By Steve Ditko, edited by Robin Snyder (Fantagraphics Books)
After Steve Ditko left Marvel where his astounding work made the reclusive genius a household name (at least in comicbook terms) he continued working for Charlton Comics and in DC in 1968 began a sporadic association with DC by creating cult classics The Hawk and the Dove and the superbly captivating Beware… The Creeper. It was during this period that the first strips derived from his interpretation of the Objectivist philosophy of novelist Ayn Rand began appearing in fanzines and independent press publications like Witzend and The Collector.
This second softcover book, collected from a variety of independent sources by fan and bibliographer Robin Snyder, represents the remainder of a canon of lost treasures by a driven and dedicated artistic trailblazer whose beliefs have never faltered, whose passion never waned and whose art never stagnated. Produced in bold collage, abstract calligraphic and design essays and a variety of vibrant black and strips in his utterly unique cartoon style, these strident, occasionally didactic, but always bold, impassioned and above all – for Ditko never forgets that this is a medium of Narrative and Art – gripping stories and parables of some of his most honest – and infamous – characters.
The most common complaint about this area of Ditko’s work – and there have been lots – is the sometimes hectoring nature of the dialectic. Nobody likes to be lectured to, but it’s an astonishingly effective method of imparting information: our schools and Universities depend on the form as their primary tool of communication, just as Ditko’s is the comic strip artform.
He’s showing you a truth he believes – but at no time is he holding a gun to your head. If you disagree that’s up to you. He grants you the courtesy of acknowledging you as equal and demands that you act like one. You are ultimately responsible for yourself. It’s a viewpoint and tactic an awful lot of religions could benefit from.
After a new but unused cover piece and an introduction from editor Snyder the polemical panoply gathered here begins with the contents of self-published magazine The Avenging World (1973), beginning with an eponymous cartoon and collage directory of terms-defining vignettes after which some of his most impassioned artwork expands the arguments in ‘The Avenging World Part 2’, followed by the cover of that landmark publication and a highly charged parable ‘The Deadly Alien’.
At heart Ditko is an unreconstructed maker of stories and with ‘Liberty or Death: Libage Vs Chain’ (from the Collector 1974) he returns to the narrative idiom of enigmatic masked mystery heroes for a gripping tale of totalitarian barbarism and the struggle for freedom. ‘Who Owns Original Art?’ is a philosophical statement in essay form after which his satirically barbed ‘H Series: The Screamer’ perfectly marries superheroics, adventure, comedy and blistering social commentary.
After a selection of covers from Wha, the assorted contents follow beginning with hard-bitten incorruptible cop Kage who determinedly solves ‘The Case of the Silent Voice’ despite interference, apathy, malfeasance and the backsliding of his own bosses. ‘Premise to Consequence’ uses Ditko’s facility for exotic science fiction to examine truth and reality and sinister silent avenger ‘The Void’ reveals how even the best of men can betray their own principles.
‘The Captive Spark’ displays Ditko’s beliefs from the birth of civilisation to the sorry present whilst ‘Masquerade’ delightfully follows two journalists as they simultaneously and independently decide to crack a troubling story by becoming masked adventurers. The volume dedicates the remainder of its content to the final amazing exploits of Ditko’s purest ideological champion – the utterly uncompromising Mr. A…
TV reporter Rex Graine is secretly Mr. A: white suited, steel-masked, coldly savage, challenging society, ruthlessly seeking Truth and utterly incapable of moral compromise. In most respects A is an extreme extension of faceless agent of Justice The Question as seen in all his glory in DC’s Action Heroes Archive volume 2
From Mr. A #2 (1975) after the gloriously moody cover comes the gripping battle against duplicitous prestidigitator and media-darling bandit ‘Count Rogue’ and his startling solo campaign against ‘The Brotherhood of the Collective’ whose bullyboy tactics include racketeering, slander, murder and imposture. Also included here is the stunning Mr. A page from the 1976 San Diego Comic Con Program Booklet, a tantalising “coming next” page for the tragically unreleased ‘Mr. A Vs The Polluters’ and this collection culminates with a true graphic tour de force as the incorruptible, unswerving White Knight battles the ultimate threat in a wordless, untitled masterpiece fans know as ‘Mr. A: Death Vs Love-Song’ (which appeared in The Comic Crusader Storybook in 1976 and from which the cover of this collection is taken).
I love comics. Steve Ditko has produced a disproportionate amount of my favourite, formative fiction over the decades. His is a unique voice wedded to an honest heart blessed with the captivating genius of a graphic master. The tales here have seldom been seen elsewhere; never often enough and always with little fanfare. If you can find this volume and its predecessor you’ll see a lot of his best work, undiluted by colour, and on lovely large (274x212mm) white pages.
Even if you can’t find these, find something – because Steve Ditko is pure comics.
All works © 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1986 Steve Ditko for The Avenging World, The Collector, Inside Comics, Comics Crusader, Wha, Mr. A, San Diego Comic Con Program Booklet and Comic Crusader Storybook respectively. All Rights Reserved.