Thursday, August 04, 2011

Evolution of a Super Hero: Steve Ditko's STATIC

Many times over the years, after I finally pieced together how the early Marvel comics characters were created, I used to wonder what would THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN have been like if the Marvel editors had not been there to tweak the dialog and storylines after Ditko had gotten the issues written and the pen and ink artwork down on the page? Would it have been as good as the stuff with that sophomoric, faux-hip dialog? Would it have been as dramatic? More dramatic?

Well, I finally got a chance to see what it might have been like when I got my paws on this omnibus edition of STATIC from Robin Snyder's outfit.

Static was a character created by Ditko in the early 80s. The initial stories appeared from Eclipse/Charlton Comics, but over the years the story continued and when Charlton ceased to operate as a publisher Ditko moved his efforts to other venues. I recall the stuff as it appeared but didn't read them at that time. In those days I was a comic book retailer and part-time writer (sometimes working in comics) and I was so overwhelmed by the sheer volume of superhero product coming out that I allowed STATIC to slip past me almost unnoticed.

But later on Snyder and Ditko teamed up to publish the entire Static story arc in one volume which you can buy for the very reasonable price of $15.00. I heartily encourage all Ditko fans, superhero fans, and comic book historians to read these. They're actually a lot of fun.

With a caveat.

What we see here is what I can only describe as religious fanaticism and a very twisted kind of philosophical fundamentalism. While I can enjoy reading this material for the pure sake of the fiction, it's disturbing on the level that I am also aware that this is a political/religious tract that reflects its creator's actual belief system. And what a savage and twisted system it is! Other people's insanity is fun!

And, finally, I think, I see what Spider-Man would have been if not for the moderating influence on the dialog and after-the-fact story changes by his editors. For this superhero novel is nothing less than some of the most bizarre attempts at logic that I've ever seen. At times, the prose is almost unreadable. Once again, I'm struck by the fact that Objectivists are nothing more than religious fanatics. Like Christians and Communists and Nazis they have their prophet; in this case the fascist monster Ayn Rand. And they have their Holy books such as The Bible, or MEIN KAMPF, or DAS KAPITAL; in this case ATLAS SHRUGGED and THE FOUNTAINHEAD, etc. are the fuel to their disgusting blaze of madness. Added to this fact are their rabid attempts to coerce and proselytize to save the rest of us from damnation by leading us to the truth--instead of Christianity or Communism or Racism, we are fed repackaged Fascism under the laughable name of Objectivism. If you buy into this sick shit you are one hideous creep.

But despite all of this--or, in part, because of it--the story is classic stuff!

By the time Ditko was turning his hand to this project, there was nothing at all new under the Comic Book Sun as far as superheroes are concerned. By this point it was all repetition and revisionism. One just had to take a well-intentioned look at the form, and Ditko does that well with STATIC.

The foil for creating the superhero in this book is a supersuit. Nothing original there. But Ditko has fun with it and adds a different twist to the concept, especially over the long run as the suit evolves and the forces that give that suit its power begin to infuse the man who wears it--Stac Rae--until you don't know if the power comes from the suit, or the man, or if indeed the power was always within the man from the beginning.

Ditko pulls a very neat trick with this!

I can't recommend this book to everyone, because of the didactic that Steve Ditko uses to try to convey to the reader the ideas he has lifted from Ayn Rand. It's his attempt at a religious tract, and the closest thing I could compare it to would be to one of Jack T. Chick's Protestant fundamentalist rants. It has that kind of raw power, but, as with Chick's hate tracts, it can induce more than a little nausea when you realize it's to be taken seriously. The trick is to not take it seriously but to enjoy it as a very good and very bizarre adventure yarn.

Another thing that I like about it is that in so many ways it is old-fashioned, despite Ditko's really novel way of pushing the story along and moving toward that truly inspired finale. The villains are classic ones from the days of early Marvel comics. Larger-than-life monsters more human than not, and made from stock material that marks them as instantly recognizable as the bad guys they are. As with so many Ditko characters, you don't have to wonder who is good and who is bad: there is black and there is white. And that is mainly all there is.

The only character in the series who waxes and wanes, who alters philosophically to any great degree is Fera Serch, the daughter of the suit's creator, Dr. Ed Serch. In the main, Fera is a typical Ditko woman. Chaste and pinned back on a physical level, she spends most of the long story in hand-wringing agony and sometimes locked in the throes of pure, unbridled (almost orgasmic) hysteria. Like SPIDER-MAN's Betty Brant, she tears at her hair, covers her face, and lashes out in the most outrageous manner.

She's really stupid and a lot of fun.

Her father, Dr. Ed Serch, the owner of a modestly successful research lab ("Serch", get it?), seems added to merely give the other characters an anchor. He is mostly sensible, mainly agrees with the implacably fascist hero, Stac Rae, and rarely shows much in the way of high emotion. (There is one instance in which he strikes out at Rae, and it's pretty good for its surprise.)

If you want a copy of this book, I think it's still in print. You can get it here. These are all creator-owned books, so Mr. Ditko makes the rules and, I hope, the highest profits available to him.

By the mid-1980s, Steve Ditko's power as a superhero comic book artist was not diminished. It's classic Ditko reminiscent of his best turns on THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN.

At times, the art is inspired, as good as anything in its day.

Here we see Fera in her typical hysterics. Her reasoning is suspect and she is to be contained and mollified if at all possible. Stupid females!

Here we see Ditko able to cut loose with the masked hero. His superman doesn't pull any punches and kills without mercy, delay, or regret. In this instance he takes care of the filthy, lying, goddamned publisher of a liberal newspaper.

The "reasoning" at work here is easy to laugh at. How dare you become violent? I'll KILL YOU! Stac Rae racks up a huge body count over the story arc. I didn't even want to try to count the number of men he beats, shoots, explodes, burns, or crushes to death. He even drowns one guy in a barrel of motor oil! There is some sick shit here that is the equal of some of the death scenes in the old DICK TRACY strips.

Over and over we see Fera reduced to her unreasoning dramatics. Men can't deal with her! Silly woman! Alas!

And this panel, toward the very end of the book, is one of my favorites! The look of utter shock, awe, surprise, and pleasure as Fera (a woman!) actually says something that makes sense! I don't think any feminists will give this book high marks. But it's still tons of hilarious fun!

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