Hallowe’en Countdown III, Day 4

« ... and suddenly, an ordinary business day becomes a day of horrible visions… »

When he was introduced in 1951 (Star Spangled Comics no. 122), Dr. Terrance Thirteen was a perfect fit for the DC universe: a skeptic who, in the nominally-rational world he inhabited, got to elucidate and debunk all sorts of mock-supernatural shenanigans. When the ghost-breaker made his return in the late 60s (as a foil to his also-returning contemporary The Phantom Stranger), however, the world had changed. The editorial balance had shifted in favour of the mystical, and Dr. 13 wasn’t as fortunate as the kids from Scooby Doo: he now faced bonafide manifestations from the beyond, but he wouldn’t have any of it, becoming a blind, overbearing ideologue in the vein of filmic non-believers Dana Andrews in Night of the Demon (aka Curse of the Demon) or the fabulous Peter Wyngarde in Night of the Eagle (aka Burn, Witch, Burn… adapted from Fritz Leiber’s Conjure Wife).

And things got worse and worse over the years; by now Dr. 13 is treated as a joke and a punching bag (even Matt Howarth blew it, a rare misfire), but that’s the general climate in the modern mainstream: most long-running characters, even the heroes, with a scientific background (Henry Pym, Reed Richards, Tony Stark et al) are frequently depicted as arrogant, misguided and often downright insane.

For a brief time in the early 1970s, Dr. 13 was handled by a sympathetic and skillful writer who understood what the man stood for and what made him tick. For a full example, check out our earlier post on another Dr. 13 case, … and the Dog Howls Through the Night! (1974).

DeZuniga13Glasses05ADeZuniga13GlassesA
Scripter Skeates stated, a few years ago: « I quite like this story, especially the beautiful psychedelic scary artwork DeZuniga provided (an artist I very much enjoyed working with; he also illustrated a number of my Supergirl tales), plus the ending in which I somehow decided to treat this yarn as though it were a cautionary tale, the lesson learned being that one shouldn’t commit murder! For the longest time a copy of this comic wasn’t in my collection , but a couple of years ago I came upon a copy at a convention — the price-tag was a bit high due to the origin story that’s also in there! When I told my wife I had shelled out forty bucks for a comic with a story of mine in it that didn’t even have credits on it, she concluded that I was the one who was quite definitely insane!! »

-RG

Tentacle Tuesday: Dial T for Tentacle

Some people automatically conflate “goofy” with “childish”, but goofiness comes in many guises: from the charmingly nonsensical to the playfully quirky, from the clearly brilliant but confusing to the fucking stupid. (It’s also a snow-boarding term – How do I tell if I’m Goofy or Regular?) Today’s Tentacle Tuesday is goofy, all right, but more in the category of seemingly drug-induced codswallop. Another word for Dial H for Hero is wacky; distinctly wacky, so wacky that (as co-admin RG put it) it’s hard to really dislike it.

Maybe I should backtrack for those in the audience who are not familiar with the concept of Dial H for Hero. Robby Reed, a lucky (?), plucky teenager with a propensity to shout “Sockamagee!” in moments of excitement, stumbles upon some sort of magical thingamajig in a cave that enables him to become a superhero at the drop of hat (well, a turn of a dial). The process has unpredictable and uncontrollable results, in the sense that Robby has no idea who he will become, or what powers will be at his fingertips.

I have nothing against the idea of a rotary phone cum magical dial – that idea is rather interesting, given that rotary phones are indeed mysterious objects to the current generation – but I find the stories a tad too random to be enjoyable. Yet that’s the aspect that some readers clearly relished. To quote a letter from House of Mystery no. 172 (January-February 1968) from Bethesda, MD’s Irene Vartanoff.

« One of the best things about DIAL H FOR HERO is the huge amount of imagination put into each story. When at least two new heroes with new powers, costumes, weaknesses, bodies, etc. have to appear in each story, it may make your writers rack their brains and work overtime, but the results are fantastic. »

Given all the transformations Robby has gone through and the many bad guys he has had the pleasure of defeating, it is unavoidable that he would 1) encounter some villains with tentacles 2) acquire some tentacles himself. Dial H for Highball on *your* old-fashioned phone, if you still have one gathering dust in the attic, and enjoy this gallery of fun nonsense.

The very first appearance of Robby Reed and his magical dial, and already we have tentacles:

HouseofMystery156
House of Mystery no. 156 (January 1966), cover by Jim Mooney. This is a good demonstration of how random some of the superheroes generated by the machine are.

HouseofMystery156- The Marauders from Thunderbolt Island
This is the first Dial H for Hero story, and as such it has no other title. Scripted by Dave Wood, drawn by Jim Mooney. [RG: panel three looks suspiciously like the work of George Tuska. Ghosting… or swiping? Hmm…]
I mentioned that Robby himself sometimes sprouts tentacles. Here’s a good example:

HouseofMystery159-NickCardy
House of Mystery no. 159 (June 1966), cover by Jim Mooney. Another issue, another gallery of improbable heroes and villains
HouseofMystery159-TheClayCreepClan2
Human Starfish Robby Reed conveniently improves upon the concept of a normal starfish, developing prehensile appendages to capture a very stretchy criminal. The Clay-Creep Clan is written by Dave Wood, and drawn by Jim Mooney.

HouseofMystery159-TheClayCreepClan3

Jim Mooney was responsible for Dial H for Hero‘s art for many issues, from the onset of the series with House of Mystery no. 156 (January 1966) to House of Mystery no. 170 (October 1967). Dial H for Hero lasted three more issues after Mooney’s departure. As luck would have it, no. 171 and no. 172 bring our most striking examples of tentacles yet. (The final DHFH issue, House of Mystery no. 173, features a cover by Jack Sparling, with insides by Charles Nicholas and Sal Trapani.)

Arguably the prettiest cover of this post (my favourite, at any rate):

HouseofMystery171-NickCardy
Back to fighting tentacles! House of Mystery no. 171 (December 1967), cover by Nick Cardy.
HouseofMystery171- The Micro-Monsters-2
The Micro-Monsters! is written by Dick Wood and illustrated by Frank Springer.

HouseofMystery171- The Micro-Monsters-3

SpringerHOM172A
House of Mystery no. 172 (January-February 1668), cover by Frank Springer.
HouseofMystery172-TheMonstersfromtheH-Dial
The Monsters From the H-Dial! is written by Dick Wood and illustrated by Frank Springer.
HouseofMystery172-TheMonstersfromtheH-Dial2
How does Chief Mighty Arrow defeat the flying octopus? Why, by shooting jet-propelled feathers from his headdress, of course.

The last thing I’d like to mention is that my favourite Robby Reed appearance was in an issue of Plastic Man, of all places – to be more precise, in Plastic Man no. 13 (June-July 1976). In If I Kill Me, Will I Die? (read it here!), scripted by Steve Skeates, pencilled by Ramona Fradon and inked by Bob Smith, Reed not only gets to take on Plas (in more ways than one), but also falls deeply and magically in love with a professional hog-caller. Also, tentacles. Adorable *and* exciting!

PlasticMan13p13APlasticMan13p14A~ ds

Tentacle Tuesday: Aquaman and his Octopus Sidekicks

When you think of Aquaman, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Is he a brooding, tragic hero? A hapless sap whose prowess extends no further than throwing a starfish at his assailant? A talented swimmer, defender of Earth’s oceans?

« The image of the superhero riding on a chariot made of fish—sporting that classic orange top and green pants—sealed the depths-dweller in public memory as a doofy champion, despite defenders who insist there’s more to Aquaman than talking to fish and riding them places. While later depictions of the character emphasized his serious side, Aquaman jokes abounded especially in the 90s and 2000s—largely thanks to a school of young male animators, including Seth MacFarlane and South Park’s Matt Stone and Trey Parker, who couldn’t help but poke fun at Aquaman’s ineffectual reputation. »|source|

I believe the aforementioned Aquaman’s defenders are slightly missing the point. What’s wrong with catching a ride from a fish, or getting a helping hand from an octopus? In Aquaman’s world, octopuses play the role of indispensable helpers, using their tentacles as lassos, bludgeons and tourniquets, or forming acrobatic formations to give Aquaman a boost. Does this somehow make this superhero wimpy? Do we seriously still believe that treating animals with kindness, or collaborating with them, is emasculating? No wonder this world is going to hell in a handbasket. The audience for superhero comics sometimes seems to be quite devoid of imagination (or a sense of humour).

« Jokes about his wholesome, weak portrayal in Super Friends and perceived feeble powers and abilities [] led DC to attempt to make the character edgier or more powerful in comic books. Modern comic book depictions have attempted to reconcile these various aspects of his public perception, casting Aquaman as serious and brooding, saddled with an ill reputation, and struggling to find a true role and purpose beyond his public side as a deposed king and a fallen hero. » |source|

Okay, I’ve grumbled, and now I’ll move on to the tentacles. Take a seat astride your favourite jellyfish, strap in your fins, and let’s go!

Aquaman, the child of an undersea explorer who learned how to breathe and live underwater “by training and a hundred scientific secrets”, was created in 1941 by Paul Norris and Mort Weisinger. During the Golden Age of comics, he fought various evil guys (usually from water-related professions: sailors, marine biologists, pirates… and Axis villains, too). The whole thing started becoming really interesting (imho) in 1956 (coincidentally, with the advent of Silver Age), when Aquaman acquired his sidekick Topo the Octopus:

AdventureComics#229-Topo
Topo’s first appearance! « Aquaman’s Undersea Partner », drawn by Ramona Fradon, published in Adventure Comics no. 229 (October 1956).

Ramona Fradon handled Aquaman from 1951 to 1959, when she became pregnant and had to temporarily withdraw from the comics field until 1963. She deserves a separate post, really, especially since I love her art. In the meantime, read The Woman Who Made Aquaman a Star. As for Topo, I don’t have to explain why I’m fond of the idea of an octopus sidekick.

A few nice Fradon pages:

AquamanAdventureComicsIssue#246-theTownThatWentUnderwater-Ramona-Fradon
«The Town That Went Underwater», drawn by Ramona Fradon. It was published in Adventure Comics no. 246 (March 1958).
AquamanAdventureComicsIssue#246-theTownThatWentUnderwater-Ramona-Fradon-2
Another panel from « The Town That Went Underwater ».
Aquaman-Adventure-Comics#262-RamonaFradon-UnderseaHospital
A panel from « The Undersea Hospital! », scripted by Robert Bernstein and drawn by Ramona Fradon. This issue, Adventure Comics no. 262 (July 1959), has not one, but two fun animal stories: the other one – also lovable, imaginative nonsense – is « The Colossal Superdog », scripted by Otto Binder and drawn by George Papp.
Aquaman-Adventure-Comics#262-RamonaFradon-UnderseaHospital-2
Another panel from « The Undersea Hospital! ». Don’t you love the idea of a seaweed stretcher with eel supports?

In 1961, Nick Cardy started working on Aquaman with Showcase no. 31 (March-April 1961). When the sea king got his own title in 1962, Cardy became the regular artist, drawing inside stories and covers until Aquaman no. 39 (May-June 1968), and staying as the cover artist until Aquaman no. 56 (April 1971).

« Cardy proved adept at drawing sea creatures; his fluid, swirling water currents helped create a captivating, eye-pleasing undersea world. He became a fan favorite, not only because of his superb story-telling ability, solid figure work and facile inking, but because of the way he rendered Mera, Aquaman’s girlfriend. Cardy’s women had curves, not angles, and seemed to exist in three dimensions on the two-dimensional page. He never stopped trying to elevate his work, until the later covers in the series were among the most striking and imaginative of the publisher’s entire line.» (source: Comics Journal’s eulogy for Nick Cardy)

Well, that’s high praise indeed, but is it deserved? I can confirm that Cardy covers were really inventive. As for the interior art, let’s take a peek, as these stories conveniently overflow with tentacles.

There’s tentacles getting tangled, the octopus equivalent on panties in a twist…

Aquaman#1
Panel from « The Invasion of the Fire Trolls », scripted by Jack Miller and drawn by Nick Cardy, published in Aquaman no. 1 (January-February 1962).
Aquaman#3
Panel from « The Aquaman from Atlantis », scripted by Jack Miller and Nick Cardy, published in Aquaman no. 3 (May-June 1962).

An army of octopus fighters…

Aquaman#4
Page from « The Menace of Alien Island », scripted by Jack Miller and drawn by Nick Cardy, published in Aquaman no. 4 (July-August 1962).

I promised you acrobatics, so here are some octopuses doing a cheerleading routine (Aquaman forgot his pompoms at home):

Aquaman#9-endofAqualad
Aquaman no. 9 (May-June 1963). « The menace of the Aqualad-Creature » is scripted by Jack Miller and drawn by Nick Cardy.
Aquaman#9.jpg
It’s not *all* octopus tentacles. Page from  « The Secret Mission of King Neptune», scripted by Jack Miller and drawn by Nick Cardy, printed in Aquaman no. 9 (May-June 1963).

Continuing our tentacle shenanigans…

Aquaman#11
Any jerk who refers to an octopus as a “fish” deserves what’s coming to him. Page from « The Doom from Dimension Aqua », scripted by Jack Miller and drawn by Nick Cardy, published in Aquaman no. 11 (September-October 1963).
Aquaman#18-WifeofAquaman-NickCardy
As usual, mind fuckery rears its ugly head whenever romance is part of the plot. “I could kill you! But I really love you, actually!” An eye roll and a sigh. Panels from « The Wife of Aquaman », scripted by Jack Miller and drawn by Nick Cardy, published in Aquaman no. 18 (November-December 1964).
Aquaman#18-WifeofAquaman-NickCardy-2
Page from  « The Wife of Aquaman », scripted by Jack Miller and drawn by Nick Cardy, published in Aquaman no. 18 (November-December 1964).

One of those Nick Cardy covers we were discussing earlier, so you can decide for yourself whether his women are all angles or all curves:

Aquaman#22-NickCardy
Aquaman no. 22 (July-August 1965), cover by Nick Cardy.
Aquaman#22-NickCardy-TrapoftheSeaNymphs
« The Trap of the Sinister Sea Nymphs », published in Aquaman no. 22 (July-August 1965) art by Nick Cardy.

With Aquaman no. 40 (July-August 1968), Jim Aparo replaced Cardy on the inside art. Issues no. 40 to no. 47 (September-October 1969) were scripted by Steve Skeates (a definite favourite of this blog; read co-admin RG’S post “… and the Dog Howls Through the Night!”) and drawn by Jim Aparo. This creative team is a favourite of many an Aquaman fan. Voilà:

Aquaman55A
Page from « Return of the Alien! », scripted by Steve Skeates and drawn by Jim Aparo, printed in Aquaman no. 55 (January-February 1971).
Aquaman55SwishA
Panel from « Return of the Alien! », scripted by Steve Skeates and drawn by Jim Aparo, printed in Aquaman no. 55 (January-February 1971).

More Jim Aparo (sans Skeates):

Aquaman-Adventure Comics #446
« The Manta-Ray Means Murder! », scripted by Paul Levitz and Martin Pasko and drawn by Jim Aparo, published in Adventure Comics no. 446 (July-August 1976).
Aquaman#57-JimAparo
Aquaman no. 57 (August-September 1977), cover by Jim Aparo. I’m angry at that stupid “you could be in the Superman movie” sign that’s far more distracting than it has any right to be.
Aquaman#57-JimAparo-ALifeforaLife-2
Page from « A Life for a Life », scripted by David Michelinie and drawn by Jim Aparo, published in Aquaman no. 57 (August-September 1977).
Aquaman#57-JimAparo-ALifeforaLife
Another page from « A Life for a Life ».
Aquaman#63-JimAparo
Aquaman no. 63 (August-September 1978), cover by Jim Aparo.

You can read issues Aquaman issues no. 1 through to 63 here.

One last thing… I happen to be the proud owner of a piece of original art by Ramona Fradon (of fairly recent vintage), given to me by my sweetie. Lucky me!

RamonaAquamanA
Keep your octopus pals happy and you’re guaranteed a fulfilling relationship.

~ ds

Tentacle Tuesday: Superheroes in Octopus-land

In this installment of Tentacle Tuesday, we shall bear witness to a somewhat surprising facet of superhero life: superheroes sometimes struggle with tentacles, too.

To kick off the festivities (and to respect a chronological order of creation and publication), here’s The Flash narrating a story of woe, his almost-deadly encounter with a green monstrosity (Judging by its coquettish pink tentacles, the monster wanted to woo him, not snuff him out.)

FlashComics44A
Flash Comics no. 44, 1943. Cover by Lou Ferstadt (1900-1954), and here’s a bit of trivia: in addition to being a comics artist, he was a muralist, creating works for the RCA buildings and the 8th Street Subway station in NYC.

« The Liar’s Club », scripted by Gardner Fox and drawn by Lou Ferstadt, concerns itself with three men (one of whom is Jay Garrick, secretly The Flash) holding a fibbing contest to determine who can tell the biggest Flash-whopper.

FlashComics44Panel
Sadly, this tale was not the winner in the contest.

The Flash may have been embroiled in some purely imaginary tentacles, but his Earth-One counterpart’s teenage sidekick (it’s complicated), Kid Flash, encountered the real deal.

TeenTitans32A
Teen Titans no. 32, March-April 1971. Drawn by Nick Cardy.

« A Mystical Realm, A World Gone Mad », scripted by Steve Skeates and drawn by Nick Cardy, is actually a pretty good read (with good art!), and I don’t even like superheroes. Just check out the beautiful results of a time travel experiment going wrong (when does one ever go right?), including the evil red eyes of a glaring octopus:

TeenTitans32Panel

TentacleTuesdayIcon

If we throw a whole bevy of superheroes at a tentacled monster, are they going to fare any better?

FantasticFour88A
Fantastic Four no. 88, 1969. Pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Joe Sinnott, letters by Sam Rosen. However… A house there was. Tentacles there weren’t.

This cover promises lots of tentacular fun. Instead of that, the Fantastic Four (and an infant) go looking for a new residence, something quiet and secluded – and the house that’s offered to them by a real estate agent appears to be haunted. At the very least, it causes migraines, gradually makes its inhabitants go blind, and shoots stun bolts out of its walls. The usual crap. I don’t want to tell you which super-villain is behind this mischief, but I will, however, point out that the bastard doesn’t have tentacles. Not even one. And neither does his lousy house.

TentacleTuesdayIcon

The Flash is small fry, the Fantastic Four are mincemeat, but let’s see how Superman, the most superhero-like superhero of them all, fares when confronted with tentacles.

In “Danger — Monster at Work!”, the villain is a protoplasmic glob: some algae mutates after a lab accident and becomes an out-of-control, garbage-devouring, tentacled monster. Now, trash disposal is important, but when Superman realizes that everything on earth is impure to some degree, he has to stop the seaweed monstrosity before “it cleans Metropolis right off the map!”

Superman 246MonsteratWork
This story was published in Superman no. 246 (December 1971), with a script by Len Wein, pencils by Curt Swan and inks by Murphy Anderson.

Incidentally, there *is* actually an algae farm that’s suspended over a highway in Geneva, Switzerland that gobbles up CO2 produced by car engines. I hope they’re keeping a close eye on it…

Superman246CoverA
Tentacles? Well, “grasping appendages” anyway – let’s be generous. Superman no. 246, December 1971; pencilled by Curt Swan, inked by Murphy Anderson.

TentacleTuesdayIcon

How about if we take a superhero who’s quite at ease with water, who can breathe H2O and communicate with sea life?

“Nope, sorry, still gonna gobble you.”

Adventure445A
Adventure Comics no. 445 (May 1976). Cover by Jim Aparo, with colours by Tatjana Wood.
AdventureComics445Panel
This imposing figure of an octopus (even though he’s referred to as a “plant-thing” by Aquaman) is Krakor, the tentacled antagonist from “Toxxin’s Raiders” – the cover story written by Paul Levitz & David Michelinie and drawn by Jim Aparo.

Oh, no! What is our hero going to do? Why, dispatch the octopus in the most far-fetched manner possible, of course!

AdventureComics445Death

In conclusion, no superhero is immune from a harrowing encounter with a tentacled creature… but sadly, the latter is more often than not annihilated in the struggle. Next time, I’ll make sure to present you with some material in which the octopus gets the upper hand, so to speak!

~ ds

Steve Skeates’ “… and the Dog Howls Through the Night!” (1974)

« Who’d ever believe a story like that? »

On this fine day, we pay tribute to shifty scribe Chester P. Hazel (who sometimes goes by the unlikely nom de plume of Steve Skeates). It is whispered that Stephen, along with his nefarious twin Warren Savin, first invaded this plane of existence on January 29, 1943. That would make him/them/it seventy-five earthly rotations old, should these windblown tattles hold any credence.

Happily, in this case, picking out a Skeates favourite to share was no ordeal: I’d been meaning for some time to shine a light on one of his neglected gems, one that salt-rubbingly ran without proper attribution in The Phantom Stranger no. 34 (Dec. 1974-Jan. 1975, DC Comics.)

The cases of Dr. Terrance Thirteen, ghost breaker, must have been easier to write back in the 1950’s, when DC Comics’ default setting in its mystery titles was to explain away the supernatural element before the curtain call. DC’s resident skeptic first shared his insights in Star Spangled Comics, his feature lasting from issue 122 (November, 1951) to issue 130 (July, 1952). He then moved to The House of Mystery for a handful of appearances, then faded away. He returned to action, along with his also long-dormant colleague  and foil The Phantom Stranger, in 1969’s Showcase no. 80. In the Supernatural Seventies, all poor Dr. Thirteen could do is vainly and stubbornly play the cards of reason and logic against a house deck stacked to inevitably favour the uncanny and the unreal. He was doomed to be a comic book version of The X-Files’ Dana Scully, Fritz Leiber‘s Norman Saylor (Conjure Wife, 1943) or Night of the Demon‘s Dr. John Holden, all skeptics coming off as hopelessly obdurate and clueless in light of the “facts”.

Sounds like today’s so-called post-fact world… in which we need true skeptics (as opposed to deniers) and cool, rational minds more than ever.

Anyway, it wasn’t the first time wily Skeates had faced such a storytelling impasse: he’d had to ring the changes on pacifist character Dove (of Steve Ditko’s eternally-squabbling Hawk & Dove) within a universe of hard-slugging super vigilantes.

Dr. Thirteen bounced around various DC titles in the early-to-mid 70s. This is the series’ last bow in the back pages of The Phantom Stranger, and ironically its finest hour, alongside the penultimate entry, The Ghosts on the Glasses, which ran in Adventure Comics no. 428 (August, 1973.) In both cases, the inspired artwork is that of Filipino master Tony DeZuñiga (1932 – 2012), who was clearly in his element.

DrThirteen1ADrThirteen2ADrThirteen3ADrThirteen4ADrThirteen5ADrThirteen6ADrThirteen7ADrThirteen8A

A character likens the dead scientist’s ill-fated velocity experiments to comic book character The Flash… but it’s a cinch that what the impish* Mr. Skeates really had in mind was Virgil “Guy” Gilbert, aka Lightning, whose début, The Deadly Dust! he had scripted back in 1965 (T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents no. 4, April 1966). Here’s a relevant excerpt, featuring art by Mike Sekowsky and Frank Giacoia.

LightningA

In closing, a biographical blurb from DC’s T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents Archives, circa 2002: « A native and longtime resident of the Empire State, Steve Skeates began his work in comics as an assistant editor at Marvel Comics in 1965 – a job which he quickly abandoned in favor of writing comics as a full-time freelancer. Over the next twenty years he did work for nearly every major comics publisher, including DC, Marvel, Charlton, Tower, Warren, and Gold Key. Since leaving mainstream comics in the mid-1980s, he has worked as a reporter, bartender, and Zamboni operator, as well as publishing his own comics titles, which he continues to do from his home base in Fairport, New York. »

Happy birthday, Mr. Skeates, and thanks for everything!

-RG

*I mean to refer to Mr. Skeates’ undisputed status as King of the unofficial inter-company crossover. Naughty!

Happy 90th birthday, Mr. Ditko!

« Don’t be so sure! A guy that popular — he’d be a fool to fold up his act while he’s such a hot item!* »

I’ve been a Steve Ditko fan for as long as I can remember. In fact, I was a fan even before I actually saw his work. “How’s that even possible?”, you may ask. Well, when I was five, this neighbour from across the street was showing off a comic book he had just picked up, which was Teen Titans no. 29**. I was instantly captivated by two costumes on the cover: Hawk and Dove’s, designed by Ditko a couple of years earlier.

I do believe I had encountered a Ditko comic book just a bit earlier, a copy of The Many Ghosts of Doctor Graves no. 20 (June, 1970), acquired by my brother en route to the family vacation on Prince Edward Island. But that one had a (fine) cover by Pat Boyette, and I don’t recall the Ditko story within, « An Ancient Wrong ».

The bottom line is that Ditko’s been a precious part of my life for a spell. It would be easy to take him from granted, so let’s not, if you don’t mind.

Which brings us to our little tribute: running ninety covers covers would be about as practical as ninety candles on our birthday boy’s cake, so I’ll just drop a decimal and stick to a more manageable nine… I won’t even give a nod to such fickle and hollow notions as popularity, historical importance, or iconicity. I’m going with my favourites. That’s the way Steve would do it… and even if he wouldn’t, I’d still go this route.

UnusualTales9A
« Nobody here in Crestville will ever forget that night! »
A tiny reproduction of this cover, that of Unusual Tales no. 9 (Nov. 1957, Charlton), in some late-70s edition of the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide hooked me, and still grabs me. In the post-code era, particularly in its early days, you had to be mighty resourceful to fruitfully mine the mystery genre, what with all the verboten topics and tropes. The issue holds a whopping four, 1957-vintage Ditko stories, including the title piece, which you can read here:
http://ditko.blogspot.ca/2012/01/unusual-tales-night-of-red-snow.html
ASM2A
The Amazing Spider-Man no. 2 (May 1963, Marvel). Beyond Ditko’s departure (no. 38 was his final contribution), I have no further interest in Peter Parker and his costumed alter-ego.
Creeper4A
« Name’s Bulldog Bird! This is Sumo! We’re secret agents from the sovereign kingdom of Offalia! »
For most of the brief run of his book (issues 2 to 6), the Creeper had to contend with a faceless enemy, Proteus, who turns out to be someone very close to him. It was as though Ditko felt the need to replay the Spider-Man – Green Goblin secret identity dynamic, not the way *he* had envisioned it (which was to make the Goblin a total stranger, a situation he’d meticulously set up in the background), but the way Lee had, as if to show his former editor how to do it properly.
This is Beware the Creeper no. 4 (Nov.-Dec. 1968, DC), “Which Face Hides My Enemy?” Pencils and inks by Steve Ditko, plot and dialogue by Dennis O’Neil
Hawk&Dove2A
« You’re still wasting your time reading! Why don’t you build up that sickly body of yours? »
DC’s Hawk and Dove (introduced in Showcase no. 75, June 1968, DC) was, as its title and covers amply make clear, a study in contrast and opposition: aggression vs pacifism, the letter of the law vs the spirit of the law, Steve Ditko vs Steve Skeates…
The concept may have been of its time, but the industry as it stood wasn’t ready to explore the issues without stacking the deck. This was still, after all, a mainstream superhero comic book of the Sixties. This is issue 2, “Jailbreak!” (Oct.-Nov. 1968), Ditko’s third and final issue with his creations. As for Ditko’s abrupt departure from DC is concerned, the reason cited at the time was a relapse of tuberculosis, a disease that had plagued Ditko in his youth. Others have invoked more political explanations, but Ditko *was* out of the game for several months, which fits the convalescence scenario. His absence until 1975 from DC fits the politics one. Why credit one single factor when several, taken together, are more plausible?
GhostManor5A
« Come off it, yer Lordship! This ain’t no blinkin’ time ter do the art connoisseur bit! »
The rakish 14th Lord Garland proves a bit of a disappointment to his forebears. Sir Steve Ditko’s cover proffers a scenic victim’s perspective… but who’s the hazy, phosphorescent figure shambling down the stairs to meet us?
This is Charlton Comics’ Ghost Manor no. 5 (second series, June 1972, Charlton). Inside, you’ll find a trio of Joe Gill chillers: “Dead Man’s Eyes”, illustrated by Joe Staton; “Devils at My Door”, illustrated by Charles Nicholas and Vincent Alascia, and of course, the pièce de résistance, “The Last Garland”, brought to you in panoramic Ditko-vision.
GhostlyTales97A
Ah, the largely lost art of the *soft* sell. Charlton’s cadre of artists hewed much closer to the ambience favoured by aficionados of the spectral than did the esteemed competition. You know, more Montague Rhodes James than, say, Rob Zombie.
Here, Ditko demonstrates how (dis)quiet and mystery is evoked. Dignified silence can be very attractive when everyone around is shouting. Ghostly Tales no. 97 (August 1972, Charlton) features “The Eye of the Cat”, actually handled by Don Perlin, while Ditko delivers visuals for Joe Gill’s “Journal of a Hanged Witch”. The issue also features “Poltergeist”, an effective collaboration between Creepy Magazine founder Russ Jones and the multitalented Bhob Stewart.
Haunted16A
My particular favourite among Ditko’s covers for Charlton’s Haunted (75 issues, 1971-84.) The merrily saturated colour scheme, the composition and its geometric simplicity, that well-chosen angle… the contagious joy of a master at play. This be Haunted no. 16 (June 1974, Charlton.)
BeyondtheGrave2A
If you visit that grave on a dark night, you may be surprised…for there is a sentry stationed there…to honor the dead? Or to make sure that General Kugar never leaves his grave?
Here’s a cover showing the sort of solemn dignity and restraint that made Charlton’s line of ghost books so attractive to me right off the (vampire) bat. No one’s shouting deceptive hype or explaining the action; the elusive allure is undisturbed, unlike the sanctity of the tomb. 
DC, under Infantino and Cardy, generally understood this, but Marvel virtually never did or cared to. But hey, what sold and what I liked rarely sat at the same table.
Beyond the Grave no. 2 (Oct. 1975, Charlton).
Shade3A
Ah, Shade. Ditko’s last great creation, cut off in its prime by the Great DC Implosion of ’78. Later misunderstood and corrupted by hacks. Finally reprinted, including formerly unpublished issue 9, in volume 1 of The Steve Ditko Omnibus (2011). It’s still a frustrating experience, but at least issue 8’s cliffhanger has been resolved, and what happens in the Zero Zone doesn’t stay in the Zero Zone, if you know what I mean. This is Shade the Changing Man no. 3 (Oct.-Nov. 1977, DC)

*Jack Ryder (aka The Creeper)’s closing quip from “The Coming of the Creeper!”, plot and art by Steve Ditko, script by Don Segall (Showcase #73, Mar.-Apr. 1968, DC)
**Since it played such a crucial rôle in my Ditko inculcation, here’s the Teen Titans issue in question.

TeenTitans29A
Teen Titans no. 29 (Sept./Oct. 1970, DC) Cover by Nick Cardy (likely co-designed by Carmine Infantino and coloured by Jack Adler), illustrating “Captives!”, written by Hawk & Dove scenarist Steve Skeates and illustrated by Nick Cardy.

– RG

Return of the Tentacles

Once upon a time (or, more precisely, a handful of years ago), we started a little weekly celebration of tentacle glory in comics and called it Tentacle Tuesday. (My husband came up with that alliteration; I hope he’s willing to share the credit for this pithy little phrase with others, as I honestly don’t know whether he was first to dream it up. By now, #tentacletuesday is a hashtag and there’s a Facebook page with that title). Yet “real life” (read: “a sad existence tragically devoid of octopuses”) got in the way, and although we’ve often thought about Tentacle Tuesday, no offerings were made at the Octopoda altar. We’d spot some glorious tentacles while reading comics, and wistfully dream of sharing them with a like-minded audience, but the impulse would pass, leaving behind vague but lingering regrets.

Well, we are back. Let’s keep Tentacle Tuesday going strong, for after all, comics and tentacles are among the universe’s greatest achievements. Let the cephalopod fiesta begin – we welcome you to this blog’s first-ever installment of Tentacle Tuesday!

Our first offering features, quite naturally, a Welcome Mat leading to a trapped, angry octopus, who seems to be indignant about being stuck in a pit with a bunch of uncouth, plebeian imaginary monsters. Claws, pincers, and talons, razor-sharp teeth and dendritic horns? Ha, *he* has tentacles! And if the other denizens of this trap are purely monster-under-the-bed material and act as if they’re drunks at a party, Mr. Octopus here is a professional who takes his job of being terrifying seriously.

CainTentaclesA

This is a pin-up, if I may call it that, by the easily identifiable Sergio Aragonés, scanned from DC’s House of Mystery no. 189 (Nov./Dec. 1970). The giggling guy is Cain, the so-called host of the House of Mystery, and is every bit inclined to betray and double-cross as his Biblical namesake. Incidentally, number 189 is an excellent issue: Eyes of the Cat, with art by Jerry Grandenetti and Wally Wood, is both gorgeous and scary, with bonus points for prominently featuring a black cat (which Neal Adams made look like a rat on the cover – if you don’t believe me, try http://pencilink.blogspot.ca/2008/05/house-of-mystery-189-neal-adams-cover.html ) It is followed by The Deadly Game of G-H-O-S-T by Leonard Starr, and the issue wraps up elegantly with The Thing in the Chair with art by Tom Sutton.

In a slightly different vein, but equally lighthearted, is this cover of Abbott & Costello no. 16 (Aug. 1970, Charlton). I hope our readers shall be too polite to point out that Tony Tallarico, the artist, made tentacles look more like elephant trunks, or that this… creature… has but four of them, which would make him probably the only quadripartite octopus in existence (they’re supposed to have 8, for those of us who are a little hazy on the specifics). Now, if only Charlton paid by the tentacle rather than by the page…

AbbottCostello16A

This comics series was of course based on the American comedy duo of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, of early 40s and 50s fame. Fast-forward to 1967, and with Costello having long passed on (in 1959), the pair was miraculously given a new, two-dimensional lease on life (hey, you take what you can get… comedy’s a vicious game!) through the auspices of Hanna-Barbera Productions, and Charlton landed the comics licence and ran with it… for a healthy twenty-two issues. The first eight or nine of these, featuring the madcap talents of artist Henry Scarpelli and (especially) scripter Steve Skeates, are the ones to seek out. You have been warned!

~ ds