These comics, mostly from 1957, mostly from Ditko's work for Charlton, are plain awful to read for the most part. The stories are junk and nonsense, written largely in a far too serious a tone but with no attempt at logical plotting to support it. This is true of other 50's comics, of course, not least some of the EC work that is otherwise revered, but in this collection there are so many terrible stories that it is difficult for me to read more than one or two at a time.
The saving grace is the purpose for the book's existence: Ditko's art. This early in his career he had already developed his unique style. Do you ever freeze frame an athlete in action? A pitcher just after a throw, a boxer about to punch, a hurdler in mid-jump? We see heroic leaps and gestures and poses in the photos that get published, but if you ever see the rejected pictures taken of the transitional moments between "poses", or the still frames in a video, you'll see a human body under exaggerated exertion look all distorted, awkward, and just plain wrong, and yet for the instant that image shows, that person had that position. Jack Kirby's art gives us the glorious classical, powerful poses. Steve Ditko's focus is on illustrating that awkward moment, even when power is exerted. Fingers splay, arms flail, eyes are wide. The only characters who move with confidence are the villainous ones shortly before their newly-inflicted Comics Code-mandated comeuppance.
Another strength is his characters' faces and features. Distinctive, unusual hairstyles--no Toth glamour here--especially women's hairstyles and men's facial hair. For perhaps a hundred lead and supporting characters in dozens of stories cranked out in roughly a year's time, I don't think he ever repeats a single face in different stories. Every one is a new face. Compare to (for instance) several of the EC artists who seem to have casts of recurring players in different roles in their comics.
In those faces Ditko powerfully illustrates people in the midst of desperation, obssession, paranoia, panic, maniacal glee--so much so that when he draws someone happy, as in the occasional romantic conclusion in some of these stories, it actually looks forced. His approach to using the face and eyes to express a character's degree of anxiety as they weigh events and motives to make decisions to action is an aspect that is key to so much of his work.
Then there are the strange worlds he takes us too. In this collection there's not a whole lot of that but it is there is some stories and we see creative attempts to suggest invisible events in "this" world as well as impossible things out-of-this-world environments. Ditko's imagination in creating these places and images is unforgettable, a lasting contribution to comics art.
But the stories for which this art was created are a waste of time. It's difficult to justify even the Amazon discount price for this book, let alone the full cover price, for a book that works best if you can ignore the words. The art is well-reproduced, including the coloring, though I wish many of the off-register bits copied from the originals had been tidied up. I am curious about the other volumes in this series but I can't say I really want to pay for them, though I do believe this series is important for archiving Ditko's early and easily disposed Charlton work.