Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Year of Steve Gerber

Last year I discovered Steve Gerber. It happened quite by accident. I was at Seattle's finest purveyor of funnybooks, Comics Dungeon, and purchanced upon an issue of Howard the Duck. Dim memories of seeing the duck when I was a kid stirred slightly, and I picked it up, expecting a chuckle or two. What I didn't know was that I had taken the first step in a long journey.
Howard the Duck was not just funny, it was hilarious, a ribald mix of satire and situation comedy, all involving a cigar-chomping, perpetually indignant drake fowl named Howard stuck "in a world he never made". What I thought might be a couple chuckles turned into deep satisfaction -and I had to have more.

After devouring Steve Gerber's fantastic run on Howard, assisted on art by the peerless Gene Colan, I found that this was only a small part of his contribution to literature. I went on to read his other books created in the seventies, The Defenders, Man-Thing ("The Most Startling Swamp Creature of All!" -who knew competition was so fierce?), Son of Satan (Marvel Comics had a satan fetish during that decade), and Omega the Unknown. Best of all these, representing the very creme de la creme of Gerber's ouvre (which, contrary to popular belief, cannot be fixed with surgery), is the Elf With A Gun.

The Elf With A Gun appears completely at random in three issues of The Defenders. He appears out of thin air and for no reason, none at all; his appearances are totally disconnected from the plot. First time we see him, he shows up at the door while a couple is singing John Denver tunes, calls the man by name and shoots him: end of appearance. For subsequent appearances, he disguises himself as a cabbie and an indian chief before calling his next victim by their full name and blowing them away.

No explanation has ever been offered for the Elf With A Gun. His creator, Steve Gerber, has never gone on the record. And I love him for it.

The Elf With A Gun has no precedent, is seemingly meant to be absurd, a non-signifier, and any time he appears the reader is given a breath of fresh air, as if the elf is reminding us, hey, don't take life so damn serious, huh? I would argue that this is Steve Gerber's underlying proposal in everything he writes. Nowhere in his decades of service is this philosophy made more obvious than the Elf With A Gun.

There is so much more Gerber has contributed, and I want to cover those in following entries, including the Woman Who Doesn't Exist, GodCorp, and The New Superhero. I am considering this the year of Steve Gerber and will be taking copious notes.

For current news and thoughts from the man himself, he regularly updates his blog.

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