Friday, July 11, 2008

Ditko, Flint and Kirby

Here's how this works: I finish reading something, and I tell you about it, and I try not to bore you to death. This time, reviews of Essential Doctor Strange Vol. 1 (Marvel, 2004), Judge Dredd: The Henry Flint Collection (Rebellion, 2008) and Kirby: King of Comics (Abrams, 2008).

I picked this up at the Great Escape in Louisville in the spring for nine bucks, and I have to say, if there's a more mistitled book in the whole "essential" library, I haven't seen it yet. Doctor Strange originally appeared as eight-ten page episodes in Marvel's anthology book Strange Tales, and after a hesitant start over the first three or four shaky installments, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko created something genuinely weird and compelling. The visuals are just amazing, and there's a sense of a universe so wild and unrestrained that you're willing to overlook the conventions of 1960s comics, like the talky, cod-Shakespearian dialogue. Nobody says "'tis" as much as Dr. Strange. But there's a great cast, highwire ideas and clever plotting, culminating in a lengthy serial where Strange's two chief villains team up to destroy him. It's genuinely great stuff.

And then, after about 300 pages, Ditko leaves. And while Bill Everett, Roy Thomas and others try their best, what follows is not even remotely essential. I gave up on it, frankly. I'd be much happier with a simple "Complete Ditko" edition of this comic on better paper, because that's the Essential Dr. Strange, not all this extraneous mess. By the hoary hosts of Hoggoth, make it so, Marvel!

This is the third of Rebellion's artist-centered Judge Dredd collections. (The others spotlight Cam Kennedy and Carlos Ezquerra.) This one presents about a dozen episodes of varying length by one of Dredd's best modern artists, and I can't find a nit to pick with it. It includes the hilarious "Turkey Shoot" and the fantastic "Flood's Thirteen," which starts as a parody of those Clooney-Pitt heist films before falling apart in a spectacular disaster of teleporters, stolen identities and lobotomised terrorists. Highly recommended!

The short version: Boy, this is good, but I'm unsatisfied, knowing that there is much more out there.

Mark Evanier's Kirby: King of Comics is a gorgeous coffee-table biography of one of the medium's great thinkers and talents. Don't let the appalling cover dissuade you; the interior is as flawlessly designed as you could hope for, and features hundreds of wonderful illustrations of Kirby's work on creations ranging from Captain America to the bulk of 1960s Marvel - pretty much everybody you've heard of other than the handful that Ditko designed. The writing is incisive and paints a real, complete portrait of Kirby, but many of the details that appeal to me as a reader and completist are, due to space limitations, glossed over.

I would love to learn much more than this book provides, and happily, Evanier is in the early stages of a more comprehensive bio. This is a more than adequate placeholder until then, and will surely satisfy most readers, or new fans who'd like to have their eyes pop out at the sight of some of these original sketches, cosmic layouts behind the bizarre visage of Galactus, collages, caricatures and ephemera. Recommended on the understanding that something more essential will one day supplant it.

(Originally published July 10, 2008 at hipsterdad's LJ.)

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