Report what comic books you have read today--and tell us a little something about it while you're here!

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While I know DC has collected his Batman stories, for what it's worth I second Philip's idea of the Bridwell/Newton SHAZAM stories being collected, but I forget. Are those the ones where Newton inked Kurt Schaffenberger's pencils or did Schaffenberger ink Newton? I've seen SHAZAM art both ways from that time period, especially when the feature got moved to World's Finest.

Of course there is a whole lot of "orphaned" DC material that needs to be collected, but that could be a thread unto itself.

ACTION HEROES - VOL. 2: This is one of my favorite single Marvel Masterworks or DC Archives editions. It collects all of Steve Ditko's Captian Atom, Blue Beetle and Question stories from 1966-68, then again from 1974-75. The Blue Beetle was introduced as a back-up feature in Captain Atom before being granted his own series, then The Question was introduced as a back-up feature in Blue Beetle before being granted his own (one-shot) title. The stories are presented in publication order. 

I'm not too familiar with DC's non-Ditko versions of these characters, except Blue Beetle and Captain Atom as they appeared in various "Justice League" titles. I've read very few issues of their respective eponymous titles, and I haven't read DC's Question series at all. Captain Atom is basically Charlton's Superman, and is largely superfluous in the DC universe. Blue Beetle was more or less Charlton's Spider-Man and, as one of Charlton's "Big Three", would have been superfluous at DC had they not changed his character and paired him with Booster Gold as comic relief. the question is something else altogether.

Taken together, there is little thematic overlap among the three from 1966 to 1967; each character occupies his own niche. The biggest surprise (for those familiar with DC's post-Crisis Justice League) is just how competent Ted Kord/Blue Beetle is. there is a 10 month gap (from December 1967 and October 1968 cover dates) between Blue Beetle #4 and Mysterious Suspense (The Question) #1, and when Ditko returned his stories took a hard turn to the right.

What happened during the 10 month gap? Dick Giordano, the editor who spearheaded Charlton's "Action Heroes" line, went to DC and he took Ditko with him. while at DC, Ditko created The Creeper and Hawk & Dove, but creative differences with some of his co-creators led him to abandon those projects and return to charlton where he was given more creative control. It's not that Ditko's politics changed per se during the gap, but rather intensified. 

In his last Question story before leaving for DC, he had the question let two criminals be swept away to possible doom in a sewer, a controversial move at the time. (It wasn't just that he did it, but how he did it.) By the time Ditko returned to the character, he had Vic Sage (The Question's alter ego) deliver screeds to which Ditko supplied the counter arguments as well, from the strawiest of straw men, such as: "He makes [the facts] too clear! We hate him because he's fighting the battle we ran out on before it ever started! He won't give in to what is wrong, and we refuse to stand up for what is right!" Yeah, I can hear someone saying that.

Mysterious Suspense #1 was followed by Blue Beetle #5, in which Vic Sage (out of costume) "teams up" with Ted Kord/Blue Beetle for more two-fisted Objectivist philosophy. How was this approach received? Well, it was another six years before any of these characters were seen again.

NEXT UP: Ditko's "Mr. A." 

WWDD (What Would Ditko Do?): I have been reading a lot of Ditko lately... a lot. Let me start by saying I find Steve Ditko to be fascinating. I don't necessarily agree with everything Ditko says, but I do believe in some of it. Let's start with Steve Ditko's Strange Avenging Tales #1 (1997, Fantagraphics Books). Publisher Gary Groth made the offer to Ditko that any new work Ditko would do using the "wash" technique, Groth would publish. Surprisingly,. Ditko accepted. The result was one story featuring "The Baffler" rendered in wash, plus five other all-new pen-and-ink features. The inside back cover even featured an ad for the second issue. Sadly, issue #2 was not to be.

Issue #1 featured a "clever" two-page advertisement/editorial (touting Gary Groth's/Fantagraphics' The Comics Journal as "The Magazine That Talks About but Not With Steve Ditko!" It featured excerpts from previous issues of other creators (Seth, Stan Sakai, Gil Kane) speaking about Ditko. Needless (?) to say, Ditko did not find it amusing an pulled the plug on the whole project. Good job, Gary. After that, with Robin Snyder, Ditko began to self-publish a series of "Packages" to present his philosophy without editorial interference of any kind.

Ironically (?), Ditko's refusal to discuss his own work has led to schmucks like me to offer their own opinions. In the early 2Ks, Frank Miller, another (?) writer/artist whose work has fallen into disrepute, offered to collaborate with Ditko on a revival on Ditko's Mr. A. Miller offered Ditko the opporunity to do as much or as little as he liked, but Ditko refused. That's a project I really would have liked to have seen. 

It puts me in mind of what would happen if Ditko were alive today, at the height of his creative abilities. What would he make of the year 2020? This question leads back to Ditko's refusal to discuss his own work (and schmucks like me offering their own opinions). It's not too difficult to find Ditko stories at least related to the following topics. I not only invite dissenting opinions, I encourage them.

PROTESTERS: Ditko has railed against protesters many times in his stories, and I see no reason that he would change his opinion beacuse of what they were protesting against (i.e., the war in Viet Nam or systemic racism). Furthermore, he would lump "protesters" in with "looters." AGAINST

DESTRUCTION OF STATUES: Ditko has actually done a story against the destruction of statues, but works of "art," not "history." UNDECIDED

 POLICE VIOLENCE: Ditko has also done a story which touched upon police violence, but in that case, the accused cop was innocent. (The actual perpetrator of the violence against the criminal was the cop's own vigilante son.) Ditko once said, "A crooked cop, a flawed cop, is not a valid model of a good law enforcer. an anti-cop corrupts the legal good, an anti-hero corrupts the moral good.. Both corrupt ideals. Both Choose the flaw over the perfect." Yet, in the story, the father/policeman represents the LEGAL good, the son/vigilante the MORAL good. Yet Ditko has also said, "The Truth cannot contradict itself and also be a lie." UNDECIDED

POTUS: Given everything (and I mean everything) Ditko has ever said about rationality and objectivity and logic and reason, I cannot conceive Ditko as an "ever-Trumper." AGAINST

I invite dissent (or any other commentary).

Two more questions about Ditko (which I won't attempt to answer... at this time) before moving on. First, why did he refuse to ever work on Spider-Man or Dr. Strange again (although he would do other work for Marvel) after he left, and second, why did he use a pseudonym for the writing credit at Charlton, but his own name for plot, pencils and inks?

TIMELY'S GREATEST: SUB-MARINER: THE POST-WAR YEARS: Cap, I read your comments about the first volume a couple of weeks ago, and I think you're really going to like the second volume as well. You're going to have about half the contents of this volume duplicated in the Marvel Masterworks: Atlas Heroes series, but the new content is indispensable. It includes all of the Everett Sub-Mariner stories from #21 (1946) through #32, plus stories from other titles (such as Marvel Mystery, Human Torch and Blonde Phantom) as well. I myself am particularly pleased that it includes stories from Namora #1-3, a series I've been curious about since I first learned of it in George Olshevsky's Marvel Index series back in the '70s. (Now if Marvel would publish a collection of all of Timely's post-war heroines I'd be happy.) Sub-Mariner Comics #32 features Namor's (unknowing) face-to-face meeting with his father, another story I have been eager to read since learning about it in the Olshevsky series.

I asked the same question on Facebook about Ditko's later Marvel work (Hulk, Iron Man, Captain Mar-Vell, Captain Universe, ROM, etc.) and not do at least one more Spidey or Doctor Strange story. The answer I got basically was "been there, done that".

I also felt that he didn't see the then-current Spider-Man especially as his anymore. He viewed Spidey as a failure because of its success without him. Going back would confirm that he needed Spidey more than Spidey needed him. The Creation outgrowing his Creator!

I like your second answer better than your first. IF (big "IF," I know) one is to accept my argument that Spider-Man's post-Ditko success was "a real-world, empirical refutation of his philosophy" (as Cap put it), I think Ditko knew would have had to jump through even more mental hoops if he did return to Spider-Man and it was a failure. 

Any speculation as to why Ditko used a pseudonym for his writing credit at Charlton? (And, yes, I do realize I am exactly the kind of "fan" Ditko parodies in his later work.)

Went through a longbox filled with titles from 1999 to 2003:

  • Codename: Knockout: Vertigo's softcore spy book. Mostly double entendre, boob shots and grade school titillation. 
  • Fantastic Four: Unstable Molecules: mini about the "real" people who Stan and Jack based the FF and their villains on. One of the most depressing books that I ever read with unattractive art.
  • Hunter: The Age of Magic: from Vertigo. Should we invoke Harry Potter or go on a completely different tangent? I know, let's fluctuate between them!
  • Mekanix: Hey, Kitty Pryde's in college now! Let's babe her up!
  • Rawhide Kid: He's back and he's fabulous! Witty story with beautiful John Severin artwork!

Steve Ditko comes up with the most unusual character names. I wish I had thought to jot some of them down when I began this Ditko-reread, but a quick flip-through of what I've read recently has yielded most of them.

UNUSUAL DITKO CHARACTER NAMES: In no particular order: Ed & Fera Serch... Stac Rae... Doctors Pety, Ems & Rale... Otto Cern... Bez... Rak... Feld... Kug... Boron... Max Kroe... Jason Ord... Boris Ebar... Rodor (later Robor)... Rex Graine... I. Smi... Mrs. Clim... Miss Loy... Senator Kud... Roden... Al Wert... Farol... Amos Fend... Lew Baggot... Morg... Tray "Bit" Biter... Max Reck... Officer Fain... Miss Klune... Greg Jamen... Bogar... Eddy Lugar... Jellak... Morger... (more to come).

MARVEL MASTERWORKS DOCTOR STRANGE, v2: This volume represents the transition from Lee/Ditko Dr. Strange to post-Lee/Ditko Dr. Strange (comprising Dr. Strange stories from Strange Tales #142-168). While I was in college, I accumulated my greatest number of backissue (as opposed to new) comic book purchases. After college, my backissue purchases dropped precipitously and, with the advent of Marvel Masterworks and DC Archives, fell to nil in the '90s and beyond. I still remember where I left off on various series (Iron Man, Thor, etc., now completed via aforementioned Masterworks). Because Dr. Strange had so many stops and starts, I collected from various points and moved forward (Strange Tales #114, Doctor Strange #169, Marvel Premiere #3, Doctor Strange #1, etc), Consequently, I had various gaps I filled piecemeal, but (now that I find myself with time on my hands), this is the first time I have read every issue, sequentially, from Strange Tales #142-168. Here's a brief rundown/overview.

Issues #142-146 are the last of the Ditko-drawn issues. The scripts transition from Stan Lee to Roy Thomas to Denny O'Neil, and the plots wrap up the Dormammu/Eternity conflict. Bill Everett begins a six-issue run beginning with #147, and the scripts transition from O'Neil, back to Thomas back to Lee. Lee stays for eight issues (#151-158), and eventually teams with Marie Severin (#153-160). The script reverts to Roy Thomas (for one issue), Raymond Marias (who?) for two, Jim Lawrence for five, and Denny O'Neil for the final two issues collected in this volume). 

Artwise, it has been said that "only Ditko can do magical realms." I disagree, but I would say that "only Ditko can draw magical realms like Ditko." Right off the bat, Bill Everett drew some very convincing, yet non-Ditko, magical realms. I wasn't as impressed with Marie Severin, but Dan Adkins did an impresive job in #161-168. 

Plotwise, the story... I don't want to say "meandered," but... progressed from the threat of Kaluu, to the origin of the Ancient One, to Umar, to Zom, the the Living Tribunal, to Baron Mordo, to Nebulos, to Yandroth, to Voltarg. Done well, this type of "no break" storytelling is exciting, but in this case the chapters are strung together like chapters in a movie serial until they finally just, not end but stop.

If I were editor on Marvel Masterworks, here's what i would have done: I would have put ALL of the Lee/Ditko stories (#114-146) into a single volume. That would have made v2 a little thin, but i still would have begun v3 with Doctor Strange (formerly Strange Tales) #169.

JACK KIRBY: THE EPIC LIFE OF THE KING OF COMICS by Tom Scioli: I bought and started reading this yesterday and found it very difficult to put down. The only reason i didn't finish it in a single sitting is that I started it pretty late and I had to get up early this morning to give a Tracy a ride to work because her car is in the shop. I read up until the point he quit Marvel in 1970 (about a third of the way in), and I just finished it a couple of minutes ago. It is similar to Amazing Fantastic Incredible: A Marvelous Memoir by Peter David and Colleen Doran about the life of Stan Lee in that it is a biography in comic book form, but that's where the similarity ends.

The Kirby book is so much more in depth, for one thing. When I got to the part about Kirby's experiences in  the Second World War, for example, it became a book about Kirby's experiences in the Second World War. Reading it was a similar experience to reading the fictional Autobiography of James T. Kirk, which took the information about his childhood and early career (revealed on TV as antecedent action), the events of the TV show, the events of the movies, and putting them in strict chronological order. 

There are a few items I question as they present (very slight) contradictions to what I know of Kirby's life from other sources, chiefly Mark Evanier. I hesitate to call them "mistakes" as they may have been presented as they were for literary expediency. I learned many more things I never knew about Jack Kirby than those few things I dispute. It doesn't present a flattering depiction of Stan Lee by any means, but it does present, I think, an accurate one... at least in terms of his relationship with Jack Kirby. It's interesting to compare certain sections of The Epic Life of the King of Comics with those from Amazing Fantastic Incredible side-by-side. I urge anyone reading this to do so and make up your own mind as to "who did what."

It is mostly written in first person narration by Jack Kirby "himself" with certain dialogue culled from interviews, speeches and the like. Certain other pages are told from the point of view of Roz Kirby, others from that of Stan Lee. It is meticulously researched and meticulously annotated. The pages after Kirby's death brought a tear to my eye.

This is easily... easily... the best new comic book I have read this year.


"Don't Ask! Just Buy It!" 

You sold me, Jeff!

Pre-Code Classics: Beware! Terror Tales Volume One: I've read so much 1950s horror/suspense and sci-fi lately (both pre- and post-Code) that It's all starting to blend together and leave me in a state of numbness. This one shook me out of my fugue state a couple of times because the art in a given story was a step above the usual or it wasn't but I recognized the artist. I think that's explained by Beware! being a Fawcett book, back when Fawcett was a top 5 publisher (at least in quality).

DC Goes to War: Since I had read most of what's in this book before, and the vast bulk of DC's war output is mind-numbingly repetitive, I expected to zip through DC Goes to War. But instead I found myself re-reading war stories I'd read once and put away. Largely this is explained by the high quality of these stories. I mean, War in Heaven is a long two-part story by an artist I'm not familiar with, but it's Hans von Hammer in World War II by Garth Ennis! Yes, I've read it, but I'm delighted to read it again.

One other thing worth mention is "Losers Die Twice!" from The Losers Special (1985). Not for quality -- it's written by Robert Kanigher, never my favorite, and drawn by D. Hands. (Well, a committee effort by Judith Hunt, MIke Esposito and Sam Glanzman, and it's at best mediocre.) What's remarkable is how many times this particular group has died -- and, unlike most resurrected characters, when we see them again there's usually no acknowledgement that they have died many times, or any explanation for why they are on panel sucking air.

This story came out in 1985, the same year that the Losers died another time, defending one of The Monitor's towers in Crisis on Infinite Earths. They died again on Dinosaur Island in 2004's The New Frontier. I know, that one is out of continuity, but it was the best of the bunch.

But they also survived the war (ish) in other stories. A DC Universe: Legacies issue showed them all in 1976 in their post-war lives. I don't remember them all, but Johnny Cloud was in Congress and Sarge ran a chain of gas stations. Which is odd, because in Sgt. Fury Annual #4, which showed the Howlers' post-war iives, Reb Ralston was in Congress and Izzy Cohen ran a chain of car-repair shops.

Gunner and Sarge were also rescued from a POW camp on Dinosaur Island in a Birds of Prey story, and I remember Gunner being a cyborg in one iteration or other of Creature Commandos. (Which, to return the favor, is an idea Marvel stole for the current Howling Commandos.)

Of course, all those stories feature the main characters of Cloud, Gunner, Sarge, Captain Cloud and occasionally Pooch. Still waiting to hear what fate or fates awaited Ona.

EC Archives: Psychoanalysis: Yes, I finally managed to force myself to the end of this book. What a dreary trudge.

Not only is the subject matter not something that lends itself to comics (or my interest), but I find that when a creator is really enthusiastic about a particular topic or character, things tend to go pear-shaped. That enthusiasm, rather than being infectious, seems to manifest itself in presenting the thing that is loved too much or as too perfect or as veering off into unpleasant screed. It's like the author, loving the subject so much, loses the ability to judge what is working or not working in the story and goes overboard.

My Item A for this is Negan, whom Robert Kirkman loved to write. (This is not speculation; he has said so many times.) Unfortunately, I didn't much care for the character, and had to suffer through not only his normal shelf life, but the extended shelf life that the character didn't merit. (I cannot, CANNOT believe Rick & Co. didn't execute the SOB for what he did to Glenn. Or just to shut him up. Can't. Swallow. It.) Every story with Negan rattling on and on and on with his distinct (and, to me, annoying) speech pattern served to dampen my enthusiasm for The Walking Dead comic book. By the time it ended, it was, to me, a mercy killing.

But I digress. Let's transfer that annoyance to Psychoanalysis. Because not only was it largely boring, but the analyst was so smug, so condescending that by the third issue I wanted to punch him in the face. Yes, Ithe creators themselves said in the foreword to the first issue that this not how analysts work, but allowances had to be made to force the round psychoanalysis process into the square comic book hole. But even so, the analyst's in-your-face insults to people on his couch -- or, in the last issue, to the parents of one of his patients -- doesn't work on any level. The man would get punched, and deserve it.

My interpretation is that the creators couldn't see through their own enthusiasm for analysis (again, not speculation, it's in the foreword) to see that their hero was a jerk.

DC GOES TO WAR: Didn't realize this was out. Didn't ship to my shop. Maybe next week. I'll keep an eye out.

PSYCHOANALYSIS: I read this, once, years ago in Russ Cochran's b&w slipcased HC series. I always hold it up as a kind of oddball example of what Gaines did to keep EC afloat, but I don't remember a thing about it.

KIRBY BOOK: I'm glad I managed to convey my excitement about this book despite my loopy first draft sentence structure. I'm eager to hear your opinion of it. EDIT: His 1970 departure from Marvel occurred roughly two thirds of the way in.

MORE UNUSUAL DITKO CHARACTER NAMES: Paul Grup, Emil Klem, Zerog, Duden, Dr. Reart, Osta, Kuda, Lona, Buk, Selen and Doctors Abln, Cacius and Wrkn. Note that these aren't aliens or foreigners (for the most part); just ordinary male and female supporting characters.

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