The Steve Ditko Omnibus Volume 1 featuring Shade the Changing Man: all stories plotted and illustrated by Steve Ditko with additional writing by a cast of thousands (Collected 2010); The Steve Ditko Omnibus Volume 2 featuring Hawk and Dove: all stories plotted and illustrated by Steve Ditko with additional writing by a cast of thousands (Collected 2010):

Writer-artist Steve Ditko’s quixotic nature was only amplified by the cruddy state of mainstream comic books for the people who actually created characters for the companies. His two most notable co-creations for Marvel Comics were Spider-man and Dr. Strange, though he also did character-defining work on Iron Man and the Hulk. Tired of Stan Lee’s scripting and editing choices, Ditko left Marvel for more than a decade in the late 1960’s. For the last 15 years, he’s pretty much done his own, self-published thing, with very occasional short work for DC. He’s famously reclusive.

Prior to his fame-creating Marvel superhero work, Ditko did thousands of pages of horror and monster work for many companies, honing his skills until he’d pretty much reached his impressive peak in the 1960’s at Marvel and on B&W horror stories for Warren, and superhero work for DC and Charlton in the late 1960’s.

These two omnibuses collect all of Ditko’s output for DC other than his work on The Creeper in the 1960’s and 1970’s. In total, the collection spans several decades, offering the great, the good, and the very occasional indifferent sides of Ditko. He plotted many of the stories here (though not all), wrote a few, and either fully illustrated or pencilled the rest. It’s a really great, broad look at one of the most important, influential, and fascinating American comic-book creators.

Ditko’s unique ability to depict ordinary looking people in fantastical environments was at its best in Dr. Strange, but the Shade stories reprinted here are a very, very close second. They’re utterly bizarre and engaging, and Ditko finds in dialogue-writer Michael Fleisher a kindred spirit when it comes to odd dialogue and description. Many of the pieces fully scripted by others take advantage of Ditko’s strengths as well.

The pieces penciled but not inked by Ditko offer a fascinating look at how different artists approached Ditko’s art. Romeo Tanghal, an excellent inker of George Perez on New Teen Titans in the 1980’s, does a really solid job on the Starman adventures reprinted herein. The masterful Wally Wood doesn’t always completely work on the four issues of Stalker he and Ditko did together, sometimes overpowering Ditko’s distinctive faces, but it’s still worth looking at.

There are a few duds in the inking department, but they’re few and far between. And while Ditko’s Legion of Super-heroes stories aren’t an artistic high-point for him, they do accomplish something that a lot of artists on LSH failed at: they make the characters look like teen-agers.

The peaks collected here are really high, and the valleys (mostly horror shorts) still offer some of that Ditko magic. One also gets the only time Ditko drew Batman in a comic-book story (albeit as a guest-star in the first issue of the short-lived Manbat series), and Ditko’s crouching, weirdly endearing take on Jack Kirby’s Demon. Highly recommended.

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