I Remember HAAG! Hunter of Helpless Humans!

Written: 3 August, 1998

I mentioned some Ditko comics I got at recent cons in a previous post, and I now continue the tradition! I went to a small local convention yesterday and (as usual) looked for 25-cent and 50-cent boxes to thumb through for hidden gems. Unfortunately -- like at the Motor City Comic Con in May -- I didn't find many cheap boxes at all. So, like in May, I took the opportunity to check out some of the old back issue boxes of the dealers, even if most of the comics that interested me were out of my price range. I did find a few cool deals, however. For one thing, I bought Tales of Suspense #37, featuring "Haag! Hunter of Helpless Humans!"

The Ditko-drawn 13-pager "Haag!" was one of the first Marvel monster stories I ever read. In the early 1980s, around age 13, I had discovered the old Marvel reprints like Weird Wonder Tales, and #12 of that series reprinted the "Haag" story. (Plus a Mort Drucker-drawn backup in back. A few years ago, I loaned #12 to a classmate who knew of Drucker's work from MAD. The friend lost #12 somehow, but I soon acquired another #12 in similar condition from a shop, for only a quarter, too!)

Also, around 1984, a newstand magazine titled Comic Collector published an article by Will Murray about Marvel's old monster comics. That article helped get me even more interested in such comics. If I recall right, Murray mentioned "Haag" in his article, saying it was unusual that Ditko had drawn the lead 13-pager, since that was usually reserved for Kirby. There was also a reproduction of the cover for Haag's Tales of Suspense appearance; Weird Wonder Tales hadn't reprinted the cover.

Anyway, yesterday at the con, I noticed Tales of Suspense #37 -- in well-read condition -- priced at $7.50 (actually $15, but it was half-off the marked price), so I couldn't resist and bought it, even though I have the reprint. I'm glad I got it. For some reason, the cover (by Kirby) has a classicness about it. The kind of feeling that I'm owning an important early Marvel comic -- even if it is one most fans have never heard of. The inside art has thinner lines than I remember from the reprint. I'm not knowledgeable about art tools, but it looks like Ditko used the thin lines of a artist's pen for most of this, not a brush. The artwork has a very simple beauty. One could say that the simplicity suggests a job done in a hurry, but it's still highly effective. Judging from this story, it's a shame that Ditko didn't get more 13-page stories in Marvel's monster mags.

On page one, I notice that one of the humans has a Beatles-type haircut, although being a Jan. 1963 issue, this pre-dates the Beatles. I guess this long-haired person might have been a Ditko depiction of a beatnik or a guy with his hair wet. Maybe this is an early example of Ditko's scruffy, grungy looking characters, which became more prominent in the 1970s.

The second story is "A Voice in the Dark," drawn by Paul Reinman, a forgettable 5-pager. One wonders why full credits (including "Plot: Stan Lee") were even bothered with for this tale's first page. (Not that it wasn't enjoyable, just forgettable.)

The third story is a Ditko tale again, a 5-pager titled "Behold -- the Monster!" The art is nice, but the basic idea is similar to ones we've seen before: a man criticized for wasting money on a statue of a monster is unknowingly responsible from saving Earth from an alien invasion. The idea just seems too improbable and contrived to be very effective. Incidentally, I believe a French reprint of the first page of this story appeared in Ditkomania in 1995, and Tristan Lapoussiere had been wondering where the original English one was from.

Top all this off with the old-time Tales of Suspense logo on the cover, with that rounded- square around the logo. For years, that has been one of my all-time favorite logos, but I never actually owned a comic that had that logo. (Aside from a reprint of Tales of Suspense #39, and I only got that reprint last year or so.) This comic really evokes the monster era for me, even though it was near the end of that era. And with 17 pages of early 1960s Ditko work inside, it's a good comic for Ditkofans (although the Ditko stories inside were reprinted in the 1970s, too).

Other comics I got at the con include Where Creatures Roam #4, Monsters on the Prowl #11, Journey Into Mystery #18, all for 50 cents each. Where Creatures Roam #4 was the only one with Ditko work in it. #4 reprints Ditko's beautifully-drawn 5-pager "Beware of the Ghastly Glass!" and the Kirby lead, "Vandoom, the Man Who Made a Creature!" Will Murray had discussed Vandoom in the Comic Collector article I mentioned earlier, and a followup was published in Ditkomania (circa 1994) where the covers of the original comic and the Where Creatures Roam reprint were compared.

Last time I gave a "con-report" here, I mentioned getting Tales to Astonish #50 at a con. Well, at the con yesterday, I got #51, 55, & 62, all for $5 each. The main attraction for me is getting those Giant-Man stories which have never been reprinted (and, thus, getting the original comics is the only way for me to read 'em). One of the bonuses is when Ditko work appears. The only Ditko-drawn among these three is #62, which is a Hulk story.

I've been reading reprints of 1950s Charlton stories by Ditko since 1983-84, so you'd think I'd know Ditko work when I see it. But in my haste yesterday, I bought two issues of Strange Suspense Stories, for $5 each, that I assumed contained Ditko because the covers looked to me (again I say, in my haste) to be drawn by Ditko and to be from the 1950s. Looking back, I don't see how I could have made this mistake. The price printed on the comic clearly says 12 cents, which would mean it wasn't from the 1950s. And the signature of Dick Giordano is clearly printed on the cover of one of them. Ah well. I had been thumbing through some of the dealer's Headline Comics with Simon & Kirby covers and when I saw those Strange Suspense Stories issues, I assumed they were older than they were. (The Headline Comics, it should be stated, were NOT also $5...they were about $20 each, so I had to pass on them.)

I noticed that one dealer of Silver & Golden-Age comics had a few early Dr. Graves comics, including the one we recently discussed containing "The Cure," for very high prices in his box. I think one of the early issues was in the $40 range, believe it or not. I'd never seen a Dr. Graves Charlton comic for that much in my life. But these were apparently part of some particular collection (I forget the name of it), hence the high price.

I used to think paying a whole $1.00 was too much to pay for a 1970s Charlton ghost comic. But that was my thinking back when the 1970s was very recent, so I've had to adjust to the idea that a 1973 comic is 25 years old and current comics cost more, and I'm not going to find them at 25-cents very often anymore anyway, so I've accepted the adjustment. Same with 1970s reprints like Where Monsters Dwell, which seem to have gradually gone up in price over the years.

Well, that's all for the latest con I went to. Maybe more Ditko discoveries await at the next one, in 4 weeks.