Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Goodbye, Steve Gerber

This is a lousy day.

I had to drive in to work in the middle of the night through several inches of snow and ice, only to find the heat in the office was out. Again. Further work problems ensued, then I had to go to a funeral.

But that’s not what made today such a chunk of suck.

When I got up this morning, I found out via The Comics Reporter that Steve Gerber was dead.

His pal Mark Evanier memorializes Gerber here.

I didn’t know Gerber. I’d never met him or corresponded with him. I was just a fan.

He was the best writer at my favorite comics company during my favorite era in comics.

I was a Marvel boy, and the 70s were a good time to be a Marvel fan. Distribution limits had been lifted, and Marvel was expanding their line faster than George W. Bush can violate the constitution. As a result, there were too many books for The House of Idea’s small staff to oversee. By default, Marvel did something which would be unheard of in today’s comics world: they found writers they trusted, then turned the writers loose.

Nearly total freedom resulted in some of the most creative work in the history of the medium, stuff like Don MacGregor’s Black Panther and War of the Worlds, Doug Moench’s Master of Kung Fu, Moon Knight and Planet of the Apes, Marv Wolfman’s Dracula stuff (and, yes, even as a dumb kid I thought it was cool that Dracula was being written by a Wolfman) and Jim Starlin’s cosmic Warlord and Captain Marvel.

But nothing compared to the writing Gerber was doing. He didn’t create Daredevil, Sub-Mariner, Man-Thing or The Defenders, but he made them his own, especially the last two. Gerber imbued them with absurdist hijinks and a rare-for-the-times sense of political relevance.

He did create Howard the Duck. The anthropomorphic fowl remains Gerber’s best known creation. He also brought forth the tragically brief Void Indigo, a series that was decades ahead of its time. Too bad Vertigo didn’t exist in the 1970s.

Gerber eventually left Marvel on unfriendly terms, moving to other companies and animation.

Though many of his colleagues are MIA (Moench, Engelhart), Gerber continued to turn out mainstream comics work. He was writing a Dr. Fate script for DC in the hospital in the days before his passing. He remained creatively and hilariously subversive right up to the end.

Kudos to Marvel for getting a lot of Gerber’s 70s stuff back in print. Tonight I’ll sit down with volumes of Essential Defenders and Essential Howard the Duck, and I’ll remember one of the best.

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