Meet the Men of Bronze:
Steve Gerber in 1973
By Matthew R. Bradley
When examining a Bronze-Age career with as many highlights as that of Steve “Baby” Gerber (1947-2008), one is tempted to jump ahead to his heyday in 1975-76—my two favorite Marvel years—but the self-imposed mandate of these “Micro-Snapshots” is to focus on the year during which each writer established himself at Marvel. Ironically, he could almost be said to have “arrived” from the very month he made his Bullpen debut, December 1972, in which he collaborated with Roy Thomas on Incredible Hulk #158 and shared credit with Carole Seuling (ex-wife of convention/distribution legend Phil) on the premiere of Shanna the She-Devil. Most important, however, after a single issue written by co-creator Gerry Conway, Gerber took over the Man-Thing’s first four-color solo strip in [Adventure into] Fear #11 and, to say the least, made it forever his own. And then…
January: In a memorable one-off, Captain America #157, Gerber (previously represented in the lettercol of #118) joins with regulars Steve Englehart and Sal Buscema to co-create a characteristically quirky villain, disgruntled former ad exec the Viper. Also displaying his versatility, Gerber contributed to titles ranging from humor (Spoof #3, his first of two issues) to horror (Chamber of Chills #2, followed by Journey into Mystery #4 in April).
February: Gerber lands his first super-hero series, beginning a twelve-issue run with Sub-Mariner #58. Beloved though the character remains, his Silver-Age solo book was close to cancellation, and Gerber jumped ship after #69 (March 1974), switching over the next month to chronicle the Son of Satan’s adventures in Marvel Spotlight (starting with #18).
March: After the landmark issue in which he and roommate Mike Friedrich introduced such characters as Thanos and Drax the Destroyer, penciler Jim Starlin was teamed with Gerber on Iron Man #56. The results reportedly led Stan Lee to have Starlin kicked off the book, with the unintended but serendipitous side-effect of having him reassigned to Captain Marvel. Gerber hung in for two more months, but he made a much more lasting impression with his 20-issue run, starting with #97, on Daredevil and the Black Widow.
June: Gerber penned the final issues of Shanna after the failed experiment of having that and its sister titles, The Cat and Night Nurse, written by women; #4 and 5 introduced the villainous Mandrill and Nekra. They and Shanna later returned in the crossover between Daredevil and the Thing’s team-up book, Marvel Two-in-One, which Gerber inaugurated in January 1974 and wrote for nine delightfully off-the-wall issues. This month, he also joins Marvel’s burgeoning line of black-and-white horror magazines with Dracula Lives #1, contributing to the first issues of Tales of the Zombie and Vampire Tales in August.
August: In Supernatural Thrillers #5, Gerber co-created the ten-issue series featuring N’Kantu, the Living Mummy, although Tony Isabella took over after the second entry.
October: Gerber dreamed up many an unusual character in the Man-Thing strip, whose popularity had just earned Fear monthly status, but #17 brought one of the most durable: Wundarr (later the Aquarian), an interstellar man-child whose origin was such a dead-on pastiche of Superman’s that the higher-ups reportedly feared legal action. (Legal Action Comics?) Wundarr was later befriended by Ben Grimm, and he appeared often in MTIO.
December: Fear #19 was a transitional issue that marked, among other things, the Man-Thing’s last appearance there before his first solo title—written exclusively by Gerber—debuted in January. He later wrote four issues of the successor strip starring Morbius, the Living Vampire (having penned his first solo story in Vampire Tales), in his initial four-color series. Last, but far from least, that issue introduced (wait for it) Howard the Duck.
In this writer’s opinion, the best was yet to come: the month after bidding adieu to DD in #117 (January 1975), Gerber embarked upon what some rank as his greatest achievement with Defenders #20, the start of a run encompassing twenty-odd (sometimes VERY odd) issues, both regular and giant-sized. There—and previously in MTIO—he resurrected the Guardians of the Galaxy, introduced in the one-shot Marvel Super-Heroes #18 (January 1969). In the first three months of 1976 alone, Gerber successively launched HTD’s solo book (the premiere of which was, for a time, the must-have for collectors), the tragically short-lived Guardians strip in Marvel Presents, and the enigmatic Omega the Unknown.