July 25, 2008

Substance #1 [1990]

SUBSTANCE was a concept created by Jack C. Harris and Steve Ditko, published for two issues in 1990 by Ray Zone's 3-D Zone. Zone also does the 3-D rendering, of course. The series stars Justin Smith, a district attorney who for reasons unexplained in the first issue has an "illumination netting" which allows him to turn invisible by bending light around him, with the limitation that he can't remain motionless for more than 15 seconds without turning visible. He uses this power to gather evidence against criminals who would otherwise get off unpunished for their crimes.

This first issue has a cover by Ditko, which is also printed as the 2-page centerspread, rendered in 3-D, and a 10-page Substance story, "The Spirit of Justice", where Smith has a case go sour, first from a recanting witness, then some evidence rejected by a judge since it was found in a car not covered by the search warrant. So Smith goes invisible as Substance to get some more evidence, including some which implicates the judge.

Also in here is a 1-page feature with the main characters and concept of the series (apparently evidence obtained "illegally" can be used as long as the police don't know it was acquired illegally. Yeah, I know, that might not actually be the case in most places in the real world), the black and white pin-up I chose as the page to illustrate this post, since I don't think the 3-D would translate to a scan, but just in case, put on your glasses now (glasses not included with post):

And the backcover is an enlarged panel from the main story illustrating the general concept.

Harris also provides an introduction, explaining his background with Ditko, first as a fan, then as a writer or editor on various projects at DC (Shade, Creeper, short sci-fi and mystery stories), then Star Guider in REVOLVER, pitching various proposals to publishers after that didn't get picked up until this one. Man, to see those proposals....

Anyway, this provides a good little taste of the concept, and Ditko's art looks pretty sharp, a bit more sparse than his normal for this kind of thing, but that might be for the 3-D. I can't really see 3-D effects all that well myself, but from what I can see they look nice. I was a bit disappointed because when I heard the concept of an invisible man in a 3-D comic, I thought the effect would be to only draw him to be seen by one eye when he's using his powers, and that isn't done here except for one panel on the feature page.

Several 1950s Ditko reprints from Charlton fill out the issue, all given the 3-D treatment. First a panel from Ditko's story "Botticelli of the Bangtails" in RACKET SQUAD IN ACTION #11 [1954], and the cover to that issue. Also the covers to RACKET SQUAD IN ACTION #12 [1954] and STRANGE SUSPENSE STORIES #19 [1954] and the 7-page story "Killer On The Loose" from CRIME AND JUSTICE #18 [1954], featuring police officers Tex and Barry of the Radio Patrol (anyone know if that was an ongoing feature, and these were recurring characters. This would have been Ditko's only story with them, I think).  It's a good little story, with the detail rendering typical of that early Ditko, but I can't help but think it was only chosen because it opens and closes with Tex and Barry talking about a 3-D movie.


  1. Ah yes, Substance. I thought they could have done more with the 3D, but it was still an overall decent story. I've got the first issue, but I've been having a difficult time finding the second issue.

  2. I actually have SUBSTANCE #2 winging its way toward me in the mail now, which prompted re-reading #1 at this time. Paid a bit more than I'd have liked, but I hadn't found it before in years of looking, and got a decent price on some other stuff I was ordering.

    And before anyone asks, knowing how hard it was to find I asked the seller about multiples, and he only had the one copy.

  3. I dug out a pair of 3-D glasses -- the effect works on the computer!



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