Monday, September 26, 2011

Ditko's Shade

While personal issues have kept me from updating my blog for the past few weeks (including another Kirby inked cover to add to the growing list), I've found a few moments to discuss the recent Steve Ditko Omnibus, which opens with a complete reprinting of his 1970s creation, Shade, the Changing Man. Although its wonderful to see the last issue, which was cancelled along with a plethora of other titles in the notorious "DC Implosion", it is unfortunate that current policy decrees that the stories be reprinted in their "original form", meaning without color. The problem is that Shade # 9 was originally produced FOR color, and was only published in black and white because the book never made it to the colorist before cancellation (coloring is one of the last phases of the production process). As with the earlier Blue Beetle and Capt. Atom stories, which were printed in fanzines that could not afford color, these stories cry out for color. 

So far, I've read the first six issues, and it's clear that production wise, these stories shine with the better paper and printing used here. When these stories were first published in 1977, the printing quality in most comics was abysmal. Fine lines wobbled, and any detail was lost. Here we see every line of Ditko's work, and the original coloring is accurately reproduced, much of it vivid and clear.

Ditko created the character of Shade, and it fits into his concept of a heroic individual. As with many Ditko heroes, Rac Shade is a man who is wanted for crimes he did not commit, pursued by both criminals and the law. He wears a scientific outfit that gives him the ability to alter his appearance based on his opponents fears. Like his later Static, the outfit could be used for good or evil, depending on the wearer. Although there is a base on earth, much of the story tales place in other-dimensional realms. Ditko's plot is thick with characters and concepts, perhaps a little too dense in places, but he also adds some interesting twists and turns from issue to issue. Of note is Shade's love interest, Mellu, a Government agent; a strong, independent woman who blames Shade for the crippling of his parents, but who always harbors a modicum of doubt over his apparent guilt. What is interesting is that Ditko actually resolves this problem by the 6th issue and does not steretch it out interminablly. 

Ditko's visual concepts stand out in his design of villains such as Form; a woman who can change into a misty substance, Sude; a large mechanical face with small arms and big teeth, and Khaos; a distorted figure who represents destruction. Ditko also plays with lighting effects ala Wally Wood, and his close ups of characters faces is delightful.

While Shade has a lot to offer, there are a few drawbacks as well. I find Shade's visual signature of "changing" his appearance through the M vest in order to frighten his foes to be lacking in drama. A big fist and a scary face can only go so far.Shade's costume is simple and not up to the standards Ditko has set for himself. Shade probably would have worked better without the "altering" concept and with perhaps another visual signature instead (such as Static's look). Michael Fleisher provided the dialouge for all the stories, and it is workmanlike at best. Fleisher has stated in interviews that he didn't particularly care for Shade and was just doing a job, and while I've enjoyed his solo writing on strips such as Jonah Hex, its too bad DC didn't get someone more sympathetic to Ditko's ideas, with the ability to write compelling dialouge.

Having said all that, I look forward to reading the last three instalments. This was Ditko's last hurrah for the major companies, in terms of his devoting energy and investing effort in a concept all his own. After this, most of his ideas would go the independent route, with work for DC and Marvel almost entirely produced on pre-existing characters or anthology stories (Yes, I know he worked of Speedball, but others were involved in that character as well, and it did not have the depth of Shade, retreading old paths for the most part). 

I'll probably have more on Shade and the Ditko Omnibus in a future blogpost.                      


HemlockMan said...

Ditko could have settled the plot device of the love-interest/antagonism for a couple of reason. First, he may have realized that with the state of comics sales that the book could be cancelled at any moment and he just wanted to resolve that conflict, and/or he never wanted to follow formula too terribly much. The kick was to solve the problem in a lot less time than most writers would take. Either way, it was a nice touch.

Henry R. Kujawa said...

"a complete reprinting of his 1970s creation, Shade, the Changing Man"

I have exactly ONE issue of this book, which was intriguing, but I'm sure it makes more sense and a better read if taken in its entiretly. I must get my hands on this one of these days. These "complete" collections are a boon to fans and casual readers alike.

"it is unfortunate that current policy decrees that the stories be reprinted in their "original form", meaning without color. The problem is that Shade # 9 was originally produced FOR color, and was only published in black and white because the book never made it to the colorist before cancellation"

Does DC always shoot themselves in the foot this way? Sheesh. How much would it take to do "traditional" coloring (no excessive Photoshop airbrushing!!)? What I wish DC had done was include the FAN-produced OMAC #9 (David Morris & Dek Baker) when they collected OMAC. The fan story FINISHES Kirby's intended 3-parter, and between the art and story, somehow captures Kirby better than most attempts, and the character, BETTER than every single thing DC has ever done with him since the original book was cancelled. How tough would it have been to cut a deal?

"in 1977, the printing quality in most comics was abysmal. Fine lines wobbled, and any detail was lost"

"Printed on TOILET PAPER" was the running joke (except it wasn't a joke). I can clearly picture in my head some of Terry Austin's fine lines in an John Byrne X-MEN issue where it looked like the inker's hand was shaking while drawing-- only, it was really the printing doing it!

"What is interesting is that Ditko actually resolves this problem by the 6th issue and does not stretch it out interminablly."

This is the difference between a CREATIVE type (writer) and a corporation. One is trying to tell A STORY, the other is trying to endlessly extend the life expentency of a "property". (Put another way, DARKSEID was supposed to DIE at the end of the 1st "New Gods" storyline. It might have taken a few YEARS to tell that ONE story, but by the end, he was supposed to be GONE, never, ever to return. Unlike, say, Baron Karza in MICRONAUTS.)

"Sude; a large mechanical face with small arms and big teeth"

Hey! Was this before or after PAC-MAN ?

"its too bad DC didn't get someone more sympathetic to Ditko's ideas, with the ability to write compelling dialogue"

Is that what happened with STARMAN in ADVENTURE COMICS? (Or was that Paul Levitz' idea? For that matter, how come Ditko didn't do the FINALE that appeared in DC COMICS PRESENTS-- instead of Jim Starlin?)

And speaking of Ditko (just re-posted yesterday)...