So everyone is pretty aware of the existence of a Marvel Comics character called Howard the Duck, right? How many of you have ever heard of Leonard the Duck, and how many of you know that the story of Leonard the Duck is probably the best heist movie that actually happened in real life? In a few short minutes, the answer to that question will be everyone, because I am about to relate to you the strange case of Leonard the Duck!
Howard the Duck was created by Steve Gerber for Marvel Comics in 1973. Back then, if you created something while working for Marvel, Marvel owned it. For a while, Steve Gerber was given pretty much free reign on Howard the Duck, but that didn't last forever, and before long Gerber and Marvel began to have creative differences over the direction in which to take the book. Gerber eventually left Howard and Marvel over the skirmish (although if you said he was pushed out, you might not actually be wrong), but soon decided he was going to sue Marvel in what was the first real creator/publisher legal battle in comics history. To finance his law suit against Marvel, Gerber created a completely new character for Eclipse Comics named Destroyer Duck (man, Gerber really had a thing for cartoon ducks).
Destroyer Duck was co-created by Jack Kirby, who had already had his own bad run-ins with Marvel and was all too willing to help Gerber stick it to their former publisher. The details of the lawsuit are a little hard to track down, but it was settled out of court and ended with Marvel owning Howard the Duck lock, stock and barrel and Gerber pretty much washing his hands of Marvel, at least for the time being. Destroyer Duck continued to be published somewhat sporadically, lasting 7 issues over two years.
In 1996, Tom Brevoort contacted Gerber and asked if he would be interested in returning to Marvel to write a Spider-Man/Howard the Duck crossover. Gerber wasn't really interested, but Brevoort told him that he had been the only creator to ever write the character, and really didn't want to do the book without him. Always being a team player at heart, Gerber reluctantly agreed. Around the same time, Erik Larsen, creator of Savage Dragon, was trying to get Gerber to write a Savage Dragon/Destroyer Duck crossover, as Gerber was in the process of trying to bring Destroyer Duck to Image. Gerber also wasn't too interested in doing that crossover either.
It didn't take Gerber long to discover that Brevoort had been less than honest with him, as Howard the Duck had made a couple of appearances that Gerber had nothing to do with. He was ready to leave the project and wash his hands of Marvel once again when Erik Larsen came to him with a brilliant idea. Do the Spider-Man Team-Up book only on the condition that he could tie it in with the Savage Dragon/Destroyer Duck crossover. Knowing that Marvel would never agree to that, Gerber took the idea to Marvel. And they went for it. Again Larsen whispered into Gerber's ear, and the idea was hatched to use these two crossovers to liberate Howard the Duck from the Marvel Universe forever.
The Spider-Man crossover ended with an elaborate fight in a warehouse that involved Savage Dragon and Destroyer Duck. At the end of the story, Spider-Man, Gambit, Howard and his human girlfriend Beverly walked off into the sunset. But the twist happened in the first pages of the Savage Dragon/Destroyer Duck book. Savage Dragon and Destroyer Duck grabbed Howard and Beverly and whisked them off to the Image universe. As it turned out, the Howard and Beverly who went off with Spider-Man were clones! (Dum, Dum, Duuummmmm).
So safely back in the Image universe, Destroyer Duck and Savage Dragon put Howard and Beverly in the Witness Protection Program. Howard's feathers are dyed green and he is given the new name Leonard the Duck and Beverly is now called Rhonda Martini, and they were sent to live in Buffalo.
Leonard the Duck only appeared once more, a single panel cameo in Vertigo Winter's Edge #2, but his story will forever go down in history as the greatest heist in comic book history. The time Steve Gerber and Erik Larsen literally stole Howard the Duck back from the Marvel Universe and replaced him with "Nothing more than an empty trademark."