Tales of the Mysterious Traveler is a comic book published by Charlton between 1957 and 1959. It was based on a popular radio show of the 1950s, The Mysterious Traveler - a mystery / horror series that ran from 1942 to 1952, narrated by the titular "Traveler". The comic version would be all but forgotten today, save for the fact that a regular artist on the title was one Steve Ditko.

Traveler was an anthology title; each tale of the supernatural (and occasionally simply natural) is five pages long, and the only element of continuity is the figure of the Traveler, visualized as a tall, brooding figure in a long coat and brimmed hat inthe same vein as The Shadow or The Phantom Stranger. The Traveler introduces each story, providing potted sketches of the main characters - a necessary device, given the low page count. He observes and comments on events, and is occasionally empowered to intervene (by whom is never revealed).

Charlton was a long-running company rarely renowned for the quality of its titles, and the stories in Traveler are nothing to write home about; one or two are memorable, several are functional stubs of Twilight Zone fare, and the remainder are awful. But Ditko enjoyed working for Charlton; their budget-inspired hands-off approach to artists allowed him the privacy and freedom he cherished, and this is reflected in the quality of his work. Layouts are imaginative and the artwork often employs dramatic and unusual angles and lighting techniques.

Perhaps the best of the bunch is When Old Doc Died, in which an irascible but dedicated small-town doctor suffers a stroke and ascends to Heaven, where he is so dismayed by the lack of sickness and pain that he descends to Hell, where he annoys Satan by treating the ailments of the damned. The powers that be decide that their only recourse is to return Doc to the land of the living, where he awakes in hospital and recalls the darkness and flames of the afterlife as "just like Heaven". Ditko is fairly restrained here, though his barely inked Heaven is memorable and Doc is a strongly-defined character with his bushy white mustache and wrinkled, kindly eyes; a picture tells a thousand words.

It seems safe to assume that Ditko did have some writing involvement, especially considering ...And the Fear Grew, in which an Australian farmer discovers an unusual lemur-like creature. An aboriginal tribe warns him that the cute creature is evil, but he initially dismisses their superstition. As a series of unfortunate incidents besiege the farmer, however, he begins to wonder - and when his sheep are wiped out my a mysterious disease, his mounting fear compels him to shoot the creature, which legend tells is not of this world and cannot be killed. It does indeed die, but the farmer's misfortunes do end. The farmer, and the reader, are left wondering whether the series of events was supernatural or coincidental - a vague and philosophical ending that's identifiably "Ditkoesque".

Traveler is well worth checking out if you're a Ditko fan; simply put, it looks great. This is reasonably early work, but Ditko's style is already proficient and unique, and no-one does a better job of conveying a sense of otherworldly suspense in a contemporary setting.

A collection of the strips was published by Eclipse Comics in 1990 with the same title (ISBN 0-913-035-83-1). Two issues (#14 and #15) were published by Charlton in 1985, consisting mostly of reprinted material.

Further reading:

  • Ditko, Steve. Tales of the Mysterious Traveler. California: Eclipse Books, 1990
  • http://users.raketnet.nl/charltoncomics/mysterioustraveler.htm
  • http://www.otrcat.com/mysterioustraveler.htm

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