June 30, 2008

--Link-- Bissette on Charlton monsters

Steve Bissette has a post up about some of the Charlton monster mags and comics of the early 1960s, including Ditko's work in MAD MONSTERS #1 and his KONGA and GORGO comics.

Ditko on... Mercy


That's what Mr. A said.

June 29, 2008

Splash - Footsteps at Midnight


originally from Amazing Adult Fantasy #14 [1962]

Micronauts Annual #1 [1979]

The Micronauts were a toyline that spawned a surprisingly long-running Marvel comic. Steve Ditko teamed up with writer Bill Mantlo for a trio of issues from 1979 to 1982, as well as several stories featuring the Captain Universe concept, which spins out of events in the comic. Ditko's works on the title first in this annual, which has three short stories telling some of the backstory of the main characters, I gather leading directly to the early issues of the regular series.  I don't think I ever read a Micronauts story other than those by Ditko, but since this one goes back to the beginning, and Mantlo provides the needed exposition, it reads pretty well.

Each of the three stories is 11 pages, including an introductory splash page featuring the narrator, "Time Traveler, emissary of the Enigma Force".  The first story is "Timestream", and features explorer Arcturus Rann and his robot companion Biotron on the final day of their 1000 year exploration of the Microverse, when they encounter a long-dead world in the Force Nexus with a single resident, the armoured Galactic Defender.  I'm sure all that makes sense to someone.  Anyway, the point is that Ditko's art is well suited to this story, with lots of weird space scenes, alien landscapes and some especially good work on the Galactic Defender character, who rapidly ages once his helmet is shattered.

The previous story ends with Rann heading back to Homeworld, where the next story takes place.  "Coup" follows the royal family of Homeworld, and lays out some of the events that lead to Baron Karza successfully executing the coup of the title, killing the king and queen, sending their children Mari and Argon on the run. The final story, "Arena of Death" follows two prisoners who had a cameo in the previous story, Price Acroyear and Bug, as they're forced to fight various beasts in an arena for the amusement of Baron Karza. Ditko does a good job with this combination sci-fi/fantasy milieu, and his style works well with the characters, who are pretty well designed for a bunch of toys.

Ditko also does a 2-page spread of the characters in the regular series, including Captain Universe, and plugging and upcoming appearance by the Fantastic Four and their old villain Psychoman, and does the cover for the issue. This is a surprisingly entertaining comic for something called MICRONAUTS ANNUAL #1, with 36 pages of quality Ditko pencils and inks.  The introductory splash pages are especially well designed.

June 28, 2008

Who's Who - The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe #20 [1986]

Of the various Ditko creations for DC, Shade is probably the most Ditkoesque. A very inventive series, with a lot of great imagery, a constant stream of new ideas and a lot of potential.

He made a brief return to that world for this profile page almost a decade after it was abruptly cut short (with one completed issue still not published, and I'm sure plans for more). A nice taste of just some of the stunning visuals that Ditko designed for the book.

June 27, 2008

Who's Who - The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe #22 [1986]

Ditko returns to Starman about six years after he'd spent a year chronicling the adventures of Prince Gavyn in the pages of ADVENTURE COMICS, along with Romeo Tanghal, his inker on those stories.

Starman's a really nice Ditko design, as were his supporting characters, as this design with the vignettes in the background show.

I also really like Tanghal's inks on this one, which are a definite step up from his inks on the original run. He was okay then, but it's clear from this that he'd learned quite a bit (I'm sure spending much of that time inking George Perez helped), and this is just a gorgeous piece of work.

E-Man #4 [1974]

One of my favourite Ditko stories of all time is this 8-page gem, the second of the two Killjoy stories to appear in the back of E-MAN in the 1970s. I'm not sure exactly how I wound up with a few issues of E-MAN a few years later (maybe around 1982?), but I did, and I loved them. The lead stories were fun enough, but I found this strange unsigned backup feature especially captivating, and is probably the biggest reason I didn't stick with Ditko's mainstream stuff, but sought out the more off-the-beaten-trail works.

Still a pre-teen, I really didn't know comic book history, but I think I knew enough at the time to recognize that this was the drawn by the guy who did those Doctor Strange stories I liked, and I think I'd read his Starman by that point, maybe a few Spider-man stories. But this was just plain strange. Killjoy has this great costume, pure red and black, with a theatrical comedy mask, who just leaps into the scene of a crime, every bit as acrobatic as Spider-Man, beats up the bad-guys without a word and vanishes. Visually quite amazing, but it's the other characters who make the story. Killer Ded, an armed-to-the-teeth gunman who Killjoy keeps defeating handily, upset that he's been taken alive, and then escaping jail vowing not to be taken alive again. Muggers with weird dialogue like "I'm a $ have not, you are a $ have!". The slippery S.S.S. Snake, who manages to escape Killjoy, giving much joy to Mr. Hart and Mr. Sole, who walk around talking about the rights of criminals. The dozen diamond-themed villains who crash the last diamond heist. There's a lot of quality strangeness in just 8 pages. In here, Ditko manages to hit a lot of the same points he does in his Mr. A and Avenging World stuff of the era, but with a succinctness and humour that those often lack.

As I said, a favourite of mine, I've read it dozens of times and it never grows old. Fortunately, Ditko got the rights to Killjoy at some point, so this story, and the first Killjoy story from E-MAN #2 (which I read later, so isn't quite as close to my heart, but still great) have been slightly revised and reprinted a few times (including THE DITKO PACKAGE #1 [1989]). It's untitled in the original form, titled "Killjoy and Killer Ded" for one of the reprints. Ditko did a new Killjoy story a few years back but it felt quite different (for one thing, Killjoy talked. A lot...).

June 25, 2008

Who's Who - The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe #21 [1986]

Another of the four profile pages for this series that Ditko provided, this time he returns to Stalker, the short-lived fantasy character he had done a decade earlier with Paul Levitz and Wallace Wood. Levitz is a contributing writer to the issue, so may have had a hand in the write-up. Wood, of course, was sadly no longer around by then to complete the reunion, so original series editor, and damn fine artist in his own right Joe Orlando provided the inks, and makes me wish that was a combination we'd seen on at least one story.

Great bold central figure, and while the story vignettes are a bit cluttered (and with off-register colour), they nicely capture the fantasy world that the creators had only began to explore when the series was cancelled.

The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #22 [1988]

Ditko plots and pencils a 10-page backup story "He Who Laughs..." in this annual, featuring the first published appearance of his co-creation (with Tom DeFalco) Speedball, the Masked Marvel (he's actually rarely called "Speedball" in his solo stories, usually just called "The Masked Marvel"). The character, Robbie Baldwin, also appears in the main story in this issue, meeting some other heroes on a trip to New York with his mother.

On that same trip, they also ran into a failed actor who wrongly placed the blame for his failure on Robbie's mother. Donning a green mask, the actor tries to get Robbie out of the way and kill his mother at a theatre and then a theatre supply store, only to be thwarted by Robbie using the Masked Marvel powers that allow him to absorb kinetic energy and bounce a lot. Not great powers, but sufficient to defeat a Shakespeare-quoting nutjob.

None of the Speedball stories is really great, but the visuals are nice, with Ditko's rendition of his out-of-control bouncing.

Roger Stern scripts the story, and Jackson Guice inks.

June 24, 2008

Splash - I Am... Gorak

Great little bit of action anticipating some of the imagery of Doctor Strange (that even looks a bit like Mordo). And that huge solid black mass on the suit is gorgeous in how it offsets the lightning.

originally from Tales of Suspense #14 [1961]

June 23, 2008

June 21, 2008

Tales of the New Gods [2008]

 This collection of post-Kirby Fourth World stories concludes with a single new story, the 5-page "Infinitely Gentle Infinitely Suffering" penciled by Steve Ditko, inked by Mick Gray and written by Mark Millar. It was originally done as a back-up for the ORION series back around 2000, but not used at the time. This publication gap makes it the first non-reprint Ditko comics to appear (outside the substantial amount of creator-owned work published by/with Robin Snyder) in almost a decade. It's also the only time Ditko drew the Fourth World characters, which is an interesting historical footnote since reportedly Kirby's early plans for the books involved him handing off the characters to other artists under his editorial supervision, with Ditko being among those considered.

Anyway, this story has the celebration of Darkseid's "mortis-nacht", which I gather from the vague text is the anniversary of his mother's death, and his head torturer DeSaad bragging to Granny Goodness that he's found the perfect gift for Darkseid by exposing a creature composed of pure love to one composed of pure pain. Unsurprisingly, this backfires on DeSaad.

Other than for the aforementioned curiosity factors, this isn't much of a story. Gray does a good job with what he's given in a few places (the large close-up of Darkseid on the title page is quite good), but a lot of the faces just don't seem right. I'm on the fence about the visual of the creatures of pure emotion. It's almost goofy enough to work.

June 19, 2008

Splash - Something Fantastig?

I could never figure out if that spelling of "Fantastig" was just a very large typo or intentional. And if it is a typo, should it be left as-is in reprint (as Marvel does it) or corrected? Anyway, a great little splash for an offbeat story.

Amazing Adult Fantasy #12 [1962]

June 18, 2008

The Destructor #1 [1975]

This was Ditko's main book for the short-lived Atlas-Seaboard line, drawing all four issues with a variety of collaborators. The launch here was with Archie Goodwin writing and Wallace Wood inking, both men who had had notable collaborations with Ditko back in the 1960s.

The 20-page story "The Birth of A Hero" presents the origin of the Destructor, as we meet Jay Hunter, a young runner for some small-town mobsters who's getting a bit too ambitious for his boss, Max Raven. As luck would have it, Jay's father is a scientist working on a serum which will maximize human senses, and dreams of using it to create a super-hero. Just as we get the exposition out of the way, a hit-man comes in to take out Jay, shooting both father and son. As his final act, Jay's father gives him the serum, which quickly improves his body to the point that it can heal the bullet wounds.

On the run from the mob, Jay finds a costume that his father had prepared for the super-hero he dreamed of creating, and takes the identity of the Destructor, using his new powers to disrupt the criminal operations of Raven, who finally calls in some expert help in the form of Slaymaster. The confrontation between the two costumed adversaries is arranged in the Giant Novelty Company warehouse (a mob front, of course, and conveniently full of giant clown heads and other body parts for better fight visuals). The Destructor is pushed to his limits by Slaymaster, finding out new things about how his powers work in the process, and eventually prevails. He then goes to confront Raven directly, only to see Raven killed by his own underlings, eager to take over his operations. Finally we get the old graveside vow, as Jay promises his father to continue fighting crime to make up for causing his death.

While there was nothing remarkably new about this series, stitched together from aspects of Spider-Man, Daredevil, Batman, the Creeper and others, it's a solid start to a series by a trio of top-rate pros, maybe not at the top of their games but certainly close to it. Ditko is pretty much without equal in the field of heroes moving with improbable gymnastics, and despite the obvious set-up of the novelty warehouse setting for the big fight, it's an effective visual. Slaymaster was also a good one-shot villain in the vein of the original Spider-Man series. Wood's inking as always add quite a bit, while usually leaving the essential Ditko elements in place. Unfortunately, the team was only together for two issues here, and only Ditko was left by the fourth and final issue, and the entire Atlas-Seaboard line ("21 Action Packed Full Color Comics!!", as one ad boasts, not to mention the B&W mags) was almost inevitably not long for the world.

June 16, 2008

Splash - Fear in the Night


originally from Journey Into Mystery #65 [1961]

June 13, 2008

Splash - The Man Who Captured Death

Great little look at Ditko's design sense from this era, as well as his figure work on the man in the foreground.

originally from Amazing Adult Fantasy #9 [1962]

June 10, 2008

Splash - Will This Be the End of the World?

Just to show that they aren't all gems, I can see what the idea here is, but it doesn't quite work, and just comes across as bland.

originally from Journey Into Mystery #72 [1961]

June 3, 2008

--Link-- Shooter on Ditko

Jim Shooter talks a bit about Ditko's return to Marvel and some of his 1990s work late in this interview. Parts of it are a bit self-serving and possibly inaccurate (I don't think "when I left Marvel they stopped giving him work" is right, since SPEEDBALL was well after Shooter left Marvel), but there's some interesting stuff there, like the explanation for Ditko dropping out of DARK DOMINION and how close they came to publishing Mr. A through one of Shooter's short-lived comic companies (and probably means there's yet more unpublished Mr. A sitting on Ditko's shelf).


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