Thursday, May 31, 2007

Ready for Action!

The past month has been quite memorable for fans of Steve Ditko’s work. First the Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus, and now Action Heroes Archives Volume Two, reprinting Ditko’s later Captain Atom stories for Charlton, as well as his memorable reboot of Blue Beetle and his seminal Question tales that serve as a precursor for Ditko’s post-superhero direction.

The Captain Atom stories featured in here are predominantly the tales that feature the revamped, repowered, recostumed Captain Atom; these stories lack the visual impact of the earlier Ditko tales collected in Action Hero Archives Volume One, but they have a bit more of the feel of Ditko’s late-period Spider-Man stories. Unfortunately, Rocco Mastroserio’s inks flatten Ditko’s pencils a great deal, taking away from the artist’s strengths.

The Blue Beetle stories show more of Ditko’s flair; not only are the stories closer in feel to Ditko’s Spider-Man work, but the distinctive two-toned blue costume rank right up there with Spidey’s togs as one of the five best costume designs in comic book history.

The most fascinating book here is Mysterious Suspense #1, featuring the first full-length Question tale. The opening pages, featuring an argument about art and aesthetics, indicate the direction of Ditko’s future works and the dichotomy that may have contributed to Ditko’s eventual departure from mainstream comics. And again, in the simplicity of a faceless man clad in a trenchcoat and fedora, Ditko created a quintessential hero for the real world.

The bonus items include rarely-seen stories from Charlton fanzines, including several by Ditko and one striking Question tale by Alex Toth. These stories are reproduced in black and white, since they were never offered in color; I wouldn’t have minded seeing DC add color to these tales in keeping with the look of the remainder of the book, but I can understand why, in their desire to keep the Archives true to the source material, they chose to go the black and white route instead.

Dick Giordano’s introduction, in which he offers an insider’s view of Charlton’s operation and explains why he preferred “action heroes” to superheroes, is a must-read. Charlton deserves an entire book, but this introduction at least offers some insight into the Little Comics Company That Tried Hard But Couldn’t.

Grade - A (for the package)/B+ (for the material itself)

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