Stephen Ross Gerber was born September 20, 1947 in St. Louis, Missouri. He described his childhood as dull: "I grew up in a middle-class suburban community, went through the same school system my whole life, lived in the same house from the time I was born until the time I was 22 and married, and then moved into another dwelling. I don't think there was enough instability in the events of my life; any instability was internal. After a while, with that much sameness in one's existence, if some variety or even some danger doesn't creep in occasionally, and the person is at all a thinking person, I believe he starts to go insane. And, really, that's what happened to me, I think, at some point. I reached a crisis where rebellion became not something fashionable, not something even governed by any particular principles, just something I had to do in order to keep my mind alive. My home had become an anesthetic, and it was like I was living under that anesthetic, just listening to the voices of my mother and father and brothers and sisters and the television set, which was on constantly, and receiving no new input...I knew I was going to be a writer, back when I was about five years old, because there didn't really seem to be much else worth doing. That's it. It's the only profession I could think of that looked like it would hold any interest for me. And my mother once told me that the only stories people remember are the ones that are different and original, and there's no point in writing any other kind."
He became a comic book fan in the early 1950s, reading BATMAN, CAPTAIN MARVEL, PLASTIC MAN, UNCLE SCROOGE, SUPERMAN, and the PRINCE VALIANT newspaper strip. He even resorted to stealing a comic in the fourth grade: "My elementary school had a box of comics that the teachers would pull out on rainy days, for the kids to read during lunch period or recess. One of those comics completely staggered me, and I had to have it at any cost. It was FIGHTING AMERICAN #1 by Simon and Kirby. The character's origin was one of the grimmest, most fascinating comic book stories I've ever read, even to this day. My conscience still aches a little about shoving that book under my shirt and smuggling it out of the school building, but it was something I had to read again."
Like many artists and writers, Gerber began developing his talent at an early age: "I also wrote and drew my own comics from the time I was five or six years old. I can't even tell you why I did, except that it seemed a perfectly natural thing to do. The artwork was terrible, though, even for a six-year-old -- and it hasn't improved since then -- so I knew I was never going to be a cartoonist."
In 1962 he started his own fanzine, HEADLINE, which lasted three issues. HEADLINE was cheaply printed on a spirit duplicator (also known as a Ditto machine) and contained articles and stories by Gerber, including a comic called "The Little Giant" (which he later described as "a rip-off of The Atom") written by "S.G. Ross" with art by Ronn Foss. The first issue was dated May, 1962, contained 34 pages -- an odd signature, but they were single pages with one staple slammed into the top corner -- and sold for 30 cents. #2 (Spring, 1963) and #3 (Summer, 1964), had more pages and sold for 35 cents each.
Gerber had a letter printed in FANTASTIC FOUR #19 (October, 1963), and in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #26 (July, 1965). The latter letter is indicative of his later penchant for satirizing established superheroes:
"Dear Stan and Steve,
"You may think this is a crazy suggestion but it's really just stupid enough to work! For the past three years you've been kidding your 'teen-age' mags and kiddingly saying that PATSY WALKER and MILLIE THE MODEL are the only places you won't find Spidey as a guest star. Well, why make those gals an exception? In this crazy Marvel Age of Comics I can think of nothing wilder than the Torch and Spidey mixing it up with Patsy or Millie! If you don't pull a story like this you're even more insane than I am for suggesting it! See what the other readers think!"
Obviously, Gerber was joking, but there'd come a time when it wouldn't have surprised anyone if he had written a comic that had Spider-Man and Millie the Model beating the crap out of each other on a rooftop.
While attending University City High School, where Gerber was voted "Funniest Boy of 1965," he and friends Bruce Carlin and Howard Tockman (for whom Howard the Duck was named) published a humour magazine called NERVE out of Gerber's basement. Again, it was printed on his spirit duplicator. About the machine's origin, Gerber said, "[W]hen I was in junior high, my parents allowed me to buy a ditto machine to publish a comic book fanzine. Later, in high school, some friends and I used that same machine to print an underground magazine. The magazine wasn't political at all. It was a good-natured rag called NERVE. Nevertheless, it was banned from campus, because it was 'unauthorized' by the school administration. That incident, I think, may have been when I first began to appreciate the power of the printed word and when I realised that humour could be employed subversively." Gerber added, "NERVE wasn't distributed by mail as a fanzine." (Tockman, now a rabbi, remembers the magazine's content differently: "Some of what was in NERVE was political and social, and some of it was just silly.")
Gerber began corresponding with fellow comics fan Roy Thomas, "who'd had a letter published in a DC comic called HAWKMAN. Roy's published letter contained some information about the 1940s version of the Hawkman character." Gerber said, "That interested me, so I dropped him a note and asked if he had time to explain some of this stuff. He was gracious enough to do that, and we became regular correspondents." In a time when Golden Age comic books weren't worth entire fortunes, he even loaned Gerber issues of ALL-STAR COMICS through the mail. "One fan...actually loaned me his copy of FLASH COMICS #1 through the mail. He trusted me with that. Of course, I sent it back."
Roy, a college student from Jackson, Missouri, would frequently drive the 120 miles up to St. Louis to see his girlfriend, and he and Gerber would get together to talk comics. "I look back on that now," said Gerber, "and it's remarkable to me that someone his age could have been so gracious to an obnoxious 13-year-old."
In 1965, Roy got a job at National Periodicals. It was a formal affair: the men had brush cuts and wore suits and ties. Roy walked into their offices with love beads, sandals, and long hair, and, not feeling comfortable, quit after one or two weeks. He went and got a job as a writer and assistant editor at Marvel where the atmosphere was relaxed if not anarchic.
That summer, after graduating from high school, the 17-year-old Gerber went to stay with Roy for two weeks at his apartment in New York and met Stan Lee for the first time at the Marvel offices. Although Gerber was seriously considering writing comics, he wanted to go to college first. He "spent two years at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, one semester at the University of Missouri-Columbia, and then finished and did a little bit of graduate work at St. Louis University." While in college he read Albert Camus's "The Stranger," which he often cited as having a profound influence on him: "This will sound appallingly narcissistic, but that book explained me to myself, in a way that nothing I'd ever read had done before. It was my introduction to existentialism..."
Gerber later capitalized on his A.B. degree in Speech-Communication by working in radio as a disc jockey and producing the pilot for a talk show in St. Louis. The latter didn't work out so well: "This was one of the Great Blown Opportunities of my life," Gerber sighed. "I actually talked a local TV station into handing me a studio and a professional crew for an afternoon. Unfortunately, I was much more ignorant about TV production than I wanted to believe."
At the beginning of the '70s, Gerber, still in St. Louis, found work at an ad agency writing copy. "The advertising stuff was just making me crazy, just absolutely nuts," Gerber groaned. "Between commercials, to keep my brain alive, I would lock my office door, turn off the florescent ceiling light, and, by the glow of a little desk lamp, write...strange stories on my IBM Selectric." Gerber knew it was time to "find something else." He called Roy Thomas early in 1972 and inquired about the possibility of getting a job at Marvel. Fortunately, Marvel was expanding, with Stan Lee becoming publisher and Roy being promoted to editor-in-chief, which had been Lee's job since the early 1940s. But Gerber still had to take the "writer's test", in this case six xeroxed pages of Gene Colan art from a Daredevil comic which Gerber had to furnish with captions and dialogue. He passed.
Gerber moved to New York and was given a job as "associate editor", which he said was a "glorified proofreader", at $125 a week, a $25 cut in pay from his advertising job, augmented by a $13 per page pay rate as a writer. His first writing assignment was ADVENTURE INTO FEAR #11 (December, 1972) featuring Man-Thing, who debuted in the first issue (May, 1971) of SAVAGE TALES magazine and was re-introduced in FEAR #10. Marvel had some competition in the "swamp creature" field with DC's SWAMP THING, whose own series debuted the very same month (October cover date) as Man-Thing. "When I got the MAN-THING assignment, one of the first things I did was sit down with Len [Wein, SWAMP THING's writer] and tell him, 'Why don't yout tell me what you're doing, and whatever you're doing, I'll do something completely different.'"
Gerber had a more immediate challenge on his hands: how to turn a character who was essentially a mindless walking mound of muck into a viable series. "Man-Thing couldn't speak, couldn't think, couldn't emote, couldn't react on his own. He was completely at the mercy of whatever emotions came into his sensory sphere. Even more restricting, until the last few issues, he couldn't leave the swamp, so every story has to come to him." The solution was simple: introduce some supporting characters who did have minds!
In FEAR #11, he introduced a teenage girl named Jennifer Kale, who "borrowed" from her grandfather an ominous-looking tome containing occult content. Her play turned dangerous when she accidentally conjured up a demon. Gerber's other solution to Man-Thing's lack of character was to write "human interest" stories and let the monster act as catalyst. The only link between the Man-Thing and humans was his empathic nature, which allowed him to "feel" what others feel. People with a story to tell who ended up in Man-Thing's neck of the swamp usually had some strong emotions which drew the creature to them, though he usually observed from a distance as their drama unfolded, and eventually intervened, though not always for the better. The one emotion he loathed was fear, which caused him psychic agony, and he would instinctively attempt to destroy the source of those emanations by touching the person, who would suffer severe burns or even explode into flames depending on the severity of the fear. Unfortunately, the Man-Thing himself was often the cause of that fear.
Gerber satirized the "Man of Tomorrow" in FEAR #17. The origin of Wundarr the alien is identical to that of Superman, with the imminent explosion of the planet Dakkam and the parents placing their infant child in a capsule and rocketing him towards a better hope. The rocket lands in the Florida Everglades in 1951, witnessed by an elderly couple ("Maw" and "Paw"), who choose not to investigate. Instead, the baby grows to adulthood inside the capsule over the next 22 years, before the Man-Thing breaks open the object out of curiosity. Wundarr emerges, a superman with the mind of a baby. "What I didn't know until sometime later," said Gerber, "is that DC actually threatened to sue over the original story. I saw it as satire. They viewed it as plagiarism."
Gerber's penchant for the absurd became glaringly obvious in FEAR #19 which introduced a barbarian named Korrek, who oozed to full-blown life out of a jar of peanut butter(!), and Howard the Duck, a cynical, cantankerous, talking duck. The explanation? An imbalance was causing alternate universes to seep into one another, and the "Nexus of All Realities" happened to be located in the Man-Thing's swamp.
After FEAR #19, Man-Thing was given his own monthly title thanks to Gerber's unconventional stories and characters and his willingness to experiment with the medium. The MAN-THING comic ran for 22 issues and 5 giant-size specials, all written by Gerber. (The title of the companion series, GIANT-SIZE MAN-THING, still elicits giggles from comics fans.)
Issue #2 introduced Richard Rory, Gerber's Everyman, but more specifically Gerber's alter-ego. Rory had been a radio disc jockey at WNRV (named after Gerber's college mag), who exiled himself to the swamp to do some soul searching, living out of his van. The Man-Thing saves Rory from an attack by an alligator and Rory befriends the creature. The relationship works well for the rest of the series with Rory speaking openly and frankly to the creature, to whom words mean nothing.
That same issue introduced Ruth Hart, a biker babe who fled from St. Louis when her boyfriend, Snake, leader of the Skull-Crushers bike gang, accused her of stealing the gang's treasury.
Issue #3 introduced one of Gerber's more enduring (relatively speaking) characters, The Fool-Killer, a maniacal religious zealot dressed up like Zorro who uses a ray gun to disintegrate anyone he deems a fool, even those of impeccable virtue. He even has a business card: "Foolkiller [the hyphen comes and goes] - E Pluribus Unum - You have 24 hours to live. Use them to repent -- or be forever damned to the pits of hell, where goeth all fools. Today is the last day of the rest of your life. Use it wisely -- or die a fool!" His mind had snapped when he stumbled upon his life-long mentor, Reverend Mike, a popular faith-healer, drunk and enjoying the company of a prostitute. (This whole sordid affair may have been inspired by the Marjoe Gortner story.)
MAN-THING reached far greater heights of glory with issue #5 when Mike Ploog, a brilliant artist born to draw monsters, was assigned to the book, and Gerber had finally hit his stride. The result was a bizarre thriller called "Night of the Laughing Dead." The story begins with the Man-Thing witnessing a circus clown blowing his brains out in the swamp. His suicide note reads: "Laughter is dead, futility. Blame ergon." The late Darrel the Clown is being pursued by Mr. Garvey, the circus owner, and Tragg, the strongman, whose unofficial mantra, "Whut I don't like, I smash!" pretty much sums up his disposition. Meanwhile, Ayla Prentiss, the high-wire artist, begs Richard Rory and Ruth Hart to accompany her into the swamp to find Darrel. They find his body...and his creepy-looking ghost.
The story continues in the next issue, in which Darrel employs the group of five as reluctant players in a drama detailing his unhappy childhood, physically transforming them into their counterparts, with Richard Rory playing the role of young Darrel, Tragg as the kid who bullied him, Ayla as Betty Jo, his only friend, Ruth Hart as his supercilious mother, and Garvey as his "cold, unfeeling, humourless, money-grubbing" father. Stage props appear arbitrarily, and through each unpleasant scene even the Man-Thing participates, though unnoticed by the others, feeding off Darrel's emotions and physically forcing him to react. Darrel's ghost exorcises his demons -- literally -- and leaves his body to rest in peace.
The first half of this story, "Night of the Laughing Dead," was adapted as a spoken-word play for Power Records' "Monster Series," albeit in edited form. The original dialogue and captions were shortened (and dumbed down) to fit the limitations of the 45 RPM disc.
Issues 9 and 10 dealt with a bayou man, Ezekiel, his wife, Maybelle, and Zeke's dog, appropriately named "Dawg." Zeke's wife hates the critter so much that her hatred manifests itself supernaturally: trees attack Zeke and Dawg, as do human skeletons which rise from the swamp. The pink ghost responsible for animating these objects eventually attacks Zeke and Maybelle in their cabin, and Dawg is killed trying to save them. The demon dissipates, it's purpose fulfilled. And Maybelle holds Dawg and weeps. The story elicited a deluge of response from the readers.
With #12 came a change in artists -- in fact, it was to be a revolving door. "Song-Cry of the Living Dead Man" concerned a writer, Brian Lazarus, living in a secluded house, rapidly succumbing to madness, unable to cope with the irrationalities of the world. The issue contained a type-set page, Brian's surreal prose, barely lucid. Gerber included such verbose ramblings in many of his stories, to the delight of some, to the chagrin of others. The "chagrin" part was alienating Gerber from too many readers who found his stories confusing, disquieting, and, despite the humour, extremely depressing. In an attempt to placate his detractors, Gerber wrote a wholly commercial two-issue swashbuckler, with artwork by the great Filipino artist, Alfredo Alcala, whose very forte was pirates.
Comics veteran Jim Mooney became the artist and inker with MAN-THING #17, and he stayed until the end of the series. Mooney had drawn "Tommy Tomorrow" and "Supergirl" for DC, favourites of Gerber's when he was growing up. Mooney didn't have the dynamism of Jack Kirby, the excellent brush-stroke of Barry Smith, or the experimental technique of Steranko, but his straightforward storytelling style was well-suited to Gerber's relatively quiet, character-based stories. Mooney mentioned in many interviews that his work with Gerber in MAN-THING and, later, OMEGA, was his best and most rewarding because he really enjoyed illustrating those stories. It shows. MAN-THING #17-22 were the best of the series.
#22, the final issue, was written in the form of a letter from Steve Gerber to Marvel's then editor-in-chief Len Wein, explaining why this would be his last MAN-THING issue. This is one of Gerber's strangest narratives, being that he claims to have been told the entire Man-Thing saga by someone who was there to witness it, the sorcerer Dakimh, who appeared in a number of issues of FEAR, mentoring Jennifer Kale. Gerber intricately wove himself into the plot, so that he became a character in the comic, which begins with the aforementioned phone conversation with Roy Thomas in 1972, then meeting Dakimh in his kitchen while still in St. Louis, where the sorcerer narrated Man-Thing's adventures while Gerber typed. But the saga went beyond issue #21, and Gerber tells how he personally became involved in the rest of the story, which continued from previous issues, and which concluded through the second half of #22.
(A few years ago Gerber was asked in an interview if he thought that his appearance in a Marvel comic meant that Marvel owned the rights to a character named Steve Gerber. Gerber replied: "I suppose so. With the paucity of new ideas coming from Marvel these days, I wouldn't be surprised if they brought him back in a new mutant book -- say JEWBOY-X. His power could be to induce paralyzing guilt in his opponents.")
One of the earliest comics Gerber wrote was CAPTAIN AMERICA #157 (January, 1973), which was enjoying an excellent run by regular writer Steve Englehart and artist Sal Buscema. A new villain was introduced, the Viper, who in his civilian identity worked in advertising, just like Gerber had. Englehart explains: "Steve Gerber kindly scripted the second half of #157 while I was attending a wedding in California. He gave the Viper his 'ad man' persona." While battling Captain America and the Falcon on a rooftop, much of the Viper's dialogue sounded like it came from a boardroom meeting: "You're a fool, Falcon! Typical of your demographic segment." "Fool, you forget that American industry never says die -- " "Never turn your back on the competition!" etc.
Gerber was a prolific writer, and during his tenure on FEAR/MAN-THING he had also written runs of DAREDEVIL, SUB-MARINER, and TALES OF THE ZOMBIE, the last title being the only one of merit. In fact, Gerber remarked how spooky it was that he was writing those three characters, who were created or co-created by Bill Everett, who had just died (in 1973 -- from lung cancer, no less.)
"In those days, DAREDEVIL was one of a couple of books that were routinely assigned to new writers. The book sold fairly consistently, but not very well, so there was nothing major at stake if the writer flubbed it. It served as a low-risk arena in which writers could hone their craft." Gerber started writing the series with issue #97 (March, 1973) and says that while he may have liked "looking" at Daredevil's new sidekick the Black Widow, he didn't think she belonged in the series: "One of the keys to understanding the Daredevil character is that he's one man alone, in darkness. Mitigate the totality of that darkness and the character becomes much less interesting."
In the 100th issue, Daredevil visits the offices of ROLLING STONE magazine, where he's interviewed by Jann Wenner. Usually real-life guest stars only have cameos in comic books, but Wenner was featured throughout. Gerber said, "I did get his permission, of course, to use him as a guest star in the story, and he agreed, but I didn't even have a photo of him to work from. I just pictured what I thought he should look like, based on what I'd read of his writing, and described that to Gene Colan. Weirdly enough, it turned out to be a pretty good likeness."
In DAREDEVIL #112 (August, 1974), the Mandrill and Nekra, along with Mandrill's all-female army collectively known as Black Specter, topple the broadcasting tower from the top of the Empire State Building. The huge metal structure crashes down on 34th Street, crushing countless people below. Another writer would have made it clear that the street had fortunately been deserted, closed due to construction. Gerber was ruthlessly realistic. The captions reflected Daredevil's thoughts: "...perhaps it is only his imagination...but he swears he can hear every bone that it crushes to powder...every heartbeat is causes to stop...every drop of blood that trickles from every wound to moisten the pavement's grime."
In MAN-THING #1 (January, 1974), Gerber gave Daredevil and the Black Widow what is probably the shortest adventure in the history of superhero comics: two panels, two seconds! On page 11, Daredevil and the Black Widow -- who were probably swinging around San Francisco looking for petty criminals to kick in the face -- suddenly find themselves transported through a "crack" in the space/time continuum and into the proceedings at the Congress Of Realities; and as they swing by they take out a few bad guys from various dimensions who are about to shoot, zap and spear Jennifer Kale (tied to a hydro pole beneath the world's largest light bulb), thus saving the damsel in distress from execution before the momentum of their swing carries them through an "exit" crack a very short distance away and back into our universe.
Daredevil: "Good Lord! Unless my radar sense has gone crazy -- we're passing thru some kind of hole in space! We're swinging right back out again, it appears!"
Caption: "D.D. and the Widow will wonder about that experience until the end of their days."
Gerber was a contributor to CRAZY, Marvel's black and white humour magazine, and later became the editor from issues #11-14, taking over from Marv Wolfman, who'd done an excellent job. Although CRAZY, like MAD, featured parodies of contemporary movies and TV shows, the similarities between the two mags ended there. MAD satirized society, politics and culture, and the narrative was generally lucid and relevant; CRAZY's articles, on the other hand, seemed to have been written by the inmates of an insane asylum, with Gerber as the raving lunatic. Most of it was absurd, surreal, irrational, not unlike the nonsensical humour of Monty Python. It was original and unpretentious. When Gerber left the magazine after #14, it became just another poor imitation of MAD. (A contributing writer to CRAZY was Bruce Carlin, one of Gerber's friends who worked with him on NERVE magazine years earlier.)
He also had brief stints on SHANNA, THE SHE-DEVIL (Marvel's version of Sheena); Morbius, the Living Vampire which began in FEAR #20; Thongor of Lemuria, a Conan imitation adapted from Lin Carter's series of novels in CREATURES ON THE LOOSE; the Guardians of the Galaxy in MARVEL PRESENTS; MARVEL-TWO-IN-ONE starring The Thing; SUPERNATURAL THRILLERS featuring The Living Mummy; and the Son of Satan in MARVEL SPOTLIGHT, as well as contributing short stories to Marvel's black and white line of monster magazines. With the exception of Man-Thing, the Zombie, the Guardians of the Galaxy (Gerber was excited about this overlooked science fiction comic that was initially supposed to debut as STARHAWK AND THE GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY #1), MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE, and Son of Satan, Gerber didn't apply himself. He would have burnt out. But the quantity of his lesser endeavors helped pay the bills.
In 1973, Gerber said "I don't really care much for the horror/mystery genre. Find it a crashing bore as a rule; utterly predictable, terrifyingly un-terrifying." And yet he was writing MAN-THING, and soon after was writing a whole cavalcade of horror characters: Morbius, the Mummy, the Zombie, Son of Satan, and Lilith, daughter of Dracula. As well, he was contributing short stories to Marvel's horror anthologies in both the colour and black and white line of books. "[T]he work presented a singular and interesting challenge to me," Gerber recalled: "writing a horror comic I would actually want to read." Not that it was work of his choosing: "As you'd expect, the more established writers were always handed the prestige assignments -- i.e., SPIDER-MAN, FANTASTIC FOUR, AVENGERS, the better sword and sorcery titles, and so on -- and new writers got whatever was left. The 'mystery' books were what was left."
The Zombie presented the same challenge as the Man-Thing's character: no character. The Zombie was a corpse. Originally created by Stan Lee and Bill Everett as a 7-page story in MENACE #5 (July, 1953), the Zombie was resurrected by Lee, who wanted to expand the black and white horror line, at that time limited to just DRACULA LIVES! Roy Thomas gave the Zombie a name, "Simon Garth," plotted the first story, and left the rest up to Steve Gerber (who has the same initials as Simon Garth).
Garth, divorced for 12 years and the father of 23-year-old Donna, was a coffee baron in New Orleans. Stern and stoic, his only interest was Garwood Industries, the company which produced Garth Manor coffee. While in Haiti, where his coffee beans were grown, he was sacrificed by a voodoo cult. His own gardener, whom he had fired earlier, drove the shears through Simon's heart. Garth's secretary, Layla, a Creole girl whose love he never reciprocated, was an unwilling participant in the grisly ceremony, and it was she that raised Garth back from the dead. This particular zombie is a "lemon," as Gerber put it. Unlike other zombies, he has a vestige of soul left, a dim remnant of memory, and apparently more conscience than he had when he was alive. Burned, shot, stabbed, chopped, hacked and torn up, Simon always "heals," but only to the physical condition he was in at the time of his resurrection, so he still remains a tall, somewhat-decayed corpse. Layla, wracked by guilt, leads Simon, her lover, by the hand through a couple of supernatural adventures.
The Zombie wears an amulet -- the amulet of Damballah -- around his neck which allows him to be controlled by anyone who holds the duplicate amulet. He manages to creak out only a handful of words during the series. Occassionally a spark of brain activity, some memory or realisation, motivates him or goads him into action, but what little will he has is always superseded by the will of whomever holds the other amulet.
The cruelest bit of pathos occurs in #8 where Layla, with a tear rolling down her cheek, hugs the towering form of the Zombie, her face pressed against his decayed chest, exposed between the ragged remnants of his shirt. The captions read: "She loved you in life, Simon Garth -- but she was beneath your notice then. Beautiful, yes -- and a competent secretary for you...but her ancestry was not right for anything more. You and a creole woman? Unthinkable! You and a daughter of the slums? Preposterous! Wasn't it? Of course. For in a way, you were as cold, as unfeeling when you were alive as you are now...as unable then as tonight to respond to soft, gentle touch or any display of simple, honest affection. She had so much she wanted to give to you...so much she still longs to give...but now, even if you could feel likewise, you could not appreciate her favours...nor return them. No...there is only one gift you could accept from her...and only one she can bestow: peace." Whether it was Layla's black ancestry or her social status that kept Simon Garth from reciprocating her love was now a moot point. There was a more insurmountable problem: Simon was dead. The only thing Layla could do for the man she so loved was to give him a decent burial.
Peruvian artist Pablo Marcos complemented the words perfectly with his gruesome depiction of Simon Garth, the mossy jungles of Haiti, and the creepy bayous of Louisiana, all shaded by his distinctive inkwash. Gerber and Marcos worked together on TALES OF THE ZOMBIE #2-6, and 8. They only provided two pages -- a prologue and epilogue -- for #7, written by Doug Moench and drawn by Alfredo Alcala.
Gerber left the series after #8, even though the next issue blurb promised a story called "A Day in the Life of a Dead Man," written by Gerber and drawn by Alfredo Alcala. He said, "As best I remember, I left the TALES OF THE ZOMBIE series for reasons that had to do with scheduling and nothing else." For whatever reason, Pablo Marcos left the strip as well. It might not have mattered: sales were dropping and the magazine was scheduled to be cancelled after the next issue. #9 was written by Tony Isabella and Chris Claremont. Isabella says that since the Zombie was prohibited by the Comics Code from appearing in the colour line, he figured he may as well bury him for the last time -- and had Stan Lee's leave to do so. Layla was also killed off. Layla seems to be one of those interesting Gerber characters that he would have kept in the series had it not been cancelled and had he remained the scripter. "I didn't plot the last issue," Gerber said, "and I don't think I've ever read it."
Here's where it gets weird: the series was un-cancelled, and the Zombie's new chronicler, Gerry Conway, wrote a 30-page story resurrecting Simon Garth. The last 20 pages of Rico Rival's artwork for that story was lost in the mail, and so #10 featured Brother Voodoo. The Zombie didn't even appear in his own magazine! Conway and Rival's "The Partial Resurrection of Simon Garth," according to the ad, would appear in TALES OF THE ZOMBIE #11. It didn't, because the magazine was cancelled again. A giant TALES OF THE ZOMBIE ANNUAL appeared, but they reprinted earlier material instead.
For Gerber, whose religious views ranged from agnosticism to atheism, "Son of Satan" was something of a "What If...?" series: "What if there were a God and a Devil?" Daimon Hellstrom is the rebellious son of Satan, battling his father's evil minions on Earth, and at the same time battling his own inner demons vying for control of his will. His innate goodness always prevails, though he may sometimes lose the external battle. Despite the optimistic good-triumphs-over-evil essence of the book, one reader accused Gerber of "trying to undermine the moral and religious fiber of our young people" and called him a "tool of Satan."
The "Son of Satan" series was often dreamlike, where anything can happen, and one of Daimon's strangest adventures took place in MARVEL SPOTLIGHT #22. Daimon, while unconcious, takes a journey into himself and examines his life through a series of odd sequences, with no control over the events which transpire. He finds himself in his childhood bedroom, and the young version of himself leads him to the closet door and opens it. There, standing within, is Father Gosset, superior at the seminary school Daimon had attended as a child, with a grotesque demon resting upon his shoulders. Both figures speak simultaneously, sharing just one word balloon, each word alternating between them, with Father Gosset quoting scripture and the demon conversely spewing blasphemy:
"Good BAD evening MORNING, Daimon PIG. I WE! am ARE! pleased REVULSED to THREE look SPIT at UPON you FINALLY again. Let MAKE us ME pray PUKE. In ON the A beginning MIDDLE God SATAN created CHEWED the A heaven PIG and WITHOUT the A earth MOTHER. Now THEN the A earth PIG was IS unformed UNIFORMED and BUT void ARMED."
After a few more of these bizarre experiences, Daimon wakes up and has a psychotic break, lashing out at his friends, Dr. Katherine Reynolds, parapsychologist, her student, Christine Sandt, and a police detective named Alex Quinn.
"Fool! Did you not hear the doctor's 'diagnosis'? I am not OUT of my mind -- I am fully and completely INTO my mind! My head has swallowed me up! I am...totally... SELF-POSSESSED!"
Ultimately, Gerber was writing fiction with his SON OF SATAN run: "I'm an atheistically-leaning agnostic. There may be a higher power of some sort, in other words, but I doubt it bears any resemblance to the Judeo-Christian-Islamic version of god. For me, SON OF SATAN was a peculiar sort of speculative fiction."
Gerber took over the writing chores on THE DEFENDERS with the 20th issue (February, 1975), after making his debut with GIANT-SIZE DEFENDERS #3 (January, 1975), just a few months before MAN-THING was cancelled. THE DEFENDERS was a popular comic featuring a team (or rather a non-team) of superheroes which usually included Doctor Strange and the Hulk, who, along with the Sub-Mariner, had been part of the original triumvirate of heroes. They were regarded as a "non-team" because they only got together when the need arose (which, as it happened, was every month) and because the personnel changed frequently, though during Gerber's run (issues #20-29 and 31-41), the gang usually consisted of the two superstars previously mentioned, as well as Valkyrie, who was the next member to join in issue #4, and Nighthawk, both of whom only appeared in THE DEFENDERS.
Len Wein (the previous scripter of THE DEFENDERS) said, "Steve Gerber was tired of DAREDEVIL. I thought it would be nice to work with a straightforward super-hero, so Gerber and I traded." Gerber concurred: "I thought it was time for a change, and I had never written a group (or even a non-group) feature before. Those being my younger days, I leapt at the chance." Unlike the more established and formal Avengers team, Gerber saw the Defenders as "an encounter group -- a bunch of quirky, contentious individualists with almost nothing in common, thrown together by circumstances (and editorial fiat, of course) and forced to confront not only a common enemy but also each other. Of all the books I did at Marvel, DEFENDERS was probably the most fun to write."
Valkyrie (or "Val") has no real past. She was created by the Enchantress as a full-grown sword-wielding Norse superwoman inhabiting the body of another woman, the completely mad Barbara Norriss, whose own mind (or what's left of it) is lost. Valkyrie has a real identity problem, and Barbara Norriss' husband Jack understandably can't look at her without seeing his wife.
Many of the Gerber issues dealt with the threat of the Headmen. This particularly bizarre group consisted of Dr. Jerry Morgan, a transplant specialist whose head is grafted onto the body of a gorilla; Dr. Arthur Nagan, a molecular biologist whose experiments left him with a shrunken skull and hideously drooping face; Chondu the Mystic (a.k.a. Harvey Schlemerman), a sideshow mystic whose powers are genuine; and, later, Ruby, whose head, which appears to be a ruby crystal ball sitting atop a shapely female body, is actually an organic computer made of malleable plastic capable of taking any form at will, including the features of a beautiful woman, or tentacles with a deadly reach, or a beautiful woman with deadly tentacles reaching out from her head. These four freaks have a dream of controlling the world. (Good luck.)
Nighthawk is captured by the Headmen and strapped to an operating table, where Nagan performs surgery, removing the hero's brain (and keeping it preserved in a bowl of chemicals), and placing Chondu's brain in Nighthawk's body, thereby enabling the Headmen to infiltrate Defenders' headquarters (no pun intended). The ruse is eventually discovered, and Dr. Strange uses his sorcery to place Chondu's mind into that of a fawn (whom the Hulk refers to as "Bambi"), and places Jack Norriss' mind into Chondu's brain, which resides in Nighthawk's skull, thus giving them an extra hand in their battle against the Headmen. Jack Norriss' body is now an empty shell -- and who knows where Bambi's consciousness resides? Chondu, dismissed as a helpless fawn, is left unattended and escapes -- a possessed baby deer with mystical powers! The title of issue #32 is aptly titled "Musical Minds," and the bulk of the story is devoted to Nighthawk's surreal first-person musings in a separate chapter, "My Life and Times (Good and Bad) As Told By the Brain of Kyle (Nighthawk) Richmond."
Throughout this confounding mess a group calling themselves "Bozos" (everyone wears clown masks, including the cheerleaders), led by an extraterrestrial being called Nebulon, disguised as a harmless nebbish, are trying to take over the world, and they're reviled even by the Headmen, so that the Defenders, the Headmen, and the Bozos are engaged in a three-way conflict. Add to that that every other issue a page is devoted to "the Elf with a gun," in which a homicidal little elf appears and shoots some citizen in the face seemingly at random. This unrelated bit of weirdness had readers begging for an explanation, but, true to Gerber form, none was ever given. It's no wonder that Gerber's run on the Defenders quickly became a cult favourite.