Strange Suspense: The Steve Ditko Archive Vol. 1
Edited by Blake Bell
It’s difficult know how to approach Strange Suspense. As a relic? An oddity? A supplementary biography of one of the medium’s truly warped innovators? Given its physical context and the time and works that have elapsed since the stories contained herein were initially published, it’s tough–if not impossible–to approach these stories at they were first meant to be appreciated, under the sheets with a flashlight, as a young lad, in the early 50s, as the industry underwent its own version of the McCarthy trials, in what must have seemed a world away.
This isn’t to say that Fantagraphics hasn’t done a great job in this restoration. Like the rest of their titles, this first volume in the Steve Ditko archives is beautifully packaged and restored—but its precisely that restoration that distances these stories from the original pulp floppies in which they were originally presented. Gone are the ads for assorted novelties, and the $0.10 cover price has since been replaced with a backcover $39.99 UPC.
Like many of the company’s reprints, Strange Suspense’s primary appeal seems to exist at some crossroads between nostalgia and those completists who don’t possess sufficient funds to shell out $400 per back issue. Children of the early Cold War who grew up with a pre-Spider-man Ditko will find plenty to love in these restorations, which faithfully keeps intact the four-color printings errors of the books’ original pages. Editor Blake Bell doesn’t attempt to impose an editorial hand in the process, either. Aside from a quick introduction, the book contains no supplementary text. Bell clearly got that out of his system with last year’s Strange and Stranger.
Contemporary fans will no doubt find a lot to like in this volume, as well, both as a piece of mid-century pop-art, and as a first-hand look at singularly warped sensibilities of one of the artists that would go on to shape the modern superhero book as we know it. Ditko clearly reveals in his pre-Code world, constructing giant man-eating worms, and serial killers, and goblins. The artist draws on a broad scope of genre, demonstrating diverse artistic and storytelling talents, in a bullpen that seemingly had little creatively suppressive supervision. There are horror strips and sci-fi and jungle stories and even some Jack Cole-esque comedic strips at the end.
Again, however, the $40 asking price seems to all but ensure that the book will largely stay out of the hands of the casual collector, especially as the series progresses in number. It’s a shame, because Strange Suspense is a treasure trove of weird excitement from one of the mavericks of mid-century comics.