Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Steve Ditko, and the issue is Daredevil #264, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated March 1989. Enjoy!
So there’s a strange issue with Daredevil #264, which isn’t really an inventory story since Ann Nocenti wrote it in the middle of her own run but feels like one, as Marvel gave John Romita Jr. some time off due to his “impending wedding” (so reads the type at the top of Page 1 in this issue) and they needed to push their “Inferno” story back a month. According to the credits printed in this very comic (which may or may be accurate), Ditko drew this and Mike Manley and Al Williamson inked it. As I was poking around the Internet (which is a very dicey proposition, I know), I discovered that some people have Ditko listed as laying this story out and credit Manley with the pencils. This is why, as I’ve noted several times this year, it’s hard writing about art. How detailed were Ditko’s pencils? Did he simply lay the pages out in the sketchiest way possible (the book was produced on a pretty tight deadline, it sounds like) and Manley penciled it? Or did he lay the pages out in the sketchiest way possible and Manley and Williamson just inked the pages? I don’t know, but as it’s officially a “Ditko” book, I’m going to treat it as such. Ditko, at 86 years old, could probably kick the living shit out of me even now, so if he happens to stumble across this post (I’m sure he spends a lot of time on the Internet!), I’d like to apologize to him if I gave him too much credit for this comic book.
As I’m unclear whether Ditko actually did the pencils or just the breakdowns in this issue, I don’t know how much influence Manley and/or Williamson has, either. As we saw recently with John Romita, Jr., Williamson has a beautiful, brushed style, but on this issue (only 4 months later!), we don’t see too much of that. So how much did Williamson ink? We’ve seen that Wallace Wood and even Steve Leialoha were able to smooth some of Ditko’s hard edges, and Williamson could probably do that, but either he didn’t want to or he didn’t ink as much of this as Manley did. Manley as a penciler is a bit hard-edged, more like Ditko, so perhaps he did the majority of the inking. I don’t know. We see on this page that there’s not a lot of nuance in either the penciling or the inking – there’s some nice spot blacks on the Owl, but otherwise, it’s a fairly straight-forward look. Ditko, as always, is good at laying out a page, and this is perfectly easy to read. The Bombers, which is the gang that the Owl is working with, are a bunch of really oddball dudes. I don’t know what Nocenti and Ditko were thinking with them.
There’s some nice inking on this page, as someone lines the sky behind the Owl to give the gloaming a more tactile look as our villain soars toward his hideout. The blacks on the hills in the background are nice, too, as they almost blend into the sky and water. Ditko, it seems, has always been interested in very modernist architecture, and the Owl’s hideout in Panel 2 looks sleek and clean, in a bit of contrast to the bland buildings around it. Once again, we get nice thick blacks on the Owl’s outfit, and some beautiful feathering on the owl as it lands on the Owl’s arm. Whoever is inking this knows what they’re doing.
Daredevil, of course, is patrolling the city, and he senses a bomb going off and goes to investigate (the Owl’s plan is goofy and complicated – the page above gives us some of it – so I won’t go into it here). This is another reason I’m not sure how much inking Williamson did – as we saw in the Romita post, he did a very nice job with Matt’s radar, yet here it’s just concentric circles, and while it gets the job done, it’s fairly utilitarian. Ditko’s somewhat stiff figure work makes the bottom two panels unintentionally funny, as the dude with the bag looks like a marionette and Daredevil’s landing is somewhat off. Such is life, I guess.
The fight between Daredevil and the Owl is laid out well, as Ditko moves us well across the page. His figure work in Panel 4 betrays him a bit, as it doesn’t really look like the Owl glides out of Matt’s way as he leaps, which allows him to slash at our hero as he goes by in Panel 5. The sequence of events from Panel 3 to 4 is strange, as the Owl’s body rotates so drastically between panels that it’s tough to read it. The lack of motion lines in Panel 4 makes it more unclear that the Owl has “flown” upward to allow Daredevil to leap past him. The lack of motion lines in the panels above weren’t a big deal because it was obvious what the Owl was doing. Here, it’s a bit harder to parse.
There’a a baby involved in this story, and Matt returns it to the man who found it in the trash (he promises/warns that he’s going to keep an eye on him even though he doesn’t report him, which seems really, really irresponsible of someone who’s not only a hero but, you know, a lawyer). These are some classic Ditko panels – the man’s angular face is a very Ditko-esque face, and Panel 3, where we get a close-up of his crying eye, could be a Ditko panel from the 1960s. The hatching is well done on this page, too – we get that the man is scruffy (due to his homelessness), but he’s not filthy, implying that he can be a good father. The inking is in line with the depiction of New York as a crappy urban jungle, but it’s not too dark, so the story’s upbeat ending doesn’t clash with the art. The less we think about this story, the better, as Matt’s attitude toward the man and the baby that’s not his child is depressing, even though Nocenti means for it to be uplifting. So we’ll just take this “happy” ending.
This isn’t the best example of Ditko’s art, probably because it was a rush job. One thing you notice as comics artists get older is that tastes move on, and I think Ditko’s art began to be seen as increasingly old-fashioned in the 1980s and 1990s. Many creators had fond memories of Spider-Man or Doctor Strange or even his 1970s work, but the way artists created comics art had moved on, and I know that when I started paying attention to artists (I had seen Ditko’s art in the original Spider-Man stuff when I was young, but I didn’t care about the art back then), I thought it was too old-fashioned. Despite the speed with which I imagine the artists had to work on this issue, it’s not terrible, but it does look like a lot of Ditko’s art from the 1970s and 1960s, and it just seems like in 1988/1989, comics readers weren’t that interested in this kind of art anymore. I could be wrong, of course.
Tomorrow we’ll finish up with Ditko with yet another inker, this one a much odder fit for him, but one who does pretty neat work over his pencils. And never forget the archives!