Thursday, July 8, 2021

This Elf Is Packing


For a little over a year during the mid-1970s, readers of The Defenders were introduced to an ongoing, head-scratching sub-plot involving a character which appeared to have nothing to do with the principal characters of the book, or, for that matter, anything or anyone else. Created by writer Steve Gerber and artist Sal Buscema, the Elf with a gun, as it came to be known, received a brief profile in the PPC eight years ago which dealt with its baffling modus operandi and mission; yet it seems negligent not to have also included each of his unfortunate victims, none of whom would appear to be relevant or of particular importance to any Marvel story except as unknowing, unsuspecting targets.

Four victims in all--the last of which didn't even merit a name, and, for what it's worth, the only one who even indirectly crosses paths with one of the Defenders. I could find no direct quote in which Gerber expresses his thoughts on the whys and wherefores of his homicidal creation, though reportedly he remarked words to the effect of the Elf being "a backhanded metaphor for the chaotic and inexplicable nature of everyday existence," which, if accurate, begs the question of just what he had in mind for bringing this character to fruition in The Defenders. Of course, it all became moot following Gerber's departure, when, in 1977, the character was unceremoniously and summarily dealt out of the book by writers Roger Slifer and David Kraft (while, appropriately, being completely unrelated to the main story).

The reaction from readers, as you might expect, ran the gamut.

In a later series of stories, however (published well after Gerber had left the book), writer J.M. DeMatteis provided the diminutive assassin with a backstory that explained its actions and purpose as an agent of the mysterious group known as the Tribunal, whose goal was to pinpoint the cause of Earth's future destruction. Unfortunately for the Defenders, that would mean a few more casualties in the crosshairs of this Elf with a gun.

Yet it turns out that there were no casualties to speak of at all--only displacement, as a member of the Tribunal elaborates on during the group's confrontation of the core Defenders. Coincidentally or not, the issue in which we learn the answer to the mystery of the Elf is published seven years to the month after Gerber's last scripted appearance of the character.

We see that even the Tribunal can get its facts wrong, since it omits two people from its listing of "victims" while giving the name of another ("Richard Kessler") whom our Elf never paid a visit to.

A curious footnote to this story arrives nearly thirteen years later in 1996, when Gerber returns to Marvel for an assignment on Spider-Man Team-Up--a story that involves Peter Parker, Ben Reilly (as Spider-Man), Maynard Tiboldt (better known as the Ringmaster), the Circus of Crime... and an Elf with a gun, the nephew of the elf who was mowed down while getting a bead on our paper boy Greg.

This being the mid-1990s, Gerber's tale is as chaotic as Marvel itself was during those years, so I'll leave it to you to sift through the full story. You might as well know beforehand, though, that this new elf's story is left unresolved--which you'll probably agree is par for the course.


Big Murr said...

The Elf with a Gun (and the Defenders' stories of the same time period) really soured me on the name "Steve Gerber". Any comic with him as the writer sparked a hard inner-debate if I should waste my money. A few titles were left on the rack because of him.

As the years went by, Gerber either matured or went to an effective rehab clinic, because his writing became more coherent and palatable.

A comic book page that choked with narrative text boxes means we're in for a ridiculously convoluted retcon. The Tribunal's lengthy explanation wasn't nearly as satisfying as that last panel with the truck

Mike Mikulovsky said...

I always thought Razorback ran over the killer E;f with his big red rig the Big Pig! Killer Elf now known as Roadkill Helper!!

Comicsfan said...

I managed to weather The Defenders, Murray, and I liked Gerber's Guardians of the Galaxy stories well enough, but I steered clear of Howard The Duck and Omega The Unknown, neither of which were my cup of tea (though the former was reportedly well received by readers).

Anonymous said...

I guess the whimsy of it appeals to me. I'm a fan of Gerber. I always figured he was building up to something and didn't get around to it, because for whatever reason, he abruptly left the title.
But it's quite possible he wasn't building up to anything, as you suggest, C.F., so maybe it was a metaphor, as he said.
A metaphor for the weirdness and abrupt finality of life, maybe.
I did think it was funny and symbolic that David Kraft had the original Elf run over by a moving truck. I think he was saying "we're cleaning house, around here. I'm not gonna carry Gerber's baggage around!" The Elf met his own senseless, abrupt end. Karma, man.
Kraft could be pretty whimsical himself, sometimes.
I disregard that dumb Tribunal arc explanation and I'm not crazy about him coming back to waste the Ringmaster in the '90's.
Gerber shoulda left the Elf on the grill of that moving truck, speeding smoothly into oblivion.
Now THERE'S a metaphor.


Dave S said...

Anyone else think that the Elf looks a little like Sal Buscema himself?

Anonymous said...

Dunno about that Dave, but it does looks a bit like Roy Thomas getting shot by the Elf in that first page here.
Although its obviously a pop at John Denver (well done Steve and Sal).

Comicsfan, Howard the Duck has dated poorly, but Omega the Unknown is really good. Or at least the first few issues are. For my taste, Gerber was Marvel's best writer in the 70s, but he lacked focus so the quality of his work was inconsistent).
Omega would be an interesting subject for a future post... although others may disagree (;


Comicsfan said...

The link I provided will have to suffice for an Omega post, sean--I don't think I'll be delving into the character any more than I've done there. (But never say never, I always say. ;) )

Anonymous said...

Ah, I had the feeling you'd probably already been there CF, and would hit me with a link (;
Not to sound ungrateful - I do appreciate you taking the time - but your post was mainly based on that Defenders two-parter wrapping up the Omega story, which didn't have much to do with Gerber's original series.

Ah well, onward and upward, and thanks anyway. As ever, I'm sure whatever you do choose to write about will be worth checking out.