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Year of the Artist, Day 187: Steve Ditko, Part 6 – Beware the Creeper #1

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Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Steve Ditko, and the issue is Beware the Creeper #1, which was published by DC and is cover dated June 1968. These scans are from The Creeper by Steve Ditko, which came out in 2010. Enjoy!

The last time we checked out Ditko (see the links below), he was drawing for Warren, presumably not making much money, but really pushing his art in interesting directions. The siren call of DC could not be resisted, however, and soon after that, he was back at National Comics and creating the Creeper, who’s quite odd. I wanted to take a look at his work here, because it’s obviously done with much less care than his work at Warren – he didn’t have as much time to labor and he needed to fill more pages. For this second half of Ditko’s art, I want to look at some of the inkers he worked with, because his style really didn’t change all that much. So let’s take a look at Ditko inking himself! (As usual, you’ll have to forgive me if the scans get cut off on the edges. These hardcovers that DC puts out, as nice as they are, have the same dimensions as the comics, so the art tends to fall into the spine. It sucks!)

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Ditko tilts the panel to lead us from the upper left to the bottom right, as the “Terror” (the story is called “Where Lurks the Menace?”, but throughout the issue they call him the “Terror”) swoops in to the window and his target, Jurgen, stands with his back to it (come on, Jurgen, you should know better than to stand with your back to the window like that!). Ditko surrounds the Terror with sinewy lightning, completely unlike the way lightning acts but which adds a strange surreal vibe to the background. The tilt in the panel makes the slanted rain streaming over the city almost horizontal, which adds to the sense of a tremendous storm raging outside. The frame in the window separates the Terror from the rest of the background, creating almost a separate panel within the panel, and the frame also points directly at Jurgen. Jurgen is nicely drawn. He’s worried and scared as he waits for Jack Ryder to show up (it sure is helpful that Jack Ryder is coming!), and Ditko gives him worry lines across his forehead and hatches his face well – we get the black underneath his right eye, and the rest of the right side of his face is in half-shadow. Ditko puts lines under his eyes, and his heavily lidded eyes show his exhaustion and fear. The hand on the side of his head and the cigarette (even though that was still a common thing to see in 1968) complete the picture of dread. Ditko does a wonderful job in this panel of showing Jurgen’s mindset and giving us a moment of anticipation before the Terror crashes through the window.

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Ditko, while not my first thought when “action” comes to mind, does know a thing or two about drawing fights, as he always lays the page out well in action scenes. The Creeper leaps over the diving thug and assists him in smashing into his cronies, and then the Creeper attacks them all while they’re a bit disorganized. He gets bonked on the head by – I kid you not – Gerk Kreg, the head bad dude (or one of them), and the punks grab him. In Panel 4, the gun moves our eyes from the left to the right, where we find the Creeper incapacitated, and then the punks realize that the Creeper isn’t actually wearing a mask (well, he is, but when Ryder is the Creeper, it can’t come off). Ditko adds some touches to the scene to create more “action,” from the radiating lines in Panel 1 to the small bursts in Panels 2 and 3 when the Creeper and Kreg connect. Other than that, this is a fairly standard page, with nothing too surprising, just a well conceived page.

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I don’t usually write too much about the story in these posts, because it’s not the point, but this issue is weirdly problematic because of the presence of Vera Sweet. First, however, I’ll just point out that Ditko still draws nice-looking women, even when he’s on more of a clock than when he was drawing comics for Warren. He gets the right mix of Vera’s beauty and haughtiness in this panel, with her eyebrows arched … um, archly, and her nose upturned and her lips pouty. The akimbo arms also speak to her belief that the world owes her something as she waits impatiently for Jack Ryder. Ditko draws Ryder as insouciant as he usually is, and he does a good job even though Jack is tucked into the background. It shows Jack’s “irreverence” much better than his somewhat hateful words (yes, I know he’s joking, but the context of the story shows that he doesn’t think much of Vera at all). Ditko plotted this and Denny O’Neil (writing as “Sergius O’Shaugnessy”) scripted it, and Vera’s subplot is … well, we’ll get back to it.

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Here’s another nice panel, as the Creeper catches up to the Terror and eventually unmasks him. The storm rages on in the background, with the purple sky and black clouds providing a nice backdrop to the brightly-clad characters in the foreground (the credits don’t list a colorist – although the hardcover lists Jerry Serpe – but I imagine this was touched up a little for the collection). The Creeper shows a disdain for safety, as he follows the Terror (who, naturally, scares easily when the chips are down) out the window without a rope, counting on being able to grab his quarry. Ditko draws him as somewhat chaotic – he manages to grab the rope, but he’s parallel to the ground and his legs are splayed out at awkward angles. The Terror, meanwhile, grips the rope with both hands, but he’s desperately trying to block the Creeper without letting go, which isn’t working out too well. His mask, the expression of which never changes (obviously), has become less a menacing one and more a terrified one – the angle upward gives more prominence to the downturned mouth, which changes it from one that strikes fear into people to almost a pathetic face of a whining coward. It’s kind of interesting. Notice the sinews of lightning again. Ditko dug ‘em!

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The final page of the issue takes us back to Jack and Vera. Again, Ditko does a nice job with the facial expressions. Vera is peeved in Panel 1, but Jack deflates that with his tale of a two-headed goblin – his wry face in Panel 2 is well done, as is Vera’s expression of both scorn and slight belief. In Panel 3 she panics, and once again Ditko draws a fine female form. Jack collapses on the sofa in Panel 4, and Ditko draws a nice rendition of a jerk who’s rather pleased with himself. The problem isn’t really with the art, it’s with the entire subplot. Vera – the “weather girl” at the television station – claims someone threatened her, and Jack’s boss assigns Jack to watch out for her. This causes sitcom-like problems, naturally, as Jack needs to keep slipping away to figure out who the Terror is, and Vera becomes increasingly annoyed with him. The problem with the plot is that Ditko and O’Neil never even bring up the fact that someone threatened Vera – we hear about it only from Jack’s boss, and it’s never mentioned again. Plus, she’s a stereotypical woman who wants Jack to walk her dog, for instance, because she’s so scared of going outside. Jack, as we’ve seen, treats her with nothing but disdain, and in the end, he scares her away and laughs about it. But what happens if someone actually was threatening her? Ditko and O’Neil never give that any credence, which makes it seem like they wanted to put a woman in the story who spun tall tales about her safety simply to distract Jack from doing manly work like beating up the Terror and other assorted unsavory types. Vera became a recurring character in the short series, and I guess Steve Niles used her in his Creeper series, but at least in this iteration, her depiction really never gets any better. It’s kind of frustrating.

But Ditko’s and O’Neil’s attitudes are a discussion for another day! Tomorrow we’ll check out a Ditko book where he’s inked by another legend, and the results are predictably awesome. And, uh, yeah, there’s some more regressive attitudes toward women, too. Dang it.

As with Kirby, I’ve already shown Ditko, and you can take a look at his 1950s and 1960s work here, here, here, here, and here. Of course, there’s always the rest of the archives, too!

13 Comments

tom fitzpatrick

July 6, 2014 at 3:24 pm

Y’know, I think my first Ditko exposure was SHADE the Changing Man. I knew he was the main artist on the Amazing Spider-man # 1-40, but I didn’t read those.

There were two others series, or more specifically, back-up series that springs to mind. One was The DJINN in Epic Comics’ COYOTE, and the other was a Pacific Comics title (I forget the title) that had two series in one issue. I’m reasonably sure that Ditko did one-half of that book.

Still, you got to love those Dr. Strange issues by Dikto! ;-)

i love ditko so much! i think you re writing these specifically for me, it s really quite inspiring. thanks. only a little wierd, no?

tom: Well, I don’t love Ditko’s Dr. Strange, because, yeah, I haven’t read them. I’ll get to it!

We just might see one of those series you mentioned in the next few days. You’ll have to wait and see!

s!moN: Hey, no problem. I hope you like the selections I use! :)

Greg:”tom: Well, I don’t love Ditko’s Dr. Strange, because, yeah, I haven’t read them. I’ll get to it!”

Such cultural deprivation! Here are some capsule reviews to help you out.

Each issue will be graded from 1 to 10, with 10 being the best and 1 being soul-destroying putridity. Beware, each review will contain spoilers (villains will be named, plots discussed, etc.).

110.The introduction.An unbelievably solid five pager. Noteworthy for the somewhat horror movie tone (Well, as horrific as the early 60s Comics Code would allow) and for Strange’s rather Eurasian look (WAs Srange originally supposed to be of mixed racial origins?). Both elements would not last long. Strange’s ultra cool Greenwich Village sanctum and sidekick Wong are both introduced in this issue. GRADE:7.

111: Five pages of condensed brilliance from Ditko/Lee. A very important issue, as it marks the introduction of both long time foe Mordo .GRADE: 7.

114: The second go around for Mordo. The issue introduces Strange pal Victoria Bentley. Note to Stan Lee, Someone called Sir Clive Bentley should be addressed as “Sir Clive,” not as “Sir Bentley.” GRADE: 7

115: The brilliant origin of Strange. This issue sees a massive page expansion, from 5 to 8. Note to contemporary Comic Book writers, see how Ditko and Lee could tell a marvelous origin tale in a mere 8 issues? Brevity can be a virtue. Strange’s origin is rather akin to Spider-Man’s, as both characters start out as rampant egotists (Strange is a heartless surgeon, Parker does not care if a criminal runs past him). Note that Strange now looks like Vincent Price. GRADE:10

116: Another solid effort. Nightmare returns for another go at Strange.GRADE: 7

117: Baron Mordo returns. Effortlessly good stuff from the Lee-Ditko team.GRADE:7

118: Change of pace tale, as Strange goes up against aliens. Does not really work. GRADE:6.

119: New villain Aggamon challenges Strange. Aggamon is noteworthy as a kind of prototype for Dormammu. A return to form. GRADE:7.

120:Strange goes up against a haunted house (Or is it?). Story has a kind of Silver Age DC feel to it. I half expected Doctor Thirteen to show up. GRADE: 6.

121:Baron Mordo returns. Fun stuff, with a great use of the old wax museum standby (Another nod to Vincent Price?). GRADE:7.

122:Nightmare returns. Fantastic stuff in this issue, as Ditko unleashes his weirdness mojo. GRADE:8.

123: Loki vs. DR. Strange! Guest appearance by Thor! Kirby characters rendered in the Ditko style! Tremendous fun. As a side note, Roger Stern has argued that this is Strange’s first “Modern Era” appearance, that the issues prior to 123 are all set before FF #1. GRADE:8

124: Guest Starring Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra! Seriously, Stan must have liked that film as both Strange and Iron Man (in Tales of Suspense 44) had SA encounters with the siren of the Nile.Fun stuff. GRADE:7.

125: Baron Mordo returns. Great chase issue, with the tension notched up to 11 as Strange battles Mordo all over the globe. GRADE:8.

126-127:The dread one himself is introduced, as Strange fights Dormammu. Unbearably good. Ditko’s internal LSD factory goes into overdrive. Clea (Although nameless here) and the Mindless Ones are introduced as well. Doc gets his classic cape and amulet in 127. These issues mark the beginning of the classic era of Strange. GRADE:10

128: Strange vs. the Demon. Classic Ditko lightshow. GRADE:8.

129: Strange vs. Tiboro. Solid work, noteworthy as the first non-Stan Lee written issue,as Don Rico steps in (An early sign of Stan and Steve tension? ). GRADE:7.

130: This is it, “The start of the greatest black magic spectacular ever presented” (From Stan’s not at all hyperbolic intro).Seriously, this is a fantastic issue. Dormammu and Mordo team up to take down Strange and the Ancient One. Ditko’s art is beautiful throughout, as he carries us from Tibet to the Dark Dimension to a gloriously stylized Hong Kong. GRADE:10.

131: Strange vs. the Dormammu empowered Mordo in Hong Kong. More effortless virtuosity from Ditko, as Strange employs everything from fists (The good Doctor can throw a mean punch) to spells in his effort to escape. GRADE:10.

132: Strange returns to New York in his quest to find out how to take down the Dormammu empowered Mordo. The Demon, from issue 128, returns as Mordo’s flunky. Fantastically surreal battle between Mordo and Strange. GRADE:10.

133: Strange, escaping from the super-powerful Mordo, travels to the realm of the evil Shazana. For a glimpse of Ditko’s chops, take a look at the superb, Dali-esque art on page three.Who needs acid when you have Ditko? GRADE:10.

134: Strange returns to Earth, where he first hears of “ETERNITY.” Fabulous extended spirit form chase sequence, as Mordo pursues Strange from the Earth to the heart of the Sun. Clea, showing her silver haired gumption, unleashes the Mindless Ones in an effort to help Strange. GRADE: 10

135: Strange goes to England in search (Where is Leonard Nemoy when you need him?) of ETERNITY. Ditko and Lee can do no wrong. GRADE:10.

136:Strange thinks that he has learned the secret of ETERNITY, but instead he encounters an extra-dimensional tyrant. Great stuff, but it merely serves as a prelude to 137. GRADE: 9.

137: Strange, in order to learn the secret of ETERNITY, must enter the mind of the comatose Ancient One. This is Ditko weirdness turned up to 12 (It’s one more past 11!). The art is heartbreakingly good. Words cannot begin to describe it. Lee’s script work is as good as anything that he ever did. GRADE:10.

138: Strange meets ETERNITY. Seriously, Ditko’s rendition of MAN as Microcosm alone makes the issue worthwhile. Words fail me. GRADE:10
139-141: Strange vs. Mordo and Dormammu mash-up. Brilliant wizardly duel between Mordo and Strange. Fantastic physical confrontation between Dormammu and Strange. Clea pays the price for aiding Strange . Meanwhile, a bomb awaits Strange in his Sanctum. Let’s see, I think that these three issues would take up about 12 issues of a Bendis written Strange. Grade :10

142-143: Strange vs. Mordo’s minions. More fantastic art from Ditko. Strange spends the bulk of the issues with his head encased in a “MAn in the Iron Mask” type covering, while his hands are similarly enclosed, thereby rendering him incapable of casting a spell. Ditko’s commentary on the role of the work for hire artist? Another example of Ditko’s Objectivist beliefs in action? Is Dr. Strange John Galt?Roy Thomas steps in to write 143, and does a fine job.GRADE:10

144: Strange goes in quest of the lost Clea, and fights the demonic Tazza. Written by Roy Thomas. This issue just might have, for my money, the single best scenes of magical combat that Ditko ever drew. GRADE:10.

145: Denny O’Neil steps in as Strange fights Rasputin (No , not the X-Man).Solid work from Ditko, noteworthy for the scene in which Rasputin, realizing that his magical skills are not the equal of Strange’s, pulls a gun on Doc. Was Jess Whedon a Strange fan? Despite this, the issue is not quite up to Ditko’s usual standards. GRADE:9.

146: “THE END–AT LAST!” Ditko’s last issue actually does serve as a genuine climax to his tenure on the title. Solid work, but I think that Ditko’s art in this issue is not quite equal to his best. Indeed, the art has, to my way of thinking, a somewhat rushed air, as though Ditko needed to just get through it. Still, the confrontation between Dormammu and ETERNITY has tremendous power. GRADE:9.

IMHO, the best period for Ditko (From SpiderMan 20+ to Shade’s final issue)

I like what he did afterwards, but he changed his inked (more fat) or was regularly inked by someone else (even though there are good combinations with inkers..as seen during ROM)

You have to love those iconic Ditko women with the icy attitude and arched eyebrows.

I still cannot believe that Denny O’Neil and Steve Ditko ever worked together. That’s sort of like Karl Marx and Ayn Rand collaborating on a novel. But I do think it would have been, well, interesting if O’Neil and Ditko would have done a Green Arrow / Question team-up, which would probably consist of 22 pages of Victor Sage and Oliver Queen yelling at each other…

The Question: A is A! There is no grey, only black and white!
Green Arrow: Shut up, you fascist!

trajan23: Phew! Thanks for the capsule reviews! I’m definitely going to get it eventually, and if I don’t get the Marvel Masterworks soon, maybe Marvel will do an “Epic Collection” of the entire run!

ollieno: As I noted, I’m definitely looking at him with different inkers over the next few days, which I thought was pretty interesting. I hope you’ll think so too!

Ben: Oh, we’ll see another Ditko woman today with the same attributes!

I have to believe that, like Lee in the later years, O’Neil never hung out with Ditko. It was probably just a gig for him, as it seems that the Creeper is more Ditko’s bag. So maybe he just kept his head down and cashed his check!

Denny O’Neil wrote a great Question/Green Arrow team-up in The Question #18 (July 1988). Obviously no Ditko in there, but a great issue and team-up nevertheless.

(O’Neil revisited the team-up in the 1988 and 1989 annuals of each character and the 1990 Green Arrow annual also).

O’Neil did briefly comment on working with Ditko in an interview from several years ago…

Prof: The Creeper was an extremely different character at the time. How was it working with…I know Steve Ditko had made the migration with you and couple of the other Charlton alumni, how was that to work with?

Denny O’Neil: Well, I think Steve was upset, because I wrote it kind of tongue-in-cheek and Steve is not a tongue-in-cheek kind of guy. When I talk about full script vs. Marvel Method, I’ll always make exceptions for a half dozen artists and Steve is one of them. It was always great working off his artwork because, like Kirby and a few others he had a strong sense of visual narrative. He knew that it was about telling the story in pictures. Unfortunately some artists don’t know that. So when the Marvel Method works, the artist will do about half your work for you, figure out the pacing and make sure that there’s room for all the exposition and get all the characters in, things like that, so working off Ditko’s artwork was always great. I think we switched to full script and I’ve never spoken with Steve about this, but I have a sense he was not happy with the way we interpreted the characters. I can’t blame him.

Ihe entire interview is at http://www.wtv-zone.com/silverager/interviews/oneil_1.shtml

I’d like to see you take a look at Ditko’s horror work at Atlas and elsewhere. When Kirby came off the horror/monster stories to do the FF, his artwork actually declined in quality (Was that because in the early days of FF, he was working with Lee’s full scripts whereas he was plotting the monster stuff?). I feel the same to be true of Ditko. His early work on Spider-Man and Dr Strange wasn’t drawn as well as his last work in the mystery mags.

Alan: If you check out the archives, I began with Ditko’s work in the 1950s, before he did Spider-Man and Dr. Strange. I split Kirby and Ditko into two sections because they were so influential that I wanted to show a lot more than the five-day limit I imposed on myself. So I looked at his early work and his Warren stuff, which was beautiful, and now I’m showing his later work. Give it a look! :)

Thanks, I’ll check ‘em out.

I’m still amazed, not to mention grateful, that a man as buttoned-down as Ditko managed to come up with a character whose unrepentant flamboyance anticipated glam rock and disco by a good few years.

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