Sunday, October 4, 2015


IMPOSSIBLE TALES: THE STEVE DITKO ARCHIVES VOL. 4 (Fantagraphics, First Printing, 2013; Hardcover)

Collects selections from Do You Believe In Nightmares? #1, Mysteries Of Unexplored Worlds #4, 7, Out Of This World #6, 7, 12, Strange Suspense Stories #33, 35-37, Tales Of The Mysterious Traveler #6-8, 10, This Magazine Is Haunted Vol. 2 #14, 16, and Unusual Tales #10, 11 (cover dates July, 1957- March, 1959)

Writer: Joe Gill
Artist: Steve Ditko

Coke vs. Pepsi. Judas Priest vs. Iron Maiden. Steve Ditko vs. Jack Kirby. These are all age old arguments that fans seem compelled to have to choose one side over the other. I was as guilty of this as anybody in the 1980s. While I liked Ditko and Kirby (as well as Priest and Maiden), I made sure to emphasize my preference for Ditko to any of the four or five other nerds that I knew who read comic books back then (as well as my preference to Priest over Maiden). While there is no denying the genius of Kirby folks seem to have pushed Ditko into the background these days, which is a shame.

The stories in this book fall into the familiar themes of comics from the 1950s. Cold War paranoia, atomic radiation/mutants, time travel, forbidden knowledge, cursed objects...basically watered down post-Code Sci-Fi and light Horror found in many comic books of the day. The “preachy” aspect found in many 1950s comics is so prevalent that you might overdose on its righteousness. The writing is competent if by the book, but that isn't the real draw here anyway; it's Ditko's artwork.

The Mysterious Traveler

The Mysterious Traveler is the host of many of the stories collected here, and he has a Phantom Stranger sort of vibe to him. Dr. Haunt is another host, although his appearance is something of a precursor of Doctor Strange, at least in terms of his cape. These hosts were a dime a dozen during the '50s. Also curious is the recurring theme of mutants, specifically the notion that they are hated and feared by a world that they try to help. Does that sound familiar to you? It should. It became the foundation of The X-Men a few years later. While Ditko had nothing to do with those characters it only goes to show you how liberally things were borrowed back then in comics.

It's interesting that members of the Kirby Cult (the brain dead creator rights sycophants who claim that Jack Kirby created the world in six days but God took the credit for his work) defend the Kirby estate's assertion that Kirby had a hand in creating Spider-Man. Kirby may have thrown the name out there and had a concept (which was rejected by Stan Lee), but the Spider-Man concept and costume as we know it is pure Ditko. Don't believe me? Then take a look at the cover to Out Of This World #7 (February, 1958 cover date), where Ditko clearly had the web design down pat.

This brings us to another discussion, though. In recent years it has come to light that New York based Ben Cooper, Inc., a Halloween costume manufacturer which was at one time the largest one in the United States, may have created the look of Spider-Man. Those of us who grew up in the '70s and '80s remember the cheesy plastic masks with a string and vinyl suit licensed costumes sold in a box. These were Ben Cooper costumes. The company designed a costume in 1954 called Spiderman. There are similarities in the web design, but beyond that who knows. Ditko lived in New York and the costume company was in New York so it is possible that Ditko knew of it. There are rumors that Jack Kirby worked for the costume company before returning to Marvel around 1956. So who knows where the truth lies in any of this. Did Kirby steal the name from Ben Cooper? Did Kirby give the name to Ben Cooper? Did Ditko lift the web design from the costume for the cover of Out Of This World #7 and then reuse it for Spider-Man five years later? We will likely never know since Ditko doesn't talk to anybody.

Dr. Haunt's cape is similar to the design of Doctor Strange's cape.

Editor Blake Bell has arranged the stories in these Archives by job number, meaning that they are presented in the order that Ditko originally drew them in as opposed to publication order. Everything between these two covers was done during his most prolific period, 1957. This era also represents the beginning of his prime in my opinion. Ditko's idiosyncrasies are now fully developed and his ability to create mood and tension is cemented in place. It's all onward and upward from here!
Junk Food For Thought rating: 4.25 out of 5.

The OCD zone- The two stories in Volume 3 that were each missing a page of story are collected here in their entirety. I can sleep at night now.
Linework and Color restoration: High resolution scans with minimal tinkering, only yellowing removed. As far as raw scans go these look great.
Paper stock: White uncoated stock.
Binding: Smyth sewn binding, book lays mostly flat.
Hardback cover notes: Image printed on matte casewrap which is resistant to scuffing.

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