Meta-Messages – Jim Shooter’s “Secret War” on Steve Gerber
In this feature I explore the context behind (using reader danjack’s term) “meta-messages.” A meta-message is where a comic book creator comments on/references the work of another comic book/comic book creator (or sometimes even themselves) in their comic. Each time around, I’ll give you the context behind one such “meta-message.” Here is an archive of the past installments!
Today we take a look at Jim Shooter (himself the “victim” of the previous Meta-Message) taking on then-former Marvel writer Steve Gerber in the pages of Secret Wars II.
To set up the issue, Steve Gerber left Marvel in the late 1970s over a dispute over Gerber’s creation, Howard the Duck. Upon leaving Marvel, Gerber gave a famous interview to the Comics Journal where, besides airing his grievances with Marvel, he talked a lot about the “deterioration of culture” and explained how much he didn’t like certain depictions of violence in cartoons and comics, noting:
The problem with many comic books and with much of children’s television is that the effects of violence are rarely presented honestly. The buildings the Hulk would tear up were always abandoned warehouses; Spidey and Doc Ock can punch each other in the face for 38 consecutive panels and neither gets a nosebleed. An impressionable child might be misled to believe that punching, kicking and maiming were all good clean fun — and that he or she could get away with it, that the violence would have no ramifications, that no one would really get hurt, least of all himself Prettied-up violence is, to my mind, the most vile of all.
In the 1980s, Gerber became a very successful writer and producer for animated children’s cartoons, and Gerber’s most popular works, Thundarr the Barbarian and G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, certainly seemed to bear a resemblance to the types of cartoons he described above. All the while, he continued to publicly take issue with Marvel frequently.
Therefore, perhaps in response to Gerber’s complaints about them, in Secret Wars II #1 in 1985 (RIGHT before Gerber actually went back to work for Marvel), Jim Shooter, Al Milgrom and Steve Leialoha introduced a character known as Thundersword who is clearly just an extended parody of early 1980s Steve Gerber…
Besides Thundersword having a similar name to Thundarr, Thundarr also had a lightning sword…
The rest of the issue just chooses to point out hypocrisies in Gadwall’s behavior (he commits violence while denouncing violence. He vows to be a liberal while acting quite un-liberal, etc.)…
Gerber, to his credit, later said that he enjoyed the issue.
NOTE: I am well aware that both Gerber and Shooter were involved in other similar meta-messages. Please do NOT discuss these other meta-messages in the comments. If you really want to share them, you can e-mail them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!