I’ve been reading The first Dr Strange Masterwork lately, and I have to say, it’s in the small running of my favorite comics ever, along with Don McGregor and Billy Graham’s Black Panther, and Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s All Star Superman. It even has a more imaginative antagonist than those do:

ditko eternity
I’ll have to let you know how I feel about it later, though, because I’m taking my time reading it. No issue ends in a cliffhanger, so it’s a much different omnibus comic reading experience than Invincible, which was an afternoon’s flip through. I carry this comic close to me at all times, and during a ten minute break at work, I flip through it, so I have something good to think about for a while. I’d almost feel like a glutton if I read it all in one sitting. Or maybe it’s just the enchanting hypnosis of the master of the mystic arts at work, perhaps a little bit more devious than I first envisioned:

does that look like a hero to you?
Ah, but it’s all in the service of a greater serial narrative. Ditko spent most of his early career doing eight page short stories for a bunch of small publishers pre-code, which makes them near impossible to find irl, and information is even more scant: thankfully Ditko himself has reprinted his favorites that have had rights reverted to them. There are a lot in print, and he even drastically redrew some to better guide you to his vision.

After cutting his teeth on the eight page short, he developed Peter Parker/Spider-man for the final issue of a monster comic he contributed to regularly (and which has awesome art).

Note how the caption frames Peter as unleashing some great horror on the world that he has no love for. The plot for the comic bears out the eight page monster formula: he becomes a professional wrestler interested only in money, and doesn’t even lift a finger to stop an evil man who beeomes his uncle’s killer.

It’s a twist ending to a story to an audience getting less and less interested in alien monsters, and much more interested in human ones.

The comic then becomes its own beauty of romance comics (keeping the “Amazing” from Spider-man’s first appearance) navigated by Stan Lee and fueled by Ditko’s misspent energy on monsters. The Lizard, Doctor Octopus, Scorpion, The Green Goblin, and more emerge from his mind, and Peter’s supporting cast has their initial stones throw of characters thrown.

SandmanASM4 (1)

and the Lizard, a verifiable extensionof the monster genre (that just wants to cure itself, and always ends up worsening his condition),

from Amazing Spider-man 6

and one of Ditko’s enduring Doctors also came from that creation, Doctor Octopus:

from Amazing Spiderman 11

so terrifying and monstrous a villain. Which was how Ditko wanted to keep it. But Stan Lee wanted to reveal the identity of Green Goblin as a close associate of Peter Parker. Steve Ditko, however, wanted to keep the world full of monsters, and wished to keep his identity anonymous.

And so DItko’s Spider-man epic remains unfinished, and Stan Lee has successfully edited the extension of his supporting cast into a wide (and, at times, very interesting) group that just never resolves itself.

Ditko did get to outlast Stan Lee on another creation, and see to the end of one of his own epics, though:

and it’s a marvelous thing. Instead of the monster comic solved by science that comes to define Spider-man’s victories, we get a former surgeon hosting a jaunt through a horror territory instead, and sorcery replacing Spider-man’s science knowledge. Instead of Monsters, we get Ditko exploring abstrace psychic dimensions and battles of pure energy (where the style makes any disorienting sense of deus ex machina disappear: the art’s style gives battles to the conflicts).

And we get a different sort of character from Peter Parker: we get a hero who chose to become what he was. Instead of an accident giving him powers, we get a doctor becoming unable to practice his work, and turning to the mystic arts instead. There is still tragedy inducing his condition, and Doctor Strange even acts first out of greed before a personal loss makes him reconsider his actions, but this is no simple eight issue story.

Instead, we have a formerly greedy doctor attempting to prove his altruism and nobility to his master as part of his process into becoming the master.

Ditko even gets the costume change for a serial narrative, switching to a more elaborate (and powerful) amulet and cloak (which now floats separate from himself), and the freedom in Doctor Strange is apparent.

cloak-of-levitation ditko
I haven’t read it all the way, but he meets a cosmic being called Eternity, and the comics contain some of Dennis O’Neil’s first writings for comics, as Steve Ditko “co-plots and pencils” four issues trailing Stan Lee’s run.

I just got all of the last issues at a local comic convention. I’m super excited about finishing it.