Stephen J. "Steve" Ditko (born 1927) is the third creator of the Marvel Universe
along with Stan Lee
and Jack Kirby
, who is most famous for co-creating Spider-Man
Unlike Kirby, whose work is like a grand symphony of grandiose spectacle and mythic archetypes, Ditko's work at its prime is more like a bluesy soloist, determined to follow his own vision to create his own path. As such, he took to Stan Lee's ideas for deeper characterization much more easily than Kirby did and carved out his own special niche into Marvel.
That means while Ditko was not as dominant in the company's work, his work stood out as something special, such as his original take on Spider-Man being so distinctively him that he was among the first to share official writing credits with Stan Lee on the comic as a plotter. Likewise, his surreal imagery of his Doctor Strange
stories have set the tone for the supernatural in the Marvel Universe
for decades. In addition, it was his Incredible Hulk
stories where the eponymous character first began to change when he is under extreme stress, turning the character from a Jekyll & Hyde
copy into the pop culture embodiment of runaway emotion.
Unfortunately, Ditko had a falling-out with Lee, previously speculated to be over the revelation of Norman Osborn
being Green Goblin. Supposedly, the Objectivist Ditko thought that criminals were pathetic losers and that the idea of a supervillain turning out to be a successful businessman was politically offensive (which is not much of an Objectivist viewpoint); another explanation suggested that Ditko was unwilling to compromise on realism
while Lee pushed for a move towards "Marvel time"; and yet another explanation was that he simply thought it was unrealistic for Peter Parker to have known the villain in both his civilian and superhero persona. However, this seems to have been debunked by Ditko himself recently,
and the true reasons for his departure remain murky.
He defected back to Charlton Comics
where he would work on some of his classic secondary creations like designing Captain Atom
, revamping the Blue Beetle
and creating The Question
, which were all eventually purchased by DC Comics
in the 1980s. In 1960s, Ditko would later move to DC himself to create characters like The Creeper
, Hawk and Dove
, and Shade, the Changing Man
Eventually, Ditko's storytelling shifted to push his Ayn Rand
influences and interest in Objectivism further into the open. Nowhere is that more obvious but in his Mr. A
stories about a Black and White Morality
vigilante (a less commercial version of the Question). Alan Moore
notably despised this character — the character of Rorschach in Watchmen
is a deconstruction and parody of these characters, though some have missed Moore's point
, thus perpetuating this type of character and even impressing Ditko with its faithfulness
to his own creation. Also, Moore admires Ditko greatly as an artist and was appalled that like many Marvel creators, he was struggling in the 70s. He also says that while he disagrees with Ditko politically, he admires him as an artist and appreciates him for discussing his political perspectives seriously.
Today, his work has slowed down due to its inaccessibility and consistent reports of Ditko being difficult to work with in general. He has become the most famous Reclusive Artist
of the medium, refusing all interviews and photos even while he's getting his due with official credits in the Spider-Man Trilogy
feature films and his DC/Charlton characters getting the spotlight in Justice League Unlimited
...oh yeah, and he created Squirrel Girl
. Make of that what you will.
Tropes associated with Steve Ditko:
- Aggressive Categorism: The first few pages of Avenging World outline the types of people Ditko has issues with: The Mystic, The Skeptical Intellectual, The Middle Roader, The Enlightened, ect...
- Author Tract: Mr. A and essentially all of his self published works.
- Black and White Morality: Just in case you don't get it through his didactic comics, Ditko reportedly likes to emphasize his point by taking an index card, blackening one half of it and saying: "This is black and this is white...and there's nothing, nothing in between". The black/white card is the calling card of Mr. A.
- Expy: In Ditko's words, Watchmen's Rorschach is "the one who's like Mr. A, but insane."
- Minimalist Cast: Mr. A doesn't have much in the way of supporting characters since his character is given no backstory.
- Reclusive Artist: Only in the sense that he doesn't do comic book conventions or give interviews. Strangely enough, he's in the phonebook, at least the location of his studio is. And he's been known to entertain guests who just happen to go to his studio for whatever reason. Since the average comic book reader under fifty-five has probably never even heard of him, he's apparently not too concerned about fans camping out waiting for him.
- Spiritual Successor: For Charlton Comics, Ditko created The Question as a more accessible version of Mr. A.
- Talking Is a Free Action: Mr. A, The Question and Hawk and Dove will often talk their foes to death while in the heat of battle.
- Granted, a lot of Golden Age and Silver Age writers tended to write like this.
- Wall of Text: Notably in his Mr. A and Avenging World.
- Wanton Cruelty to the Common Comma: In Ditko's essays, his punctuation can't be faulted, blamed per se, but his tendency to have more than one descriptor, identifier in the same sentence, statement tends to become awkward, unwieldy.
- What Could Have Been: Imagine what Spider-Man would have been like had Ditko remained with the title and been allowed more creative control over the character. Would an ultraconservative Randian Peter Parker have survived in a decade where the comics readership consisted of a large number of hip, liberal youth (Whom Stan Lee and Jack Kirby better connected with on a persona level)? Probably best for everyone that Ditko didn't stay.
- Except of course for Ditko. In any case, not all of Ditko's works were outlets for his Randian ideas, he wrote Mr. A specifically to develop those ideas in a comic vehicle rather than shoehorning them into existing characters and no one's quite sure why he left since there are many different stories and Steve Ditko himself has never voiced his reasons.
- Writer on Board: In one early Amazing Spider-Man issue, Peter Parker walks past a group of hippie student demonstrators whom he dismisses with outright contempt. Undoubtedly, this scene was written by Ditko (probably erasing Lee's dialogue) who reportedly disliked the counterculture movements of The Sixties and was obviously injecting his own conservative, nationalist ideas onto Peter. Though it can be argued that it fit in with Peter Parker's original anti-social personality, much of which was toned down and erased in the run of his successors.