Saturday, June 18, 2005

Marvel Visionaries - Steve Ditko

I'm a big fan of the Ditko, and 340+ oversized pages of his worst work at Marvel would still be worth having, so MARVEL VISIONARIES - STEVE DITKO is definitely my kind of book. So while I'll complain about some things, that all pales next to how good it is to have.

The book opens up with a selection of 10 short stories from the fantasy books that dominated Ditko's first few years at Marvel.

TALES TO ASTONISH #26 - "Dream World"
AMAZING ADULT FANTASY #7 - "Why Won't They Believe Me?"
AMAZING ADULT FANTASY #7 - "Journey's End"
STRANGE TALES #94 - "Help!"
AMAZING ADULT FANTASY #10 - "Those Who Change"
AMAZING ADULT FANTASY #10 - "No Sign Of Life"
AMAZING ADULT FANTASY #12 - "Something Fantastic"
STRANGE TALES #97 - "Goodbye to Linda Brown"
AMAZING ADULT FANTASY #13 - "The Unsuspecting"
TALES TO ASTONISH #42 - "I Am Not Human!"

While a good set of stories that show off a few different facets of Ditko's style and his storytelling strengths, it's really a limited selection. Nine of the ten stories were published in a seven month period beginning December 1961, and one even later. That means Ditko's entire brief first stint at Marvel and the first three years of his second stint are absent, the first 800 pages he drew for Marvel. That's a shame, as there's even more variety and skill in his work of that era than these stories show (the one reprint of his first stint I've seen has some really detailed backgrounds that you rarely see outside of a few of his 1960s stories for Warren).

That said, the stories that are here are well worth having, and a few of them were new to me. It's especially interesting how Ditko's visual imagination shines in stories like "Dream World", which is just about a guy waking up over and over, or "Help!", which is mostly about a guy talking on the phone (and which also has my favourite of the splash pages on these stories).

Hopefully at some point we'll see more of these stories collected, with a wider range of material (apparently he did a few westerns as well). I'd also have included a few random covers.

The rest of the book is all super-heroes, of course, with a big section of the 1960s work.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #1 - "Spider-Man Vs. The Chameleon"
INCREDIBLE HULK #6 - "The Metal Master"
STRANGE TALES #110 - "Dr. Strange"
STRANGE TALES #115 - "Origin of Dr. Strange"
TALES OF SUSPENSE #48 - "The Mysterious Mister Doll"
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL #1 - "The Sinister Six"
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL #1 - "How Stan and Steve Create Spider-Man"
STRANGE TALES #126 - "The Domain of the Dread Dormammu"
STRANGE TALES #127 - "Duel with the Dread Dormammu"
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #31 - "If This Be My Destiny"
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #32 - "Man on a Rampage!"
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #33 - "The Final Chapter"
STRANGE TALES #146 - "The End - At Last"

Can't really fault the choice, although a few personal favourites are missing (SPIDEY #18 is my pick for the peak of the series, and the Doc Strange story from ST #121, "Witchcraft in the Wax Museum" is a thing of beauty), I can't really see losing something like the Sinister Six or the Master Planner story, and they're all available in a few other formats now, anyway.

The book finishes with four selections of Ditko's later Marvel work.

DAREDEVIL #162 - "Requiem for a Pug"
HULK #249 - "Jack Frost Nipping at Your Soul"
SPEEDBALL #1 - "Origin of a Masked Marvel"
MARVEL SUPER-HEROES SPECIAL #8 - "The Coming of Squirrel Girl"

"Squirrel Girl" (an Iron Man story) was actually one of the few stories in here that was new to me. For the most part I kind of wish it had continued to elude me. Other than that it's not a bad selection, especially since about half of Ditko's work for Marvel in that era was licensed stuff that they probably couldn't include (a shame, as some of the ROM and MICRONAUTS stories were fun), but it's still the weakest section of the book by far. The DD story was just dumb, and Hulk story had sub-plots from that era so it doesn't stand alone well. For the Speedball story, I'd have preferred one not (over)-inked by Jackson Guice. While there's an occasional nice Ditko flourish in the art, I would definitely not have complained if any of these stories were dumped in favour of 3 or 4 1950s stories.

Always interesting to see some samples of Ditko's pencils. Especially how the villain in his final issue of Spider-Man (issue mislabelled on the caption. I think I've caught at least one typo or production error in the last dozen Marvel books I've bought. Seriously people, take a few minutes to proofread) was re-designed when inked, which I don't recall hearing mentioned before in any discussion of Ditko leaving Marvel.

Good book well worth picking up, although it could easily have been better. I also have to say, if you're going to make a book oversized, would it kill you to add a bit of margin down in the spine so readers can see an entire page flat?

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