His name is Duck… Howard the Duck. He quacks and his cigar falls out of his mouth as he is pushed to the ground by two soldiers wearing turbans. A larger soldier stands over him carrying a very large axe. A haggard Scarlet Witch carries a broom and stands to one side, while a woman with brown hair stands to one side of a throne where the White Queen sits and shouts ‘Off with is head!’ A man wearing a blue clothing and gold armor sits at her side.
Generally, Howard considers himself a visitor to this fair Earth, an accidental tourist stranded on a planet of hairless apes - trapped in a world he never made! Howard looks up above him, where a bubble floats containing Franklin Richards, Artie Maddicks, the Morlock Leech, the Man-Thing and the alien called Tana Nile. Artie looks down at Howard and projects an image of a roasted duck.
Over the years, Howard has earned a reputation for circumnavigating the most dangerous and deadly of situations, triumphantly overcoming the obstacles and imbeciles that our wacky world would throw at him. Unfortunately, this ain’t there!
‘Hassan… chop!’ the large soldier with the axe shouts as he raises the axe overhead. ‘Okay, Duck… how ya gonna get yerself outta this one?’ Howard thinks to himself as he looks up at the axe, which starts to come down towards him. ‘Or maybe a better question would be… could somebody please tell me how I got inta this cockamamie situation in the first place?’ he wonders.
Howard puts a hand to his head as he looks around and finds himself and his bizarre companions floating on a small rock, doorways and pathways all around them. The castaways have been sailing aimlessly through the Nexus of all Realities on this borrowed chunk of earth. Tana Nile thoughtfully examines her surroundings, while Franklin and Leech play. Man-Thing looks down at Artie who is sleeping against him, dreaming of playing on a slide. ‘This is just great! A motley crew of misfits going nowhere fast!’ Howard the Duck complains. He turns to Man-Thing: ‘Look, you adorable pile of mulch - I don’t mean to sound ungrateful… I mean, ya did save our tail feathers from that maniac back there… but last I looked, teleporting huge chunks’a dirt with people on ‘em all over the universe wasn’t in yer bag o’ tricks!’
‘So, congrats on the new powers. Now why don’tcha turn this thing around and take us back ho-’ Howard begins, shaking his finger at Man-Thing. He shoves the creature, and his finger goes into Man-Thing’s body. ‘Ye-uch!’ Howard exclaims, pulling his finger back out, covered in a gunk. ‘Oh, there’s a stain I’m gonna have trouble shouting out!’ Howard mutters.
‘Why’re you so mad, Mr Duck?’ Franklin Richards asks, pointing out that they got away from the bad man, and that now they are going on an adventure, which he calls a “venture“. ‘Kid, I been on enough “ventures” t’last a lifetime… maybe two! An’ the last place I wanna be is cruising through the cosmos with a buncha ankle-biters and the walking salad over there!’ Howard snaps.
‘Why My Duck such a grouch?’ Leech asks. ‘Why am I a grouch? Why not?!’ Howard shouts, throwing his arms into the air. He reveals that a couple of years ago, for no good reason, he got yanked off his world and dumped onto their planet of monkey-boys. ‘Where, I might add, I’ve suffered more indignities than I’d care t’catalogue’. He explains that he hasn’t seen any of his friends in ages, not that he really had any friends, and his family probably thinks he is dead - although, considering what a bunch of dysfunctional losers they are, that might not be such a bad thing, he remarks, before stating that if anyone has a right to be a grouch, it is hhime.
Tana Nile suddenly picks Howard up by the back of his jacket and tells him not to be rude to the little ones, as children are the hope of the future. ‘Spare me the Sesame Street, toots! In case you haven’t noticed, we don’t seem t’have a future. We’re gonna just keep floating around on this stupid -’ he doesn’t finish his sentence as Tana Nile interrupts, declaring that some of them have much less of a chance at a future than the rest, as she then tosses Howard behind her.
He bounces on the edge of the floating chunk of earth, ‘Eh… er… where was I…? Oh yeah, WAAAUUGH!’ he screams as he then falls off the edge, and straight to a floating doorway below. Feathers fly as the door slams closed behind Howard. ‘Ah, well… no great loss’ Tana remarks casually, arms folded. ‘Leaving Mr Duck…? But him… him our friend!’ Leech utters as he and Franklin stare over the edge. ‘We hafta go after him! We hafta save him… that’s what the good guys do!’ Franklin exclaims.
‘Can you do it, Mr Salad? Can you get us back to Mr Howard?’ Franklin asks Man-Thing, while Artie projects an image of candy and ice-cream. It is said that whatever knows fear burns at the touch f the Man-Thing. But there is no fear in this young Franklin Richards. There is only an innocent faith…and trust. And all of the things that you would find in a hero - but mostly, there is hope. Man-Thing reaches out to Franklin, and touches his face. Sometimes hope is enough, and Man-Thing forces the chunk of earth downwards, they move at great speed so that Franklin, Leech and Tana have to cling onto Man-Thing.
Artie Maddicks is still sleeping, and projects an image of he playing in a huge ice-cream sundae. He is unable to speak, but his specific telepathic power enables him to converse by projecting images and emotions into the minds of others. Leech shakes his best friend, telling him to wake up. Artie is still a child, and has not hones his power, and so he shares his every thought, from his wildest dream about ice-cream - to his darkest nightmare - as the ice-cream is washed away and a dark figure looms over them. Artie wakes, and throws his arms into the air, frightened, the image projects Franklin and Tana strangled by the being. ‘Hmmm’ Tana remarks as she sees the projection. She tells Artie not to worry, as shadows chase them all in their dreams, but that they cannot hurt them in the daylight. ‘But, Tana Nile… we’re not really in the daylight - we’re in the Neccos!’ Franklin points out. ‘so… that’s where we are! Within the Nexus that links all realities’ Tana declares, before asking Franklin how he knows that. Franklin explains that he just “feeled it”, when Mr Salad touched him.
Tana turns to Artie and tells him that she needs him to try something for her. She instructs him to use he is thoughts, to cast his mind out like a great big net, and see if he can find Mr Duck for them. Energy swirls around the mutant boy, before he projects an image of Franklin hanging from a tree branch. ‘Mr Duck! Artie found him! There!’ Franklin calls out.
And in a not so nearby reality: ‘WAUGH!’ Howard the Duck squawks as he clings to the tree branch. ‘The nerve of that bi-headed %$#*! Throwing me through that wacky doorway…! Why, if I hadn’t snagged this way-too-high branch… I’d be but a puddle a’ duck sauce right now!’ Howard exclaims, realizing that might come true after all, as his hands start to give way on the tree branch. ‘Is there a problem here?’ a voice calls out. ‘WHA -?’ Howard shouts as he turns and sees two purple men wearing green pants and matching hats, seemingly joined at the hip, floating on a carpet beside him. A bear in a blue top is being carried away by a red balloon in the background. ‘Yeah, there’s a problem! I’m gonna fall outta this tree in about three seconds, and gravity being what it is, I’m gonna hit that ground way down there and be one deceased duck! That’s a problem!’ Howard realizes.
‘’Poor little feather-face… Tweedle-Green will help him’ one of the purple men remarks, leaning forward, he is stopped by the other, ‘Don’t touch him, ya nit wit!’ the other exclaims, hitting Tweedle-Green on the head. ‘Don’tcha know them critters got cooties and molecules and all kindsa stuff on ‘em?’ he asks. ‘Hey! I resent that! I’ll have you know that at this very moment I am zestfully cle-’ Howard retorts, before he slips and screams as he plummets to the ground below. ‘Please let Tweedle-Green keep little feather-face? Will wash him and scrub him and pick off the little cooties…’ Tweedle-Green pleads with the other. ‘Let him! Let him!’ Howard shouts - and an instant later lands with a THUMP on the carpet as the Tweedles dropped to save him. ‘Thanks for not waiting till the last second to make up yer mind… who are you jokers, anyway? And where the &%$# am I?’ Howard declares.
‘You’re in Nevernever-Narnozbia!’ Tweedle-Green replies. ‘Run that by me again?’ Howard frowns, unimpressed as he sits on the edge of the carpet. ‘Nevernever-Narnozbia!’ Tweedle-Green exclaims once more. ‘That’s what I thought you said. Well, I’m outta here! I musta been killed somewhere along the way and this is purgatory!’ Howard mutters, striding away, he wonders if perhaps he is in a coma somewhere, and this is a hallucination. ‘See, ya jerk? We save his life and he ain’t got no gratitude! I told ya not t’get involved with filthy, disgusting little animals!’ the other Tweedle snarls, hitting Tweedle-Green on the head. ‘Aw, he was cute…’ Tweedle-Green points out. ‘Shut up, you idiot!’ the other Tweedle warns him as they take off on their carpet, unaware that a small trinket has fallen out of the back of one of their pockets. ‘Now, how’m I gonna get outta here?’ Howard wonders, when suddenly, the trinket hits him on the head. ‘What the -? Oh, yeah…this looks promising’ Howard decides, and he rubs the trinket. Cloud pours from it, along with a green-skinned man who addresses Howard as his master, and introduces himself as the Genie of the Lamp. ‘How’d I guess?’ Howard mutters.
Meanwhile, back in the Nexus, the remainder of the castaways cruise past countless doorways, each one opening onto a myriad of potential possibilities - all of them hoping they’ve chosen the same one through which their fowl fellow fell! They pass through a door and it slams behind them. Moments later, a chill slices through the Nexus - a ship of empty souls captained by a shadow cast by none appears. The empty souls row the ship while the shadow cast by none guides the craft in silence, radiating no emotion, no light - only the darkness that seems to be him. A wraith carved from the shadow, he is the Dark Hunter - and he is on the hunt!
And, behind door number one - Man-Thing, Artie, Leech, Franklin and Tana land with a WUMP - and a squish - in their new reality. ‘Wow! Look at this place! I bet my Mommy and Daddy in the Fantastic Four never saw anything like this!’ Franklin gasps as they examine their surroundings, filled with strange colored trees and small houses. ‘Uh-oh! Look what Mr Salad found!’ someone calls out, as they see Man-Thing touching the sneakers of someone who appears to be squashed beneath their chunk of earth. Everyone turns to the sneakers that stick out from under the earth, and Tana Nile remarks that it appears their landing was not perfect after all. ‘It was an accident! She musta been underneath us and…Tane Nile…? D’you think she’s…’ Franklin’s voice trails off, while Artie projects the image of a gravestone.
Tana Nile is a Regellian warrior, possessed of the ability to increase her mass as well as her strength, which she does right now easily lifting the chunk of earth upwards. Everyone goes wide-eyed, ‘Ewww! Yuk! Lady is -’ Franklin begins as they stare down at the woman in a pink and red costume, everything but her feet completely flattened. ‘Flat! Flat! Flat!’ a voice calls out. ‘Ya killed her!’ another voice declares. Everyone turns to see small rocky-men in green overalls gathered before them. ‘Them’s the ones what did it! They clobbered ‘er with a great big giant dirt bomb!’ one of them exclaims. ‘The Red Witch of the South-East is d-e-d - DEAD!’ he declares. ‘Hooray! Hooray fer the heroes!’ the small rocky men start to chant as they lift the new arrivals into the air. ‘This place like Dorothy…’ Leech utters. ‘Heroes? We’re heroes? Just like in the Fantastic Four!’ Franklin grins.
‘Yes, this is all passing strange…such a bizarre reality…but lo! Here may come the answer to all our many questions!’ Tana exclaims as she points upwards to where a bubble is floating down to the ground. The rocky men get to the ground and bow down, while the bubble glistens before them. ‘Greetings, I am Tana Nile, warrior of Rigel-Z’ Tana Nile declares, introducing herself. The bubble vanishes, and a man with long blond hair, a blue dress and a black moustache stands before the. ‘Welcome. I am…Strange’ he introduces himself. ‘You sure are’ Franklin mutters as he, Artie and Leech look up, confused. Strange informs them that they have destroyed the Red Witch of the South-East, who has long terrorised the people of Nevernever-Narnozbia, and for that they must be rewarded. ‘So… what can I getcha?’ he asks them.
Artie projects an image of Howard the Duck, while Franklin remarks ‘Well, Mr Lady…we were trying to find our friend, Mr Howard…and get back to Earth!’ Strange shakes his wand and replies that unfortunately travelling to other realms is somewhat beyond his sorcerous abilities, but that the King, of course, would be able to help them with that matter. He quietly remarks that the Kinf isn’t known to be the nicest guy in the place, and as for transportation about Nevernever-narnozbia, well, by the Eyeliner of Agamotto, he can assist them with that. ‘Can you take us to the King, then?’ Franklin asks. ‘As you wish’ Strange replies and Strange replies ‘As you wish’. So, Strange casts the bubble around himself and his newfound companions, the sphere of light carries them toward the Castle of the King. They fly over the wondrous Wobbly Woods, across the delicious Desert of Dessert, and within the hour, the glistening palace of the King rises before them.
However, a blast of energy strikes the bubble, shattering part of it, ‘Who -?’ someone gasps, while Strange informs them that it is the Red Witch of the South-West, the sister of the really flat one. ‘She serves the King himself, and it looks like she’s got a real bustle in her hedge-row, if you know what I mean’ Strange remarks, while the haggard witch, who looks exactly like her sister, waits below. ‘Well, let’s see how she likes this!’ Strange declares as he casts back some green energy, which the witch dodges - but uses the old “return to sender” spell. Strange tells everyone to hang on, ‘I’m sure this isn’t doing anything good to my hair!’ he adds as the energy is thrown back by the Red Witch of the South-West, striking everyone and sending them careening into the air.
Meantime, ‘Whatta you? A comedian’r something?’ Howard snarls at the Genie of the Lamp, who hovers over a car. ‘What? You said you wanted to ho home, did you not?’ So get in! Go home! No one’s stopping you!’ the Genie of the Lamp points out. ‘In a Desoto?’ Howard asks, referring to the car. ‘It’s got a full tank’ the Genie assures him. ‘Look you nimrod, I oughta - YEEEOW!’ Howard shouts when he kicks the wheel of the car, hurting his foot. ‘You said I could have three wishes and -’ Howard begins, to which the Genie points out that he has granted the first one. Arms folded and looking unimpressed, the Genie states that he has provided a means for Howard to go home, and that if he is incapable of utilizing the means, then he shouldn’t blame him. The Genie then announces that he has enough problems of his own. ‘Do you have any idea how long I’ve been cooped up inside that lamp? Only like forever! Do you know what it’s like trying to stuff 20 pounds of genie into a sixteen ounce lamp?’
The Genie continues, declaring that he has muscle cramps, back-pas, male-pattern baldness, and there are no phones, no cable TV and he hasn’t seen Full House since - ‘Will you just shut up?’ Howard snaps. ‘Your wish…’ the Genie replies, clasping his hands together. Howard slaps his face, ‘D’oh! Ya pointy-eared idiot! That wasn’t my wish, it was -!’ Howard begins, before he tells the Genie that he doesn’t want any more screw-ups. ‘I’m gonna make myself perfectly clear! Now listen carefully, ‘cuz this is what I want…I wantcha to send me back t’planet Ear-’ Howard then screams as he is interrupted partway through his wish as a net is thrown over him, causing him to drop the lamp. Three men on horses have captured Howard, ‘So you are the culprit who has stolen the King’s treasured lamp! For that, fowl fiend, you shall pay!’ one of them declares, while another holds the lamp. ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah… so what else is new?’ Howard mutters, slumped over in the net, still puffing on his cigar.
And, from above, darkness descends - shadows shift - and the hunt is over, as the Dark Hunter points to the sprawling castle that juts out from a mountain ahead. Now, there is only the kill.
And, inside the castle:‘You head what my wife said… off with his head!’ the King orders as the soldier raises the axe, and the trapped youngsters peer out from the bubble the witch has them trapped in. ‘Okay, get ready…one…two…okay, now, Leech, now!’ Franklin exclaims urgently. The boy called Leech is a mutant, born with the uncanny ability to sophonme off and diffuse the mutant powers in others. Neutralizing the binding spell of the Red Witch of the South-West, however, taxes the boy, taking a tremendous amount of effort. But in the end, the results are well worth the strain, as he, Artie, Franklin, Tana Nile and the Man-Thing burst free from the bubble, and the Red Witch is knocked aside. ‘Ha!’ Tana Nile shouts as she smacks the soldier, causing him to drop the axe. She then grabs Howard: ‘Come, Duck! We have little time! We must away from these -’ she begins, while Howard smiles, ‘Alluva sudden ya like me? I don’t get it!’ Howard tells her.
‘Stop them!’ the King orders. His soldiers on horseback rush forward. Artie projects an image of he and his friends as angels, while Franklin gasps ‘Oh, no! Here they come!’ Man-Thing suddenly lurches forward, ‘Mr Salad?’ Franklin calls out. Man-Thing is a mystery - of muck and moss and more. A shambling mockery of life, he moves forward to protect the children, a twinge, somewhere deep inside him, telling him he must keep them safe. Especially the one called Franklin Richards, to whom the Man-Thing instinctively “feels” a connection. The horse and rider go down, as do several of the others, trapped in the oozing mire of the Man-Thing. ‘Good job, Mr Salad!’ Franklin smiles. ‘Yeah, good going, Manny. Now can we get outta here?’ Howard asks.
Tana Nile instructs the children to run through the door ahead of them. But, a dark figure appears. ‘Who - what is that?’ Franklin asks. ‘Franklin Richards - I have come for you!’ the Dark Hunter booms, pointing his sword at the child. ‘Oh, man, we’re really in for it now!’ someone calls out. ‘Huh?’ Leech asks, as he, Artie and Howard look around, confused. ‘Who said that?’ Howard asks. ‘I, uh, I guess that would be me? How ya doin?’ Man-Thing asks, rubbing his head, equally confused….