Steve Gerber is my all-time favorite comic book writer, maybe even moreso than Stan Lee. Gerber is best known for his absurdist, psychologically acute writing for Marvel in the 1970s, where he warped many a mind, including mine, with Howard the Duck, Man-Thing, The Defenders, Omega the Unknown and many other series.
I was 10 years old when I discovered his work, at the same time I discovered comics, and while I didn’t get every nuance, I was a sophisticated reader and knew Gerber’s stuff was different, wacky and exciting. Time has only deepened my opinion of his writing.
He was rarely allowed to write the major comics characters, which was too bad — he’d have been a great Spider-Man writer — but his work on fringe characters, often of his own creation, gave him the freedom to experiment.
Howard the Duck, his best-known character, was the Sandman of its day, garnering media attention and becoming the first Marvel character to get his own movie. Unfortunately, the result was awful in a legendary way, but that shouldn’t reflect on Gerber, who had nothing to do with it.
He wrote sporadically for comics after the 1970s, most recently a Dr. Fate series for DC, in which his knack for wild concepts remains intact.
Well, Gerber died Sunday. If anybody reading this likes comics, or just wants to know more about him, here are links to obits and remembrances about him: one at the New York Times, one at the L.A. Times, one at Newsarama, one at Mark Evanier’s site, one at Gerber’s own blog and one at Wikipedia. And here’s an appreciation by Heidi MacDonald.
If you want to read Gerber at his best, go to Borders or Amazon or your local comics shop and look for Essential Man-Thing, Essential Defenders Vol. 2 or Essential Howard the Duck, not to mention recent issues of Countdown to Mystery, which contains his ongoing Dr. Fate series.
A story titled “The Kid’s Night Out” published in Man-Thing (nominally a horror comic about a swamp creature) is one of the most moving comics stories ever published, a tale about a bully, a sensitive kid and the dark side of high school. And The Defenders, in which a superhero team fought such menaces as an angry fawn with the mind of an evil magician, a pop psychologist-led cult who all wore Bozo masks and a woman named Ruby Thursday whose head was replaced by a red globe, is almost Dada in its brilliance.
For you cognoscenti, he was Grant Morrison before there was Grant Morrison, Alan Moore before there was Alan Moore. Comics are at last being taken seriously as culture, entertainment and literature. Steve Gerber, who brought an artistic sensibility to comics 30 years ago, was ahead of his time.