Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Steve Gerber Memoriam

I'm sure you've heard by now the passing of Steve Gerber. I'm sure you've read several "news" accounts versions, and seen any number of blog postings talking about Steve and his work. Do you need to read mine, too? Probably not, but I'm writing it anyway...

Steve Gerber snuck his way into my comics. When I first began really getting into comics, I was a Fantastic Four guy. I bought that one book, and that was pretty much it -- all I could afford. As I got older, I was able to find additional sources of income and I soon saw that John Byrne, the guy who made me fall in love with the FF, was working on this new She-Hulk comic; I was so there.

Of course, less than a year later John departed She-Hulk rather suddenly. There was a fill-in issue or two, and then things got wacky.

John's premise behind She-Hulk initially was that she was going to go through the normal superhero absurdities, but in full knowledge of the fact that she was just a character in a comic book. She repeatedly broke the fourth wall, and I still think that her escaping from a prison cell by ripping open the bottom part of the page and running across the subsequent advertisement was brilliantly done. ("I think I scraped my shin on a staple.") The book was unique.

But after John left, it took a decidedly different turn. The fourth wall was rebuilt, A-list guest stars like Spider-Man were replaced by oddball creations like Pseudoman, and the plots went from defeating Mysterio and the Head-Men to escaping from a universe made entirely out of baloney. Weird, wacky stuff. And, for as much as I enjoyed John Byrne's take on She-Hulk, this new version was more nuanced in its clever approach to things. (I reviewed all those issues here.)

That was my introduction to Steve Gerber.

At the time, my knowledge of comic books and creators was limited. I knew a handful of characters -- mostly because of guest appearances in Fantastic Four -- and I knew of a handful of creators -- mostly because of their work on Fantastic Four. And all of what I knew was decidedly standard superhero fare. (Well, it's standard now; I think some of the ideas at the time were then still pretty unusual in comics.)

As I got older and more interested in comics, I wound up dragging my folks (Dad particularly) to comic shops and flea markets and such hunting for back issues. And while I was looking for superheroes, Dad stumbled across other stuff to keep him interested. Books like Howard the Duck. Man-Thing. Destroyer Duck. Void Indigo.

And that's where I really got to know Steve. Because, after reading the latest issue of Fantastic Four for the tenth time, I'd go downstairs and pull out Dad's comics, introducing me to a wonderfully diverse set of ideas and opinions that weren't -- couldn't be -- expressed in a superhero story.

To be perfectly honest, it wasn't just Steve. There was Alan Moore, Scott McCloud, Howard Chaykin, Rick Veitch, Mike Saenz... to name just a few. But each creator brought something new and different to the table, and was able to express themselves in a way that no one else really seemed capable of. They were able to throw out unique ideas, and open my mind up to new ways of thinking. They were the first people's work I was able to read as socio-political commentary. The first works that I could read on multiple levels. What I didn't realize at the time, though, was that the things being presented here were new not only to me, but to the entire industry! I lived and grew up through a revolution in comics that, at the time, just struck me as increasing my own knowledge about how the business worked.

Later I learned something of the fight that Steve had with marvel about the ownership of Howard the Duck. When I first learned of the issue, I could only grasp the basics of it and certainly wasn't able to see the extended implications. But you know what? It still brought the issue to my attention years, and made me at least conscious of the situation at a relatively young age. That I became aware of creators' rights in any capacity was in large part because of Steve Gerber.

The death of any human being is a sad one. That a person's life can be snuffed out so easily and so quickly is chilling. But the death of someone who had a positive impact on your life is more painful. It means that the positive influence they had is no longer available. The last Dr. Fate stories Steve was working on will be published over the next few months, and then the world will have no more new work coming from him. That's a tremendous loss to our culture because Steve had a decidedly positive impact on many people through his work.

But you know? His work remains. It'll take me no more than a few minutes to rifle through my long boxes and pull out Omega the Unknown. I can read and re-read his run on The Defenders as often as I wish. Steve's work had a lot of depth to it and I'd be willing to bet that you'll be able to get something new out of most of it if you run through it again. I can't tell you how exciting it was to really sit down and analyze his work on She-Hulk years after it had first began swirling around in my head. I can't begin to list what I've learned from Steve over the years. So join with me in mourning the loss of Steve Gerber, but take some time with me as well to celebrate all the wonderful things he passed along to us while he was here.

1 comment:

plok said...

Wise words, Sean.