This attractive deluxe hardcover is the same size as the DC Absolute Editions, using similar high quality paper and printing. The only thing I don’t like about the package is the white paper over the cover boards and lack of dustjacket, which will probably ensure that few copies will survive in “as shipped” condition for long, unless bagged and stored. Seems a shame, as a book like this deserves to be opened and read, even left out on the coffee table.
It’s a rather odd collection by Craig Yoe. The bulk of it is reproductions of short fantasy/mystery/science fiction/horror stories from Steve Ditko’s time at Charlton Comics, both the 1950s era before his celebrated time on Marvel’s SPIDER-MAN and DOCTOR STRANGE, and after that in the late 1960s. I don’t know the legal status of this work, but it seems to be in public domain, as there are no Charlton copyright notices. And all the stories are reproduced by scanning the comics pages. Here’s an example:
Unlike the MELVIN MONSTER volume, this one has accurate and in-focus scans that capture every detail. This has its good and bad points! Charlton was always notorious for the poor quality of its paper and printing, and there are loads of flaws on nearly every page shown, particularly in the color, which is often wretched, but also in the reproduction of the art.
For instance, one story is way too light, with parts of the lettering dropping out everywhere. That could be bad scanning, but I bet it’s just the way the comic was issued. The scans have been lightened overall, removing the paper color, but I don’t see any other evidence of changes. All the original typos in the lettering are preserved, for example. While the flaws are annoying, and one could wish for a perfect world where the original art for the stories was available to use, this does give one a very accurate reading experience to what you would have had buying the original comics, which I did in a few cases. Ditko’s art was one of the things that attracted me to them, despite the awful printing.
The stories themselves aren’t all that interesting, plotwise. Most are uncredited, though a later one that has a writing credit by Nick Cuti is good. A few have mildly surprising twists, but most are average for the time. Where they do excell it’s because of Ditko’s art, and he makes the most of the threadbare stories whenever he can, adding his unique stylized figures, layouts, subjects and backgrounds that fans of his Marvel work will find familiar.
Filling out the book, between the stories, are single page examples of original Ditko artwork from Charlton, Marvel, Warren, Tower and other publishers as well as many of the Charlton comic covers. These are all in raw scan form, tanned paper, white correction paint, pasted-on logos, wrinkled and flaking paper and all. I enjoyed looking at those as much as at the stories. Then there is Stan Lee’s brief introduction praising Ditko, as he often has before, and brief but interesting comments from P. Craig Russell, John Romita and Jerry Robinson. I was puzzled about the inclusion of the latter until I read his comments: he was one of Ditko’s art school teachers!
The elephant in the room for a book like this is the absence of Ditko’s finest work in the opinion of many: those famous Marvel stories. Even the short mystery/fantasy stories he did for the pre-superheroic Marvel, usually with Stan Lee, are a lot better than most of the Charlton ones presented here. But, as a collection of Ditko work that many readers will not have seen, this is a valuable effort, and well worth your time. If nothing else, the large size and accurate look of the Charlton stories gave me the same sort of reading experience I had when finding some of them in my youth; they’re atmospheric, wacky, nostalgic and fun. Recommended!