Machine Man: The Complete Collection by Kirby and Ditko


By Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, with Marv Wolfman, Tom DeFalco, Roger Stern, Mike Rockwitz, Sal Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9577-1 (TPB)

Jack Kirby was – and nearly 30 years after his death, remains – the most important single influence in the history of American comics. There are innumerable accounts of and testaments to what the man has done and meant, and you should read those if you are at all interested in our medium.

Off course, I’m now adding my own tenpence’s worth, pointing out what you probably already know: Kirby was a man of vast imagination who translated big concepts into astoundingly potent and accessible symbols for generations of fantasy fans. If you were exposed to Kirby as an impressionable child you were his for life. To be honest, the same probably applies whatever age you jump aboard the “Kirby Express”…

For those of us who grew up with Jack, his are the images which furnish and clutter our interior mindsets. Close your eyes and think “robot” and the first thing that pops up is a Kirby creation. Every fantastic, futuristic city in our heads is crammed with his chunky, towering spires. Because of Jack we all know what the bodies beneath those stony-head statues on Easter Island look like, we are all viscerally aware that you can never trust great big aliens parading around in their underpants and, most importantly, we know how cavemen dressed and carnosaurs clashed…

In the late 1930s, it took a remarkably short time for Kirby and his creative collaborator Joe Simon to become the wonder-kid dream-team of the new-born comicbook industry. Together they produced a year’s worth of the influential monthly Blue Bolt, dashed off Captain Marvel Adventures (#1) for overstretched Fawcett and, after Martin Goodman appointed Simon editor at Timely Comics, co-created a host of iconic characters such as Red Raven, the original Marvel Boy, Mercury, Hurricane, The Vision, Young Allies and of course million-selling mega-hit Captain America.

When Goodman failed to make good on his financial obligations, Simon & Kirby were snapped up by National/DC, who welcomed them with open arms and a fat chequebook. Bursting with ideas the staid industry leaders were never really comfortable with, the pair were initially an uneasy fit, and awarded two moribund strips to play with until they found their creative feet: Sandman and Manhunter.

They turned both around virtually overnight and, once established and left to their own devices, switched to the “Kid Gang” genre they had pioneered at Timely. Joe & Jack created wartime sales sensation Boy Commandos and a Homefront iteration dubbed the Newsboy Legion before being called up to serve in the war they had been fighting on comic book pages since 1940.

Once demobbed, they returned to a very different funnybook business, and soon after left National to create their own little empire…

Simon & Kirby heralded and ushered in the first American age of mature comics – not just by inventing the Romance genre, but with all manner of challenging modern material about real people in extraordinary situations – before seeing it all disappear again in less than eight years.

After years of working for others, Simon & Kirby had finally established their own publishing house, producing comics for a far more sophisticated audience, only to find themselves in a sales downturn and awash in public hysteria generated by an anti-comicbook pogrom. Their small stable of magazines – generated for the association of companies known as Prize, Crestwood, Pines, Essenkay and/or Mainline Comics – blossomed and as quickly wilted when the industry abruptly contracted throughout the 1950s.

Hysterical censorship-fever spearheaded by US Senator Estes Kefauver and opportunistic pop psychologist Dr. Frederic Wertham led to witch-hunting Senate hearings. Caving in, most publishers adopted a castrating straitjacket of draconian self-regulatory rules. Horror titles produced under the aegis and emblem of the Comics Code Authority were sanitised and anodyne affairs in terms of Shock and Gore, even though the market’s appetite for suspense and the uncanny was still high. Crime comics vanished and mature themes challenging an increasingly stratified and oppressive society were suppressed…

Simon quit the business for advertising, but Jack soldiered on, taking his skills and ideas to a number of safer, more conventional and less experimental, companies. As the panic abated, Kirby returned briefly to DC Comics where he worked on mystery tales and Green Arrow (at that time a mere back-up page-filler in Adventure Comics and World’s Finest Comics) whilst concentrating on his passion project: newspaper strip Sky Masters of the Space Force.

During that period Kirby also re-packaged an original super-team concept that had been kicking around in his head since he and Joe Simon had closed their innovative, ill-timed ventures. At the end of 1956 Showcase #6 premiered the Challengers of the Unknown

After three more test issues they won their own title with Kirby in command for the first eight. Then a legal dispute with Editor Jack Schiff exploded and the King was gone…

He found fresh fields and an equally hungry new partner in Stan Lee at the ailing Atlas Comics outfit (which had once been mighty Timely) and there created a revolution in superhero comics storytelling…

After a decade of never-ending innovation and crowd-pleasing wonderment, Kirby felt increasingly stifled. His efforts had transformed the little publisher into industry-pioneer Marvel but now felt trapped in a rut. Thus, he moved back to DC for another burst of sheer imagination and pure invention.

Kirby always understood the fundamentals of pleasing his audience and strived diligently to combat the appalling state of prejudice about the comics medium – especially from industry insiders and professionals who despised the “kiddies world” they felt trapped in.

After his controversial, grandiose Fourth World titles were cancelled, Kirby looked for other projects that would stimulate his own vast creativity yet still appeal to a market growing ever more fickle. These included science fictional heroes Kamandi and OMAC, supernatural star The Demon, war stories starring The Losers, and even a new Sandman– co-created with old Joe Simon – but although the ideas kept coming (Atlas, Kobra, Dingbats of Danger Street), once again editorial disputes increased. Reluctantly, he left again choosing to believe in promises of more creative freedom elsewhere…

His return to Marvel in 1976 was much hyped and eagerly anticipated at the time, but again turned controversial. New works such as The Eternals and Devil Dinosaur found friends rapidly, but his return to earlier creations Captain America and Black Panther divided the fanbase.

Kirby was never slavishly wedded to tight continuity, and preferred, in many ways, to treat his stints on titles as a “Day One”: a policy increasing at odds with the close-continuity demanded by a strident faction of the readership…

Kirby was fascinated by the evolution of humanity and how it was ultimately defined. Gods, devils, ascension, devolution and especially artificial intelligence were themes he regularly revisited. As early as 1957, in his second Challengers of the Unknown yarn, tragic Ultivac was a misunderstood mechanoid built by war criminals who spontaneously achieved sentience, sapience and a profound sense of self-preservation. This concept of machine soul re-emerged constantly in characters as diverse as King Kra, Recorder 211, Torgo, Mother Box and many others but found its greatest expression in a strip spun off from licensed property 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Although not included here, Machine Man actually debuted in July to September 1977 in #8-10 of that series – so Marvel are being a tad generous with the term “complete” in this epic trade paperback and digital compilation. X-51/Aaron Stack/Mister Machine was a government-built war droid who achieves passionate, unique self-actualisation after an encounter with the enigmatic alien Monolith of Kubrick and Clarke’s movie classic. When the publishing license expired, Jack’s metal miracle catapulted into his own eccentric series and a little slice of history was made…

Collecting the 19-issue run of Machine Man spanning April 1978 to January 1989, and including material from Incredible Hulk #234-237 and Marvel Comics Presents #10, this canny compilation offers a rare chance to see how a single character can fare under the widely differing and unique artistic visions of the visual founders of the Marvel Universe.

Brushing over the embargoed origins, a fully sentient but unschooled and inexperienced ‘Machine Man’ exploded into the Marvel Universe in his first issue (April 1978, by Kirby & Mike Royer), on the run from the US Army.

As X-51, he had been condemned to eradication when his 50 predecessors malfunctioned, attacking the soldiers they were designed to replace. “Aaron” was different, however, reared as a human in the household of psychologist Dr. Abel Stack. When the official order came to scrap all X-models, Stack gave his life to remove his “son’s” self-destruct trigger, sending the innocent out to find his place in the world. On his trail was veteran warrior Colonel Kragg, maimed sole survivor of a brutal X robot assault…

On the run and plagued by nightmares, Aaron makes friends easily in the easy-going, post-Hippie region around Central City, California, and holes up in the asylum run by psychiatrist Dr. Peter Spalding. As they debate the nature of existence, soldiers close in and a fresh crisis is triggered in the ‘House of Nightmares’ when an inmate psionically connects to an alien being about to die countless light years away…

Stack’s on-board technologies confirm the contact is no delusion, and empathy moves the assembled earthlings to open a door for the dying stranger. Sadly, ‘Ten-For, the Mean Machine’ is a devious, arrogant professional world-conqueror who believes his kind of mechanical life superior to organics and sets about adding Earth to the Autochron empire, just as Kragg’s forces breach the building…

The Colonel is no fan of artificial beings but is soon overwhelmed, leaving Machine Man to ‘Battle on a Very Busy Street’, before briefly abandoning humanity and questioning the point of his tormented existence. His status as a despised ‘Non-Hero’ changes after attending a wild party and meeting empathetic communications executive Tracy Warner, who inspires Aaron to defeat the rapidly-approaching invasion fleet with a ‘Quick Trick’

Issue #7 opens in the aftermath as a Special Congressional Committee convenes to rule on the robot’s autonomy and continued existence. ‘With a Nation Against Him!’ shows humanity’s prejudices and willingness to exploit Aaron, and when Spalding is kidnapped, Congressman Miles Brickman sees a way to ride that bigotry all the way to the White House…

As Aaron seeks to save Peter from nefarious capitalist criminals The Corporation, Kragg undergoes a change of heart and helps foil their plans to mass-produce X-Units, resulting in a spectacular ‘Super-Escape’ and a tenuous détente between mankind and Machine Man when they cooperate ‘In Final Battle!’ (Machine Man #9, December 1978)…

The series ended there, with the unresolved issues carrying over to a story arc in Incredible Hulk. Here a 6-page extract from #234’s ‘Battleground: Berkeley’ (April 1979 by Roger Stern, Sal Buscema & Jack Abel) sees Corporation high flyer Mr. Jackson frame Machine Man for kidnapping the Hulk’s friend Trish Starr, and lure the Jade Juggernaut to Central City…

Followed by the entirety of #235-237, the resultant clash gears up the metal marvel for a fresh run, opening with ‘The Monster and the Machine’ (Stern, Sal Buscema & Mike Esposito) as the Hulk runs amok and shreds the real Aaron Stack, whilst in Washington DC, opportunistic Brickman is elevated to the Senate…

The rematch in #236 furiously escalates in ‘Kill or Be Killed!’, but by the time the truth has emerged, the Hulk is beyond all reason and turns his wrath on Jackson with horrific effect in concluding chapter ‘When a City Dies!’ (by Stern, S Buscema & Abel)…

One month later Machine Man returned to his own title but it couldn’t have been more different…

In an industry and medium packed with imaginative graphic iterations of mechanoid marvels and malcontents, nobody ever drew robots like Steve Ditko…

He was one of comics’ greatest and most influential talents and – during his lifetime – probably America’s least lauded. Reclusive and reticent by inclination, his fervent desire was always to just get on with his job, telling stories the best he could: letting his work speak for him.

Whilst the noblest of aspirations, that attitude was a minor consideration – and even actual stumbling block – for the commercial interests which controlled comics production and still exert overwhelming influence upon the bulk of comic industry’s output.

In 1966, after Ditko’s legendary disagreements with Stan Lee led to the artist quitting Marvel, he found work at Warren Comics and resumed a career-long association with Charlton Comics. That company’s casual editorial attitudes had always offered the most creative freedom, if not financial reward, but in 1968 their wünderkind editor Dick Giordano was poached by rapidly-slipping industry leader National Comics. He took his key creators with him, but whilst Jim Aparo, Steve Skeates, Frank McLaughlin and Denny O’Neil found a new home, Ditko began only a sporadic – if phenomenally productive – association with DC.

It was during that heady, unsettled period that the first strips stemming from Ditko’s interpretation of Ayn Rand’s Objectivist philosophy began appearing in indie publications like Witzend and The Collector, whilst for the “over-ground” publishing colossus, he devised cult classics The Hawk and the Dove and Beware the Creeper. Later efforts included Shade, the Changing Man, Stalker and The Odd Man, plus anthological Sci Fi and horror yarns; truly unique interpretations of Man-Bat, Kirby’s The Demon, Legion of Super-Heroes and many more…

In 1979, Ditko grudgingly returned to Marvel to work on Micronauts, Captain Marvel, Fantastic Four, Captain Universe, licensed properties and new characters like Speedball, Squirrel Girl and the automaton in question…

MM #10 offered ‘Renewal!’ courtesy of Marv Wolfman & Steve Ditko. Severely damaged in combat, the artificial avenger is frantically rebuilt by Spalding and X-Project originator Dr. Broadhurst, at the cost of much of his awesome armament. This arbitrary adjustment forces Aaron to reassess his status and condition, and after finding a message from Abel Stack, he resolves to chart a fresh course as part of the human race.

Even after Aaron saves the Senator from certain death, Brickman pins his future career on capturing the mechanical “menace”, but the robot perseveres and a battle with a high-tech thief in ‘Byte of the Binary Bug!’ leads to a new cover secret identity as an insurance investigator, a new confidante in businessman Byron Benjamin and a new nemesis in exotic millionaire Khan of Xanadu

When a freak accident turns ordinary mortals into ascendant angels in #12’s ‘Where Walk the Gods!’ Aaron is forced to confront his own biases and moral imperatives to save his life, and learns the value of mercy from a small child, before Khan returns in ‘Xanadu!’, determined to achieve immortality by occupying Aaron’s mechanical body…

Wolfman & Ditko sought to humanise Machine Man through a cast of fellow workers at Delmar Insurance, such as freeloading lazy moocher Eddie Harris and office vamp Maggie Jones, but the real counterbalance to Aaron is Brickman who announces his run for the White House based on a publicity pogrom against the synthetic superhero in #14. Here, the action stems from ‘The Man Who Could Walk Through Walls’: a tragic scientist accidentally turned super-dense and hired by the Senator’s assistants to impersonate and defame the robot champion…

Further inroads into mainstream continuity come as Tom DeFalco joins Ditko from #15 onwards. Transformed into a cloud of energized gas, Dr. Voletta Todd calls herself Ion and – demanding ‘Kill Me or Cure Me’ – crushes Machine Man. As the robot is repaired by garrulous blue collar engineering savant Gears Garvin, the Thing and Human Torch tackle the deranged suicidal monster but are grateful for Aaron’s last-minute save…

Issue #16 introduces the first in a string of maniacal baddies as ‘Baron Brimstone and His Sinister Satan Squad!’ go on a magic-backed crime spree, after which #17 debuts evil industrialist Sunset Bain and macabre Madame Menace who seek to profit from selling Aaron’s stolen limbs in ‘Arms and the Robot!’

Brickman makes his move in #18, using dubious political connections and outright lies to trick Canadian super-agents Sasquatch, Aurora and Northstar into attacking the metal marvel who stands ‘Alone Against Alpha Flight!’ before the quirky series ends with #19 (February 1981) and a brutal battle against a manic mercenary: a cruel clash that leaves Aaron dejected, deformed and dispirited after being ‘Jolted by Jack O’Lantern!’

Marvel Comics Presents #10 (January 1989) then offers one last hurrah as – written by Ditko & Mike Rockwitz with Dave Cockrum inking the abstract master’s compelling pencils – ‘Machine Man Meets the F.F…Failure Five’ finds Aaron Stack targeted by a robot fiasco determined to continue his own existence by occupying the astounding X-51 frame… irrespective of who might already be using it…

With extras including a complete cover gallery by Kirby, Ditko, Royer, Al Milgrom, Frank Giacoia, Dan Green, Joe Sinnott, Steve Leialoha, Walter Simonson, John Byrne, Rich Buckler & Frank Miller, plus a quartet of ‘Machine Mail’editorials by Kirby; house ads; original art pages by both titans and unused cover art from the period and full biographies of the founding titans, this compilation is a dose of utter, uncomplicated comics magic: bold, brash, and completely compelling. How can you possibly resist the clarion call of sheer eccentric escapism?
© 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Creeper by Steve Ditko


By Ditko, Don Segall, Denny O’Neil, Michael Fleisher, Mike Peppe, Jack Sparling & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2592-6 (HB)

Steve Ditko was one of our industry’s greatest and most influential talents and, during his lifetime, amongst America’s least lauded. Always reclusive and reticent by inclination, his fervent desire was always just get on with his job, tell stories the best way he can and let his work speak for him.

Whilst the noblest of aspirations, that attitude was usually a minor consideration – and even an actual stumbling block – for the commercial interests which for so long controlled all comics production and still exert an overwhelming influence upon the mainstream bulk of the comic industry’s output.

After Ditko’s legendary disagreements with Stan Lee led to his quitting Marvel – where his groundbreaking efforts made the reclusive genius (at least in comicbook terms) a household name – he found work at Warren Comics and resumed his long association with Charlton Comics.

That company’s laissez faire editorial attitudes had always offered him the most creative freedom, if not greatest financial reward, but in 1968 their wünderkind editor Dick Giordano was poached by the rapidly-slipping industry leader and he took some of his bullpen of key creators with him to DC Comics. Whilst Jim Aparo, Steve Skeates, Frank McLaughlin and Denny O’Neil found a new and regular home, Ditko began only a sporadic – if phenomenally productive – association with DC.

It was during this heady if unsettled period that the first strips derived from Ditko’s interpretation of the Objectivist philosophy of novelist Ayn Rand began appearing in fanzines and independent press publications like Witzend and The Collector, whilst for the “over-ground” publishing colossus he devised a brace of cult classics with The Hawk and the Dove and the superbly captivating concept re-presented here: Beware The Creeper. Later efforts would include Shade, the Changing Man, Stalker and The Odd Man, plus truly unique interpretations of Man-Bat, the Legion of Super-Heroes and many more…

The auteur’s comings and goings also allowed him to revisit past triumphs and none more so than with The Creeper who kept periodically popping up like a mad, bad penny. This superb hardcover compilation – still tragically and inexplicably languishing with other classics DC still hasn’t got around to making available in digital formats – gleefully gathers every Ditko-drafted and delineated Creeper classic from a delirious decade for your delight. It curates tales from Showcase #73, Beware the Creeper #1-6, 1st Issue Special #7, World’s Finest Comics #249-255 and Cancelled Comics Cavalcade #2/Showcase #106 (collectively spanning March/April 1968 to February/March 1979), and the spooky superhero spectacle kicks off with an effusive Introduction from appreciative fan Steve (30 Days of Night) Niles.

Like so many brilliant ideas before it, Ditko’s bizarre DC visions first exploded off the newsstands in try-out title Showcase. Issue #73 heralded ‘The Coming of the Creeper!!’ with veteran comics and TV scripter Don Segall putting the words to Ditko’s plot and illustrations.

The moodily macabre tale introduces suicidally-outspoken TV host Jack Ryder, whose attitude to his show’s sponsors and cronies loses him his cushy job. His brazen attitude does, however, impress network security chief Bill Brane and the gruff oldster offers him a job as an investigator and occasional bodyguard.

Jack’s first case involves tracking down recent Soviet defector Professor Yatz who has gone missing. The CIA suspect has been abducted by gangster Angel Devilin and sold to Red agent Major Smej

Displaying a natural affinity for detective work, Ryder tracks a lead to Devilin’s grand house and interrupts a costume party designed as a cover to make the trade. Promptly kicked out by thugs, Ryder heads for a costume shop but can only find a box of garish odds and ends… and lots of makeup.

Kitted out in strange melange of psychedelic attire, he breaks back in but is caught and stabbed before being thrown into a cell with the missing Yatz. The scientist – also grievously wounded – is determined to keep his inventions out of the hands of evil men. These creations comprise an instant healing serum and a Molecular Transmuter, able to shunt whatever a person is wearing or carrying into and out of our universe. A fully equipped army could enter a country as harmless tourists and materialise a complete armoury before launching sneak attacks…

To preserve them, Yatz buries the Transmuter inside Ryder’s knife wound before injecting him with the untested serum. The effect is instantaneous and doesn’t even leave a scar. The investigator is also suddenly faster, stronger and more agile…

When Jack presses a handheld activator, he is instantly naked and experimentation shows that he can make his motley costume appear and disappear just by pushing a button. Of course, now, whenever it is activated, neither makeup nor wig, bodystocking, boots or gloves will come off. It’s like the crazy outfit has become a second skin…

When the gangsters come for their captives, Yatz is burning his notes and in the fracas that follows catches a fatal bullet. Furious, guilt-ridden and strangely euphoric, Ryder goes after the thugs and spies, but by the time the cops arrive finds himself – or at least his canary yellow alter ego – blamed by Devilin for the chaos and even burglary.

The mobster has even given him a name… The Creeper

As soon as the furore dies down the vengeful Ryder returns to exact justice for the professor and discovers his uncanny physical prowess and macabre, incessant unnerving laughter give him an unbeatable edge and win him a supernatural reputation…

After that single issue the haunting hero hurtled straight into his own bimonthly series. Beware the Creeper #1 debuted with a May/June cover-date. Behind one of the most evocative covers of the decade – or indeed, ever – ‘Where Lurks the Menace?’ (scripted by Denny O’Neil under his occasional pen-name Sergius O’Shaughnessy) finds Ryder and the Creeper hunting an acrobatic killer beating to death a number of shady types in a savage effort to take over the city’s gangs.

Jack’s relentless pursuit of the terror and careful piecing together of many disparate clues to his identity is only hindered by the introduction of publicity-hungry, obnoxious glamour-puss ‘Vera Sweet’. The TV weathergirl thinks she has the right to monopolise Ryder’s time and attention even when he’s ducking fists and bullets…

The remainder of the far-too-brief run featured a classic duel of opposites as a chameleonic criminal mastermind insinuated himself into the lives of Jack and the Brane bunch. It all began with ‘The Many Faces of Proteus!’ in issue #2 (by Ditko & O’Shaughnessy) as a pompous do-gooder’s TV campaign against The Creeper is curtailed when the Golden Grotesque shows up at the studio throwing bombs.

Caught in the blast is the baffled and battered Jack Ryder, and he’s even more bewildered when Brane informs him that a tip has come in confirming the Creeper is working for gambler gangboss Legs Larsen

Dodging Vera, whose latest scheme involves a fake engagement, the real Creeper reaches Larsen’s gaming house in time to see a faceless man put a bullet into the prime suspect. In the ensuing panic the Laughing Terror transforms back into Ryder and strolls out carrying Larsen’s files, unaware that the faceless man is watching him leave and putting a few clues together himself…

The documents reveal a lone player has been slowly consolidating a hold on the city’s underworld but discloses no concrete information, so the Creeper goes on a very public rampage against assorted criminals in hopes of drawing Proteus out. The gambit works perfectly as a number of close friends try to kill Ryder, but only after he frantically fends off a flamethrower-wielding Vera in his own apartment does the Creeper realise that Proteus is far more than a madman with a makeup kit. A spectacular rooftop duel ends in a collapsed building and the apparent end of the protean plunderer, but there’s no body to be found in the rubble…

Beware the Creeper #3 has our outré hero tearing the city’s thugs apart looking for Proteus, but his one-man spook-show is curtailed when Brane sends Ryder to find Vera. Little Miss Wonderful is determined to be the first to interview an island society cut off from the world for over a century, but all contact has been lost since she arrived. Tracking her to ‘The Isle of Fear’ Jack finds her in the hands of a death cult.

More important to Ryder, however, is the fact that the Supreme One who leads the maniacs is actually a top criminal offering sanctuary to the Proteus flunkies he’s been scouring the city for…

Back in civilisation again, ‘Which Face Hides My Enemy?’ sees Ryder expose High Society guru and criminal mesmerist Yogi Birzerk’s unsuspected connection to Proteus. The cops drive Creeper away before he can get anything from the charlatan, and when he dejectedly returns home Jack walks into an explosive booby trap in his new apartment.

The “warning” from Proteus heralds the arrival of Asian troubleshooters Bulldog Bird and Sumo who claim to be also pursuing the faceless villain. They reveal he was a high-ranking member of the government of Offalia who stole a chemical which alters the molecular composition of flesh before suggesting they all team up. Heading back to Bizerk’s place, it soon becomes clear that they are actually working for Proteus and that the faceless fiend knows Ryder’s other identity…

With #5, inker Mike Peppe joined Ditko and O’Neil as the epic swung into high gear with ‘The Color of Rain is Death!’ Proteus makes his closing moves, attacking many of Jack’s associates and framing him again whilst preparing for the criminal masterstroke which will win him much of the city’s wealth.

Luring the Creeper into the sewers just as a major storm threatens to deluge the city, the face-shifter reveals a scheme to blow up the drainage system and cause catastrophic flooding. After a brutal battle, he also leaves The Creeper tied to a grating to drown…

The stunning saga closed with the final issue of Beware the Creeper #6 (March/April 1969), by which time Ditko had all but abandoned his creation. ‘A Time to Die’ saw tireless and reliable everyman artist Jack Sparling pencil most of the story as the Creeper escapes his death-trap, deciphers the wily villain’s true game-plan and delivers a crushing final defeat.

It was fun and thrilling and – unlike many series which folded at that troubled time – even provided an actual conclusion, but it somehow it wasn’t satisfactory and it wasn’t what we wanted.

This was a time when superheroes went into a steep decline with supernatural and genre material rapidly gaining prominence throughout the industry. With Fights ‘n’ Tights comics folding all over, Ditko concentrated again on Charlton’s mystery line, the occasional horror piece for Warren and his own projects…

In the years his own comic was dormant, the Creeper enjoyed many guest shots in other comics and it was established that the city he prowled was in fact Gotham. When Ditko returned to DC in the mid-1970s, tryout series 1st Issue Special was alternating new concepts with revivals of old characters.

Issue #7 (October 1975) gave the quirky crusader another shot at stardom in ‘Menace of the Human Firefly’ written by Michael Fleisher and inked by Mike Royer. It saw restored TV journalist Jack Ryder inspecting the fantastic felons in Gotham Penitentiary just as manic lifer Garfield Lynns breaks jail to resume his interrupted costumed career as the master of lighting effects. By the time the rogue’s brief but brilliant rampage is over the Creeper has discovered something extremely disturbing about his own ever-evolving abilities…

The story wasn’t enough to restart the rollercoaster, but a few years later DC instituted a policy of giant-sized anthologies and the extra page counts allowed a number of lesser lights to secure back-up slots and shine again.

For World’s Finest Comics #249-255 (February/March 1978-February/March 1979) Ditko was invited to produce a series of 8-page vignettes starring his most iconic DC creation. This time he wrote as well as illustrated and the results are pure eccentric excellence.

The sequence begins with ‘Moon Lady and the Monster’ as Ryder – once again a security operative for Cosmic Broadcasting Network – has to ferret out a grotesque brute stalking a late night horror-movie hostess, after which #250’s ‘Return of the Past’ reprises the origin as Angel Devilin gets out of jail and goes looking for revenge…

In WFC #251, ‘The Disruptor’ proves to be a blackmailer attempting to extort CBN by sabotaging programmes whilst ‘The Keeper of Secrets is Death!’ in the next issue follows the tragic murder of Dr. Joanne Russell who is accused on a sensationalistic TV of knowing the Creeper’s secret identity…

In #253, ‘The Wrecker’ is an actual grudge-bearing mad scientist who has built a most unconventional robot, whilst ‘Beware Mr. Wrinkles!’ in #254 debuts a villain with the power to age his victims. Neither, however, are a match for the tireless, spring-heeled Technicolor Tornado, and his too-short return culminates in a lethal duel with a knife-throwing jewel thief in #255’s ‘Furious Fran and the Dagger Lady’

Until this volume, that was it for Ditko devotees and Creeper collectors, but as the final delight in this splendid compendium reveals, there was more. An ill-considered expansion was followed by the infamous “DC Implosion” in 1978 when a number of titles were shut down or cancelled before release. One of those was Showcase #106 which would have featured a new all-Ditko Creeper tale.

It was collected – with a number of other lost treasures – in a copyright-securing minimum print run, monochrome internal publication entitled Cancelled Comics Cavalcade. Here, from #2 (1978) and presented in stark black & white, fans can see the Garish Gallant’s last Ditko-devised hurrah as ‘Enter Dr. Storme’ pits the Creeper (and cameo crimebuster The Odd Man) against a deranged weatherman turned climactic conqueror with the power to manipulate the elements.

Fast, fight-filled, furiously fun and devastatingly dynamic, Beware the Creeper was a high-point in skewed superhero sagas and this is a compendium no lovers of the genre can do without.
© 1968, 1969, 1975, 1978, 1979, 2010 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved

Impossible Tales: The Steve Ditko Archives volume 4


By Steve Ditko & various, edited by Blake Bell (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-640-9 (HB)

Once upon a time the short complete tale was the sole staple of the comic book profession, where the plan was to deliver as much variety as possible to the reader. Sadly, that particular discipline is all but lost to us today…

Steve Ditko (November 2nd 1927 – c. June 29th 2018) was one of our industry’s greatest talents and probably America’s least lauded. His fervent desire was to just get on with his job telling stories the best way he could. Whilst the noblest of aspirations, that dream was always a minor consideration and frequently a stumbling block for the commercial interests which for so long controlled all comics production and still exert an overwhelming influence upon the mainstream bulk of Funny book output. Let’s see what happens in the months to come now that COVID19 has wrought its horrific effects on the industry…

Before his time at Marvel, the young Ditko mastered his craft creating short stories for a variety of companies and it’s an undeniable joy to be able to look at this work from a such an innocent time. Here he was just breaking into the industry: tirelessly honing his craft with genre tales for whichever publisher would have him, utterly free from the interference of intrusive editors.

This fourth fantastic full-colour deluxe hardback – and potently punchy digital treasure trove – reprints another heaping helping of his ever more impressive works: published between July 1957 and March 1959, and all courtesy of the surprisingly liberal (at least in its trust of its employees’ creative instincts) sweat-shop publisher Charlton Comics. Some of the issues here were actually put together under the St. John imprint, but when that company abruptly folded, much of its already prepared in-house material – even entire issues – were purchased and published by clearing-house specialist Charlton with almost no editorial changes.

And, whilst we’re being technically accurate it’s also important to note that the eventual publication dates of the stories in this collection don’t have a lot to do with when Ditko rendered these mini-masterpieces: Charlton paid so little, the cheap, anthologically astute outfit had no problem buying material it could leave on a shelf for months – if not years – until the right moment arrived to print…

All the tales and covers reproduced here were drawn after implementation of the draconian, self-inflicted Comics Code Authority rules which sanitised the industry following Senate Hearings and a public witch-hunt. They are uniformly wonderfully baroque and bizarre fantasies, suspense and science fiction yarns, helpfully annotated with a purchase number to indicate approximately when they were actually drawn.

Sadly, there’s no indication of how many (if any) were actually written by Ditko, but as at the time the astoundingly prolific Joe Gill was churning out hundreds of stories per year for Charlton, he is always everyone’s first guess when trying to attribute script credit…

Following an historically informative Introduction and passionate advocacy by Blake Bell, the evocative tales of mystery and imagination commence with ‘The Menace of the Maple Leaves’, an eerie haunted woods fable from Strange Suspense Stories #33 (August 1957), closely followed a darkly sinister con-game which goes impossibly awry after a wealthy roué consults a supposed mystic to regain his youth and vitality before being treated in ‘The Forbidden Room’ (Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #4 July 1957)…

From November 1957, Do You Believe in Nightmares? #1 offers a bounty of Ditko delights, beginning with the stunning St. John cover heralding a prophetic ‘Nightmare’; the strange secret of a prognosticating ‘Somnambulist’ and the justice which befalls a seasoned criminal in ‘The Strange Silence’ – all confirming how wry fate intervenes in the lives of mortals.

‘You Can Make Me Fly’ then goes a tad off-topic with a tale of brothers divided by morality and intellect after which the issue ends with a dinosaur-packed romp courtesy of ‘The Man Who Crashed into Another Era’

Next up is a tale from one of Charlton’s earliest star characters. Apparently the title came from a radio show which Charlton licensed, and the lead/host/narrator certainly acted more as voyeur than active participant, speaking “to camera” and asking readers for opinion and judgement as he shared a selection of funny, sad, scary and wondrous human interest yarns all tinged with a hint of the weird and supernatural. When rendered by Ditko, whose storytelling mastery, page design and full, lavish brushwork were just beginning to come into its mature full range, the Tales of the Mysterious Traveler were esoteric and utterly mesmerising…

From issue #6 (December 1957), ‘Little Girl Lost’ chills spines and tugs heartstrings with the story of a doll that loved its human companion, followed by a paranoid chase from Strange Suspense Stories #35 (December 1957) as ‘There it is Again’ sees a scientist dogged by his most dangerous invention…

Unusual Tales #10 (January 1958) provides a spooky cover before disclosing the awesome secret of ‘The Repair Man from Nowhere’ and – following wickedly effective Cold War science fiction parable ‘Panic!’ from Strange Suspense Stories #35 – resumes with ‘A Strange Kiss’ that draws a mining engineer into a far better world…

Out of This World #6 (November 1957) provides access to ‘The Secret Room’ which forever changes the lives of an aging, destitute couple. Then cover and original artwork for Out of This World #12 (March 1959) lead to a tale in which a ruthless anthropologist is brought low by ‘A Living Doll’ he’d taken from a native village…

Returning to Tales of the Mysterious Traveler #6 results in three more captivating yarns. ‘When Old Doc Died’ is perhaps the best in this book, displaying wry humour in the history of a country sawbones who is only content when helping others, whilst ‘The Old Fool’ everybody mocked proves to be his village’s greatest friend, and ‘Mister Evriman’ explores the metaphysics of mass TV viewing in a thoroughly chilling manner…

The dangers of science without scruple informs the salutary saga of a new invention in ‘The Edge of Fear’ (Unusual Tales #10, January 1958), after which the cover of This Magazine is Haunted #14 (December 1957) ushers us into cases recounted by ghoulish Dr. Haunt; specifically, a scary precursor to cloning in ‘The Second Self’ and a diagnosis of isolation and mutation which afflicts ‘The Green Man’

The cover and original art for giant-sized Out of This World #7 (February 1958) precedes ‘The Most Terrible Fate’ befalling a victim of atomic warfare whilst ‘Cure-All’ details a struggle between a country doctor and a sinister machine which heals any ailment.

We return to This Magazine is Haunted #14 as Dr. Haunt relates a ghastly monster’s progress ‘From Out of the Depths’ before ‘The Man Who Disappeared’ tells his uncanny story to disbelieving Federal agents. Out of This World #7 in turn provides an ethereal ringside seat from which to view a time-traveller’s ‘Journey to Paradise’…

From Tales of the Mysterious Traveler #7 (March 1958), ‘And the Fear Grew’ relates how an Australian rancher falls foul of an insidiously malign but cute-looking critter, after which ‘The Heel and the Healer’ reveals how a snake-oil peddler finds a genuine magic cure-all, whilst ‘Never Again’ (Unusual Tales #10 again) takes an eons-long look at mankind’s atomic follies and ‘Through the Walls’ (Out of This World #7) sees a decent man framed and imprisoned, only to be saved by the power of astral projection…

Out of This World #12 (March 1959) declared ‘The World Awaits’ when a scientist uncovers an age-old secret regarding ant mutation and eugenics, Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #7 (February 1958) exposes ‘The Angry Things’ which haunt a suspiciously inexpensive Italian villa, and the gripping cover to Tales of the Mysterious Traveler #10 (November 1958) segues into the unsuspected sacrifice of a jazz virtuoso who saves the world in ‘Little Boy Blue’

A tragic orphan finds new parents after ‘The Vision Came’ (Tales of the Mysterious Traveler #8, July 1958) before Dr. Haunt proves television to be a cause of great terror in ‘Impossible, But…’ (from This Magazine is Haunted volume 2 #16, May 1958) – an issue which also discloses the world-changing fate of a Soviet scientist who became ‘The Man from Time’…

Another selfless inventor chooses to be a ‘Failure’ rather than doom humanity to eternal servitude in a stunning yarn from Strange Suspense Stories #36 (March 1958), whilst the luckiest man alive at last experiences the downside of being ‘Not Normal’ (Tales of the Mysterious Traveler #7) after which Unusual Tales #11 – from March 1958 – reveals the secret of Presidential statesmanship to a young politician in ‘Charmed, I’m Sure’, and exposes a magical secret race through an author’s vacation ‘Deep in the Mountains’

This mesmerising collection concludes with the suitably bizarre tale of Egyptian lucky charm ‘The Dancing Cat’ (Strange Suspense Stories #37, July 1958) to ensure the spooky afterglow remains long after the final page and leaves you hungry for more mystic merriment and arcane enjoyment…

This sturdily capacious volume has episodes that terrify, amaze, amuse and enthral: utter delights of fantasy fiction with lean, stripped down plots and simple dialogue that let the art set the tone, push the emotions and tell the tale, from times when a story could end sadly as well as happily and only wonderment was on the agenda, hidden or otherwise. The stories display the sharp wit and contained comedic energy which made so many Spider-Man/J. Jonah Jameson confrontations an unforgettable treat a decade later, making this is cracking collection not only superb in its own right but as a telling examination into the genius of one of the art-form’s greatest stylists.

This is a book serious comics fans would happily kill or die or be lost in time for…
This edition © 2013 Fantagraphics Books. Introduction © 2013 Blake Bell. All rights reserved.

Mysterious Traveler: The Steve Ditko Archives volume 3


By Steve Ditko & various, edited by Blake Bell (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-498-6 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Immaculate Seasonal Yarn-Spinning… 10/10

Once upon a time the anthological title of short stand-alone stories was a top product of the comicbook profession, delivering as much variety as possible to the reader. At the peak of that period, nobody could touch Steve Ditko for variety of touch and tone, not to say sheer volume…

Ditko was one of our industry’s greatest talents and one of America’s least lauded. His fervent desire to just get on with his job and to tell stories the best way he could – whilst the noblest of aspirations – was, at best, a minor consideration and more usually a stumbling block for the commercial interests which controlled all comics production and still exert an overwhelming influence upon the mainstream bulk of comicbook output today.

Before his time at Marvel, young Ditko perfected his craft, creating short, sharp visually attractive vignettes for a variety of companies, and it’s an undeniable joy today to be able to look at this work from such an innocent time when he was just breaking into the industry: tirelessly honing his craft with genre tales for whichever publisher would have him, utterly free from the interference of intrusive editors.

This superb full-colour series of archival hardback collections (also available as digital editions) reprints those early efforts for Charlton Comics published between June 1957 through July 1958 – with material produced after the draconian, self-inflicted Comics Code Authority sanitised the industry following Senate Hearings and a public witch-hunt.

Here are wonderfully baroque and bizarre supernatural or science fiction and fantasy stories – presented in the order he completed and delivered them rather than the more logical, but far-less-revealing, chronological release dates. Moreover, they are all helpfully annotated with a purchase number to indicate approximately when they were actually drawn. Sadly, there’s no indication of how many (if any) were actually written by the moody master, so it’s safest to assume co-creator credits go to the utterly professional Joe Gill…

This third tension-packed presentation reprints another heaping helping of Ditko’s ever-more impressive works: most of it courtesy of the surprisingly liberal (at least in its trust of its employees’ creative instincts) sweat-shop publisher Charlton Comics.

And whilst we’re being technically accurate, it’s also important to reiterate that the cited publication dates of these stories have very little to do with when Ditko crafted them: as Charlton paid so little, the cheap, anthologically astute outfit had no problem in buying material it could leave on a shelf for months (sometime years) until the right moment arrived to print. The work is assembled and runs here in the order Ditko submitted it, rather than when it reached the grubby sweaty paws of us readers. It also coincides with a brief period when the company began releasing double-sized giant issues…

Following another historically informative Introduction with passionate advocacy by Editor Blake Bell, concentrating on Ditko’s military service experience and admiration and relationship with artist, educator and major influence Jerry Robinson, the evocatively eccentric excursions open with ‘From All Our Darkrooms…’ as first seen in Out of This World #4 (cover-dated June 1957) wherein photographers worldwide begin seeing otherwise-invisible aliens in the prints…

When a brash and ecologically unsound new owner threatens an ancient stand of trees he falls foul of ‘The Menace of the Maple Leaves’ (Strange Suspense Stories #33, August).

Ditko was astoundingly prolific – as was writer Gill – and increasingly Charlton’s various mystery and sci fi mags offered more than one effort per issue. As well as the cover to Unusual Tales #8 (also August), the tireless creator crafted ‘Will Power’, a classical tale of the power of love and statues coming to life and ‘The Decision’ wherein a wise precaution saves humanity from a robotic rampage after which Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #4 (July) sees a devious long con wrecked by paranormal intervention in ‘The Forbidden Room’

A dictatorial brute earns a grim comeuppance in ‘The Strange Fate of Captain Fenton’ in Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #6 (December), before the cover of This Magazine is Haunted volume 2 #12 (July) ushers in a titanic tale of mythological woe and the end of ‘The Last One’, whilst, for one misguided soul in Strange Suspense Stories #35 (December), ‘Free’ is just another cruel word.

The belligerent threat of a ‘Stranger in the House’ (Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #5, October) is tackled through divine intervention, but far more mundane answers are forthcoming for the devilish spy on the run in ‘All Those Eyes’ in Out of This World #6 (November).

A quartet of later-rendered tales from This Magazine is Haunted v2 #12 come next: beginning with alien inimical invaders dubbed ‘The Faceless Ones’ who pick the wrong human to replace, whereas random, kind fate saves humanity from ‘The Thing on the Beach’. A tragic, lonely ventriloquist is unable to escape ‘His Fate’, and the showbiz theme expands to involve a crooked impresario holding shrunken people captive in ‘The Messages’

Behind the cover of This Magazine is Haunted volume 2 #13 (October) a lonely scientist and man’s best friend thwart ‘The Menace of the Invisibles’, before Strange Suspense Stories #34 (November, and with cover included) discloses an ironic fate for a manic Nazi hidden in the sands who can’t escape ‘The Desert Spell’

The cover – and its original art – for Out of This World #5 (September) are accompanied by ‘The Night They Learned the Truth’ – a twisted tale of nervous villagers extending a traditional unwelcome to a strange foreigner after which the cover to Unusual Tales #9 (November) segues into a tale of corrupt businessman getting what he deserves in ‘He’s Coming for Me!’

Two more from Out of This World #5 begin with bizarrely multi-layered tale of retribution ‘I Made a Volcano’, and wrap up with maritime monster mash ‘The Thing from Below’, after whichFather Help Me!’ (Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #6, December) adds a technological twist to the ancient dilemma of a good parent afflicted with an evil child…

A last contribution to Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #5, ‘Live for Reunion’ confronts a troubled child with a ghostly dilemma, before ‘Clairvoyance’ (Unusual Tales #9, November 1957) tackles the thorny problem of a super-child who only wants to be ordinary…

Guilt drives an unscrupulous businessman to see ‘The Scar’ everywhere in another mood message from Strange Suspense Stories #34, before more Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #6 resume with the hunt for a progress-wrecking guru in ‘Where is Kubar?’ and conclude with the unhappy revelations of a hypnotist who sees too much after saying ‘Look Deep into My Eyes’

Next up is a tale from one of Charlton’s earliest leading characters and the eponymous star of this volume. The title was developed from a radio show that Charlton licensed the rights to, with the host/narrator acting more as voyeur than active participant. “The Mysterious Traveler” broke the fourth wall and spoke directly to us, asking readers for opinion and judgement as he shared a selection of funny, sad, scary and wondrous human-interest yarns, all tinged with a hint of the weird or supernatural.

When rendered by Ditko, whose storytelling mastery, page design and full, lavish brushwork were just beginning to come into its mature full range, the works of Tales of the Mysterious Traveler were always exotic, esoteric and utterly mesmerising…

From issue #6 – and following a deftly compartmentalised cover dated December 1957 – comes ‘Tomorrow’s Punishment’, as a gang of crooks use a fortune-telling mirror to carry out their capers, after which a close encounter for a beggar makes him ‘The Man Who Saw Again’ (Tales of the Mysterious Traveler#8 from July 1958).

‘The Man Who Lost His Face’ is a tight alien invasion fable from Strange Suspense Stories #34 that leads seamlessly into a case of medical time travel salvation on a most fortuitous ‘Night Call’ (Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #6) before Cold War counter espionage makes an accidental hero of ‘The Atomic Clerk’ in Strange Suspense Stories #34.

Another cover and its original art (Out of This World #6, November) leads into a potent tale of unnatural nature in ‘The River’s Wrath’, after which Unusual Tales #9 shares a tale of perceived ‘Escape’ for an unrepentant fugitive, whilst ‘The Night of Red Snow’ shows an insular town the power of unfettered art and imagination…

‘Plague’ also comes from Out of This World #6, revealing how a bitter scientist almost destroys the world, before the cover to Tales of the Mysterious Traveler #5 (November 1958) precedes a triptych of thrillers beginning with ‘The Sultan’ whose thirst for oil leads to inescapable doom, carries on with the shocking vision an arrogant climber sees ‘Above the Topmost Peak’, and ends with a deadly case of mistaken identity for deep seas divers in ‘The Man Below’

From Strange Suspense Stories #34 (March 1958) comes a painful homily of trust despoiled when an elderly salesman honestly earns a miracle, only to realise he can’t rely upon his nearest and dearest, before this timeless celebration concludes with a selection from This Magazine is Haunted volume 2 #13 (October, 1957).

A craven white hunter steals an idol but cannot escape ‘The Drums’, even as a bum becomes ‘The Man Who Changed Bodies’, but can’t avoid the pitfalls of his own nature before a driven victim futilely hunts for a hated transgressor in ‘He Shall Have Vengeance’

This sturdily capacious volume has episodes that terrify, amaze, amuse and enthral: utter delights of fantasy fiction with lean, plots and stripped-down dialogue that let the art set the tone, push the emotions and tell the tale, from times when a story could end sadly and badly as well as happily and only wonderment was on the agenda, hidden or otherwise.

These stories also display sharp wit and honest human aspiration and integrity, making ithis another superb collection in its own right as well as a telling tribute to the genius of one of the art-form’s greatest stylists.

This is something every serious comics fan would happily kill or die or be lost in time for…
Mysterious Traveler: The Steve Ditko Archives Vol. 3. This edition © 2012 Fantagraphics. Introduction © 2012 Blake Bell. All rights reserved.

Steve Ditko Archives volume 2: Unexplored Worlds


By Steve Ditko & various, edited by Blake Bell (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-289-0

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Immaculate Yule Yarn-Spinning… 9/10

Once upon a time the anthological title of short stand-alone stories was the sole staple of the comicbook profession, where the plan was to deliver as much variety as possible to the reader. Sadly, that particular vehicle of expression seems all but lost to us today…

Steve Ditko is one of our industry’s greatest talents and one of America’s least lauded. His fervent desire to just get on with his job and to tell stories the best way he can – whilst the noblest of aspirations – has always been a minor consideration or even stumbling block for the commercial interests which for so long controlled all comics production and still exert an overwhelming influence upon the mainstream bulk of comicbook output.

Before his time at Marvel, young Ditko perfected his craft creating short sharp yarns for a variety of companies and it’s an undeniable joy today to be able to look at this work from such an innocent time when he was just breaking into the industry: tirelessly honing his craft with genre tales for whichever publisher would have him, utterly free from the interference of intrusive editors.

This superb full-colour series of hardback collections (also available as digital editions) has reprinted those early efforts (all of them here are from 1956-1957) with material produced after the draconian, self-inflicted Comics Code Authority sanitised the industry following Senate Hearings and a public witch-hunt.

Most are wonderfully baroque and bizarre supernatural or science fantasy stories, but there are also examples of Westerns, Crime and Humour: cunningly presented in the order he completed and sold them rather than the more logical but far-less-revealing chronological release dates. Moreover, they are all helpfully annotated with a purchase number to indicate approximately when they were actually drawn – even the brace of tales done for Stan Lee’s pre-Marvel Atlas company.

Sadly, there’s no indication of how many (if any) were actually written by the moody master…

This second sublime selection reprints another heaping helping of his ever-more impressive works: most of it courtesy of the surprisingly liberal (at least in its trust of its employees’ creative instincts) sweat-shop publisher Charlton Comics.

And whilst we’re being technically accurate, it’s also important to reiterate that the cited publication dates of these stories have very little to do with when Ditko crafted them: as Charlton paid so little, the cheap, anthologically astute outfit had no problem in buying material it could leave on a shelf for months – if not years – until the right moment arrived to print. The work is assembled and runs here in the order Ditko submitted it, rather than when it reached the grubby sweaty paws of us readers…

Following an historically informative Introduction and passionate advocacy by Blake Bell, concentrating on Ditko’s near-death experience in 1954 (when the artist contracted tuberculosis) and subsequent absence and recovery, the evocatively eccentric excursions open with a monochrome meander into the realms of satire with the faux fable – we’d call it a mockumentary – ‘Starlight Starbright’ as first seen in From Here to Insanity (volume 3 #1 April 1956) before normal service resumes with financial fable ‘They’ll Be Some Changes Made’ (scripted by Carl Wessler from Atlas’ Journey Into Mystery #33, April 1956) wherein a petty-minded pauper builds a time machine to steal the fortune his ancestors squandered, whilst a crook seeking to exploit a mystic pool finds himself the victim of fate’s justice in ‘Those Who Vanish’ (Journey Into Mystery #38, September 1956 and again scripted by Wessler).

Almost – if not all – the Charlton material was scripted by the astoundingly fast and prolific Joe Gill at this time, and records are spotty at best so let’s assume his collaboration on all the material here beginning with ‘The Man Who Could Never Be Killed’ from Strange Suspense Stories #31, published in February 1957. This tale of a circus performer with an incredible ethereal secret segues into ‘Adrift in Space’ (Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #8 June 1958) wherein a veteran starship captain pushes his weary crew over the edge whereas ‘The King of Planetoid X’ – from the previous MoUW (February) details a crisis of conscience for a benevolent and ultimately wise potentate…

The cover of Strange Suspense Stories #31 (February 1957) leads into ‘The Gloomy One’ as a misery-loving alien intruder is destroyed by simple human joy before the cover to Out of This World #5 September 1957 heralds that issue’s ‘The Man Who Stepped Out of a Cloud’ and an alien whose abduction plans only seem sinister in intent…

Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #5 (October 1957) tells the story of a young ‘Stowaway’ who finds fulfilment aboard a harshly-run space ship after which the cover for Out of This World #3 (March 1957) leads to an apparent extraterrestrial paradise for weary star-men in ‘What Happened?’

Next up is a tale from one of Charlton’s earliest star characters. The title came from a radio show that Charlton licensed the rights to, with the lead/host/narrator acting more as voyeur than active participant. “The Mysterious Traveler” spoke directly to camera, asking readers for opinion and judgement as he shared a selection of funny, sad, scary and wondrous human-interest yarns, all tinged with a hint of the weird or supernatural. When rendered by Ditko, whose storytelling mastery, page design and full, lavish brushwork were just beginning to come into its mature full range, the contents of Tales of the Mysterious Traveler were always exotic and esoteric and utterly mesmerising…

From issue #2, February 1957, ‘What Wilbur Saw’ reveals the reward bestowed on a poverty-stricken country bumpkin who witnessed a modern-day miracle after which Out of This World #3 provides a cautionary tale of atomic mutation in ‘The Supermen’

The eerie cover to Out of This World #4 (June 1957) leads to a chilling encounter for two stranded sailors who briefly board the ‘Flying Dutchman’ and Strange Suspense Stories #32’s cover (May 1957) dabbles in magic art when a collector is victimised by a thief who foolishly stumbles into ‘A World of His Own’. From the same issue comes a salutary parable concerning a rich practical joker who goes too far before succumbing to ‘The Last Laugh’, after which ‘Mystery Planet’ (Strange Suspense Stories #36, March 1958) offers a dash of interplanetary derring-do as a valiant agent Bryan Bodine and his comely associate Nedra confounds an intergalactic pirate piloting a planet-eating weapon against Earth!

A similarly bold defender then saves ‘The Conquered Earth’ from alien subjugation (Out of This World #4, June 1957) whilst in ‘Assignment Treason’ (Outer Space #18. August 1958) the clean-cut hero goes undercover to save earth from the predatory Master of Space whilst in Out of This World #8 (May 1958) ‘The Secret of Capt. X’ reveals that the inimical alien tyrant threatening humanity is not what he seems to be…

The cover to Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #3 (April 1957) gives way to a trio of fantastic thrillers beginning with ‘The Strange Guests of Tsaurus’ as an alien paradise proves to be anything but and ‘A World Where I Was King’ sees a clumsy janitor catapulted into a wondrous realm where he wins a kingdom he doesn’t want. Diverting slightly, Fightin’ Army #20 (May 1957) provides a comedic interlude as a civil war soldier finds himself constantly indebted to ‘Gavin’s Stupid Mule’ before ‘A Forgotten World’ wraps up the MoUW #3 contributions with a scary tale of invasion from the Earth’s core…

‘The Cheapest Steak in Nome’ turns out to be defrosted from something that died millions of years ago in a light-hearted yarn from Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #7 (February 1958) after which the cover to MoUW #4 (July 1957) precedes more icy antediluvian preservations found in the ‘Valley in the Mist’ whilst the cover to Strange Suspense Stories #33 (August 1957) leads into a bizarre corporate outreach project as the ‘Director of the Board’ attempts to go where no other exploitative capitalist has gone before…

It’s back to Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #3 for a brush with the mythological in ‘They Didn’t Believe Him’ before ‘Forever and Ever’ (Strange Suspense Stories #33) reveals an unforeseen downside to immortality and Out of This World #3 sees a stranger share ‘My Secret’ with ordinary folk despite – or because – of a scurrilous blackmailer…

cover Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #5 October 1957

‘A Dreamer’s World’ from Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #5 (October 1957) follows the chilling cover thereof as a test pilot hits his aerial limit and discovers a whole new existence, before Unusual Tales #7 (May 1957) traces the tragic path of ‘The Man Who Could See Tomorrow’ whilst the cover of Tales of the Mysterious Traveler #4 (August 1957) opens a mini-feast of the voyeur’s voyages beginning with that issue’s ‘The Desert’ a saga of polar privation and survival.

Tales of the Mysterious Traveler #3 (May 1957) offers the appropriate cover and a ‘Secret Mission’ for a spy parachuted into Prague after which TotMT #4 offers ‘Escape’ for an unemployed pilot dragged into a gun-running scam in a south American lost world; ‘Test of a Man’ sees a cruel animal trainer receive his just deserts and ‘Operation Blacksnake’ grittily reveals American venality in the ever-expanding Arabian oil trade…

Returning to Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #5, ‘The Mirage’ torments an escaped convict who thinks he’s escaped his fate whilst Texas Rangers in Action #8 (July 1957) sees a ruthless rancher crushed by the weight of his own wicked actions in ‘The Only One’, after which the stunning covers to Unusual Tales #6 and 7 (February and May 1957) lead into our final vignette ‘The Man Who Painted on Air’: exposing and thwarting a unique talent to preserve humanity and make a few bucks on the side…

This sturdily capacious volume has episodes that terrify, amaze, amuse and enthral: utter delights of fantasy fiction with lean, plots and stripped-down dialogue that let the art set the tone, push the emotions and tell the tale, from times when a story could end sadly as well as happily and only wonderment was on the agenda, hidden or otherwise.

These stories display the sharp wit and contained comedic energy which made so many Spider-Man/J. Jonah Jameson confrontations an unforgettable treat half a decade later, and this is another cracking collection not only superb in its own right but as a telling tribute to the genius of one of the art-form’s greatest stylists.

This is something every serious comics fans would happily kill or die or be lost in time for…
Unexplored Worlds: The Steve Ditko Archive Vol. 2. This edition © 2010 Fantagraphics Books. Introduction © 2010 Blake Bell. All rights reserved.

Tales of the Mysterious Traveller


By Joe Gill, Steve Ditko, Bill Molno, Gene Colan, Charles Nicholas, Paul Reinman & various (Racecourse Press/GT Ltd.)
No ISBN

Steve Ditko is one of our industry’s greatest talents and probably America’s least lauded. His fervent desire to just get on with his job and tell stories the best way he can, whilst the noblest of aspirations, has and will always be a major consideration or even stumbling block for the commercial interests which for so long controlled all comics production and still exert an overwhelming influence upon the mainstream bulk of Funnybook output.

Before his time at Marvel, young Ditko perfected his craft creating short stories for a variety of companies and it’s an undeniable joy to be able to look at this work from a such an innocent time when he was just breaking into the industry: tirelessly honing his craft with genre tales for whichever publisher would have him, always seeking to be as free as possible from the interference of intrusive editors.

The Mysterious Traveller was one of Charlton Comics’ earliest stars. The title came from a radio show (which ran from 1943-1952) which the doggedly second-string company licensed, with a lead/host/narrator acting more as voyeur than active participant.

Standing aloof, speaking “to camera” and asking readers for opinion and judgement, he shared a selection of funny, sad, scary and wondrous human interest yarns all tinged with a hint of the weird and supernatural. The long-running show spawned a single comicbook issue published by Trans-World Publications illustrated by the great Bob Powell, cover-dated November 1948.

When revived years later and as rendered by Ditko, whose storytelling mastery, page design and full, lavish brushwork were just beginning to come into their mature full range, the Tales of the Mysterious Traveler (as the US version was styled) short stories were esoteric and utterly mesmerising. This comicbook iteration ran for 13 issues from 1956-1959…

The particular print artefact under review today is in fact a British compilation of Charlton reprints, culled not only from the nominated title but from range of genre titles for a presumably less-discerning British audience. It’s one of a line of card-cover albums and cheap pamphlets reprinting US material that proliferated in the late 1950’s before actual comicbooks began to be imported. Other volumes range from Blackhawk to Rip Kirby to Twilight Zone.

The short complete tale was once the sole staple of the comic book profession, when the plan was to deliver as much variety as possible to the reader. Sadly that particular discipline is all but lost to modern comic creators.

This undated (I’m guessing it’s from 1960) monochrome chronicle – which I’m assuming was scripted almost entirely by the prodigiously prolific Joe Gill – opens with ‘Little Boy Blue’ (TotMT#10, November 1958) detailing the unsuspected, unacknowledged sacrifice of a jazz virtuoso who saves the world after which, from the same issue ‘The Statues that Came to Life’ reveals how ancient Greek king Pellas tries to duplicate Pygmalion’s legendary feat and hires an artist to carve him a perfect wife.

However when sculptor Phidias succeeds and the marble beauty comes to life, it is not Pellas she wants…

‘The Puncher from Panhandle’ is western prose yarn by Frank Richards – which feels like it might have been written by a Brit – after which two episodes of ‘Sundown Patrol’ (frustratingly familiar – perhaps early Don Perlin – but I can’t find where it originally ran) follows a grim attrition as nine US Cavalrymen defy renegade warrior Crazy Dog’s attempts to destroy them…

It’s followed by another Frank Richards western vignette: a tale of banditry and ‘The Man in the Flour Bag’ after which Ditko again scores with the classic sci fi shocker ‘Adrift in Space’ (Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #8, June1958). Here Captain Crewes, marooned in the void by a mutinous crew, ruminates on what brought him to this sorry fate.

Next is ‘The Half Men’ (illustrated by Bill Molno &Sal Trapani from the same issue) which sees three flawed but dauntless men voyage to a fantastic under-earth civilisation. Astute readers might recognise the tale from modern alternative comics since Kevin Huizenga tellingly redrew the entire epic for Kramer’s Ergot volume 8…

Also from MoUW #8 is a moving yarn by Gene Colan and one that I can’t identify. Colan’s moodily rendered ‘The Good Provider’ sees a married couple tested to the extreme by a wish-fulfilling bag whilst ‘Full Development’ follows the sorry path of a young man who develops mind-reading powers after the CIA recruit him…

Ditko resurfaces for ‘The Mountain That Was’ (Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #11 January 1959) with an eerie saga of climbers and snowbound monsters after which from the same source ‘Voyage to Nowhere’ (Molno & Vince Alascia) sees a wealthy man fall into a coma and undergo a startling moral transformation.

Unusual Tales #6 (February 1957) provided ‘Caveman’ (by Charles Nicholas & Jon D’Agostino?) which follows a sour-tempered wage-slave through a cathartic reversion to soul-cleansing primitivism whilst, following prose terror tale ‘Frightful Fears’ from MoUW #11, ‘Algaroba the Aerial Artist’ (Molno & Alascia, Unusual Tales #2, January 1956) poses a bizarre enigma of reincarnation and high wire artistry…

‘The Strange Return’ by Paul Reinman (MoUW #11 again) treads similar ground with the tale of a treasure hunter in Persia after which ‘The Memorable Mile’ (probably by Molno again but I can’t trace the source) details how supernatural forces come to the fore in a propaganda-drenched sporting contest…

Molno & Trapani then render ‘Not All Gold Glitters’ (Unusual Tales #6, February 1957) wherein a destitute couple are pushed to the limits of sanity when they mysteriously inherit a fortune whilst ‘Elixir’ (Molno &Trapani from MoUW #8 again) attacks medical arrogance as a disbelieving doctor throws away a miracle cure he receives in the mail…

Everything wraps up with anonymously illustrated (Maurice Whitman perhaps?) but moving ‘Willie!’ from UT #6 as a modernising boss comes a-cropper after retiring an aging craftsman and his favourite machine…

This amazingly capacious volume has episodes that terrify, amaze, amuse and enthral: utter delights of fantasy fiction with lean, stripped-down plots and simple dialogue that let the art set the tone, push the emotions and tell the tale, from a time when a story could end sadly as well as happily or portentously and only wonderment was on the agenda, hidden or otherwise.

Sadly it’s rather hard to find – but not impossible! – and, if like me, you lament that only superstar creators get their back catalogue reprinted these days but still yearn to see the efforts of the journeymen who filled the other pages of old comicbooks, collections like this are your only resort.

Little gems like this should be permanently in print or at least available online and used as a primer for any artist who wants a career in comics, animation or any storytelling discipline.
No copyright notice included so let’s assume © 2014 the current rights owner. All rights reserved.

Impossible Tales: The Steve Ditko Archives volume 4


By Steve Ditko & various, edited by Blake Bell (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-640-9

Perfect Christmas Present Alert! – For every discerning comics fan and suspense lover… 10/10

Once upon a time the short complete tale was the sole staple of the comicbook profession, where the plan was to deliver as much variety as possible to the reader. Sadly that particular discipline is all but lost to us today…

Steve Ditko is one of our industry’s greatest talents and probably America’s least lauded. His fervent desire to just get on with his job and to tell stories the best way he can, whilst the noblest of aspirations, will always be a minor consideration or even stumbling block for the commercial interests which for so long controlled all comics production and still exert an overwhelming influence upon the mainstream bulk of Funnybook output.

Before his time at Marvel, young Steve Ditko perfected his craft creating short stories for a variety of companies and it’s an undeniable joy to be able to look at this work from a such an innocent time when he was just breaking into the industry: tirelessly honing his craft with genre tales for whichever publisher would have him, utterly free from the interference of intrusive editors.

This fourth fantastic full-colour deluxe hardback reprints another heaping helping of his ever more impressive works: all published between July 1957 to March 1959 and all courtesy of the surprisingly liberal (at least in its trust of its employees’ creative instincts) sweat-shop publisher Charlton Comics. Some of the issues here were actually put together under the St. John imprint, but when that company abruptly folded much of its already prepared in-house material – even entire issues – were then purchased and published by clearing-house specialist Charlton with almost no editorial changes.

And whilst we’re being technically accurate it’s also important to note that the eventual publication dates of the stories in this collection don’t have a lot to do with when Ditko crafted these mini-masterpieces: Charlton paid so little the cheap, anthologically astute outfit had no problem in buying material it could leave on a shelf for months – if not years – until the right moment arrived to print…

All the tales and covers reproduced here were created after implementation of the draconian, self-inflicted Comics Code Authority rules (which sanitised the industry following Senate Hearings and a public witch-hunt) and all are wonderfully baroque and bizarre fantasy, suspense or science fiction yarns and helpfully annotated with a purchase number to indicate approximately when they were actually drawn.

Sadly there’s no indication of how many (if any) were actually written by Ditko, but as at the time the astoundingly prolific Joe Gill was churning out hundreds of stories every year for Charlton, he is always everyone’s first guess when trying to attribute script credit…

Following an historically informative Introduction and passionate advocacy by Blake Bell, the evocative tales of mystery and imagination commence with ‘The Menace of the Maple Leaves’, an eerie haunted woods fable from Strange Suspense Stories #33 (August 1957), closely followed a dark and sinister con-game which goes impossibly awry after a wealthy roué consults a supposed mystic to regain his youth and vitality and is treated in ‘The Forbidden Room’ (Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #4 July 1957)…

From November 1957, Do You Believe in Nightmares? #1 offers a bounty of Ditko delights, beginning with the stunning St. John cover heralding a prophetic ‘Nightmare’, the strange secret of a prognosticating ‘Somnambulist’ and the justice which befell a seasoned criminal in ‘The Strange Silence’: all proving how wry fate intervenes in the lives of mortals. ‘You Can Make Me Fly’ then goes a tad off-topic with a tale of brothers divided by morality and intellect and the issue ends with a dinosaur-packed romp courtesy of ‘The Man Who Crashed into Another Era’

Next up is a tale from one of Charlton’s earliest star characters. Apparently the title came from a radio show which Charlton licensed, and the lead/host/narrator certainly acted more as voyeur than active participant, speaking “to camera” and asking readers for opinion and judgement as he shared a selection of funny, sad, scary and wondrous human interest yarns all tinged with a hint of the weird and supernatural.

When rendered by Ditko, whose storytelling mastery, page design and full, lavish brushwork were just beginning to come into its mature full range, the Tales of the Mysterious Traveler were esoteric and utterly mesmerising…

From issue #6 (December 1957) ‘Little Girl Lost’ chills spines and tugs heartstrings with the story of a doll that loved its human companion, followed by a paranoid chase from Strange Suspense Stories #35 (December 1957) as ‘There it is Again’ sees a scientist dogged by his most dangerous invention…

Unusual Tales #10 (January 1958) provides a spooky cover before disclosing the awesome secret of ‘The Repair Man from Nowhere’ and, following the wickedly effective Cold War science fiction parable ‘Panic!’ from Strange Suspense Stories #35, resumes with A Strange Kiss’ that draws a mining engineer into a far better world…

Out of This World #6 (November 1957) provides access to ‘The Secret Room’ which forever changed the lives of an aging, destitute couple. Then the cover and original artwork for Out of This World #12 (March 1959) lead to a tale in which a ruthless anthropologist is brought low by ‘A Living Doll’ he’d taken from a native village…

Returning to Tales of the Mysterious Traveler #6 results in three more captivating yarns. ‘When Old Doc Died’ is perhaps the best in this book, displaying wry humour in the history of a country sawbones who was only content when helping others, whilst ‘The Old Fool’ everybody mocked proved to be his village’s greatest friend, and ‘Mister Evriman’ explored the metaphysics of mass TV viewing in a thoroughly chilling manner…

The dangers of science without scruples informed the salutary saga of a new invention in ‘The Edge of Fear’ (Unusual Tales #10, January 1958), after which the cover of This Magazine is Haunted #14 (December 1957) ushers us into cases recounted by the ghoulish Dr. Haunt; specifically a scary precursor to cloning in ‘The Second Self’ and a diagnosis of isolation and mutation which afflicted ‘The Green Man’

The cover and original art for the giant-sized Out of This World #7 (February 1958) precedes ‘The Most Terrible Fate’ befalling a victim of atomic warfare whilst ‘Cure-All’ detailed a struggle between a country doctor and a sinister machine which healed any ailment.

We return to This Magazine is Haunted #14 wherein Dr. Haunt relates a ghastly monster’s progress ‘From Out of the Depths’ before ‘The Man Who Disappeared’ tells his uncanny story to disbelieving Federal agents, whilst Out of This World #7 provides an ethereal ringside seat from which to view a time traveller’s ‘Journey to Paradise’.

From Tales of the Mysterious Traveler #7 (March 1958), ‘And the Fear Grew’ relates how an Australian rancher fell foul of an insidiously malign but cute-looking critter, after which ‘The Heel and the Healer’ reveals how a snake-oil peddler found a genuine magic cure-all, whilst ‘Never Again’ (Unusual Tales #10 again) took an eons-long look at mankind’s atomic follies and ‘Through the Walls’ (Out of This World #7) saw a decent man framed and imprisoned, only to be saved by the power of astral projection…

Out of This World #12 (March 1959) then declared ‘The World Awaits’ when a scientist uncovered an age-old secret regarding ant mutation and eugenics, Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #7 (February 1958) exposed ‘The Angry Things’ which haunted a suspiciously inexpensive Italian villa, and the gripping cover to Tales of the Mysterious Traveler #10 (November 1958) segues into the unsuspected sacrifice of a jazz virtuoso who saved the world in ‘Little Boy Blue’

A tragic orphan found new parents after ‘The Vision Came’ (Tales of the Mysterious Traveler #8, July 1958) and Dr. Haunt proves television to be a cause of great terror in ‘Impossible, But…’ from This Magazine is Haunted volume 2, #16 (May 1958) – an issue which also disclosed the world-changing fate of a soviet scientist who became ‘The Man from Time’…

Another selfless inventor chose to be a ‘Failure’ rather than doom humanity to eternal servitude in a stunning yarn from Strange Suspense Stories #36 (March 1958), whilst the luckiest man alive at last experienced the downside of being ‘Not Normal’ (Tales of the Mysterious Traveler #7) before Unusual Tales #11 – from March 1958 – revealed the secret of Presidential statesmanship to a young politician in ‘Charmed, I’m Sure’, and exposed a magical secret race through an author’s vacation ‘Deep in the Mountains’

This mesmerising collection then concludes with the suitably bizarre tale of Egyptian lucky charm ‘The Dancing Cat’ (from Strange Suspense Stories #37, July 1958) to ensure the spooky afterglow remains long after the final page and leave you hungry for more mystic merriment and arcane enjoyment…

This sturdily capacious volume has episodes that terrify, amaze, amuse and enthral: utter delights of fantasy fiction with lean, stripped down plots and simple dialogue that let the art set the tone, push the emotions and tell the tale, from times when a story could end sadly as well as happily and only wonderment was on the agenda, hidden or otherwise.

These stories display the sharp wit and contained comedic energy which made so many Spider-Man/J. Jonah Jameson confrontations an unforgettable treat a decade later, and this is another cracking collection not only superb in its own right but as a telling examination into the genius of one of the art-form’s greatest stylists.

This is a book serious comics fans would happily kill or die or be lost in time for…
This edition © 2013 Fantagraphics Books. Introduction © 2013 Blake Bell. All rights reserved.

The Ditko Collection Volume 2 1973-1976


By Steve Ditko, edited by Robin Snyder (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 0-930193-27-X

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.