1980: Stewart the Rat

Stewart the Rat (1980) #1 by Steve Gerber, Gene Colan and Tom Palmer

Steve Gerber is probably the most well-known defection from 70s Marvel, so I won’t get into that, other than to say that Eclipse’s run of all-ex-Marvel talent continues unabated with this album-format comic.

As Gerber used to in the Howard the Duck comics, he adds handful of text pieces to both get exposition out of the way and to make some jokes.

The artwork is by the Gene Colan/Tom Palmer penciller/inks team up. The bio on the back of this book claims that they’ve done over 2500 pages (most of them at Marvel) over the years, and they’re really well-suited to each other. Colan’s pencils are moody and expressive, while Palmer’s inks are razor-sharp and juicy.

This book is about a semi-human-sized rat with the brain of a human being in a world he … made, so you may be forgiven for thinking that Gerber had difficulties coming up with new concepts.

But that’s a disco zombie. With built-in loudspeakers. Your objections are invalid.

But throughout this book, Gerber is mostly flailing. It’s basically just a series of tableaux like this (often featuring some quite super-hero-like villains) that attack Our Heroes until the book ends. (Well, there’s a bit of plot at the end.) There’s also the strange choice of giving the titular protagonist a background as a girlfriend-murdering human… as a throw-away gag, almost. Gerber isn’t a very restrained writer.

On the other hand, it’s a fun book.

And so controversial!

Again… it’s imaginative, but… perhaps some restraint may have helped?

What did the critics think at the time? Here’s Dale Luciano from The Comics Journal 62, excerpted from a four-page review:

The book is almost certain to be widely regarded as a major disappointment, however, and I seriously doubt whether those who weren’t Gerber fans before will find much reason in Stewart to alter their opinions. My own feeling about Stewart is that it’s a troublesome enigma. I didn’t much like the book. and I was offended by the pretentiousness of the writing and the violence. Still, Gerber is no ordinary slouch, and his special genius, or whatever it is, is evident in this extraordinarily disingenuous book, which perhaps deserves to be called controversial.

I was intrigued by the possibilities Of the material, even as I felt Gerber steering the book straight into the dumper.

Nobody denies that Gerber is an important, influential writer; his Man—Thing and Howard stories are remarkable achievements in comics, and it’s possible that only a gifted writer like Gerber could produce as substantial a disappoin tment as Stewart the Rat. It’s possible that Gerber has exorcised some powerful demons in Stewart, and will be heard from more eloquently in the future.’

Possible, but it didn’t happen, really.

Stewart the Rat was reprinted in 2003 by About Comics in what must be the ugliest possible cover design.

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