A Steve Ditko tribute!

The giants are leaving us. There is no two ways about it, and a small part of me gets angry about that fact for a couple of reasons. First, because I didn’t get to meet most of them, and secondly because not enough attention is given to these brilliant creators until they pass away (except in the small community of hardcore comic book fans). A great bit of sadness fell over me when I hard of the passing of Steve Ditko.

Whether you believe it or not, the man created Spider-Man (with a bit of direction from Stan Lee), and all the classic villains that were a huge part of making the hero what he was in the comic books. He also created (co-created, depending on your opinion) my personal favorite character Dr. Strange. Not to mention The Creeper, Hawk and Dove, Speedball, The Question, Mr. A., and so on. To call him a genius is no understatement, and just a glance at his creativity on paper is all the proof you’ll need. Monsters, Superheroes, Science fiction, horror, humor, etc., he did it all.

Why he left comics doesn’t matter, nor his personal beliefs. He was a kind man, that kept to himself and hurt no one. He gave us his imagination for a long time and we should all be grateful for that! Godspeed, Sturdy Steve!

 

 

 

 

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Marvel Fanfare 20 and 21, 1985 “The Clash!”

For anyone that’s not aware, Marvel Fanfare is an incredibly awesome title. A sixty issue run that included a plethora of legendary creators, plus some up-and-comers as well. The stories varied from the macabre to straight up superhero tales, then sprinkle in some holiday themed narrative , and even the bizarre. There are certain names that in the comic book industry that are synonymous with the term bizarre (in a good way), and one of them for sure is Jim Starlin (story and pencils). In these two issues, he’s partnered with his oft time collaborator, Allen Milgrom (inks and some pencils/finishes).

The two-part story features Dr. Strange being accosted by his long time nemesis, Xandu! This powerful mage also has a multitude of minions in this story to help him carry out his devious doings. The good ol’ Doc reaches out to summon help in the form of the ever-lovin’ blue-eyed Thing! The Doc is in a bad way, and only Ben Grimm and his power and bravery can help. The second part (issue 21), finds Dr. Strange trying to fight Xandu and referee a fight between The Thing and his long time antagonist The Hulk!

This story is one that features really cool artwork from Gemini (“Jim and I”, I being Al Milgrom,). All the characters look great, and these two creators work very well together. There are also some fantastic pin-ups in the back of issue twenty, most by Charles Vess, with a few by Carl Potts! Don’t sleep on this series, pick up the issues when possible!

 

Doctor Strange Master of the Mystic Arts!

As we march forward to another season of Marvel movies (Black Panther is here, and The Avengers in May, followed by Ant-Man and Wasp), it’s a good time to put the spotlight on my favorite sorcerer, Dr. Strange! It seems he’ll be quite a big part of The Avengers film (and hopefully others!), and you never know what time period of the comics the creative team will pluck ideas from to insert in the films. One thing is for sure, in the late 1960s, Marvel released volume one of the good Doctor’s stand-alone series (after Strange Tales concluded), and it was fantastic!

Roy Thomas (writer) had already been at Marvel for a couple of years, and proved himself on the X-Men, The Avengers, and so on. His work here is just as powerful as it was on those titles. Artistically, the first few issues were drawn by Dan Adkins. Not a household name for those on the outside looking in at comics, but for those on the inside, he’s known as an excellent artist. He was then followed by Gene “The Dean” Colan (pencils) and Tom Palmer (inks)! These two gentlemen would go on to do many great issues together on several different titles (most notably The Tomb of Dracula).

 

Doctor Strange: Into Shamballa -OGN

In the 1980s, Marvel started to release OGN’s (Original Graphic Novels) on a regular basis. The stories ranged anywhere from horror to sci-fi, to straight up superheroes. These over-sized books were some of the greatest achievements of that decade, bar none. Some of these titles were books that certain creators had the chance to get their own new characters into print by Marvel (DreadstarJim Starlin, Star SlammersWalt Simonson, The FuturiansDave Cockrum, etc.). This book is not one of those, but it is nothing short of an absolute gem!

J.M. DeMatteis (writer) is one of those writers I discovered in a Bronze Age comic book (not 100% sure which one), and I loved his style from the very¬† beginning. I’ve read a fair share of his work, and this is his magnum opus. His ability to write stories full of raw emotion is second to none. Not to be outdone, Dan Green (artist/co-plotter) turns in the work of a lifetime as well. His pencils on Doctor Strange (the 1974 series) was great, and really showed his ability to render the supernatural.

This story is a culmination of everything that Marvel comics built from the late 1960s through the 1970s. Mysticism, philosophy, morality, religion, etc., are all touched upon in this one. DeMatteis doesn’t beat you over the head with his own beliefs or ram an agenda down your throat either. He carefully crafts a tale that is steeped in self-awareness, and really pushes Stephen Strange to the edge of the proverbial cliff. We see the good Doctor in moments of strength, and weakness, and everywhere in-between. An extreme amount of depth was added to him in this story.

The artwork is something to marvel at, and Dan Green should be extremely proud of this book (also being a co-plotter). Some creators, as consistent as they are, never produce something this incredible in a lifetime of work. His inking is very extensive from the Bronze Age up until recently (at least 2011). The visual story he tells, coupled with the script is a masterpiece. This book is right up there with any OGN…period.

As for the true meaning of Shamballa, I’ll be satisfied with this story and Three Dog Night

 

 

Doctor Strange 29, 1978 “He Who Stalks!”

Another post about Doctor Strange, and this one is another favorite of mine. One of the reasons is because it has several guest appearances. The tale centers around the Doc and Nighthawk (both heroes are members of the non-team “The Defenders“), as they face off against a villain that’s been in the pages of Daredevil during this era as well. The Death-Stalker is a very mysterious villain and a sinister one too that has the power of intangibility, and a “death touch” that renders lesser men dead!

In his long career, Roger Stern (writer) has written some very compelling stories, and had some lengthy runs on titles. Of course, most everyone will gravitate to his Amazing Spider-Man work, or his tremendous collaboration with John Byrne on Captain America, but don’t sleep on his Dr. Strange stories because they are great! Tom Sutton (pencils) is most noted for his horror work, but given the opportunity, he can draw a wider range of material. Veteran artist Ernie Chan (inks) is always a welcome sight in the credits box, because he was a very solid artist that put in good work. Petra Goldberg (colors), Annette Kawecki (letters), and Archie Goodwin (editor), round out the creative team! I shall not forget awesome artist, Frank Brunner (cover), who is one of the best to ever pencil the Doc!

 

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Doctor Strange 12, 1976 “Final Curtain!”

It’s no secret that Doctor Strange is my favorite character. His 1974 series is undoubtedly one of the most underrated series of all time. From start to finish it’s incredible. And let’s be honest, with creators like Steve Englehart, Gene Colan, Roger Stern, Jim Starlin, Tom Sutton, Marv Wolfman, Rudy Nebres, Paul Smith (and more!), you can’t go wrong! This particular issue deals with the Doc, as he’s about to be in conflict with Eternity himself, for the soul of his recently deceased master, the Ancient One! A flashback of the insidious Baron Mordo, and the Doc and Clea see the world die!

As the creative tag-team of Steve Englehart (writer) and Gene Colan (pencils) was beginning to wind down, one might think that the material might suffer, but this is not so. Both men brought their “A” game until the end of the run. It’s to be expected though, as both were consummate pros throughout their comic book careers. Another link in the awesome creative chain, is Tom Palmer (inks, colors). His work alongside Colan is legendary, even if you only look at this title or Tomb of Dracula. Yet another name synonymous with Bronze Age royalty is Tom Orzechowski (letters). He was a constant at Marvel and definitely earned his place among these other greats with his diligence. Throw in Marv Wolfman (editor), and the credits are full of amazing creators that gave their best!

 

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Dr Strange and Dr Doom: Triumph and Torment – OGN (1989)

I typically only talk about single issues of comics when I blog (sometimes two issues), but this OGN (original graphic novel) is one that gets very high praise from me, and as well it should. For those that don’t know, Victor Von Doom’s mother was a sorceress, and one day when she wanted revenge, she called out for help from an ancient evil. The evil that answered is named Mephisto. He then had control over her immortal soul, and one day, every year, Doom attempts to wrest control of his mother’s soul from this demonic entity. After quite a few failed attempts, he turned to the sorcerer supreme himself, Dr. Strange, for help. As with everything, though, not all is as it seems with Doom, and his plans for retrieving his mother’s soul from Limbo!

Undoubtedly, one of my favorite writers is Roger Stern. Whether it’s The Avengers work he did, his run on Doctor Strange (1974 series), or his incredible (but way too short) run on Captain America, he always delivered the goods! The artwork is something to marvel at as well. Mike Mignola (pencils) and Mark Badger (inks and colors) prove to be a very good team. Their rendition of Mephisto is spot on in this story. There is some extra material in the trade I have that fleshes out the characters in this story a bit, and those names are nothing short of iconic as well (Gerry Conway, Gene Colan, Tom Palmer, P. Craig Russell, and more).

 

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Defenders: The Coming of The Defenders 1, 2011 “The Return”

After a short break from posting (due to that absurdity called “work”), I’m back with a look at one of my favorite books of all time! Yes, and even though it’s a reprint, it still holds a huge place in my reading trophy case because it shows the formation of my second favorite team, The Defenders! To help pump up readers for the new series that came out that year (2012), Marvel reissued some of the classics that showed what an awesome team The Defenders were! The story shows how Dr. Strange faced an almost impossible situation, and called upon Namor and The Hulk to help him combat it (he actually peered in on the Silver Surfer, but he was knocked unconscious).

From the mind of Roy Thomas (writer), we get the beginnings of a most unusual, but also incredible teams in Marvel comics. Once the tam got their own title, and Steve Gerber began writing, it really went to another level. For now though, Thomas delivered the goods, as he just about always did in his career. The penciling chores were handled by two masters, in Ross Andru and Don Heck (Heck did the backup story in issue 1 of Marvel Feature, showing us the return of Dr. Strange, Andru penciled the rest). As if those two giants weren’t enough, you get inks by Bill Everett, Frank Giacoia, and Sal Buscema! Letters by Sam Rosen and Artie Simek, and edited of course, by Stan Lee (cover by Neal Adams).

 

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The Incredible Hulk #300, 1984 “Days of Rage!”

The Hulk has had his ups and downs, as far as sales, and even in the overall quality of the work on the character over the years.¬† He’s an interesting character with the dual-identity, that gives authors many different angles with which to attack a story. In this anniversary issue, we see nothing but the monster, as Nightmare has forced Bruce Banner away, and nothing remains but the mindless beast! We all know that The Hulk is a bad mutha, and he gets tested by SHIELD, Power Man and Iron Fist, and even The Avengers! Thor manages to battle him to a standstill, but even he can’t put him away. The planet’s last hope is the Sorcerer Supreme, Dr. Strange!

The visual feast that this issue is, was brought to us by “Our Pal” Sal Buscema (pencils) and Gerry Talaoc (inker). Add on the colors by Bob Sharen, and you will read this book and think…”wow, they don’t make them like this anymore!” Seeing all these heroes battling an enraged monster is quite a delight. The the writer, Bill Mantlo, certainly needs no intro. His work is nothing short of legendary! Last but not least, we have Jim Novak on letters! (Cover by Brett Blevins!)

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The Incredible Hulk Annual #6, 1977 “Beware The Beehive!”

This recent grab was…grabbed mostly for one reason- the appearance of Dr. Strange! Not that I don’t like the Hulk, I do, just more so in the pages of books like The Defenders, and The Avengers. I also love the “Beehive” and their insidious plots! In their second attempt at creating a god-like being, they unleash an even more powerful creature that initially tries to kill Dr. Strange! The old Doc has a difficult time with the man-made entity, but the Jade Giant is on his way to smash!

With a plot by editor, Len Wein, David Anthony Kraft (writer) gives us a story that is fairly simplistic but also solid in its delivery. No frills, just a slight mystery followed by straight up action! The art work by Herb Trimpe (pencils, the interiors and cover), Frank Giacoia (inks) and Mike Esposito (inks), give the reader a less rigid look than you typically get from Trimpe pencils (he usually has a more block-style, a la Kirby), and the inkers get credit for that, no doubt about it. Colors by Janice Cohen, and letters by Gaspar, round out the team!

 

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