Review of Steve Ditko's "160-Page Package"

Written: 18 February, 1999

Steve Ditko's 160 Page Package, a $12.00 book of new comics written, drawn, & copyrighted by Ditko, was waiting for me at my local comics shop this week! (Of course, I had specifically ordered it in advance.)

Don't read any of the below message if you don't want to know in advance what is in the book. I've not given away the endings to any of the stories, but wanted to mention a few that I thought particularly noteworthy.

The 160-Page Package is familiar in format and style to anyone who has read Ditko's self-copyrighted works such as Mr. A., The Avenging World, Killjoy, The Ditko Collection vol. 1 & 2, Static, Ditko's World, The Ditko Package (1989), Steve Ditko's Strange Avenging Tales #1 (1997), etc. Like Ditko's World and S.A.T, this book consists of a variety of short stories: tales of revenge where the killer gets punished for denial of another's rights, as well as very short (some are 1-pagers) pieces drawn in a more cartoony style showing the folly of anti-reality views, etc.

An 11-pager titled "If... Then..." features a character dressed similarly to the Question and Mr. A., but whose suit and face have squiggly lines eerily running up and down. Ditko's art style for this story has a kind of squiggly style, lacking his characteristic use of heavy black areas/shadows.

"Lift My Veil" is another tale that deals with a symbolic figure dealing out justice. A business man is confronted by a woman whose face is obscured by a veil. She orders him to lift her veil, and then mysteriously disappears when he refuses. Later he sees her at work and runs away from the mysterious veiled woman. Finally he is confronted by her at a party. He refuses to lift her veil, despite her demand. The businessman's friends decide that they will look. What do they see....?

(By the way, when I first read Hawthorne's "The Minister's Black Veil," for some reason I pictured the character as a Ditkoesque figure. Maybe I was reminded of an old 1950s Charlton Ditko story where a guy walked around with a box on his shoulder that turned out to have his second head inside! So Hawthorne's Minister seemed like a similarly strange character that the townspeople could gossip about. And having the populace gossip about the main character is another feature of Ditko stories, too. Anyway, this mysteriously veiled woman, who is also shown on the cover, made me wonder if Ditko had been inspired by the Hawthorne story.)

There is also a new "Avenging World" 6-pager in this book, and a new 14-pager starring the mysterious superhero The Void. Both were series that Ditko had first done in the 1970s, and it was great to read new stories about them both. Ditko has created a lot of great self-copyrighted characters and "series" over the years and it's a shame that some of them haven't been used more. (For example, I think there were only two Killjoy stories. And only one Masquerade story. Etc.)

There is a "Variation on a Theme" piece where one story is told twice from different vantage points. In one of the versions, the protagonist comes across as a typical pure Ditko hero, albeit more brutal in dealing justice. In the second version, he is revealed to be an untrustworthy, unreformed ex-convict. And there are two different possible endings (although one of them is ludicrous, in my opinion!).

Ditko also presents a satirical piece on the publishing industry, "The Blabber Mouth Experience" where the publicity department of a publication decide that they will appeal to readers more by revealing in advance who the killer is. We then see two reactions to the book: one from the point of view of the reader who has read the pre-publicity and one from the point of view of the reader who is coming to it with no previous information.

And on that note, this blabbermouth should simply tell you to go to your local comics shop and buy this book, because it's great!

I did have one problem with the book -- the resolution of one of the stories -- the reason why he is revealed to be the villain -- seems very iffy to me. Otherwise, I can't complain about the book. (I still have to read the final story, tho, which is around 20 pages long, but it looks good so far. All of the art in here is great, better than I dared hope it would be!)

I should add that one doesn't need to agree with Ditko's viewpoints to enjoy the stories. "The Avenging World" story in the book, for example, is told in such a way to make a certain viewpoint sound criminal. But I think that those who hold a different viewpoint (and I'm one of them) can easily enjoy these works and appreciate Ditko's viewpoint without feeling "hit over the head" (a common critique of Ditko's stories where he expresses an opinion). These are stories that can be immensily enjoyed by those who disagree with the viewpoints being made. In fact, I would have been LESS entertained if Ditko had NOT presented his opinions!

Anyway, if you ever want to try Ditko's self-owned, philosophical comics, then your best bet these days would be to pick up the new 160-Page Package!! If you've never encountered his Objectivist stuff before, it should be a revelation! Or if you already have read his Objectivist stories and liked them, then this book is more of what you like!