Storyteller Supreme: The Character-Based Brilliance of Roger Stern
He rose from passionate fan to consummate professional over the course of a few years in the '70s, and went on to play a role in some of the most entertaining (and successful) stories of the ensuing decades. He co-created the Hobgoblin, and was a major force behind the death (and eventual rebirth) of Superman. He's one of comics' most reliable writers, known for his consistently tight plots, his strong characterization, and his continual creativity.
Roger Stern was born on September 17th, 1950, in Noblesville, Indiana, and was a voracious comic reader from his earliest years, eventually becoming an active part of the fandom movement in the '60s.
He met fellow fan and aspiring comic dealer Bob Layton in the early '70s, and the two joined forces to convert Layton's sales catalog CPL (Contemporary Pictorial Literature) into a full-fledged fanzine, which led to Stern and Layton being offered access to the archives of Charlton Comics in order to launch a Charlton-specific journal, aping the success of Marvel and DC's in-house fan publications, FOOM and The Amazing World Of DC Comics.
Charlton Bullseye ran for five issues in 1975-1976, and established both Layton and Stern as ambitious, enthusiastic up-and-comers, and by the time they published their final installment, both creators had accepted professional positions in the industry.
Stern had contributed a few freelance pieces for FOOM over the previous year, and joined the Marvel staff as an assistant editor in early 1976, soon taking on writing assignments as well. He created framing sequences for reprints in the Giant Superhero Holiday Grab-Bag treasury edition and a Silver Surfer-starring issue of the anthology title Marvel Presents, authored a pair of Guardians Of The Galaxy stories, then hopped from title to title for a while, filling in wherever he was needed, and establishing himself as a competent and reliable talent.
He worked on a great number of Marvel's top series over the next few years, embarking on a memorable stint chronicling The Thing's team-up adventures in Marvel Two-In-One; spinning tales of The Hulk, Spider-Woman, Iron Man, Ghost Rider, and Alice Cooper (in Marvel Premiere #50); and penning a number of well-received go-rounds on Doctor Strange --- while also serving as editor for his old pal Bob Layton's acclaimed Iron Man storyline that depicted Tony Stark's battle with alcoholism.
By the start of the '80s, Stern was well established as one of Marvel's top creators, and fans were taking notice. He took over as the primary writer of Spectacular Spider-Man with issue #43, joined forces with John Byrne for a revered yet short-lived run on Captain America, and used his editorial prowess to shepherd Chris Claremont's Uncanny X-Men to previously unimagined heights of popularity.
Other highlights of the decade included introducing the West Coast Avengers in their self-titled miniseries, writing the four issue of The X-Men Vs. The Avengers title, teaming with Steve Ditko to launch the Speedball series, creating a widely acclaimed Doctor Strange And Doctor Doom: Triumph And Torment graphic novel with Mike Mignola, and producing a wonderfully entertaining five-year run on The Avengers from 1983-1988.
He also took over the flagship Amazing Spider-Man title for a two-and-a-half year run that would have a massive impact on the character --- ASM #238 featured the introduction of The Hobgoblin, a villain that Stern and artist John Romita Jr. co-created, who would go on to be one of the most popular members of the web-slinger's rogue's gallery.
Stern turned out an amazing number of script pages in this era, delivering reliably exciting and entertaining stories month in and month out, and winning fans with his tight dialogue, well-defined characters, keen knowledge of past storylines, and deft juggling of multiple plot threads.
The early '80s also featured one of the great "what ifs" in comic history, when Marvel announced a Roger Stern/Frank Miller run on Doctor Strange that, due to a combination of circumstances, never amounted to anything beyond a single promotional ad:
In the late '80s, Stern began experiencing creative disagreements with other Marvel staffers, and hopped ship over to DC, where he immediately set to work launching 1988's Starman series and becoming one of the company's core team for their Superman titles.
From 1988-1994, he was the primary writer for Action Comics, but also occasionally contributed to other Superman books and special projects --- during this period, Stern introduced The Eradicator in 1989's Action Comics Annual #2, and played a major creative role in the massively successful "Death Of Superman" saga, and the ensuing "Funeral For A Friend" and "Reign Of The Superman" storylines. He wrote the 1991 story where Clark Kent told Lois Lane that he was Superman, and worked on the 1996 special that featured Clark and Lois' marriage.
The ensuing years have seen Stern working with both DC and Marvel on an occasional basis, contributing to various Avengers books (including the acclaimed Avengers Forever and Avengers Infinity limited series), partnering with his old friend and collaborator John Byrne for 2000's twelve-issue Marvel: The Lost Generation title, continuing to work on a number of Superman and Spider-Man projects, teaming up with Steve Rude for 1999's Incredible Hulk Vs. Superman one-shot, and expanding into prose work with the best-selling Death And Life Of Superman and a few other licensed tie-in novels.
So we celebrate the life and work of Roger Stern, a man who has teamed with some of the industry's finest artists, enjoyed runs on many of Marvel and DC's best-selling titles, won over legions of fans with his intricate, multi-layered approach to storytelling, and earned a spot among the medium's all-time greats.