Two Dikto Collections
Reviewed by Robert Bee
The Creeper by Steve Dikto
Unexplored Worlds by Steve Dikto
Edited by Blake Bell
It’s a great time to be a Steve Dikto fan: three different presses have recently released trades and hardcover reprints of his comics from DC, Marvell, and Charlton. DC released a folio-sized collection of The Creeper, a superhero Dikto created in 1968 after he left Marvel, and Charlton closed its superhero line. The paper is newsprint with glued bindings, so it’s not the large glossy paper you see in some anthologies, but the quality is still superb. He was past his strongest period as an artist when this comic was published, but the art is still vintage Dikto.
Dikto’s superheroes were often either magical, otherworldly types like Dr. Strange, or street-level superheroes like Spiderman or the Question. The Creeper strongly resembles the Question, a hero Dikto created for Charlton in the late 60s. Both these heroes were honest men, newscasters willing to stand up to the powers that be.
Sadly, the Creeper never quite managed to reach the quality level of the Question’s better issues. The Question portrayed Dikto’s libertarian political beliefs, as the hero battled corrupt officials and low-level hoods. The Creeper, perhaps because of DC’s editorial policies, doesn’t present Dikto’s political or philosophical concerns. Although the Creeper is an interesting character visually, overall the comic is a blander version of the Question.
Looking at the art now, it seems a little old fashioned and awkward, although that doesn’t make it less effective, largely because the comic genre thrives on exaggeration and contrast. The art contains a lot of characteristic Dikto traits, such as the unusual panel shapes, the strong emotion, and on rare occasions psychedelic effects.
If you buy this volume, it’s for Dikto’s art. Throughout his career, Dikto was often tasked with trying to bring to life the work of poor script writers, but the mediocre storylines in the comic are at least partly Dikto’s fault: he plotted them, with other writers producing the scripts. You get the sense that Dikto’s heart was not in the Creeper.
The dialogue is painful. The Creeper says things like “You will reveal the name of he who calls himself Proteus!” “You are mistaken mortal! You shall talk or perish!” The Creeper attempts to unnerve evildoers with an eerie laugh, another corny touch that falls flat.
When the Creeper pounces on three thugs who had just robbed a shopkeeper he tells them, “Foolish Mortals? Do you think you can flee my vengeance?” Gag, please hire another scriptwriter.
The story lines don’t explore the character. The Creeper is in theory a harsher, less restrained Batman-type vigilante. Is there any moral ambiguity to the Creeper’s desire to punish criminals? Why does the Creeper feel the need to punish criminals? We know why Batman fights crime, to avenge his parents, but we have less sense of the Creeper’s underlying motive. Also, it would improve the stories if Dikto had worked his philosophy, beliefs, and opinions into the storylines as he did with the Question. Even if you don’t agree with Dikto’s philosophy, the thematic concerns make the comics more interesting. Having a viewpoint to argue against is better than a bland comic devoid of themes.
Large sweeps of the comics involve fight scenes between the Creeper and various minor thugs and low level supervillains, but for the most part the fight scenes aren’t compelling. The Creeper’s recurring enemy, Proteus, who has the power to change his face into anyone, never really grabs our attention like Doctor Doom or the Joker. The Creeper has an interesting look, but Dikto is mostly reusing concepts, for example, the villain Proteus is similar to Spiderman’s enemy, the Chameleon. There is a fair amount of humor in the comic, but most of it never produces more than a chuckle, and is often rather corny.
Unexplored Worlds: The Steve Dikto Archives Vol. 2 is a reprint, also on newsprint with glued bindings, again, not the absolute best format but still of good quality. The pages are smaller than the Creeper collection, so the art is not as large and clear. The anthology also reproduces the muddy Charlton colors, which is a bit of a disappointment.
Most of the stories derive from Charlton horror and suspense anthologies. Charlton was one of the weaker presses of the 50s and 60s, and it paid artists and writers poorly, less than half the other publishers by the late 50s. Many writers and artists got their start at Charlton before moving on to Marvel or DC. Dikto spent the first few years of his career prolifically drawing for Charlton before working with Stan Lee at Marvel. If you read a few Charlton anthologies, you will find the stories weak, and the art mediocre until you encounter one of Dikto’s stories, which virtually leap off the page in terms of graphic creativity and quality.
Dikto did not write most of the stories in this volume, but his art manages to enliven the weaker storylines. The stories are generally around five pages long and conclude with a formulaic surprise ending. The collection displays the wide range of Dikto’s art: including SF, horror, humor, and Western. The artwork for the humor relies on broad caricature and falls flat for me, but the other genres Dikto was superb at drawing. The majority of the tales are Outer Limits or Twilight Zone-style horror and SF, and some of the stories have a host, the Mysterious Stranger (based on a radioshow).
This volume is part of a series that charts Dikto’s growth as an artist during his Charlton period. The series is an excellent resource; in the past you would have to spend thousands of dollars collecting these comics.
The stories start improving around page 60 and become more imaginative in idea and graphic presentation. If you read this collection starting with volume one, you can observe Dikto developing into a master at depicting faces and emotions, and at portraying sequential action panel by panel. This volume demonstrates his growth as an artist, unlike the Creeper, which charts his decline.
The story “A World of His Own” has always been a favorite of mine. It details a painting that opens into another strange, almost surreal dimension. The art foreshadows the psychedelic, imaginative, otherworldly art that Dikto perfected a few years later during the Doctor Strange period. “The Supermen” stands out as excellent vignette about men in a military base developing superintelligence.
Some of the volume’s later tales such as “Forever and Ever” and “My Secret” contain strong, melancholy emotion, and are excellent vehicles for Dikto’s art.
The collection contains a number of space stories (a genre Dikto is not usually associated with). “Mystery Planet” involves a planet-eating race that travel around in a ship that foreshadows Kirby’s later creation of Galactus. “The Strange Guests of Tsarus” is one the stronger stories, a 6-pager which conveys the darkness of space and an alien world.
Will conservatives like these anthologies?
Sure, if you appreciate Dikto’s art. If you only want to buy one of these books, I would recommend Unexplored Worlds, which demonstrates Dikto’s growth as an artist shortly before his great work on Spiderman and Doctor Strange.