Steve Ditko: Space Wars
By Steve Ditko and others
Compiled, edited and designed by J. David Spurlock
Published by Vanguard Productions

Steve Ditko is the wonky iconoclast of comic art, his vivid cartooning bringing a strange life to much of the material he has illustrated over the many decades of his career. While best known to casual readers as the co-creator of Spider-Man, he produced a large amount of work for Charlton Comics, a strange, Connecticut-based imprint that, legend has it, printed its comics on presses originally designed for the production of cereal boxes. Certainly the quality of the reproduction of most of the Charlton Comics I've encountered in my lifetime of reading comics does nothing to disprove that legend.

Space Wars collects twenty-one short science-fiction stories drawn by Ditko; no writer is credited, although Ditko scholar Blake Bell tells me it's likely Charlton stalwart Joe Gill wrote most or all of the pieces included in the volume.

Unfortunately, the scripts are uniformly mediocre; it's to Ditko's credit that his pop-art sci-fi stylings add enough grace to the material to merit reprinting these many decades later. It should be noted that this is work that was originally intended for colour, and its absence detracts from the potential full enjoyment of these stories as naive relics of the cold-war era.

What's left, then, is Ditko's black and white art, apparently reproduced from the original comics. It's far from his best work -- missing, as it is, the narrative confidence of his later Spider-Man stories, or the carefree cartooning of better work Ditko did at Charlton, on the Blue Beetle and Captain Atom stories he inked over his own pencils. The aliens and outer space settings do give the artist a chance to exercise his imagination, though, and Ditko being what he is, many iconic images do stand out as interesting examples of his art.

So, while I can't recommend this to anyone looking for solid science fiction stories or even good examples of the best of what Steve Ditko is capable of delivering on the page, Steve Ditko: Space Wars is certainly of historical interest to devoted students of science fiction in comics, and Steve Ditko's lesser-known work. Grade: 3.5/5

-- Alan David Doane

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