This post is one big SPOILER for the end of Guardians of the Galaxy. If you haven't seen the movie yet, you will be spoiled!
Ever since Samuel L. Jackson turned up as Nick Fury after the end credits of 2008's Iron Man, Marvel Studios' very first film, the post-credits teaser has become one of the studio's trademarks. Almost all Marvel Studios movies since have included a quick glimpse at what's to come in the studio's subsequent films, including April's Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which teased both The Avengers: Age of Ultron (with first looks at Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch) and Captain America 3 (with Bucky Barnes' Winter Soldier on the loose in Washington, D.C.).
Which brings us to the end credits teaser for Marvel's latest film, Guardians of the Galaxy. (Final warning: Those SPOILERS start here.) The camera cuts to the lair of Taneleer Tivan (Benicio Del Toro), aka The Collector, who is nursing both his wounds and a drink, with his precious Collection in shambles after his most recent attendant killed herself by grabbing the Infinity Stone rather than continuing to work as his slave. Then, a dog comes over, wearing some kind of space uniform, and begins to lick Tivan's face.
"What do you let him lick you like that for?" asks a gravelly voice.
Next, the camera cuts to a cartoonish duck, still sitting inside his wrecked container, nursing his own cocktail. "Gross," says the duck.
The next logical question: Wait, what?
Who was that duck?
As the credits that followed the teaser make clear, the duck is Howard the Duck, a Marvel Comics character first created in the 1970s by Steve Gerber and Val Mayerik. Howard is a citizen of Duckworld, a planet in an alternate dimension where the dominant intelligent life is waterfowl. Howard, a ne'er-do-well, cigar-chomping grump, ends up on Earth due to some inter-dimensional shenanigans, where he finally finds his purpose.
And it would appear, in the Marvel Comics Universe, at some point in his adventures, Howard runs afoul of the Collector.
Wasn't he already in a movie?
Yup. In the 1986 film Howard the Duck, executive produced by George Lucas, Howard was rendered as a live-action, semi-animatronic puppet that romanced a human played by Lea Thompson.
In the movie's opening sequence, there is a shot of a topless female duck in the bathtub, singing to herself. And not topless in a Donald-Duck-doesn't-wear-pants-but-it-doesn't-matter-because-he-doesn't-have-junk-anyway sort of way. This duck is topless in a dear-god-in-heaven-that-duck-has-boobs-and-my-life-is-never-going-to-be-the-same sort of way. (You can watch nine more examples of the movie's most disturbing moments here.)
Howard the Duck was a massive bomb, grossing just $16.3 million in the U.S. And while some still look upon it fondly, the movie has lived in Hollywood infamy as one of the most ill-conceived, dreadfully executed cinematic disasters of the '80s.
Does this mean there's going to be another Howard the Duck movie?
Officially, Marvel Studios has no comment — the standard reply from the studio for any speculation about possible upcoming projects, no matter how far-fetched. Certainly, if Marvel can pull off a movie with a walking, talking raccoon and giant tree person who can only speak his name, there is technically nothing stopping the studio from attempting to do the same with a foul-mouthed duck who has a penchant for cigars and human women.
Also: Are you insane?
OK, OK. So who was the dog?
That's Cosmo the Space Dog, played by a dog named Fred, according to the end credits. In the Marvel comics, Cosmo was shot into space during the height of the Soviet Space Program, where, eventually, he gained the power of telepathy and became the head of security in Knowhere — which, in the movie, is the mining colony that houses Tivan's Collection. Of course, in Guardians of the Galaxy, Cosmo also appears to still be just a dog. Perhaps we shall see more of his journey in the sequel?
But that's it? There's no teaser for The Avengers: Age of Ultron? Nothing more with Thanos? What gives?
Curiously, Marvel chose to keep this post-credits teaser a secret until the movie opened in theaters — it did not appear in any advanced screenings, including the movie's premiere, and reps for Marvel and its parent studio Disney told BuzzFeed that they had no idea what would be in the teaser, either. Perhaps Marvel simply wanted to preserve the comic payoff of seeing Howard the Duck show up in a movie again nearly 30 years after his ignominious feature film debut.
Whatever the reason, what is abundantly clear is that this teaser has zero connection with the established Marvel Cinematic Universe. With so much weight now placed on the post-credits teaser for Marvel Studio's movies, this could be an attempt to turn down the heat a bit, to keep audiences from expecting every single future Marvel movie to end with a mind-blowing link to the next film in the studio's ever-expanding chain of franchises. Sometimes, it's fine to end things with a great gag that's meant to make you laugh and nothing more. Especially when that gag involves a duck drinking a cocktail.