Artie Maddicks is not afraid of the dark. At least, not until now. Since being captured by the Dark Hunter, Artie’s mind has been scoured for information regarding his friend, Franklin Richards. At least, he thinks that is what the Hunter wants. Artie doesn’t know where he is, or if his friends will be able to find him. That scares him. But Artie thinks he knows who the Dark Hunter is and why he has taken him - and that scares the boy to death, as his eyes grow wide, then narrow with fear, surrounded by the darkness.
Meanwhile, on Duckworld, home planet of Howard the Duck: At lot has changed since he left. Tana Nile holds Howard up off the ground, while Leech, Franklin Richards and Man-Thing look around in awe, as numerous local ducks chant Howard’s name, gathering around him as they stand beneath a large golden statue of Howard. ‘You were supposed to teleport us to Artie! What the heck are we doing here? Howard asks Man-Thing, who reminds Howard that he cannot control this, and that he doesn’t even know how he does it. ‘Lookit all the ducks!’ Leech gasps, before telling his companions to watch out. ‘Here they come!’ Franklin exclaims as the ducks start to swarm towards the new arrivals. ‘Excuse me, Howard’ Tana remarks as she puts Howard on the ground. ‘But one of us… must do something!’ Tana declares as she picks up Man-Thing by one of his feet, then swings him towards the ducks, causing a wave of swamp water to wash over the ducks.
‘Let’s go!’ Leech suggests, as they start to run. ‘But where?’ Franklin ask. ‘Quick! This way!’ someone calls out, as they rush into a newsagent. ‘Quack’ the shop duck utters, while Franklin starts pouring through some of the magazines on the stand: ‘This is nuts! When I left this world I was a nobody! A two-bit loser!’ He adds that he was a brilliant and handsome two-bit loser, before wondering how he became the most famous and admired duck on the planet? Tana smiles and tells Howard, who is quite surprised by her comment, that he is many things, but not a loser. ‘Mr Duck, do you know any place to hide?’ Franklin asks. Howard reveals that this is his old neighborhood, and wonders if his folks still live around here.
‘Wonderful!’ Tana utters. ‘Not so wonderful’ Howard replies. ‘Why not?’ Tana asks. Howard reveals that he and his folks never exactly got along, and informs her that he was a major disappointment to them - and they did not exactly thrill him, either. ‘This whole world is thrilled with you. They, too, must be equally proud’ Tana suggests. ‘Forget it. I’m not going there!’ Howard declares. Peering out of the news agent, Tana reports that they don’t have much choice. ‘Alright! Alright!’ Howard exclaims, and Leech and Franklin look oddly at the Man-Thing who announces that he doesn’t feel so good, he is having trouble standing up and a pool of swamp water is forming around him. Tana and Howard help Man-Thing up, ‘Come now, we have you’ Tana assures him. ‘Sheesh! It’s like trying to carry a ton of baby food’ Howard mutters as they make their way down the street. ‘Hurry!’ Franklin urges everyone.
Somewhere else. Somewhere that is nowhere else - for this is the realm of the Dark Hunter. ‘Hello little one’ the Dark Hunter calls out to Archie. Archie projects an image of his friends, to which the Dark Hunter tells the boy that his friends will not find him here - that none may enter these shadows. ‘Yes, you suspect the truth. That is why I took you. For he is not ready to face it’. The Dark Hunter claims that he will reveal the whole truth to Artie, and prays that his young mind can handle it. ‘And now that you have seen it all, now that you understand, I ask you - will you help me? Will you join the Dark Hunter’s cause?’ the Dark Hunter shoves his sword into Artie’s head, plunging his story into the boy’s mind. Artie grimaces, and projects a new image - one of Artie, flanked by the Dark Hunter, moving towards Franklin. ‘Very good, little one…’ the Dark Hunter utters as he extends his hand to Artie. ‘…very good indeed!’
Back on Duckworld, Howard, Franklin, Leech, Tana and Man-Thing stand on the front porch of a two-story white house in a suburban area. ‘I don’t think we should do this. You don’t understand what it’s like’ Howard tells the others. Tana explains that on her world, one’s parents are revered and that any opportunity to be with them or aid them is a distinctive honor. ‘In my family, it’s a little different. We all just peck at each other till there’s nothing left but blood and feathers’ Howard remarks, adding that there was a reason he left home when he was sixteen, and that there is no way he is going back. ‘So just…’ he begins, before Leech, hands on hips, frowns and exclaims ‘Mr Salad real sick. Shadow man have Artie. We can’t help friend. Gotta run from all those ducks’. Howard glances away from Leech, ‘Awright, aright. Let’s go in. But I hope you idiots realise what you’re letting yourselves in for’ he mumbles.
‘Son!’ a voice call out. ‘Good grief, Howard - it really is you!’ Howard’s father gasps, pipe in hand, as he steps out onto the porch. He remarks that he heard on the radio that there had been a sighting, but that they claim to see Howard more often than Elvis. ‘June! June! Come quick! It’s our boy! He’s home! Out little Howie’s come home!’ Mr Duck exclaims, wrapping his arms around his son. ‘Howie?’ Tana smiles. ‘Ah, shaddup’ Howard mutters. Everyone enters the house, as Howard’s father tells Howard that his mom will make he and his friends some cookies and hot cocoa. ‘Wow!’ Franklin utters. ‘Cool!’ Leech exclaims. Howard’s mother with red hair is doing the vacuuming, ‘Howie? Oh, good heavens - I think I’m going to weep’ she utters. ‘Something awfully screwy’s going on around here’ Howard decides.
Shortly, gathered around the kitchen table, Tana sits with Howard, his father and sister, while their mother brings over some more cookies. Playing with a doll that resembles her brother, Howard’s sister tells him that she has so much to tell him, and that she can’t believe he is back, because she has minded him and everybody asks her about her favorite hero brother. ‘So what’s this baloney about me being a hero?’ Howard asks. ‘Well, Howard…many years back, Duckworld’s greatest scientist, Dr Richards, created a device that let him look into other dimensions’. Mr Duck reveals that Dr Richards observed Howard’s adventures on Earth until one of the major TV networks bought the rights to the images of him. ‘They turned it into a weekly TV series and it was a huge hit! The biggest show ever! Bigger than that one about the Duckworld Highway Patrol!’ Mr Duck reveals, ading that every duck in the world felt a special pride watching one of them become a hero, saving the world and beating the villains.
Howard’s father explains that soon there were comic books, T-shirts, mugs, the breakfast cereal and, of course, the movie which was the highest grosing picture in Duckworld history. ‘A movie? About me? And it was a hit?’ Howard asks, wide-eyed. ‘Oh, son, we’re so proud of you’ June declares, wrapping her arms around her son, adding that now he has come home to them. ‘Yeah, yeah, whatever’ Howard mutters. In the living room, ‘What’s wrong with Mr Salad?’ Leech asks as Man-Thing lies on the sofa, his body becoming less and less solid. ‘Him look all oozy’ Leech points out. Franklin tells Leech not to worry, that Man-Thing will be all right. ‘Don’t hide - don’t hide. Tell them’ Man-Thing tells Franklin, putting his hands around Franklin’s. ‘Tell us what?’ Leech asks. ‘Nothing. He’s got a fever. He doesn’t know what he’s saying’ Franklin replies. Man-Thing suggests to Franklin that it is time for him to deal with it. ‘How long can you run away?’ he asks him.
‘Think Mr Salad know something that -’ Leech begins, when suddenly, ‘Well…you’re wrong!’ Franklin shouts, his eyes wide, looking angry, there is an explosion of energy, then Frankin falls back on the sofa, dazed, he sits in the remnants of Man-Things ooze, with Man-Thing and Leech nowhere in sight. ‘What happened?’ Howard asks as he and Tana rush in. ‘Where are Leech and the walking mulch-heap?’ Howard asks. June Duck suggests that they should call Doctor Chumley, their dear and friendly family doctor. She adds that she is sure he will be happy to make a house call. ‘Shut up!’ Howard exclaims. ‘Now, Howie, that’s no way to talk to your mother’ Mr Duck scolds his son. Tana picks up the unmoving Franklin, while she asks Howard ‘What is it?’ ‘For one thing, these aren’t my parents!’ Howard declares. ‘Oh, Ward, Ward! Our little boy doesn’t remember us!’ June gasps. ‘I’m not your little boy!’ Howard shouts.
‘My mother wasn’t named June! And she sure as heck didn’t do her vacuuming wearing pearls and high heels’ Howard announces, adding that his old man was a pot-bellied garbage collector, not some Hugh Beaumont wannabe. ‘They might not have been perfect, but they were real fer crying out loud!’ Tana looks concerned, ‘Howard, are you saying that this…’ she begins, to which Howard declares that this is not real. ‘Somebody’s cooked this place up…to distract me. Stroke my ego a little and keep me - keep us all - busy so we wouldn’t be asking too many questions about what’s going on lately’. Suddenly, ‘I am too real! I am, I am, I am!’ Howard’s sister starts to cry. Howard puts a hand on the girl’s shoulder and tells her that he never had a little sister with a dopey name like Princess. ‘I don’t believe in you, kid, you hear me?’ he asks her. ‘I absolutely do not believe in you! In any of you!’ Howard shouts, and suddenly, his fake family start to vanish, until they completely fade from view.
Still holding the seemingly comatose Franklin, Tana asks ‘If this isn’t real, if everything we see is an illusion, where are we?’ Howard tells her that he has a sneaking suspicion Franklin might know. Tana looks at the boy, while Howard asks Tana if she noticed that Duckworld’s greatest scientist was named Richards - as in Reed Richards. ‘And how about the fact that everybody on Nevernever-narnozbia was some kinda spin on Earth’s super heroes and villains? Just the kinda thing a kid who grew up around those people would dream up, don’t ya think?’ Howard asks, adding that on the other world, it was straight out of a Doctor Seuss story. ‘What kid wouldn’t want to jump inside a book and live in a place like that?’ ‘Are you saying that Franklin is somehow creating this?’ Tana enquires. ‘Yeah, I think I am’ Howard replies. ‘But why?’ Tana wonders. Howard tells her that he doesn’t know, and wonders if Doctor Richards can help them out. ‘But how do we find him?’ Tana asks. Howard points out that since they know this isn’t real, perhaps with a little persuasion, they can twist things around to fit their needs.
A van with “Free Shuttle to Dr Richards” screeches to a halt in front of Howard and Tana, and a robotic duck driver introduces himself as Herbie, and reports that he is here to take them to see Doctor Richards. Tana smiles at Howard as they and the unconscious Franklin pile into the back seat. Tana tells Franklin that she is very impressed with how decisive and insightful he has been. ‘Hey, toots, I’m as amazed as you are’ Howard replies, while Tana explains that she feels such a profound sense of caring - for Franklin, for all of the children. Howard tells Tana that he knows what she means, and adds that it is like they have become Mom and Pop to all three of them. They look at each other intensely, before they lean forward and kiss. Howard then pulls away, ‘What’s wrong?’ Tana asks. ‘Look, Tana, it’s not that I don’t think you’re the greatest thing since webbed feet, I do…I might even have feelings for you that run pretty deep’. Howard explains to Tana that there is a woman named Beverly, and that they have been together for a long time now. ‘I...I understand, Howard’ Tana replies, hanging her head.
An instant later, the free shuttle comes to another screeching halt - outside a large building called the Richards Institute for Reality Interfacing. ‘Wow’ Howard exclaims as he and Tana, holding Franklin, stand in front of the tall building and look up at it. They enter and come to some sort of laboratory. ‘Howard, over there!’ Tana calls out. ‘Eh?’ an older duck utters. ‘My boy! My little boy! What have you done to him?’ the duck calls out, rushing over to Franklin. ‘We have done nothing’ Tana responds, announcing that she is starting to suspect that Franklin has done this to himself. ‘Do not hid from us, Franklin. Do not seek shelter in the shadows of -’ Tana begins, when suddenly, there is a bust of energy around them. ‘Howard. Look!’ Tana utters. ‘I don’t believe it!’ Howard exclaims, as they stare at rather thin versions of Mr Fantastic and the Invisible Woman. ‘This is freaking crazy’ Howard mutters, while the 2-D Invisible Woman tells them to go away, ‘We can take care of our son’ she claims. ‘We don’t need you. Leave us alone’ the Invisible Woman calls out. ‘Mommy! Daddy! It’s really you!’ Franklin smiles, while his 2-D father holds the weapon that he fired at them earlier. ‘No, Franklin! They are just dreams…illusions! They are not real!’ Tana shouts.
‘Yes. They. Are!’ Franklin shouts, as Tana is engulfed in a pink energy, and seemingly vanishes. ‘Oh, my dear, dear Franklin’ the 2-D Invisible Woman smiles. ‘Mommy and Daddy, I’ve missed you so much’ Franklin grins. Mister Fantastic tells his son that they have missed him, but now they must be going. They take Franklin by his hands. And lead him to a black portal. ‘Come along, Franklin, dear. We’re almost there’ the Invisible Woman remarks. ‘No, kid, you can’t do this!’ Howard calls out from where he has fallen to the floor. ‘You can’t give yourself over to a dream!’ Howard declares. ‘You’ve gotta face it. You’ve gotta -’ he exclaims as he rushes into the portal. ‘Oh. No. Nice going duck’ Howard mutters as he seems to float in the blackness all around him.
‘What the -?’ Howard gasps as he sees a boat row towards him through the dark nothingness. ‘A freaking boat? I don’t believe it!’ Howard exclaims, when suddenly, ‘Howard!’ Tana calls out from the boat. ‘Mr Duck!’ Leech exclaims. They are with Artie, Man-Thing and the Dark Hunter. ‘Would ya just shut up and grab me?’ Howard asks them. ‘Your heart may belong to another… but I will never abandon you, dear Howard’ Tana calls out as she pulls him onto the boat. Howard asks what the heck is going on, and adds that he thought the Dark Hunter was the bad guy. ‘He is…to Franklin’ Tana explains. ‘Would somebody please tell me what the heck is going on?’ Howard demands. ‘The only one who can fully explain…is him’ the Dark Hunter states pointing to Franklin who is inside a bubble with his 2-D parents, playing a game.
‘Go away! We don’t want you here…’ Franklin snaps. The Dark Hunter walks through the blackness towards the bubble, ‘You have eluded me for too long. Now, Franklin, it is time to face me’ the Dark Hunter declares. ‘Wait a minute, whatever the kid’s done, we can’t let that creep just -’ Howard begins, attempting to climb out of the boat, but Tana holds him back, ‘Not only can we, Howard…we must’ she tells him. The Dark Hunter tells Franklin that he knows this must be faced, that he knows he cannot hide in unreality. ‘Look at the parents you have created for yourself: two-dimensional, for all of your powers, you could not make them real’. ‘They are too real’ Franklin snaps back. He turns to his parents, ‘Aren’t you, Mommy? Aren’t you, Daddy?’ he asks them. ‘We’re not really sure anymore’ the Invisible Woman responds, anxiously. ‘What if we are merely projections from your unconsciousness?’ Mr Fantastic ponders. ‘Random memories given shape and form by your desire to have us back?’
Images of the creations recently met on this “adventure” appear around the Dark Hunter, who explains that all of this was projected from Franklin’s unconsciousness, and that even the Man-Thing’s words came from Franklin. ‘He was your familiar. His connection to the Nexus allowed you to use him to mold your dreams’. The Dark Hunter reveals that is why the Man-Thing was dying, that his body could not contain the energies they were channelling through him, that they were never traveling the Nexus at all, these realities sprang from Franklin’s mind. ‘And that is where we all are now, Franklin. Isn’t it? Within the landscape of your mind’. ‘No, this is real. I can make it real. If you’d just leave me alone!’ Franklin shouts, energies crackle about him, and his two-dimensional parents start to fade away.
‘I am here not because I want to be here, but because you want me to be here. I, too, am a creation of your mind. I am the hidden shadows, the hidden grief you have never had the courage to face. You called me here, Franklin Richards. Now look into my eyes - and know what your heart has denied…’ the Dark Hunter tells the boy. The Dark Hunter calls out to Artie and Leech, telling them that if they want to help their friend, they must come to his aid now. ‘I said - leave me alone!’ Franklin screams as he casts energy towards the Dark Hunter. ‘We gotta do it. For Frankie’ Leech tells Artie. ‘That’s it, Artie! Just a little more!’ Leech encourages his friend, as Artie extends his psychic ability around Franklin. ‘What - what are you doing?’ Franklin calls out. Howard watches and asks Tana if she is sure they are doing the right thing. ‘Yes. I’m sure’ Tana replies ‘Okay, toots - I’m gonna trust you on this’ Howard tells her, before they hold hands.
‘Franklin…they’re gone. All of them. I know you are scared. I know your pain. For Franklin…I am your pain. You can’t run form me any longer. You must accept their deaths and your fears’ the Dark Hunter tells Franklin, who starts to cry. ‘Mommy? Daddy? They’re dead. No’ he gasps. NO!’ and with that, the tears stream down his face, and he collapses into the Dark Hunter. ‘Goodbye’ the Dark Hunter utters, washing away from Franklin, the blackness surrounding them all vanishes, ‘Frankie! Leech calls out. ‘Franklin, re you all right?’ Tana enquires as they all rush towards him, including the Man-Thing, who seems to be back to his usual self. ‘What the heck -’ Howard calls out, as everyone looks at their new surroundings. ‘I hope we’re not gonna end up in the Richard Scarry world next’ Howard mutters. ‘The swamp!’ Tana declares. ‘This looks like the Man-Thing’s swamp’ Howard points out.
Howard is less than impressed: ‘Great! From the end of reality to the middle of nowhere!’ he complains. Then he looks at Franklin, ‘I mean - oh’ he stops talking as Franklin looks up at the sky, ‘G’bye, Mommy. G’bye, Daddy’ he utters. Franklin hangs his head as his companions gather around him. ‘They were the best - and I’ll never forget ‘em - but they’re gone now’ he realizes. Leech smiles, ‘Yeah, but Frankie not alone’ he tells his friend. ‘You’ll never be alone, kid. ‘Cause you’ll always have us’ Howard announces, and everyone smiles and looks up at the sky.