November 18, 2015

Marvel Comics Presents #14 [1989]

Out of 26 stories featuring The Masked Marvel with the Speedball effect by Ditko that Marvel published from 1988 to 1991, this 8-page story "The Feathered Felon" from MARVEL COMICS PRESENTS #14 [1989], midway through the 10-issue series run of SPEEDBALL, was the only one that Ditko inked himself, in addition to his usual plotting and penciling work (Jo Duffy provides the script). Comparing it to the other stories, that's a shame, since it's probably my favourite of the Masked Marvel stories. Most of the other inking on the character was acceptable, some of it was really not suited to Ditko's style, none of it was quite Ditko.

This is also a pretty fun story. The felon of the title is a mysterious bird creature which swoops down at random and steals various objects, including the briefcase of Robbie Baldwin's father, which has some documents essential for a case he's prosecuting. Robbie tries to use his powers to follow the felon, but a combination of his general lack of control and the sheer randomness of the felon make it difficult. There's a nice combination of super-heroics and Robbie's civilian life in this story, and a good look at a few of the major themes that pop up in many of the stories.

November 17, 2015

The Unexpected #221 [1982]

"Em The Energy Monster", a 9-page story from THE UNEXPECTED #221 [1982], is an unusual story in Ditko's work at DC.  Of the three dozen non-series stories he drew in the various anthology books, this is the only one Ditko wrote as well, and is in fact one of the few stories he did for the DC/Marvel where he was the sole credited writer.

This story features an alien who crashes on Earth and has the ability to animate any type of matter, and causes great destruction while trying to find a suitable body. Meanwhile, Dr. Bazom is in charge of efforts to stop the creature he's dubbed EM.

The concept of this story provides for some interesting visual ideas. You actually see a hint of the concept in a cover from over two decades earlier and would see it again in a story Ditko wrote almost a decade later.

The story is well-inked by Gary Martin, although the opening splash page (which looks like it was designed to be a cover, with a large space for the title logo) looks like Ditko might have inked it himself. Overall it's one of the most wholly satisfying of the short stories Ditko did for DC. Unfortunately this would be the last Ditko drawn story published by DC for several years (and going by story codes might actually have been drawn several years earlier) and the last Ditko written story ever at DC.

This was reprinted in THE STEVE DITKO OMNIBUS #1 [2011].

November 2, 2015

Doc Stearn...Mr Monster #6 [1986]

DOC STEARN...MR MONSTER #6 [1986], published by Eclipse, features a reprint of the 5-page story "Stretching Things" from FANTASTIC FEARS #5 [1954]. This Bruce Hamilton written story is one of the first Ditko stories to be drawn and published, and had been reprinted a few times before this (such as the 1970 fanzine FMZ #1, where editor Michael T. Gilbert's introduction mentions as the first place he saw it), but not in colour as far as I know. The colouring is some then-state-of-the-art work by Steve Oliff, and might be a bit over-rendered to my tastes, but doesn't look too bad compared to the original.

As I've said before, this is a great little story in both writing and art. You can see a lot of the little storytelling bits that would appear in more polished form in later Marvel and Charlton shorts.

Gilbert's introduction also includes a few bits of art that Ditko had drawn for the fanzine ALTER EGO in the 1960s.

Giant-Size Man-Thing #1 [1974]

While he wasn't doing any new work for Marvel in the early 1970s, you could count on a regular supply of Ditko from the company in the form of reprints, especially of his short fantasy and science fiction stories. Case in point, GIANT-SIZE MAN-THING #1 [1974] has a reprint of "The Ice-Monster Cometh" from AMAZING ADULT FANTASY #11 [1962], an entertaining 5-page story about Hugo Bogg, a jewel thief who hides his loot for years, and plans to use the local myth of an "Ice-Monster" to recover it.

Lots to like about this story. As usual, Ditko does well with the rustic European setting, and Bogg is a suitably weaselly looking ne'er-do-well.

October 25, 2015

Four-Page Series essays

S. Ditko, "Why I Quit S-M, Marvel", 2015

Steve Ditko recently wrapped up THE FOUR-PAGE SERIES with the ninth issue, co-published with Robin Snyder, collecting various essays between 2012 and 2015. In total there are 45 essays, ten un-numbered from the first two issues and 35 in the other issues, numbered 9, 10, 12-15, 17-38 and 40-46. Yes, that means there's one missing. Just for reference I've arbitrarily labelled the un-numbered ones as 1-8, 11 and 16 in the order they were published, leaving a mysterious #39 that we may see in the future. Or may not.

The full list of Ditko essays is always available here. Contact information for Robin Snyder to find our which are currently available and to order is over here.

#1*:  The Knowers & the Barkers [FPS#1]
#2*:  The Silent Self-Deceivers [FPS#1]
#3*:  A Newspaper Article, A Reporter's Report [FPS#1]
#4*:  A Deadly Fantasy [FPS#1]
#5*:  Why Out Of Their Way? [FPS#1]
#6*: Circle The Mind [FPS#2]
#7*: The Fixated Negative [FPS#2]
#8*: For/Against One's Best Interest? [FPS#2]
#9: An Eternal Truth, Lesson Rejected [FPS#3]
#10: The Fantasy Lifters [FPS#3]
#11*: LINT [FPS#2]
#12: For Good Or Ill [FPS#3]
#13: Tsk! — The Still Unreachable — Tsk! [FPS#3]
#14: Labels And Labelers [FPS#4]
#15: Wants/Needs Shortchanged [FPS#9]
#16*: Honoring Or Dishonoring [FPS#2]
#17: …To The Last Drop [FPS#3]
#18: Anti-Ditko 'Fans' [FPS#3]
#19: Action/Reaction And The Self-Claimed, Self-Creators [FPS#4]
#20: Out Of Their Way [FPS#9]
#21: How Dare He! [FPS#4]
#22: He Should Have X@*#! Done... [FPS#8]
#23: The Intolerable Other [FPS#6]
#24: The Eternally Fixated [FPS#5]
#25: Choice: Either/Or [FPS#5]
#26: 4 tHe knot 2 BritE, rite [FPS#5]
#27: The Movers And The Freezers [FPS#4]
#28: Red Flag [FPS#6]
#29: Too Late [FPS#4]
#30: Repeater, Spreader, Reinforcer [FPS#6]
#31: Copycat Mind [FPS#8]
#32: With Everyone, A Free-Will Choice [FPS#5]
#33: X's 'Idea' [FPS#6]
#34: Memory [FPS#5]
#35: FP: Comic Book Fan Packs [FPS#6]
#36: CC: The Caller and the Called [FPS#6]
#37: Start & Finish [FPS#6]
#38: Correct, Corrector, Corrections [FPS#8]
#40: The Chosen Grey Mind [FPS#7]
#41: A Cure Or The Actual Disease? [FPS#7]
#42 [FPS#8]
#43: The 1st New York City Comic Book Convention [FPS#7]
#44: Foolish Fans [FPS#9]
#45: Why I Quit S-M, Marvel [FPS#9]
#46: Either/Or [FPS#9]

October 23, 2015

The Incredible Hulk #235 [1979]

THE INCREDIBLE HULK #235 [1979] is one of the first published pieces for this stint at Marvel, following a cover for an Avengers reprint the previous month. It's one of the rare cases of Ditko inking another artist, working over the pencils of Al Milgrom. It's also a good bridge between his 1960s stint at Marvel and the one just beginning, as he did some major work developing the Hulk in the 1960s and Machine Man would be his regular assignment starting a few months later. He'd also do a few more Hulk stories in the future.

It's a pretty good cover of a dynamic meeting between the two Jack Kirby creations. The Hulk figure is especially good. Pretty unlikely it'll ever happen, but I'd be fascinated to see the original pencils to this to see how closely Ditko followed it.

October 19, 2015

Eerie #135 [1982]

Until recently, EERIE #135 [1982] was the best quick source for Ditko's 1966/1967 work at Warren, reprinting ten of the sixteen stories that Ditko drew for the publisher's two magazines. All of the ten were written by Archie Goodwin.

CREEPY #9 [1966]  - "The Spirit Of The Thing"
CREEPY #10 [1966]  - "Collector's Edition"
CREEPY #11 [1966]  - "Beast Man"
CREEPY #12 [1966]  - "Blood Of The Werewolf"
CREEPY #13 [1967]  - "Second Chance"
CREEPY #14 [1967]  - "Where Sorcery Lives"
CREEPY #15 [1967]  - "City Of Doom"
EERIE #4 [1966]  - "Shrieking Man"
EERIE #7 [1967]  - "Fly"
EERIE #8 [1967]  - "Demon Sword"

There are a lot of minor alterations in the stories, such as changing the host from Uncle Creepy to Cousin Eerie as needed, and altering the title lettering and story introductions (sometimes omitted entirely). The reproduction also isn't great, with the grey wash tones sometimes coming out a bit darker than they should. And the cover by Sanjulian is a bit incongruous for an all-Ditko issue in style, though it fits in subject matter.

All of the stories are pretty good, some are spectacular. Of special note is "City Of Doom", since as far as I know it was the only one of the stories which hadn't been reprinted by Warren prior to this. It features a barely dressed barbarian warrior named Thane. I'm not sure if Thane appeared before this, but there is at least one more story with the character (by Goodwin and artist Jeff Jones) in the following issue of its original publication. I'm also not up on the history of barbarian warriors in comics, but I do know this is well before Marvel licensed Conan for their comics.

Anyway, Thane opens the story betrayed and left to be eaten by some great looking vultures at the beginning of the story, but manages to escape and make short work of the vultures. He then encounters Livia, the also barely dressed high priestess of the ancient city of Kadith in the middle of the desert, and follows her there in hopes of both revenge on his betrayers and some treasure. As you'd expect, what follows is a mix of monsters, betrayal and death amidst the mazelike interior of the Kadith.

Overall not one of the best of the Ditko/Goodwin collaborations at Warren, but pretty decent, and a few great visual moments from Ditko.

October 18, 2015

Many Ghosts Of Doctor Graves #43 [1973]

Joe Gill writes and Steve Ditko draws the 7-page story "Don't Lose Your Head" in MANY GHOSTS OF DOCTOR GRAVES #43 [1973]. Starting during the French Revolution, where the conniving servant of an innocent doctor uses the chaos to have his master beheaded, so he can make off with his master's wealth. Unfortunately for him, he gets a curse placed on his family to suffer the same fate as his master, and we follow the generations of his family losing their heads in various ways up to the then-recent year of 1972.

Fairly straightforward story, with a bit of an abrupt ending, the various settings in time and variety of deaths play well to Ditko's strengths, and there are a lot of great faces.