I feel a lot like I did when Hunter S. Thompson died almost exactly two years ago. I may not have been Steve Gerber’s biggest fan––I hadn’t read nearly all his work––or his best––I think I took his brilliance for granted––but what I read meant a lot to me, a reminder that rogue voices are out there, and truth means something. It expanded my mind and helped shape my worldview at a tender age. Thompson I began reading in high school, Gerber a few years later as a poli-sci major at USC.
I was spoiled; my first real exposure to Gerber’s work (little did I know that as a child I had been subverted by his writing on G.I. Joe and The Transformers) was Marvel’s Essential Howard the Duck in early 2002, collecting nearly Gerber’s entire run, from Howard’s first appearance in Adventure Into Fear #19 to Howard the Duck #27. I absorbed it gluttonously. As satire, it’s not terribly deep, but it’s astute. Like the rest of Gerber’s work that I’ve read, as well as his interviews and blog, it cut through the bullshit.
And a lot of it seemed angry, as was so much of Gerber’s work that I read. Not enough mainstream comics are angry. Mainstream films can be angry, mainstream music can be angry, mainstream novels can be angry, but Gerber is one of the only mainstream comics writers I can think of whose work seemed angry during decades when there was a lot to be angry about, both in the comics industry and especially in the wider world.
Fearless, too. This is a man who turned even a blown deadline into an opportunity for creativity. And got Marvel Comics to publish it. Who fought hard for his creations and even staged a daring in-continuity rescue mission of his most popular character. Who was working on the new Dr. Fate series on what we now know was his deathbead.
Since Howard, I’ve read more Gerber, things like Hard Time, Void Indigo and Destroyer Duck. Some have haunted me, all have made me think. Omega the Unknown is high on my reading list, probably even higher now. I muddled through The Essential Defenders vol. 1 to get to his work in vol. 2, which I’ll be reading soon. I was eagerly anticipating the collection of his Dr. Fate work, having followed his thought process in writing it through his blog. I don’t know what will become of that now, with the final issues unfinished.
As for the blog, I followed that with a mix of interest and mild fear. As he described his illness and its many complications, I would check it both to read his ideas and also just to see how he was. Sometimes I’d forget for a week or two and then be afraid that he’d have stopped posting in the interim and what that might mean, but I eventually convinced myself he’d pull through, since he was always there. Until today.
RIP Steve Gerber.