Before his career defining work as co-creator of the Amazing Spider-Man or his runs on Dr. Strange, Mr. A and Blue Beetle, legendary artist Steve Ditko was busy putting pen to paper drawing pulpy horror and suspense stories during the final days of the Golden Age of comics. Strange Suspense collects over 30 stories and covers from the early days of comic book history, before rampant paranoia over juvenile delinquency brought about the dreaded Comics Code. It’s got over 200 pages of uninhibited and uncensored Ditko from 1953 – 1954, and it’s an absolute treat!
99% of the stories in this collection are of the horror variety and showcase the unique talent of a legendary comic book creator. One has to wonder just what was going through the mind of a young Ditko when he created the horrifying and macabre images seen in this book. Dismemberment, gore and grisly death take center stage in these tales, and since this is pre-code work, you actually get to see every last bit of it … in full color! Speaking of color, this book looks amazing. I’m certainly no expert in the field of comic book restoration, but to put it in layman’s terms: it looks brand new and absolutely beautiful, but it still looks and feels like an old comic. There’s none of that garish, brightly colored nonsense on overly-slick paper that we often see when old-time comic books are reprinted. The colors have a natural, muted look and the paper is a nice, toothy stock. Yes, talking about the paper stock is… well, it’s terribly nerdy. But what can I say? It really does add to the overall pleasure of the book.
Steve Ditko’s work has always held a fascination for me because of his incredibly unique and idiosyncratic style. He’s certainly not what you would refer to as a photo-realistic artist but he creates an entire world that becomes quite believable and once he’s drawn you in, you’re hooked. This artwork in this book, like everything else I’ve seen from the guy, has a very paranoid and anxiety-ridden feel to it. Combine that with the grotesque (and completely original) creatures and you’ve got a book filled with images that will remain seared into your psyche long after you’ve put it down.
As I said earlier, the vast majority of these stories are of the horror variety, but there are also a number of crime stories as well as a western and a romance. Amazingly enough, Ditko’s art on the romance story works in a way that I did not expect. It certainly isn’t the best of the bunch, but it’s not half bad. The important thing to remember here is that this collection represents the first two years of the man’s career and there doesn’t appear to be any learning curve. The guy was pretty much amazing right out of the gate.
This book is labeled as volume one of the Steve Ditko Archives. I sincerely hope that means we’ll be getting a lot more of these in the years to come. Strange Suspense is an absolute must have for any student of sequential art history and at $39.99 for 238 pages it’s actually not a bad price either. It’s an excellent collection of long lost work from a man whose importance cannot be overstated. There’s really no other grade to give it than an A.