “The first story where Ultron was fully featured and was blown up, I ended up getting dumped and kicked by a kid in the South Bronx. Instead of any dialogue, I put Sonnet Percy Shelley ‘Ozymandias’. When you have a character like that, he excels so much that You want to find something to contradict it.”
Then Thomas worked with Buscema to make it work perfectly and boy does it stand out…
After just four issues, Thomas and Bussima put together a wonderful two-page editorial for Avengers #61…
This was from Robert Frost’s poem, “Fire and Ice: …
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in the ice.
What I tasted of desire
I’m with those who prefer fire.
But if he should perish twice,
I think I know enough hate
To say it to destroy the ice
It’s cool too
It is enough.
at Avengers #76 (by Thomas, Bussima, and Tom Palmer), a captive Scarlet Witch begins to transform her captor, Arcon, with a poem…
And you can see its traces slowly sink into…
The poem in question was “A Flower in the Cache Wall” by Alfred Lord Tennyson…
A flower in the hidden wall, I took you out of the corners,
I hold you here, by the root and all, in my hand,
Little flower – but if I could understand
What are you, root and all that, all in all,
I must know what God and man are.
This wasn’t, of course, the last time Roy Thomas worked to write a poem into a comic book, but I think these were some of his most notable examples. Either way, it was a clear demonstration of that sort of thing in Marvel before a new generation of young comic book writers got their start at Marvel in the early ’70s now that Marvel has been able to expand its comic book line as Stan Lee has stopped writing so many comic books , so Roy Thomas needed a lot of reinforcements.
One of those reinforcements was Steve Gerber.
Where Steve Gerber delivers the role of the heroine “trapped in a world never made of it” TAGLINE
As I explained last week, in a story in the Man-Thing feature in afraid Then his own series, there was a multiverse issue that saw people pulled from other worlds, including Howard the Duck, from a world where talking ducks were the main life form on the planet. Howard has teamed up with Man-Thing and some others, but throughout the story, he loses him as they travel through the multiverse and appears to have fallen to his doom.
Instead, in Giant man #4, In a story by Gerber and Frank Brunner, we see that Howard kept falling until he returned to Marvel land…
In the next issue, Gerber and Brunner’s Howard the Duck feature unlocks (with Tom Palmer now on the inks) by describing Howard as “a strange bird in a strange land”…
This is a reference to Robert Heinlein’s novel, Stranger in a strange land…
Which in turn refers to Exodus 2:22 in the Bible, “And she carried for him A son, and he called his name Gershom, because he said, “I was a guest in a strange land.”
That story led to Howard getting his own ongoing series, and the book’s tagline, right there on the cover, was “stuck in a world he never made”…
The line is 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 this will and can;
No, I: May God and the people appreciate it
Laws are for themselves and not for me;
And if my ways are not like theirs
Let them mind their own business.
I condemn their actions and condemn them often,
However, when did you enact laws for them?
Please, say me and them
You just need to look the other way.
But no, they won’t. They still have to
snatch their neighbor to their will,
And make me dance as they like
With prison, gallows and hellfire.
How can I face the difficulties?
Who is the evil of man and the evil of God?
I’m weird and scared
In a world I never made.
They will be a master, right or wrong;
Although they are both fools, they are both powerful.
Since then, my soul, we can’t fly
To Saturn or Mercury,
Preserve us, if we preserve we can,
These strange laws of God and man.
Obviously, “trapped” has been added, but the gist is there. And now you know the origins of Howard the Duck’s famous logo!
If anyone else has any suggestions for Foggy Ruins of Time, feel free to email me at email@example.com
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