OMNIBUS REVIEW: Giant-Size Steve Ditko
As we await Jonathan Ross’s BBC4 documentary “In Search Of Steve Ditko," I suggest reading Marvel’s Amazing Fantasy Omnibus; it’s one swell way to pass the time.
Sure, Ditko will be remembered forever as the creator and co-creator of Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, and maybe The Creeper and Shade the Changing Man. Jonathan’s documentary will help cement his role as comics’ most famous recluse, and many will continue to regard Steve as a man of principle, even if some disagree with that principle. The Amazing Fantasy Omnibus shows us what the man was up to the day before he co-created the Web-slinger.
In a sense, this hefty (416 page) tome is oddly named. It reprints the entire 15-issue run of… well, a book that was always titled “Amazing” and usually titled “Fantasy,” but was only once called Amazing Fantasy. And that was its last issue. The one that introduced Spider-Man.
Originally titled Amazing Adventures, the book was little more than an addition to Marvel’s dominant monster and mystery line – Tales to Astonish, Journey Into Mystery, Strange Tales, and Tales of Suspense. And like its sister titles, Amazing Adventures offered the efforts of writer/editor Stan Lee and artists Don Heck, Jack Kirby (inked by Dick Ayers) and Paul Reinman – on a series called Doctor Droom, no less. But with issue #7, the book morphed into Amazing ADULT Fantasy (emphasis mine) and it became pure Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. And it became magic.
A month earlier, I would not deign to pick up what we now call a Marvel comic book. I had just turned 11 and I didn’t care for monsters and mystery – at the time – and Patsy and Hedy didn’t do much for me either. At the time. But at the end of August in 1961 out of sheer boredom I picked up the first issue of a superhero-looking book called Fantastic Four, so I was open to their efforts.
But the title confused me. “Amazing ADULT Fantasy”? Would kindly Pharmacist Herman Orlove even sell this comic book to me? It said “The Magazine That Respects Your Intelligence” right there on the cover. Well, I was intelligent. Intelligent enough to hide the issue in the middle of my stack of comics, each and every one priced at 10 cents. Orlove never knew, and my place on his junior league baseball team remained safe.
The art … staggered me. I had seen nothing like Steve Ditko. It wasn’t good, in the sense that Kirby was larger than life and Curt Swan was life itself. But it was perfectly suited for the creepy stories in this comic book. I couldn’t explain it, and I still can’t. But I learned the lesson.
Sadly, Amazing Adult Fantasy lasted a mere eight issues. Either it was too weird for comics readers, or the “Adult” tag scared retailers off, or both. The final issue was called Amazing Fantasy, the back-half contained a bunch of unpublished Lee and Ditko Amazing Adult Fantasy stories, and that Spider-Man thing. Like Fantastic Four #1, I read and reread that issue about a half dozen times in a row, sitting on the steps of Lincoln Hall Junior High School with my cousin Alan.
And now it’s been gathered into one big-ol’ Omnibus edition. The usual bells and whistles are included in the back, including covers to reprint titles and pages shot from some of the Kirby/Ayers original art and introductions by artist Steve Bissette and historian Blake Bell… as well as some great, ummm, autobiographical pages from Mr. Ditko.
$75.00 might be a little steep, but you get full value. Amazon.com has it for $47.23; that’s a bargain.