Writer Steve Gerber died on Sunday, February 10, 2008 at the age of 60 from complications of pulmonary fibrosis.
Best known for creating and writing Howard the Duck, which eventually led to an industry-changing fight for creator rights, and Omega the Unknown (with writer Mary Skrenes), Gerber is best known among New Warriors fans for taking over the 1970s Sub-Mariner series following Bill Everett’s death. While never happy with his run on the book, Gerber was the first to shake up the status quo of the newly-created Namorita. Her storyline also crossed over into Gerber’s Marvel Two-in-One.
Gerber also co-wrote, along with Gerry Conway, Len Wein, Chris Claremont, Scott Edelman and Roger Slifer, Giant-Size Defenders #5, the first appearance of young Vance Astrovik, who would later become Marvel Boy, and later still take the name Justice.
Years later, Gerber and artist Rick Leonardi were brought in to try to rejuvenate Cloak and Dagger volume 3 in 1991. Unfortunately, the shift came too late to save the series from the weakening sales of the previous 13 issues of ‘Mutant Misadventures’.
In 1996, Gerber returned to Howard the Duck for Spider-Man Team-Up #5, which featured Ben Reilly as Spider-Man and a cover by New Warriors volume 1 artist Darick Robertson. The issue slyly interconnected with Savage Dragon/Destroyer Duck #1, also written by Gerber and published by Image Comics. The issue was illustrated by former Nova writer/artist Chris Marrinan. The two issues effectively removed Gerber’s original Howard the Duck from the Marvel Universe and replaced him with a double in a protest over Marvel Comics’ past mishandling of the character.
Despite his occasional New Warriors connection, Gerber is most known for creating Howard the Duck, the acerbic social satire of the 1970s. The unlikely main character won such a following that a presidential campaign in 1976 resulted in several hundred votes. A newspaper comic strip also spun out of the series, an achievement rarely obtained by Marvel Comics characters. However, a protracted battle over the rights of the character began in the late ’70s, resulting in the removal of Gerber from both the comic strip and the comic book. One Marvel executive allegedly proclaimed that Gerber’s name would never again appear in a Marvel comic. In the interim, the infamous Howard the Duck movie was released in 1986. Gerber’s involvement was limited and the movie’s success famously even more limited. The movie remains one of Hollywood’s biggest bombs. Many creators rallied around Gerber during the proceedings. Eventually a settlement over the ownership of the character was reached, and while the details are limited, Gerber stated he was “no longer angry”. The legal battle created a shift among comic creators in what they deserved and the worth of their work.
Gerber is also remembered for his quirky run on The Defenders and his imaginative series with co-writer Mary Skrenes Omega the Unknown. The latter was never completed. Marvel drew criticism from Gerber recently when they relaunched the story without consulting him.
Gerber was also involved in animation. In the 1980s, he was chief story editor for “G.I. Joe,” story editor and co-creator of “Thundarr the Barbarian” and story editor on “Dungeons & Dragons”. In the 1990s, he won an EMMY for his work on “The Batman/Superman Adventures”.
His creator-owned series such as Nevada and Void Indigo while less cited also drew praise from critics. The latter, however, was found to be objectionable by some distributors and retailers who refused to sell it. The more recent Hard Time reunited Gerber with writer Mary Skrenes. While it failed to make strong enough sales, perhaps hindered by a failing imprint, the series won positive reviews from critics and readers. At the time of his death, Gerber was working on the final issues of Countdown to Mystery, a mini-series relaunching Dr. Fate for DC Comics.
Gerber had a website at SteverGerber.com and had been writing an online journal, stevegerblog, covering his work and health struggles. Since Gerber’s death, friend and colleague Mark Evanier has been managing the blog and providing people with a place to share remembrances. If you have fond memories of any Gerber’s work or of Gerber himself, please stop by and share them.
Gerber’s friends and family have asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to The Hero Initiative.
Obituaries and remembrances: Los Angeles Times, New York Times, POV Online, The Comics Reporter, The Beat, Journalista
Also: Gerber interview from The Comics Journal #41, August 1978