There are those that think that Steve Ditko is one of the great comic artists ever. They point to things like Marvel's Silver Age Spider-Man and Dr. Strange, and Charlton's 1970's The Question, among others. But I came of comic-reading age in the 1970's, long after Sturdy Steve had stopped working on those books. I was into more realistic artists like Curt Swan (Superman), Dick Dillin (JLA), Irv Novick (Flash), Jim Aparo (Batman), etc., and by the early 80s we had George Perez (Teen Titans), Mike Grell (Warlord), Mike Golden (Micronauts), Bill Sienkiewicz (Moon Knight), and many more. Ditko's work, when it showed up as a fill-in somewhere, was just too "off" for me to like. And while I can appreciate his contributions to the field, I tend to dislike (even today) a story with his artwork. It's just an acquired taste that I never acquired.
Why bring this up now? And why here?
Well, the Steve Ditko Comics Weblog is in the midst of reviewing his work on the Legion book from their perspective, so I figured I'd chime in from mine.
You would have thought that the early 1980s would have been a new golden age for the Legion. With issue #259 in January 1980, they finally forced Superboy out of the book that started out as his in 1949, and they had a book of their own for the first time. And what happened? With Jack C. Harris as editor and Gerry Conway as writer (assisted by J. M. DeMatteis), from 1980-81 we got the Space Circus of Death, the menace of
Arma Getten Dagon the Avenger and the brief return of Tyroc, a space genie, Dr. Mayavale, one of the worst Mordru stories, and space pirates. True, there were some decent stories (the Dark Man and the Reflecto saga) but more often than not, they weren't. One thing that that in my mind didn't help was the rotating artwork. You'd get a couple Jimmy Janes issues and then you'd be blindsided by a Steve Ditko job. And the inkers didn't help ether: Frank Chiaramonte on Curt Swan = good, over Steve Ditko = bad, for example.
Bob at the Ditko blog says that one reason why Ditko got these fill-in jobs (seven issues in all) was because the Legion editor at the time, Jack C. Harris, was a frequent Ditko collaborator. And despite their admiration toward's Ditko's work, even the Ditko blog admits that "unfortunately for the most part Ditko's brief tenure as fill-in artist didn't intersect with the well-written eras." People often look at Gerry Conway as the sole blame for this under-enthusiastically received time, but some of the credit (or blame) must also be laid at the feet of the editor as well.
Within a year, though, the editor had changed (Mike W. Barr) and so did the writers (Roy Thomas at the end of the Reflecto arc, and then Paul Levitz) and artists (Pat Broderick and then Keith Giffen). Talk about what a change in creative teams can do to a book!
Of the seven issues Ditko did, they've reviewed six of them so far, leaving only Legion (vol. 2) issues 267 with Vibrex and the Legion flight ring flashback.
and 268 with Dr. Mayavale unreviewed yet. Sadly, they don't have a copy of the Mayavale issue to review. (Update: Bob has now reviewed issue 268, and wishes hadn't.)
Some choice quotes:
Superboy and the LSH 257 (Bouncing Boy and Duo Damsel on an ice planet): "This is one of those Ditko stories to pick up when you've exhausted all others."
Legion (v2) 268 (Dr. Mayavale): "All I can say is that I'm glad at age 10 I picked up the issue after this, or I might never have read an LSH story again. ... Except for the hands, this is all sorts of bad. I'd say the hands are worth about the 39 cents I paid, if you paid the full 50 cent cover price you might want your money back."
Legion (v2) 272 (origin of Blok): "I like Chiarmonte's work on some pencillers, but on Ditko it comes across as a bit bland and flattening... Sorry for going off at length on the story. I was having trouble believing it myself. ... Ditko's art wasn't too bad, but nothing really sticks out."
Legion (v2) 274 (space pirates): "Yeah, space pirates. It's sometimes amazing this book lasted through this period to get to the good stuff on the other side. Despite the story, there's actually some fun artwork by Ditko in this one, what with the goofy aliens and fight scenes."
Legion (v2) 276 (Mordru as Lord Romdur): "Anyway, suffice to say that like most LSH books of this era it makes very little sense if you're not familiar with the characters. If you are, then it makes no sense at all. ... But overall, seriously, if you don't already have Ditko's LSH stories I can't recommend seeking them out."
Legion (v2) 281 (Molecule Master): "The last of the seven LSH stories Ditko drew is, fortunately, the best by far of those I've read. That's hardly a compliment, given the others (and I'm in no hurry to track down the two I don't have, one of which has a reputation as one of the worst LSH stories ever)."
Well what do you know, it looks like we agree on some things after all.