February 27, 2006

Warp #2 [1983]

WARP was a fantasy comic book published by First and based on a stage play. Ditko did a three part back-up series featuring "The Faceless Ones" concept from the main story, written by frequent collaborator Jack C. Harris. "The Perils of Paragwen" is the first of these back-ups.

It's been a long since I've read the non-Ditko WARP stuff (the main story was drawn by Frank Brunner, interestingly an artist who made his name on Doctor Strange), so I don't know how this ties in to the main story, but this story deals with the Princess Paragwen and her search for the Masque of Mottagamma. After her lover vanishes in the quest, she's given a group of robot-like Faceless Ones by the mystic Lugulbanda and sent to find the Masque on Earth, where it's transformed itself into a gun and falls in the hands of a hit-man. With the help of a copy who lost his partner to the hitman Paragwen is able to track down the gun, but along the way one of the Faceless Ones mysteriously grows a pair of eyes while Paragwen is temporarily blinded.

No doubt this makes more sense if I refreshed myself on the whole WARP thing first, but even without that it's not a bad little fantasy story, and it has some of my favourite Ditko artwork of the early 1980s among his non-creator-owned stuff.

Ditko pencils and inks the 10-page story. Of note, the text page giving brief bios of the creators mentions that he did the art "twice up" from the printed size, which was the standard size in comics up to the late 1960s, but one-third larger than what was standard in 1983.

February 23, 2006

Murder #1 [1986]

In the last days of Charlton, there was a revival of the TALES OF THE MYSTERIOUS TRAVELER book for which Ditko did some new stories. Only one was published, in #15, but a few more showed up the next year in books Robin Snyder packaged for Renegade Press. "The Big Man" is one of those, an 8-page story both written and drawn by Ditko, which has the Mysterious Traveler in the background on the first and last page, but without any dialogue.

The story is one of those goofy Ditko things, about a strange giant who appears and kills a few businessmen with his bare hands, appearing to vanish into thin air before the police show up. An investigator finds a connection between the men in an old failed toy business venture, with various allusions to big ambitions, tiny minds, big hate and all that. Eventually it's revealed how the toymaker who felt he as cheated in the business by the others is the killer, designing an inflatable suit with expanding legs and arms, and he meets his end thanks to his own devices.

Ditko could be pretty funny on these little stories when he wasn't trying to make odd philosophical points that bogged down the scripts. A lot of neat visuals in the Big Man design as well.

February 22, 2006

Supernatural Law #27 [2000]

This issue has a reprint of one of those rare instances of Ditko inking someone else's pencils, in this case Batton Lash for a 4-page story featuring Lash's "Wolff & Byrd" characters. It was originally published in colour in SATAN'S SIX #1 [1993] from Topps, reprinted here from Lash's own Exhibit A Press with some tonework added in place of the colour. It's a pretty appropriate pairing, since Lash is among the most directly Ditko inspired cartoonists working in comics today, and among other things "Wolff & Byrd" is often a humourous take on the short fantasy/horror stories Ditko did for Marvel and Charlton.

This particular story starts very much in the vein of a STRANGE TALES yarn from 1960, with a teacher mocked by others learning to summon a demon, and using the powers of the demon to gather riches and take revenge on his enemies. Soon he finds himself party to a lawsuit brought on by Wolff & Byrd, lawyers specializing in the supernatural, and he goes to trial as his own lawyer, and you know what they say about that.

It's a very funny story, and the artwork is a perfect blend of Lash and Ditko's styles (and even includes a joke about those wonderful Ditko "magic gesture" fingers). Well worth picking up in any of its printings (I think it's also in the collection THE VAMPIRE BRAT AND OTHER TALES OF SUPERNATURAL LAW [apparently not, but still a book worth getting]). And of course if you like Ditko you'd be well advised to check out Lash's other work, including his new online strip version of Supernatural Law.

New Ditko - Marvel Milestones special

Now out, MARVEL MILESTONES: DRAGON LORD, SPEEDBALL & THE MAN IN THE SKY, a one-shot reprinting three Ditko stories from various eras, MARVEL SPOTLIGHT #5 (March 1980), SPEEDBALL #1 (September 1988) and AMAZING ADULT FANTASY #14 (July 1962), all under a non-Ditko cover.

February 21, 2006

Black Magic #28[v4n4] [1954]

"Buried Alive" is one of the earliest Ditko stories, and really shows off his young talent. This is extraordinarily good work for anyone, much less someone who only had a couple of dozen published pages prior to this, still showing some of his main influences (a few clear bits out of the Eisner playbook here) but already distinctively Ditko. Click below for a bigger scan and look at all the little bits that he put in this page, like the small gargoyle on the house, the details in the trees, the shadow of a rat in the mausoleum, the coffin. It almost seems that Ditko's early training as an artist was learning what details not to include given the print quality and page rates (especially the print quality from his other publishers. The Prize books I've seen from the era do seem to be better printed than the Charlton or Marvel books of a few years later. I can't imagine a lot of this linework surviving in those books).

This is a solid 6-page story about a man, Carl, who has a family history of people being mistakenly presumed dead and waking up to find themselves buried alive. He's justifiably paranoid, so he rigs a coffin with an alarm that'll go off in his room, and asks his friend Abel to hang around in the house for a week if he dies so that he can be rescued it he's buried alive.

Abel agrees, but is worried about what this death obsession is doing to both Carl and Carl's sister Angela, and tries to get Angela to leave. Unfortunately she suddenly dies soon after and is placed in the alarm-rigged coffin. Carl refuses to sleep, sure that she'll wake up, but finally falls asleep and has a nightmare about the alarm sounding and being unable to go help her. He checks the coffin and finds out she was alive and struggling in the coffin before dying, leaving Abel feeling guilty as he had slipped Carl a sleeping pill that prevented him from waking up to help her.

February 20, 2006

Cracked #226 [1987]

Ditko was a regular contributor to Globe Communications' CRACKED briefly in the mid-1980s, usually doing just one or two page stories in a series called "Robot War" (which seems to be Spy vs. Spy, but with robots). He also did a few longer parody stories, such as this 5-page version of the cartoon Thundercats called, naturally enough, "Blundercats". The story, by Mike Carlin, is no great shakes, might make more sense if I was familiar with the characters at all, and does get a few points for featuring a Krazy Kat reference. Ditko does make the best of it, doing that great ink-wash style that he often did when working for black&white magazines, and his characters are nicely expressive and animated, and some really creative use of sound effects to direct the eye and add to the humour.

I haven't seen them, but a bit later Ditko also did several short stories for Globe's MONSTERS ATTACK title.

February 19, 2006

Hall of Fame Featuring the THUNDER Agents #2 [1983]

Ditko somehow managed to do original THUNDER Agents work for four different publishers over the years. First of course for the original Tower series with Wallace Wood. This one was for JC Comics, on a series reprinting some of the original 1960s Tower stories. No Ditko reprints in this particular issue, but he pencilled the NoMan cover, with inks by Willie Blyberg. The same image, with slightly different colouring, appeared on the backcover of the issue without logos and such.

Ditko would later do a new NoMan story intended for JC Comics' original THUNDER AGENTS book, but wound up in an Archie comic instead. Then he'd also do a couple of stories for Deluxe's WALLY WOOD'S THUNDER AGENTS.

February 18, 2006

Magnus Robot Fighter #18 [1992]

Ditko briefly worked for Valiant in their early days, first on some of their BATTLEMANIA books about WWF wrestlers and then on their super-hero line, doing pencils or breakdowns on seven issues of four different titles published in a six month period. I suppose if things worked differently he might have settled in for a long run at the company, but right about then Jim Shooter was gone and Ditko's work stopped appearing at Valiant.

This was the first of two issues of MAGNUS that Ditko pencilled, and he's also credited with co-plotting it. I never read the previous issues, so I don't entirely know the set-up or what's going on, but there are robots, and Magnus fights them, so all is right in the world (robots seem surprisingly common in Ditko's work, with Machine Man, Rom, a few Spider-Man villains, Robot Wars, Go-Bots, etc). "Inside The Metal Mind" has Magnus living somewhere called Goph Level, in need of some money, so he takes a job which ends up involving fighting robots. Meanwhile, some robots who have developed free will are also experimenting with bodies that mimic humans, and their leader E7, a top-hat wearing robot, is trying to find out how to create more robots with free will.

It's a bit silly, but actually not that bad, and Ditko's art works pretty well with the various robots (though nothing can make E7 look less than ridiculous).

Ralph Reese inks the 22-page story. The cover also appears to be Ditko/Reese, although Reese's inks seem even heavier there.

February 15, 2006

Imagine #4 [1978]

IMAGINE was a fantasy anthology published by Mike Friedrich's Star*Reach Productions in the 1970s. This issue includes Ditko's only contribution to the title, an 8-page story printed as a colour section on glossy paper, I think the first time a Ditko story would have seen better than standard newsprint.

Paul Levitz, who Ditko had worked with before on Stalker and would work with again on Starman, writes the story "The Summoning", a sort of odd fantasy/sci-fi story about the last survivors of a race and how they attempt to persuade some metaphysical being to follow their own visions of the future of their race. The scripting has kind of a strange air of pretentiousness that I don't really associate with Levitz, but then he was a college student at the time, so who knows what sort of substances he was ingesting. Very oblique dialogue which can be tough slogging at times, although I thought it picked up a bit on the last page and is pretty effective there. Ditko's art suits the odd atmosphere of the story, using similar visual motifs as what he used in Doctor Strange and Shade, and I don't know if it's the superior reproduction or what but this does seem to be a bit better than most of the DC/Charlton short stories he was doing around the same time.

Ditko also draws the cover of the issue.

February 13, 2006

The Fly #8 [1984]

Ditko briefly worked for Archie during one of their super-hero revivals in 1983/1984, when frequent collaborator Robin Snyder was an editor there. Initially he was just pencilling the main feature in THE FLY, but soon enough he was plotting and inking as well, as in this issue. In this issue he also just drew the Jaguar back-up story.

In this version of the series, The Fly is the now adult lawyer Thomas Troy. Prior to this issue he's been suspected of mob ties.

"The Big Freeze" is the 15-page lead story in this issue, starting with a gangster, Damato, trying to hire him. They're interrupted by a mysterious frozen figure in a suit who demands money from the gangster, an old accomplice that Damato and another partner of his had dumped in a freezer years before. Troy eventually fights the frozen man as the Fly. Ditko's art is pretty strong, especially the design of the villain and the staging of the action scenes, but I think the plotting could have been a bit stronger, explaining the villain better, and some of the writing was a bit clumsy.

"Jaguar: The Conclusion" is a 5-page story that I guess completes the origin of the character. Ditko didn't draw the earlier stories, and it's kind of hard to understand, but it has something to do with a Mexican Jaguar cult that leads to the creation of the hero. Some nice artwork, and it all might make more sense if I had all the other chapters.

Ditko also draws the cover to this issue.

February 8, 2006

What Is... The Face #1 [1986]

Ron Frantz published several comics on the A.C.E. Comics imprint in the 1980s, including revivals of several characters published by Columbia Comics in the 1940s. Ditko pencilled four issues for the company, including all three issues of WHAT IS... THE FACE, an update of the 1940s character (whose first story, by Gardner Fox and Mart Bailey, is also reprinted in here). The original Face was Tony Trent, a radio station owner/commentator. The new Face is his grandson, also Tony Trent, a TV reporter who inherits the form fitting mask and colt .45 of his grandfather.

"The Ransomed City" is an 18-page story, plotted by Frantz, scripted by Joe Gill and inked by Frank McLaughlin. Tony Trent is shown to be the usual upright Ditko hero, confident of his ability to bring down the crime boss, despite skepticism from the police lieutenant, DA and station owner. After an attack and attempt on his life he decides to dig out his grandfather's old mask and gun and take the fight directly to mob boss Duke Arno. Unfortunately, while he's able to shake up Arno, it doesn't help get an arrest since the mobster just accuse that mysterious masked freak for the murder they committed.

The series is a bit of a throwback, but entertaining, and both looks and reads a lot better than most of the work Ditko was doing for Marvel around this time (his three issues of CHUCK NORRIS were around this time). McLaughlin, who inked some of Ditko's Captain Atom stories in the 1960s, was a pretty good match for Ditko's work of the time, despite a tendency towards excessive feathering at points.

February 7, 2006

Legends of the DC Universe 80-Page Giant #1 [1998]

Ditko's last published[*] original material for a mainstream publisher to date was a 10-page Spectre story written by Bill Mumy and Peter David and inked by Kevin Nowlan in this 1998 special. Nowlan's inking is quite often overpowering to any penciller, and that's definitely the case here. In particular the face of the Spectre seems to be almost all Nowlan, as do a few other things. To be fair, though, Ditko's pencils are known to be very loose, whether he inks the final work or not, so most things inked by others that look like "classic Ditko" probably take just as many liberties with the pencils, just leaning towards an imitation of a particular era of Ditko's own style. And the bits of Ditko that come through Nowlan's inks are pretty strong.

"The Depths Of Despair" features Jim Corrigan in the early days of his Spectre identity falling in love with a girl who is plagued by nightmares about the death of her twin as a child aboard the Titanic decades earlier, for which she blames herself. Seeing a chance for an ironic vengeance lesson, the Spectre takes her back in time to the sinking of the ship to confront her guilt.

[*] There was apparently a back-up story for the ORION series done after this that was finished but never published.
[well, it wasn't when I wrote this, but  it has been now]

February 6, 2006

Ghostly Tales #93 [1972]

As I mentioned before, Ditko doing covers to non-Ditko books was pretty rare, with only about two dozen examples, and about half the examples come from Charlton comics in the 1970s, when for a long while that was the only mainstream company to feature his work, so presumably giving him as much work as he could handle

This one illustrates the Pete Morisi interior story "The Kept Promise", featuring a much more detailed version of the big screaming green face that figures into the story, as well as a nice shot of the host of the book, Mr. Dedd. That really is a great screaming face, one of those many Ditko trademarks, and some nice detail work on the haunted house.

A really eye-catching cover that looks good from a distance as well as close up, and the printing, if not the colour registration, is much better than the interior printing.

Cover - 00658

February 3, 2006

Mystery In Space #111 [1980]

In addition to the various super-hero features (both of his own creation and pre-existing characters) that Ditko drew for DC over the years, he also did a few dozen non-continuity short stories for their anthology books. An odd mix of material, similar to some of the Charlton stuff of the same era, but usually at least better printed, and with a lot of different writers and a few different inkers.

MYSTERY IN SPACE #111 starts a short-lived revival of the old DC sci-fi anthology. The Ditko contribution to the issue is "Once Upon A Time Machine", a 7-page story drawn by Ditko and written by Mike Barr, featuring a scholar from the future who steals a time machine in order to investigate his theory that fairy tales have a basis in fact, a line of research dismissed by his superiors as frivolous. And I gotta say, they have a point. But young Merrill won't take defeat lightly, and finds himself as the source for the very stories he was researching (although for a supposed scholar in the field it often takes him quite a while to catch on to what he did).

Pretty good story, and Ditko gets to draw a nice combination of his fantasy and sci-fi styles throughout. I especially like those inky tendrils of the time-stream as the machine travels in a few panels.

"Once Upon A Time Machine" J-6551

February 2, 2006

Upcoming Ditko - Ditko Reader CD-ROM

For those who like your comics digital or missed these two books when they came out, Pure Imagination is offering the first two DITKO READER books on CD, listed in the solicitations for April 2006. Over 300 pages, around 50 stories originally published by Charlton, lots of different genres, from horror to sci-fi to western to big monkey (it's a genre!) and beyond, plus presumably Greg Theakston's long biographical notes that were in the first volume. I believe that these come in PDF format.

This CD-ROM collects the contents of the sold-out Steve Ditko Readers Volume 1 and Volume 2 on one PC/MAC-compatible CD!
CD-Rom SRP: $20.00

February 1, 2006

Tiger-Man #2 [1975]

Ditko did a lot of work for the short-lived Atlas-Seaboard line, penciling for three different books, seven issues total in their only year of existence (and was announced as doing work for their even shorter-lived black&white mags, the "Wrecage" story that he later re-worked as "Recage" a few years later).

Tiger-Man was drawn by Ernie Colon in his initial stories, and Ditko takes on the artwork with #2. The lead character is a New York based doctor, Lancaster Hill, who got his powers while working in Africa, experimenting on an imported Indian tiger (I suspect when they originally created the character they didn't realize that there aren't any tigers in Africa and had to do some backtracking on that).

"Stalker In A Concrete Jungle" has Tiger-Man confronted by the Blue Leopard, a costumed character from Africa just as agile as him who has pursued Hill from Africa to avenge the death by starvation of hundreds of his tribe that he blames on Hill for some unspecified reason. The Leopard actually has a nicer design, or at least more compatible with Ditko's art, and the scenes with the two of them fighting on the rooftops are the highlight of the issue, reminding me of similar stuff from the Spider-Man/Blue Beetle/Creeper days.

There's no inker credited on the 19-page story. Various sources give Ditko himself, Frank Giacoia and Larry Lieber. I'm leaning towards Giacoia of those choices, although I don't know of any other Ditko/Giacoia stories to compare.


Out now, Marvel Masterworks: Tales to Astonish Vol. 1, a reprint of the first 10 issues of the series from 1959/1960. Ditko does some work in every issue reprinted in here, for a total of nine stories solo, two inking Jack Kirby's pencils, one solo cover and three inking over Kirby. Several have never been reprinted before.

Go here for more on the book, including previews of many pages.


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