Steve Ditko passed away a little over a week ago at the age of 90. While Ditko’s career was long and varied (and believe you us, we will be spotlighting all of the aspects of that career over the next few days), he clearly will always be best remembered as the co-creator of Spider-Man, one of the most popular superheroes of all-time.
It is important to note, however, that Ditko did not just create Spider-Man with editor/writer Stan Lee, but he then went on to work on the character for the next four years. Those four years helped define the character for the earliest generation of Marvel Comics fans and since that generation also helped to define Marvel Comics period, it is a very important period in comic book history.
At the start of the 1960s, Steve Ditko was one of Marvel’s most popular artists, but he was also a clear second to Jack Kirby, who had been one of the most popular artists in the entire industry since the early 1940s. Stan Lee leaned heavily on Jack Kirby and when Kirby was not available, he went to Ditko next. When Lee first pitched the idea of a teen hero named Spider-Man, Kirby, who had just recently launched the hit superhero series, Fantastic Four, with Lee, was the obvious choice to design the character and draw the new feature. Kirby’s version of the hero, though, was very similar to a character that he and Joe Simon had pitched years earlier that Simon had then adapted into the Archie Comics superhero known as the Fly. Various reasons exist as to why Lee rejected Kirby’s design (Lee has said it was too traditionally heroic looking, while others suggest that it was the similarity to an established character that did the trick), but whatever the reason, Ditko was then brought on and as he later recalled, “One of the first things I did was to work up a costume. A vital, visual part of the character. I had to know how he looked … before I did any breakdowns. For example: A clinging power so he wouldn’t have hard shoes or boots, a hidden wrist-shooter versus a web gun and holster, etc. … I wasn’t sure Stan would like the idea of covering the character’s face but I did it because it hid an obviously boyish face. It would also add mystery to the character…”
It is, indeed, one of the most striking superhero costumes of the Silver Age. Amusingly enough, however (and a testament to how Ditko was treated in relation to Jack Kirby), Lee ended up rejecting Ditko’s original design for the cover of Spider-Man’s debut on Amazing Fantasy #15 and had Kirby draw a different version of Ditko’s design (with Ditko then inking Kirby)…
That debut issue was so unusual for its time that Lee made sure to crow on the first page of the issue that they knew how unusual the story was. Here was a teen hero, which was unusual enough for its time, but a teen whose origin begins with him being a picked on nerd who decides to use his superpowers not for crimefighting but for personal advancement. He becomes a TV celebrity and is so disinterested in his fellow man that when a criminal runs by him, he doesn’t do anything to stop him…
When later he discovers that that same criminal killed his beloved Uncle Ben, then Peter Parker learned the hard way that with great power comes great responsibility…
It’s one of the greatest superhero origin stories ever written. However, Lee and Ditko were not finished with making Spidey stand out.
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