Originally published on Camp vs. Kitsch.
Comic book movies have been so hot lately, it’s easy to forget that they haven’t always been so. But, like anything with devoted fans, even the acknowledged worst of the worst — in this case, that is undoubtedly Howard the Duck — have their staunch defenders. You have to understand, part of the horror of the Howard movie is that the comic book on which it is based is pretty much a work of genius. I know, if you’ve only ever seen the movie, that claim is hard to wrap your mind around. But it’s true. Don’t believe me? Go look. There’s a cheap, $15 “Essential Howard the Duck” paperback available now with most of the original Howard appearances all in one, black and white book. There’s also a hefty, hardcover color Howard Omnibus that’s worth checking out if you’re either loaded or a patron at a well-stocked library.
The film, which starred a punked up Lea Thompson and the voice of Broadway actor Chip Zien (better remembered as the Baker in the original cast of Into the Woods), has so many head-scratcher moments, but nothing tops the grand finale Howard the Duck musical number…
Sing it, Lea!
What could possibly go head to head with this unredeemable kitsch? It would be tempting to throw up a clip of the 60s Batman television show, particularly one with a deliciously camp guest star like Liberace or Ethel Merman. But since part of my mission here is to share some of my private Camp obsessions, I feel obligated instead to share a scene from It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman, the musical based on the Man of Steel, from the songwriters who brought you Bye, Bye, Birdie. The show, which ran on Broadway for a few months in 1966, is nowadays remembered as a pretty entertaining campfest that unfortunately just missed the moment when campiness was in for superheroes.
For reasons that just don’t make any sense to me, the show was resurrected as a late night television movie in 1975, done on an incredibly low budget with horribly “updated” orchestrations. I haven’t seen the whole broadcast (although it’s on my list for a future trip to the Paley Center), but what I have seen is mostly disappointing because it sucks a lot of the fun out of the songs. (The original cast album of the Broadway production is a lot of fun.)
Anyway, I couldn’t find this number in its entirety on YouTube, but I think the clip of David Wilson singing “Pow! Bam! Zonk!” gives you enough of a taste of the show…