Sunday, April 27, 2014

Steve Ditko and Spider-Man

With the latest Spider-Man movie quickly approaching, I found myself thinking back to the original origins of the character -- namely those first 38 issues or so, drawn by the incomparable Steve Ditko.

Steve Ditko's original work on Spider-Man was nothing short or revolutionary - and probably could only have been given life like Ditko could create. Instead of a square jawed muscle bound hero - Spider-Man countered every Super Hero Tradition, creating the socially awkward, guilt ridden, teenage super hero we all now love. As Peter Parker, our nerdy hero Spider-Man shared many of the difficulties we find in our own lives -- trying to care for loved ones, dealing with social pressures and difficulties, and simply trying to get bye in life. Above it all, though, Spider-Man showed a tremendous level of moral fortitude -- always struggling to do the right thing, even when it wasn't easy, or glamorous.

I don't know wether this was Stan Lee's influence, or Ditko's, but the evolution of Spider-Man as an awkward teenager, to eventual graduate from highschool, was quite enjoyable to see. The character literally grew up with the readers, evolving as issues went on. The dejected Peter Parker became more confident in certain situations as he was growing up. Likewise, Steve Ditko's art became more and more daring -- using full page spreads on occasion, to express the tension or relief, or action of a moment.

His battle against the Molten Man was probably one of the most daring visual attempts Ditko did, creating a near silent and long, bare knuckles brawl between a glistening golden foe in the darkness.

The upcoming Spider-Man movie is suppose to showcase the evolving Sinister Six -- the Super Villain grouping, which in Spider-Man Annual #1, forced Spidey to face off against 6 of his most fearsome foes. I'm quite excited to see how they manage to do this -- with a slow build-up of different villains being a smart approach for the film - possibly leading into a third Spider-Man film.

The ever present Green Goblin is equally getting thrown into the mix. When originally reading the old issues, I found it compelling, long before Gwen Stacy was thrown off a bridge, how the Goblin made himself the most persistent enemy in Spider-Man's rouge's gallery.

The Green Goblin, for those who don't know, is the center point of the most prominent rumor, as to why Steve Ditko left Spider-Man. The revelation of the Green Goblin's identity had yet to be revealed - and seemed to be coming to a head in the issues Ditko was drawing. The story supposedly goes that Steve Ditko wanted the unmasking to be of someone Spider-Man, and the readers, didn't know at all. Supposedly that would make it more realistic - rather than the Goblin's identity being someone Spider-Man already knows in his life. Stan Lee, though, wanted the Goblin to be unmasked as Peter's friend's Dad, Norman Osborn. To which, Ditko left the series -- which was then left and handled by John Romita Sr who took over the series.

I sort of don't believe that explanation, though. There where other unmaskings, and revelations, done in Spider-Man issues before that - namely concerning the "Big Man" and "Crime Master" - one who turned out to be Daily Bugle worker Federick Foswell, and the other was an unnamed individual who died before he could tell who the Green Goblin really was. So - Ditko leaving simply over Stan Lee wanting the Goblin to be Norman Osborn rings a bit false.

Apparently I'm not the only one who thought this story of Stan Lee's sounded fishy! Visit Dial B for Blog, here, where you can see some great collected info regarding the identity of the Green Goblin, and how it wasn't a reason for Steve Ditko's departure.

Ditko, although readers didn't know it at the time, was quite a conservative guy. Ditko is a believer in Ayn Rand - which might have begun to clash more and more with Stan Lee, who was much more liberal, and voiced his characters as such when writing dialogue. I think this might have been a bigger contributing factor - as Ditko's belief in Objectivism became more and more solidified -- examples of more extreme black and white world view can readily be seen in his later work, like "The Question", "Mr. A", or the dueling Philosophical Heroes "Hawk and Dove".

There is a wonderful documentary, done by Jonathan Ross for the BBC, called "In Search of Steve Ditko". Ditko is a famous reclusive, which adds more and more to his mysterious appeal. He's had arguments with Stan Lee, over the credit he receives as Spider-Man's co-creator - but he never took it a step further, trying to achieve a bit more recognition himself by, say, writing Spider-Man again, or even popping up to receive some of the adulation (or money) to be had as his creator. I believe the reason he has never popped back up in regards to Spider-Man, besides going against his reclusive nature, is because it would also be against his moral code.

The documentary is very well done and respectful. This video is part 1, which you can easily see the other parts, one after another, linked at the end of each segment.

Thematically, though, the documentary doesn't delve into Steve Ditko's return to Marvel Comics - where he drew again, creating some odd but beloved characters such as Squirrel Girl. His style, though unchanged, didn't seem as good or as focused as it was in his hey-days.

Still - I would love to see him come back to the character someday, even if in a small way. Yet, when I think about it, it occurs to me that Steve Ditko might be fine with what he's already created. If there was anything about his art and style - it was that it was definitive, expressive - and probably already said what he would want to ever say about the character.


  1. Hello,

    Nice write up here. But I think I should point you to a recent post on DIAL B FOR BLOG that addresses the Green Goblin question. This is part of a massive 15 part series, but I've inlcuded the link to the part about Ditko's intention (in his own words) about the Goblin.

    Also, as you mentioned, Ditko really took Peter from bookworm to adulthood. Ditko was plotting the series for the last year (at least) and in fact Stan wouldn't know what the story would be until he received Ditko's pages! So the growth the of the character was, at least in the art, at Ditko's direction.

    If you're really interested in Ditko, I'd recommend reading that whole series over at DIAL B FOR BLOG.

    Also, please check out my one page Ditko comic!


    1. Cool stuff - thanks for directing me to it! I added a link to it in my blog entry. I tried looking at the other chapters, about Ditko, but they didn't load for me. Oh - and good page about Ditko!