Steve Ditko’s Legacy
In addition to his work on Peter Parker and Stephen Strange, Ditko, whose death at age 90 hit the news late last week, also introduced the most iconic Iron Man suit of all time: the first armor in red and gold—a color scheme that would come to define the character. He also refined the helmet design from “a bucket on someone’s head” to its sleeker incarnation. Ditko also, reportedly, was the one who decided Bruce Banner would transform into the Hulk in times of emotional stress and anger, instead of just when provoked by the multiple triggers the series had been using.
Ditko parted ways with Marvel in 1966. There are still multiple versions of the story behind his exit, ranging from disagreements over the direction of Amazing Spider-Man (and, specifically, the yet-to-be-revealed identity of the Green Goblin) to a general mismatch of attitudes between Ditko and Lee. Regardless of what happened, Ditko moved on from the publisher and continued creating. He alternated work for horror publisher Warren’s Creepy and Eerie anthologies with new superhero work for Charlton Comics, for whom he created Blue Beetle, the Question, and Captain Atom. (All three of those characters would, two decades later, become the basis for Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen, which without Ditko arguably wouldn’t exist at all.) He moved on to DC, where he created the Creeper and Hawk and Dove. While working on the small press series witzend, he created what might be his true trademark character: Mr. A, a reporter who fights crime in a particularly uncompromising (almost cruel) manner that reflected Ditko’s own objectivist beliefs.
Impressively, this burst of creativity that produced characters and concepts that would shape comics—and pop culture as a whole—for more than half a century all occurred in a six-year span, from the debut of Spider-Man in late 1962 through the creation of the Creeper, Mr. A, and Hawk and Dove in mid-’68. Ditko continued to work for multiple publishers, including Marvel, after that but his star had started to fade.
I’ve always been more on the DC side of collecting, so a lot of his star characters are lost on me. I did really like his DC characters and the Charlton characters that became DC characters. They tended to be second string, though, and DC has never been kind to its second stringers. Ted Kord is dead. Captain Atom has been Hawkmanesquely bent and twisted and turned so many times it’s hard to keep track of who he is. Vic Sage died and is sort of back and sort of not back, but became a liberal anyway. Creeper was killed, I think. Hawk from Hawk and Dove turned into a villain and killed Dove (though I think that was the Dove who was Dove after Ditkos… who was also killed though not by Hawk).
But most of them were around when I was originally collecting and they added to my reading enjoyment. And they were some good characters and good concepts who probably deserved better than they got from DC.