The third volume of The Steve Ditko Archives from Fantagraphics is titled Mysterious Traveler after the character and comic which much of Ditko's better work from his period was featured. That period is 1957 and this is the second of three tomes to gather up his work from this most fertile year.
The stories in this volume are evidence that the style of comic book storytelling was well and truly changing in the face of public scrutiny and the Comics Code as the stories here, a mix of science fiction and fantasy are far more whimsical and far less bloody than what had been the focus of these kinds of comics in times before. This is also a time when Ditko was rejuvenated after his year-long bout with tuberculosis and his vigor is evident in the pages he generated using mostly Joe Gill scripts to guide his path.
In addition to the Mysterious Traveler as a host we have also Dr. Haunt of This Magazine if Haunted, a post-Code replacement for the much more grisly Dr. Death. In his green cape and green slouching hat Dr. Haunt is a figure of absolute mystery who tells his brief yarns of fear and dread with aplomb and a zest which adds to the whole experience. He has a weird cane with an enormous handle which reminds me of a crystal ball of all things. Unlike the very human looking Mysterious Traveler, Dr. Haunt is possessed of a distinctly blue skin making him utterly alien in all respects. Whatever he is, he ain't human.
In some wacky stories featuring agitated centaurs, bewildered mermen, displaced Nazis, persistant mystics, and many many hapless folks both good and bad, we have hosts who dig in and tell the stories with vigor. Not content with just showing up on the splash page and in the finale panel, Ditko's hosts are omnipresent, slithering between panels and hovering over the pages with if not menace, then omnipotence. It really makes for some visually stimulating comic book pages to read. One caution though, there are two stories in this volume which are missing a page each. Both "The Menace of the Maple Leaves" and "The Forbidden Room" are again reprinted in the next volume in their entirety.
There will be one more volume dedicated to Ditko's most fecund year, but that's next time. Here are the covers in this volume.