January 8, 2012

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Dust off the Panels: Steve Ditko's 160 Page Page Package

Written by Steve Ditko
Illustrated by Steve Ditko
Self-Published

Steve Ditko can be himself in this set of short stories where he's the writer, illustrator, letterer, and editor.  From tales of good cops against corrupt police to horror stories of the psychological to rants of a grumpy, ultra-libertarian recluse, it's all here for you in Steve Ditko's 160 Page Package.

Though I am a big fan of Steve Ditko, I've actually never read any of his non work for hire output before, mostly because it's a tad difficult to find.  I grabbed this some time ago, but had not gotten around to reading it until recently.

It's a very strange mix that I probably would not recommend to any but those who are hard-core Ditko fans.  While there are flashes of brilliance, such as when Ditko slowly drives a protagonist insane or when his heroic creations leap into the battle against evil, a lot of the stories reflect his banal philosophy that I am firmly in disagreement with.  Ditko is uncompromising and unwavering in his faith, and he shows anyone who disagrees with him in a bad light.  They come off as fools who are blocking the guardians of true morality from their righteous anger.

For example, social workers are always protecting evil kids who cannot be redeemed, all while spouting the worst of straw men lines.  Criminals can never reform.  There are people who are innovative, but those with (ironically) selfish motives drag them down.  The good of the many is always wrong.  And so on.  It grows very tiresome and overwhelms the good parts, at least for me.

Are there enough good parts to make this readable?

I would argue yes, but again, only for those who admire Ditko's technical skills, which he still has in abundance.  The odd camera angles, the way characters are always reacting to one another (even if sometimes stiffly), and the pacing of the story are all vintage Ditko.  And when he's working more in his classic horror-comic style, the results are actually fun to read.

The problem is that too much is just personal venting or bald expressions of philosophy.  Also, Ditko's presentation of women here is borderline appalling, both visually and in terms of their character.  This is one of those books you read once to examine its qualities, but don't really feel the need to return to.

I strongly admire Steve Ditko's work overall.  He is arguably where a lot of the comic book styles we see today come from, though often they are several generations removed.  I think he can still tell a good story when he tries, but without an editor to reign in his political inclinations, this is a tough read unless you are a member of the Tea Party (and if you are, I doubt you take much stock in me or what I have to say).  I'm glad to see Ditko still working well into his advanced age (one of the few to do so) and I'm glad he's doing what he wants.

But these comics are a shadow of what the man used to do, with their fears and prejudices exposed much like the villains Ditko so loathes.  The art is solid in most places but the stories just can't get over the biases of the man writing them.  It's a great curiosity to observe, and one that can be marveled at (no pun intended) once or twice.  After that, the flaws show all too well.

Those who are curious might want to find this, but I wouldn't look too hard.  It's a 160 page package, alright, but one that comes with a hefty dose of extreme politics.  As such, I can't recommend it.