Review: “The Steve Ditko Omnibus Vol. 1: Starring Shade the Changing Man”

Steve Ditko is one of those comic book icons that has left an indelible mark on comics, creating or helping to create some of the most recognizable characters in the medium.  Two such creations were Spiderman and Doctor Strange with Stan Lee for Marvel Comics.  He studied art under Jerry Robinson (creator of the Joker) and apprenticed under Jack Kirby.  His credentials speak for themselves.  The Omnibus in question concerns his work at DC comics between 1966 and 1982.

For the most part this volume is comprised of little vignette stories that appeared in DC’s anthology comics such as House of Mystery, Weird War Tales, Mystery in Space, etc.  The quality of the artwork is consistent, considering that that is what Ditko’s primary occupation is, and the writing ranges from fair to incredible.  Of course in the writing department, he had some decent help, working with the likes of Len Wein, Steve Skeates, Mike Barr, and Arnold Drake.  These stories read very cinematically, reminiscent of horror and sci-fi films of the fifties and sixties.  There is even the hint of  fairy tales within.

What Happens When You Displace Einstein In Space and Time?

The Omnibus doesn’t just contain these short, disparate yarns though.  It collects two short lived series both drawn by Ditko and one written by him.  The latter series, as advertised in the Omnibus’s title, is Shade, The Changing Man, and the other, written by the ever talented Paul Levitz, is Stalker.

I was very excited to read Shade, The Changing Man because of Peter Milligan’s resurrection of the character earlier last year in 2011.  Of course, Milligan had also written the character in the early 90’s with great success.  Whenever someone of Milligan’s caliber takes on a resurrection of an older character its interesting to revisit the source material to see what the initial draw was.  Ditko’s character was indeed worth looking into.  Rac Shade was a security officer in the adjacent dimension known as the “Meta-Zone.”  Framed for attempted murder and treason, he is hunted by his old colleagues and most especially a tenacious N-Agent (The N stands for Negation), Mellu Loron, his former fiancee and lover.  Armed with the experimental, one of a kind M-Vest that allows him to warp reality around him, he travels between the “Earth Zone”, “Meta Zone”, and interconnecting “Zero Zone” trying to clear his name and regain the love of the woman who now screams for his blood, which she intends to personally spill.  These stories are so intricately plotted with pathos, suspense, and tragic fortune that they almost seem like one long issue and not nine shorter issues.  Sadly due to the DC Implosion of the late 70’s which crippled the company, Shade, The Changing Man was cancelled after only eight issues right at the crux of the storyline it was artfully weaving.  A ninth issue was plotted and drawn, released in a limited release comic called Cancelled Cavalcade, which was only distributed among DC personnel.  This Omnibus collects this black and white ninth issue for the public to view for the very first time.  I have to admit that this was exciting, albeit still disappointing as it didn’t wrap anything up.

Lovers' Quarrel in "Shade #2"

The other series, Stalker, is a swords and sorcery story of a peasant who dreams of being a knight and as a result  is exploited and enslaved by an evil noblewoman.  He strikes a deal with a demon god of war for martial prowess in exchange for what all demonic bargains hinge on: his soul.  The series follows him on a quest to regain what he rightfully gave away.  Across the board this series, though only four issues, was tightly plotted in art and story.  Unlike the above mentioned Shade, this series had a more varied feel.  What I mean by this is that each issue, though following a central goal, had a unique feel in each installment.  I think that the way Shade was plotted suited the story it was telling perfectly, and the way Levitz plotted this story suits this one perfectly.  The Stalker is scouring the ends of the Earth for his soul and each issue’s uniqueness makes the reader unable to anticipate what he will go up against next in his quest.  Again, the series only last for four issues before it too was cancelled, but this title did reach a logical point of conclusion.  I do wish though that it would have continued, as the implication left by its ending are rife with possibilities.

Stalker Battles Demons Within and Without

I thoroughly enjoyed this massive volume, and if you all can get a hold of it, it is definitely worth the read.  The art though very much Ditko’s own style is heavily influenced by Kirby in the kinesthetics and surrealist science he depicts.  He proves also his prowess for visual storytelling as both artist and writer.  Its no wonder he is a name remembered in Comics.

Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to any of these images and give credit to those whose work they are.

Illustration Credits:

“”A Switch In Time” in Time Warp #4Art by Steve Ditko, Colored by Adrienne  Roy

Shade, The Changing Man #2: Art by Steve Ditko, Colored by Jerry Serpe

Stalker #3: Art by Steve Ditko and Wally Wood

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4 thoughts on “Review: “The Steve Ditko Omnibus Vol. 1: Starring Shade the Changing Man”

  1. Allen Smith says:

    How many pages was in this omnibus? I just ordered it via Amazon. Am looking forward to it. I got the original runs of Stalker and Shade but don’t really recall much about them other than the fact that Ditko’s art was great on both features.

  2. It was 480ish pages. I don’t think I need to reiterate how awesome it is. I recently found out that the “Stalker” feature is going to be be redone in the February issue of the “Sword and Sorcery” title.

    • Allen Smith says:

      Thanks for the reply. The omnibus is something to look forward to, don’t know for sure but isn’t there a second Ditko omnibus coming out? In any case, I’ve been keeping up with Steve’s current output, he’s not slacked up a bit. Still a superb cartoonist and interesting and provocative, in his late ’80s.

      • There is in fact a second Omnibus that involves other little vignettes of Ditko’s as well as his original “Hawk and Dove” series. I have not been able to get my hands on this volume, but I hope to sometime soon.

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