December 30, 2006

Ditko in 2006

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Nine print publications of interest this past year, as well as a CD-ROM of some previous print books. Highlight of the year is PI's THE THING AND OTHER STORIES, with some great very early Ditko work from the 1954. The pair of "Atlas Era" MARVEL MASTERWORKS books also had a good selection of late 1950s Ditko, with about 20 stories between them, half of them previously unreprinted, and a good amount of Kirby (inked by Ditko on a few stories) and the other Marvel artists of the time.

Charlton Spotlight #5 [Argo Press]

Coyote Collection #3 [Image]

Essential Defenders #2 [Marvel] (one Doctor Strange story)
Marvel Masterworks - Ant-Man/Giant-Man #1 [Marvel] (inks on one story only)
Marvel Masterworks - Atlas Era Tales Of Suspense #1 [Marvel]
Marvel Masterworks - Atlas Era Tales To Astonish #1 [Marvel]
Marvel Masterworks - The Human Torch #1 [Marvel] (one story and some cover inks)
Marvel Milestones - Dragon Lord, Speedball & The Man In The Sky [Marvel]

Steve Ditko Reader CD-ROM Volume 1 [Pure Imagination]
Steve Ditko's The Thing and Other Stories [Pure Imagination]

December 12, 2006

Upcoming Ditko - Sandman reprints

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Sandman is the villain in the next Spider-Man movie (and very much using the Ditko design, from what I've seen), so we'll see this collection including three Ditko issues of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN with the character.



SPIDER-MAN: SAGA OF THE SANDMAN TPB

Written by STAN LEE, ROY THOMAS, TOM DEFALCO & KURT BUSIEK
Penciled by STEVE DITKO, JACK KIRBY, HERB TRIMPE, ROSS ANDRU, RON WILSON & PAT OLLIFFE
Cover by MARK BROOKS
It was no day at the beach when criminal Flint Marko was mutated into one of Marveldom’s most versatile villains and began a career of kicking sand in our favorite heroes’ faces! Some of the best battles between Sandman, Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four and the Hulk are collected here in commemoration of his gritty film debut! Collecting AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #4 and #18-19, FANTASTIC FOUR #61, INCREDIBLE HULK #138, MARVEL TEAM-UP #1, MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE #86, and UNTOLD TALES OF SPIDER-MAN #3.
176 PGS. $19.99
ISBN: 0-7851-2497-7

December 11, 2006

Upcoming Ditko - Action Heroes v2

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A big volume of hard-to-find Charlton Ditko coming next year from DC. I believe that this, with the Captain Atom stuff in v1, makes up everything from Charlton by Ditko that DC has the rights to.


THE ACTION HEROES ARCHIVES VOL. 2

Written by David Kaler, Roger Stern, Michael Uslan and various; Art by Steve Ditko, Alex Toth and various; Cover by Ditko

Collecting classic stories by master artist Steve Ditko from the pages of CAPTAIN ATOM #83-89, BLUE BEETLE #1-5, MYSTERIOUS SUSPENSE #1 and CHARLTON BULLSEYE #1, 2 and 5, plus the title story intended for BLUE BEETLE #6 (published in CHARLTON PORTFOLIO #9-10) as well as an 8-page Question story by Alex Toth and a foreword by Charlton's then-editor Dick Giordano.

384pg. Colour Hardcover $75.00
On Sale May 23, 2007

Marvel Tales #163 [1984]

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For a year in, this weblog has been surprisingly light on the Spider-Man...

Ditko's run on Spider-Man, complete with the original covers, was reprinted from 1982 to 1985 in MARVEL TALES #137 to #177, for several of the stories the first time they were ever reprinted. This issue has the 20-page "Captured by J. Jonah Jameson" from AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #25 [1965], of minor note as the first issue where Ditko got a credit for the plot as well as the art, although it's unlikely it was actually produced in a substantially different way from the previous issues.

The villain this issue is good old J. Jonah Jameson, who never seems to learn, as he's roped into yet another plan to capture Spider-Man, this time with Peter's coaxing, as Peter is understandably sceptical about the goofy looking robot that Doctor Smythe brings in. And that's even before JJJ's face is projected on the robot's screen. Anyway, Jonah tries the robot, which ends up tracking Peter down at his school, where Flash Thompson was waiting to fight Peter for spending time with Liz, which leads to a pretty silly chase as Peter tries to get away to change to Spider-Man. After he changes and fights the robot, Liz, Flash and the gang wind up at Peter's house, where Betty Brant has also come to get Peter to help call off the robot, and that's when Liz and Betty see Mary Jane Watson for the first time, although thanks to a well placed flower the reader does not. Spidey is eventually trapped by the robot, but fortunately while Jonah and Smythe grab a cab down to the scene for the finish is able to escape, leaving his costume posed as him in the robot's clutches to taunt Jonah. When he returns home he finds that Aunt May has found his spare costume, and he has to do some fancy explaining (without, he tells himself, actually lying to May) leaving him without a costume.

There's no question that Ditko's at the top of his game with this run of stories. In particular I like how the Peter Parker segments take up most of the story, and how well developed the supporting cast becomes. The stories also have a lot of visual humour. Looking at the page below, the body language of Peter and Jonah tells quite a story even before you read the dialogue. There's a nice bit later where Betty tries to mess with the controller for the robot to save Spider-Man which has some nice slapstick bits.

As I mentioned above, this run of reprints also included the original covers, although often modified somewhat, as in this case where it's flipped left-to-right.




House of Mystery #277 [1980]

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As far as I know this is the only example of a DC comic with only a cover among the Ditko contents, no interior art. The story that this cover illustrates does have a similar scene to this, drawn by Howard Chaykin and Al Milgrom, but interestingly what the caption describes isn't what's actually going on.

It's a nice cover though, feeling a lot like some of the generic ones that Ditko did for Charlton in the 1970s, with a lot of classic Ditko elements, the large floating heads, the sneering laugh, those creepy slightly crazed eyes. In fact, the whole layout is so Ditko and so Charlton that I wouldn't be surprised if it was intended for Charlton (which had stopped running new Ditko material about a year earlier) and inspired the panel in the story.


December 8, 2006

The Safest Place In The World [1993]

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THE SAFEST PLACE IN THE WORLD was a one-shot comic book published by Dark Horse in 1993, featuring a 29-page story and cover by Steve Ditko, who's also co-credited with the colouring (with Rachelle Menashe). The story is labelled as being in the "B(i/e)tter Person Series", similar to how some earlier Ditko work is labelled as being in the "Hero Series" or "Justice Series".

In this story, a spy in a repressive (presumably but not explicitly stated Eastern European) country makes a copy of some military plans that the free world needs to be warned about. She's pursued by security forces, including Captain Kgrul and Lieutenant Orpus, but is able to pass the film on to Sten Agon before being captured and killed by Kgrul's pet wolf, Warrior. The scene switches to the school where Sten's kindly former teachers, husband and wife Kona and Mina Wisdr, work. Sten is tracked there and killed by security forces, and a weaselly teacher named Kasnig who resents the Wisdrs fingers them as former teachers of Sten who might know where he hid the film. Kona is killed and Mina is taken prisoner where she is tortured to reveal the location of the film. She finally decides that she can use the truth to her advantage and uses the fact that Kasnig was also once briefly part of a group that contained some people who were later traitors to divert the suspicion to him. This gets her freed, and she's given papers to go to the West (Kgrul hoping that her departure will help avoid questions about his inept handling of the situation), taking with her the film that she finds thanks to an earlier comment by Kona. Meanwhile, Kasnig, Kgrul and Orpus all end up dead as a result of their own brutality, cowardice and paranoia.

While there are some glaring flaws, I think overall this is one of Ditko's most effective longer personal works, and is well worth checking out. Often his longer pieces tend to collapse into preaching, but in this case he keeps a pretty steady eye on the narrative and uses it to make his point. In particular I thought he did a good job with showing the inner monologues of a lot of the characters, using them to demonstrate how living under an oppressive regime leads to paranoia and double-crossing if you let your cowardice get the better of you, and the particular twist of Mina finding a way to use the truth as a weapon of her own against those who reject truth was well in keeping with Ditko's point. He also nicely uses some visual metaphors, including the wolf representing the oppressive cruelty and birds representing freedom and the better side of humanity.

The cover and story were reprinted, black and white and with some modified artwork (mostly added shading), in the 2002 AVENGING WORLD collection.



Strange Adventures #188 [1966]

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One odd little corner of Ditko's career is the very brief first work he did at DC, a pair of stories in STRANGE ADVENTURES #188 and #189, right around the time he left Marvel. Both are uncredited (pretty standard under most DC editors at the time) and inked by Sal Trapani, who also inked some of Ditko's work at Dell and ACG around that time, so it's likely they were assignments given to Trapani who got Ditko, who had some sudden time on his hands, to pencil for him. Ditko would of course return to DC on his own and with his own new characters two years later.

"The Valley Where Time Stood Still" is an 8-page story (possibly written by Otto Binder, according to the GCD) about two explorers who use some chemicals to clear out the mist in a mysterious valley so they can land their helicopter and explore. Upon landing they encounter a group of Roman soldiers who entered the valley on the run from Caesar, and reason that the volcanic mists put people into suspended animation (and also gave everyone telepathic powers so there's no language barrier. Because that's good science). Escaping from the Romans they next encounter some armoured knights who entered the valley on the run from King Arthur, as it turns out the valley has been a tempting hideout for criminals for thousands of years. To distract the various groups and get back to their helicopter, they turn them against one another, only to find that, hey, there was a dinosaur there too, and they need everyone to defeat it. The dinosaur falls into a volcanic fissure, causing the volcano to erupt and wipe out the valley just as our heroes get away in their helicopter, having destroyed a potential treasure trove of scientific finds.

Man, does this story just have too many concepts to fit in 8 pages or what? The artwork is pretty good, Trapani's inks always soften up Ditko's work to something of a more generic "house-style", but quite a few of Ditko's touches still come through, especially with a lot of the hands and faces, and the weird plot gives them quite a few fanciful things to draw, though it's not up to the level of the Warren or better Charlton stuff of the era.

December 6, 2006

--Link-- Sim on Ditko

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Cerebus creator Dave Sim has been posting a lot about Ditko on his blog recently, like in this post about the 160 PAGE PACKAGE published in 1999. Several other posts feature an in-depth look at the work in progress of a commission piece of his Roach character dressed as Doctor Strange, including Sim's thoughts going through the Ditko run for reference.

You can also read the posts on the Cerebus Yahoo Group.

Marvel Comics Presents #83 [1991]

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"The Matchstick And The Moth" is an 8-page Human Torch story with plot and pencils by Ditko and inks and script by Erik Larsen. The story features a one-shot villain, the Moth, a woman who has some sort of vaguely defined power that makes her able to temporarily snuff out the Torch's flame powers. She works with two criminal types, posing as a crime victim to lure the Torch in and capture him. She thinks that there's a big-boss promising a million-dollar payday for capturing the Torch, but while she's out of the room the Torch overhears that in fact they're planning to double-cross and kill her. The Torch is able to escape their trap, and tries to warn the Moth, but she douses his powers again before the criminals (rather stupidly) reveal the double-cross. She gets shot, but manages to rescue the Torch who musters up just enough power for one last attack, and then she dies with some metaphor about Moth's getting too close to a flame.

A decent enough story, nothing too memorable, but I do like the way that Ditko draws the Torch, both in and out of flames. Plus you get a lot of great sneering faces on the criminals. Larsen's inks worked a lot better than I'd have expected, although I think they'd have worked better with some slightly less slick flatter colouring.



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