I have recently been spending time rereading the Essential Man-Thing collection. And it's caused me, once again, to ponder the genius of Steve Gerber.
If you're unfamiliar with Steve Gerber, here's the wikipedia entry. He wrote comics in the 1970's and 80's, and he brought this sense of madcap glee to just about everything he did.
In an era when mainstream comics were pretty much superheroes, romance, or horror, Steve Gerber brought the sui generis Howard the Duck, which is about a gruff, cigar-chomping duck from a world of talking ducks who finds himself trapped in a world he never made, driving a cab in Cleveland. And enjoying a cross-species romance with a young woman named Beverly. He fought a giant gingerbread man, a bell-headed, clapper-armed villain named Dr. Bong, and the rampant stupidity of the "hairless apes" (as he referred to us) all around him. Howard also ran for president in '76 under the auspices of the All-Night Party.
Howard was spun off of a brief appearance in a Man-Thing story which Gerber also wrote. Man-Thing is an empathic former scientist who is comprised of swamp muck. He goes around doing good and occasionally tripping through dimensional rifts, because apparently there are several in the Everglades, and burning the crap out of people he grabs because "whatever knows fear burns at the Man-Thing's touch!"
Man-Thing spent a lot of issues fighting the plans of evil developer F.A. Schist to pave the swamp and put an airport in. The narration (extensive, since Man-Thing can't speak) is portentious, the action is wacky and usually preposterous, and the whole thing winds up being an environmental parable and a satire of society that still resonates to a sometimes uncomfortable degree nearly 40 years later.
There's one story involving a dimensional rift when a whole buch of people from different dimensions are assembling, and Daredevil and Electra swing through a hole in space time, have a brief conversation, and swing back out. This is the kind of crazy shit that happens in Gerber's stories all the time.
For me, Gerber-written comics are everything that comics can be: over-the-top, hilarious, thought-provoking, and, most of all, tons of fun. Honestly, although I love comics, I don't think I've ever read anyone else's work that I've liked as much as Gerber's.
I hope to one day write something as completely awesome as Gerber's run on Man-Thing. (Actually, I'd really like to write a Man-Thing reboot, so, um, Axel Alonso, if you're reading, totally call me. ) I don't think I've done that yet, but Gerber's funny, idiosyncratic vision continues to be an inspiration to me.
Steve Gerber died in 2008 at age 52. So he obvioulsy can't read this, and it kind of breaks my policy of honoring people while they're alive, but still.
If you'd like to check out Gerber's work, Essential Man-Thing, volume 1 is a great place to start. Marvel's Essential series is black and white and on cheap paper, but you get a ton of comic action for not very much money. Ask at your local comic shop!