In Episode 43, we talked at some length about Stewart Cadwall, the Steve Gerber caricature from Secret Wars II. As a follow-up, it’s our great pleasure to welcome Douglas Wolk for an extended look at the real-life context around the character. -R
As Episode 43 mentions, Stewart Cadwall–the whiny ex-comics-writer-gone-Hollywood who comes in for special opprobrium in Secret Wars II #1–is very clearly based on the late Steve Gerber. A little historical background is probably useful here. Gerber and artist Val Mayerik created Howard the Duck in 1973 (he first appeared in a Man-Thing story in Adventure Into Fear #19). Within a few years, Howard had become a pop-culture mini-phenomenon, getting his own comic book series and, in 1977, a daily newspaper strip. Gerber never actually won the Shazam Award that Cadwall brandishes (those were presented by the Academy of Comic Book Arts between 1971 and 1975), although he did win an Inkpot Award in 1978.
Marvel fired Gerber from both the Howard comic book and the daily strip in 1978; this article and its supporting documents go into extensive detail on that period. Subsequent Howard stories were written by Bill Mantlo, Marv Wolfman and a few other people, while Gerber went on to create the animated series Thundarr the Barbarian (of which Secret Wars II‘s Thundersword is a parody).
In 1980, Gerber wrote a graphic novel called Stewart the Rat, starring a Howard-esque character, drawn by former Howard artist Gene Colan and Tom Palmer (with permission from Marvel!), and published by Eclipse. The same year, he filed a suit against Marvel over the rights to Howard; the short-lived Destroyer Duck series, initially written by Gerber and drawn by Jack Kirby, was put together to raise funds for Gerber’s legal bills. By the end of 1982, though, Gerber and Marvel settled the case.
When Gerber returned to writing for Marvel a couple of years later, it was for a 1983 graphic novel and (what was to be a) six-issue 1984 miniseries published by Marvel’s adult-readers imprint Epic, Void Indigo, with Mayerik once again drawing. Void Indigo, set in L.A., was more or less the kind of “blatant gore” that the Stewart Cadwall character talks about; it was axed after two issues of the miniseries were published.
Secret Wars II #1, written by Jim Shooter, who’d become Marvel’s editor-in-chief in 1978, was published in March, 1985. (Shooter has noted that Stewart Cadwall’s last name was originally going to be Gadwall, as in the duck, and claimed that “Steve loved it. He even sent me a rave fan letter.”) Relations between Gerber and Marvel had by this point thawed to the point that Shooter asked Gerber to write a new Howard the Duck story in advance of the Howard movie that was then in the works–a planned two-parter called “Howard the Duck’s Secret Crisis II.” The script for the first issue appears here. It’s a very direct parody of Secret Wars II, involving the Brotherhood of Evil Prepositions: the Arounder, the Withiner, the Amonger, the Underneather, the Betweener, and Of.
Shooter admired it: he later called it “fitting, perfect revenge for Secret Wars II #1.” But he wanted to change the part of the script where Gerber savaged the Howard stories he hadn’t written. They couldn’t come to an agreement on it, and the new Gerber story was never drawn. The next Howard the Duck comic to be published, #32 (which appeared with a January 1986 cover date), had been written by Steven Grant, apparently several years earlier.
Gerber didn’t write anything else for Marvel until 1988, after Shooter had been fired as editor-in-chief. He eventually wrote a few more Howard the Duck stories, including an issue of Spider-Man Team-Up that unofficially crossed over with a Savage Dragon/Destroyer Duck one-shot (here’s Tom Brevoort’s commentary on it and Gerber’s response), and a Marvel MAX miniseries in which Howard became a mouse.
Douglas Wolk writes about comics and music for a bunch of places, and recently wrote Judge Dredd: Mega-City Two. His favorite mutant is Martha Johansson. He lives in Portland, Oregon.