Wednesday, March 02, 2005

STEVE DITKO: SPACE WARS

2005 is shaping up to be a good year for fans of vintage Steve Ditko art. Upcoming in the next few months are the third volume of Pure Imagination's STEVE DITKO READER series and first volume of MARVEL VISIONARIES: STEVE DITKO. Those will go along with the just released STEVE DITKO: SPACE WARS from Vanguard, a collection of 21 science fiction stories published by Charlton from 1954 to 1961, along with several covers.

Unfortunately about half the contents of this book duplicate stories that already appeared in the first two DITKO READER volumes, so there wasn't as much new to me as there could have been. It's a shame, with so much Ditko work that hasn't been seen in decades to have that much duplication in volumes released so close together and so similar in format. There was enough previously unreprinted artwork to make it worth picking up, and if you don't have the READER volumes yet it's great (I recommend you get the READER volumes first, as they have a wider variety of work, with a lot of fantasy, general sci-fi and western stories as well as the space opera types in here).

Among the interesting contents is the story "The Blue Men of Bantro", which features a comic book artist as a character. Doesn't appear Ditko modeled the character after himself, but he does have Captain Atom and the Mysterious traveler among the art on his wall.

One of the oddest stories is the latest, "Way Out, Man" from 1961. I'm not sure if the story makes much sense, but it involves Stanley, a total square, and his beatnik girlfriend Gigi. Then it gets weird, with Martian friends of Stanley helping him to adopt a beatnik lifestyle to better satisfy Gigi. Great artwork by Ditko in this one, very creative and at times surreal. Ditko doing straight humour is kind of rare, but a pleasure when he does. He uses a really odd exaggerated style with the design and movement of his characters that just cracks me up, and this particular story gives him a lot of material.

More fun in "The Enchanted Planet", where it's interesting to see how much of an influence of the EC stable shows in the early Ditko work (it can also be seen in many of the covers printed in here). It's a very fun and dynamic story full of classic sci-fi adventure elements (as well as, maybe, the source for the hair of a certain 1970s sci-fi movie icon. Or maybe not).

One complaint is the random order of the stories. The introduction has a list in the order they should be, but doesn't give a good reason for not printing them in that order. So the earliest story, the only 1954 story included, is in the middle of the book, and so is the latest. I could understand it if they had some sort of thematic grouping, but it seems truly random.

I also didn't understand the need for almost two dozen "title pages" in front of most of the stories, with the name of the book and enlarged reproductions of individual panels. Those were also random, usually but not always taken from the next story. A waste of pages that could have been filled with three or four other stories. It might have made sense if they had better source material so the enlarged panels actually showed more details (a few of the stories are obviously taken from printed comics, most of them look a bit better, maybe taken from original stats), but they really didn't.

Still a nice book, definitely worth a look for the Ditko fan.

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