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Review: Steve Ditko's Monsters: Gorgo

A comic review article by: Jason Sacks

 

Craig Yoe has been churned out a whole slew of entertaining books for last several years that those of us who love archival comics can savor and enjoy. Yoe's latest book is a full reprinting of my beloved Steve Ditko's run on the early '60s Charlton monster series Gorgo. The book is a kind of low-rent twist on Godzilla comics that has some real charms to it.

I was able to grab an advance digital copy of Gorgo, and while I can't really honestly talk about the quality of the paper and reproduction of the stories, I can definitely talk about the quality of the stories and art being presented in this book. Anyone who wants to read this book can guess about the quality of the reproduction of the material in this book based on the previous Ditko books that Yoe has released -- or, of course, you can check out the book itself at your local well-stocked comic shop.

As for the material presented inside this book; well, this isn't exactly prime Ditko, full of long lost classics that you absolutely cannot live without. But the material in this book is fun, silly, wacky stuff. Ditko's Gorgo is totally charming, thoroughly sincere monster comics presented in a way that only my beloved Steve Ditko could present it.

Gorgo is kind of an even more low-budget Godzilla, as originally created by eccentric Russian-British filmmaker Eugene Lourie in 1961. The twist of the story is that Gorgo is just a child, a curious and playful giant monster whose even more titanic mother needs to protect him from time to time when Gorgo gets himself in trouble through his own actions or the actions of others.

The stories in this book, all written by the absurdly prolific Joe Gill (one of the candidates for the title of most prolific writer of the 20th century) are all a bit silly, but whaddaya expect? After all, they were written for very low wages for the biggest cheapskate comics publisher in America, as throwaway entertainment created for children. The truth of the matter is that with a comic like Gorgo, it's a small miracle that the comic is as professional and interesting as it actually is. Only a strong level of competence and devotion to craft help to make the work in this book more memorable than many books of the era.

But then again, you really wouldn't pay $40 for a book because it was written by Joe Gill. No, you'd pay $40 for a book that was illustrated by Steve Ditko at around the same time that the great cartoonist was co-creating Spider-Man.

 

 

And, as always, Ditko's work on this book is way better than the material that he's being asked to draw. Just look at that splash page for Gorgo #1. Look at the energy and excitement in that page. Notice the energy and excitement of that very goofy image. If that's not a tribute to professionalism, I don't know what is.

This whole book is filled with scenes like that, scenes that Ditko draws with his typical, characteristic level of professionalism and passion for creativity. If you flip through this book, you'll find scene after scene, panel after panel that's lifted from typical to transcendent through Ditko's great eye for panel composition and character creation. That's probably the main reason why comic fans would want to buy a book like this; if that's what you're looking for, this book is an excellent value for your dollar. 

 

 

I have to admit that I actually began to feel a bit of affection for poor innocent Gorgo as these stories went on. He was bruised, brutalized and controlled throughout so many of these stories, manipulated by evil men like Dr. Valzo in the scene above. Gorgo was just a child -- albeit a giant, city-destroying child -- and the cumulative effect of these stories made me feel oddly sad for this poor child being manipulated as blatantly and nastily as he was. Often Gorgo's mom would come to her beloved child's rescue, giving the story a lovely sort of resonance for the young kids who would be reading this book.

Often Gorgo would be offstage for much of the stories presented here -- after all, a giant green lizard doesn't have a lot of personality for Joe Gill to build a story around. Look at this lovely, intense jungle action page that Ditko suffuses with intense drama. That's how you sell a totally goofy story -- with brilliant artwork that intensifies the story.

 

 

Many of these stories read like semi-rejects from Marvel's giant monster stories of the era. One story has a froglike space alien -- goofily drawn naked but for shorts (with a star on them) and cool, Captain America-style boots -- attacking Earth and using Gorgo and his mother as weapons in his battle. It's a total throwaway cheeseball story, but a whole lot of fun.

 

 

Finally, since this comic was being produced contemporaneously with Ditko's work on Spider-Man, you can see echoes of the designs of some of the early Spider-Man characters. There's a character who's the spitting image of Liz Osborn, another that will remind you of Flash Thompson, even a conceited rich jerk who might remind you of J. Jonah Jameson.

So while I wish I could recommend this book to everyone, it really is only for the most committed Steve Ditko fan. Unlike some of Craig Yoe's other Ditko collections, this book likely won't give you any great new insights into Steve Ditko's life and career. But if you love giant monsters, great early '60s escapism or just want to read some Steve Ditko comics that haven't been reprinted in about 50 years, then this book is a must have.

 


 

 

Jason Sacks is Publisher of Comics Bulletin. Follow him at @jasonsacks, email him at jason.sacks@comicsbulletin.com or friend him on Facebook.

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