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The Greatest Steve Gerber Stories Ever Told!

Every day in November we will reveal the greatest stories ever told starring a particular character or written/drawn by a particular creator (and throughout the month, you’ll get daily chances to vote for NEXT week’s lists). These lists are voted on by YOU, the reader!

Here is the list of characters/creators featured so far (along with the rules on how to vote).

Today’s list is the Greatest Steve Gerber Stories Ever Told!

Enjoy!

Sorry for the major delay! I was quite surprised by just how much of a consensus there was on Gerber’s top stories. I thought that I’d see a lot of different stories, but instead I saw pretty much the same group of stories appear on most of the lists. One story (#2 on the countdown) particularly surprised me. Not that it is not a great story, but just that it was so widely accepted as one of Gerber’s top tales. Anyhow, on to the list (and again, do note that we’re talking about a guy with a lot of great stories – so a lot of great stories will not be on this list!).

10. Hard Time Season 2

After DC’s Focus line of comics ended, this excellent comic book series by Steve Gerber, Mary Skrenes, penciler Brian Hurtt and (for this volume) inker Steve Bird continued the adventures of Ethan Harrow, a teenager tried (and wrongly convicted) as an adult for his role in a school shooting. Ethan’s lawyer tries to get Ethan out of prison while Ethan deals with both the fact of serving at least 50 years in prison as well as his psychic abilities (which manifested themselves at the shooting). This was a nice attempt by DC to keep a great title going, but the second attempt did no better than the first one, sales-wise, and the series ended with issue #7, which was an extremely clever riff on DC’s “One Year Later” gimmick, doing it as “49 Years Later.”

9. Marvel Treasury Edition #12 “The Duck and the Defenders”

Gerber and artists Sal Buscema and Klaus Janson wrote this meeting between Gerber’s two most famous works at Marvel, Howard the Duck and the Defenders!

8. Marvel Presents #3-7

After bringing the Guardians of the Galaxy back in the pages of the Defenders, Gerber wrote their first ongoing solo series in the pages of Marvel Presents with art by Al Milgrom and Bob Wiacek.

7. Omega the Unknown #1-10

Gerber and Skrenes’ unfinished masterpiece, Omega the Unknown was one of the most offbeat tales of a very offbeat decade for comics. A young boy discovers that he was being raised by robots. After their destruction, he then discovers some sort of connection with a powerful (and oddly silent) alien – but the boy has mysterious powers similar to the alien! The alien tends to show up when the boy is in trouble. It is a strange book. The art is by Jim Mooney, mostly.

6. Hard Time #1-12

As noted above, this tells the story of a teen who is wrongly convicted for his role in a school shooting. During the shooting, he demonstrated a psychic ability to create a powerful psychic being. The series tells the story of the teen, Ethan, dealing with life in prison and his new powers (which he does not know about at first). It is a gripping, character-driven narrative with awesome Brian Hurtt artwork.

5. Defenders #31-40, Annual #1 “The Headmen Saga”

This is a sprawling mixture of stories with Gerber achieving so many different styles of stories – humor, horror, satire, commentary, action, science fiction, soap opera and so much more! The initial villains are the mutated villains, the Headmen (who succeed in transferring Nighthawk’s brain with one of their own) and then Nebulon the Celestial Man becomes the main heavy. Sal Buscema and Jim Mooney do the art.

4. Foolkiller #1-10

A new Foolkiller debuts after forming a connection with the institutionalized Greg Salinger (the last man to be known as the Foolkiller). The new Foolkiller, Kurt Gerhardt, causes chaos in New York and also becomes a bit of a cult hero due to his punishing the “foolish” and the “stupid.” The art is by Joe Brozowski and Tony DeZuniga.

3. The Phantom Zone #1-4

In this acclaimed mini-series, Superman gets trapped in the Phantom Zone while the villains from the Zone are let loose on Earth. The art is by Gene Colan and Tony DeZuniga.

2. Man-Thing #5-6 “Night of the Laughing Dead”/”And When I Died…”

Gerber, Mike Ploog and Frank Chiaramonte combine for a stunningly clever two-parter about a clown who kills himself in the swamp and then the people who know him (as well as the human stars of the series) are forced by ghosts to re-live the clown’s life to see if the clown deserves to go to Heaven, Hell or Limbo. It’s a beautifully disturbing (and disturbingly beautiful) tale.

1. Howard the Duck #16 “Zen and the Art of Comic Book Writing”

One of the most famous issue of the 1970s, this issue is a series of text pieces by Steve Gerber and drawings by a variety of Marvel’s top artists of the period. It offers an insight into Gerber’s mind that really needs to be seen to be believed. I did a piece on the issue recently here.

That’s the list! Agree? Disagree? Let me know!

32 Comments

This is one of the few of these lists that I’ve read 8 out of 10 stories from (the exceptions being the early GotG stories and Hard Time Season 2).

I’m really glad to see Foolkiller so high on the list. I didn’t read that book until a year or 2 ago and it was definitely a superhero book decades ahead of its time.

Marvel, where’s the Foolkiller trade? It would sell!

Where’s Void Indigo? heh heh (I haven’t read it but I’ve heard it’s not his best. I do have the first ish.)

I’ve got a batch of Gerber related comics, and I’ve been trying to get around to rereading them. Oddly enough, I don’t have a whole lot of these stories.

I do have, and enjoy greatly, the Foolkiller mini. Is the artist you list for that AKA JJ Birch? I swear that was the credited artist, but seeing the name above, I think I remember hearing something about him using different names in credits. If it is the same artist, he’s also the one that’s done the original Xombi (iirc) AND some of the DC Hanna Barbera comics.

How did Nevada do in the voting? I enjoyed that one.

I have to say, I’m very surprised by this list. Since Howard the Duck #16 is essentially just a series of essays, there really isn’t a single Howard the Duck story on this list. I would have thought the list would be half Howard the Duck stories, with potentially HTD taking up as many as 7 spots.

@Third Man: #9 has Howard in it. Perhaps there’s still residual dislike of Howard because of the movie? :)

Thinking on that, I liked the Savage Dragon/Destroyer Duck comic…

What else has Mary Skrenes done in comics? Also, according to the credits in the Omega the Unknown TP I picked up, Gerber and Skrenes didn’t write every issue of Omega, oddly enough.

And maybe it’s just my computer, since no one else has mentioned it, but the cover images aren’t coming up at all for me. I’ll try looking again later.

Howard the Duck stories got support, but they were all over the place (besides #16).

So everybody loves Howard, just everybody loves a DIFFERENT Howard. Cool.

DC annoyed the hell out of me with Hard Time Season Two. They knew the book was great so gave it a relaunch, but then didn’t bring out the second TPB of the first series before Season Two started. It may have failed anyway, but that in itself killed any chance the comic might have had.

It’s great to see that Phantom Zone miniseries rank so high. It’s an unknown Superman story.

I’m a relatively new Gerber-consumer having recently read Omega, Essential Defenders, Essential Howard the Duck, and with an Essential Man-Thing yet to be opened, but I didn’t feel qualified to vote (at least not for ten items).

But if I did, my #1 would have been Howard the Duck #3, the “Quack Fu” story. On the surface such a silly-looking story, I was amazed when I first read it at how directly it tackles the issue of violence in pop culture in a way I can’t imagine any other 70’s comic book would be able to do. Plus, it had the courage to drive its message home with an actual tragic outcome, a dose of reality that really surprised and resonated with me.

I could see some people finding it preachy, but I can’t help feel how much better that is than not addressing such cultural issues at all. It made me really admire Steve Gerber and see what all the fuss is about. He really was a writer ahead of his time.

Even moreso, Howard the Duck #3 was a response to actual tragedy in that particular bit of pop culture: the Dojo Wars. It’s no accident that the villain is named Count Macho.

Oh, and my personal favorite Howard story? It’s from issue #26, “What You Do the Night after Saving the World?” It’s the sort of story superhero comics — and comics in general — often forget to do these days, showing not only the letdown Howard has after a (goofily) epic conflict, but also that the mundane struggles of ordinary people are more important and more painful that the frothy adventuring the series had just spoofed.

Howard at its best, and by extension Gerber at his, didn’t just parody heroic fiction and romanticism, they argued for the necessity of an alternative. Real life as shown in that story or in Omega the Unknown wasn’t more important because it was “real,” or more like serious business because it was depressing; it was more “real” because it was important and sometimes depressing because it was serious business. It’s the drunk on the sidewalk who Howard agonizes over, not the previous issue’s clash with a cosmic villain; the story is an argument, subtle, beautiful, and effective, for the notion that it’s on the nights you don’t “save the world” that your moral choices and feelings and relationships with the world around you actually matter.

I thought about mentioning HtD #26. That was a pretty good issue, Omar.

Just a clarification that “Where Do You Go — What Do You Do — The Night After You Save the Universe?” is Howard the Duck #24, not #26.

Damn, I can’t believe I spaced on the deadline for this.
Nice to see the Headmen/Nebulon storyline show up, though.
Also, I thought “A. Bizarro” was one of his better “latter day” DC books. Just thought it deserved a mention down here in the comments.

I was hoping the SOOFI Issue would make it.

Howard the Duck #24 was the next Howard story that would have appeared (I dunno where – #12 or #13. I forget).

D’oh! on that title and issue number!

How did I miss this one? I went away the weekend of the 29th and missed everything! Tell me there hasn’t been a greatest Gene Colan or greatest Bill Sienkiewicz list that I missed, too. At least those of you that voted did a great job!

Anyway, my favorite Howard issues are:

#4:Paul Same, aka Winky Man, whose daring and creativity only come out when he’s sleeping, makes his debut. Accompanying him is Gene Colan, who stuck with Howard for years. Gerber wrote a moving story.

#6-14: Howard runs for president, runs from a ridiculous fight, then loses his mind and is locked up in an asylum. Both funny and painful, this string of issues was stellar.

The issue in which Howard is turned into a human (#19, maybe?). Howard gets to see how those born on this planet try to get by, and isn’t impressed.

The aforementioned issues 16 & 24.

Other good Gerber comics that didn’t make the list include the Stewart the Rat one-shot, the Defenders, Man-thing, & Howard the Duck issues not listed here, Tales of the Zombie, and the first seven issues of Marvel Two-in-One.

Wow, hardly any of my picks made this list, in fact only two did (Treasury Ed. #12 and Phantom Zone). First, I didn’t know you could vote for the whole run of Omega (although it makes sense now that I think about it), second, I have yet to read Hard Time and third, I had a really hard time picking Howard stories – I ended up putting issue #8 (the presidential campaign issue) and the Max series on my list, and am now bonking my head against the table for forgetting issue #24. I’m a bit saddened, but not surprised, that my #1 pick, the “Dawg” story from Man-Thing 9-10 didn’t even make the list. Did it at least break the top 10 or 15, Brian?
Also – and I say this as a big Gerber fan – I’m a bit surprised at all of the love for the Foolkiller series. I actually consider that one of Gerber’s more mediocre efforts.

@ Travis: Yes, JJ Birch and Joe Brozowski are the same artist. Brozowski used Birch as a pen name when he drew with a different style.

nice to see howard on this list and at number one where it really should be mostly because its steve most famous character and his best work. plus was going to be surprised if omega did make the list for it showed how unique a story teller steve was. even if it never finished. plus dc needs to do a hard time trade or resurecet it for a third go round

HTD # 2 (turnip from outer space) #3 Quack Fu (Stan Lee wrote in praising this issue) # 5 – Howard becomes a repo man, and #8 runs for President. 4 of my favorite comics of all time.

I’m surprised Edo is the only person who mentioned the MAX series. Yeah, I know the original series was genius and there’s obviously way more to choose from, but I really did love that mini. I will always imagine the biblical “Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost” the way they were depicted in the issue where Howard visits Heaven: a white-robed God, a thorn-crowned Jesus, and a guy in a white bedsheet ghost costume, who all move and speak at exactly the same time. Brilliant!

I love Gerber’s work, and a few stories I would have liked to have seen make the list (I really need to start voting, lol): Howard the Duck # 8 (the Presidential Campaign issue), Howard the Duck MAX # 6 (the conversation w/ God), and his Doctor Fate serial in Countdown to Mystery (his last work, with the last issue being written by three other writers as a tribute to Gerber).

Marvel: a colour Defenders/Headmen trade please. I have money for you.

Defenders 32 (or rather it’s Marvel UK repaint) was the first Marvel comic I ever read.

I second what Chris Schillig said. I’ve always been a staunch believer that Gerber’s Foolkiller is the most underrated comic story ever, and should be held up with the likes of Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns. In fact, it’s centrist message that far-leaning factions on both sides of the political spectrum are full of shit is even more relevant today than when it was written.

Everyone makes fun of the title “Giant Size Man Thing” but issue #4 of that series had an epic story “The Kid’s Night Out”. It blended a mix of comic story and prose that really spoke to high school kids. As a bonus, the book had an extra Howard the Duck short by Gerber and Brunner.

Yeah, as I said earlier, “The Kid’s Night Out!” is absolutely one of my favorite Steve Gerber stories. I’ve often wondered if it wasn’t semi-autobiographical?

Howard the Duck #5 and Metal Men #45 are perfect comic books. I also really love Howard the Duck #s 25 through 27….Gerber made it look so smooth and easy.

still need to read 3 of these, but the Essential Howard the Duck was our only comic book as we made the Greyhound ride from Georgia to California, with $400 and two suitcases plus a guitar and some handwritten, half-filled books. My bus was not headed to Cleveland after all. Discovering those stories will always be linked in my mind with the first few weeks working those dinky jobs, swimming, and hotel life in Escondido.

I love what Omar said about #24 and a response to romance and breathless heroism.

Those Defenders issues were my Christmas present in 2010. :-D We were just re-reading Omega last night and remarking on the warm, vivid characters that made the original a better read than Latham’s very surreal and complete re-visit to that story line. I love Grandpa and Amber, so much.

” howard the duck for president “. made me dig out my old man thing comics. nearly as trippy as jim starlins warlock.

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