Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Gerber's Gone

As much as I hate to write about another death so soon after Roy Scheider, I can't let the passing of Steve Gerber go unmentioned. Gerber, who died at age 60 after a long bout of ill health, was one of Marvel Comics' star writers during the 1970s, when editor-in-chief Roy Thomas opened the doors wide and allowed his creators to do pretty much anything they wanted. Most of Marvel's comic books from this time period, which also includes those of Thomas' immediate successors Marv Wolfman, Gerry Conway and Len Wein, are just batshit crazy, filled with wildly creative plots, innovative artwork and panel placements, snappy humor, political satire, and, of course, lots of panels of superheroes fighting each other (and an occasional villain).

At the forefront was Gerber, who was never one of Marvel's major voices, but a writer with a rabid cult following (that means his books didn't always sell so well). His greatest creation is most likely Howard the Duck, whose first solo story came in GIANT-SIZE MAN-THING #4 in a story called "Frog Death," which found the wisecracking, cigar-smoking drake on Earth in a battle against Garko the Man-Frog! Obviously, Gerber had his tongue wedged tightly in his cheek (though Frank Brunner's artwork was, as usual, beautiful), but the response to Howard was positive enough to merit the duck's own book.

Gerber did more than HOWARD THE DUCK (which was enormously popular on college campuses during the Ford/Carter years). He also created Omega the Unknown and wrote terrific issues of THE DEFENDERS, MAN-THING, DRACULA LIVES and TALES OF THE ZOMBIE, just to name a few. He later wrote for DC, Image and Malibu and penned animated television shows like THUNDARR THE BARBARIAN, one of Saturday morning's top adventure shows of the '80s.

Without a doubt, Steve Gerber was a comics visionary with a unique voice. Without looking at the credits, it usually doesn't take long to figure out you're reading a Gerber story. More than likely, it's a good one.

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