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Power Rangers, Squirrel Girl and the WWE: Steve Ditko in the 1990s

The 1990s marked the end of Steve Ditko's mainstream comic book career, but it was a long, strange ride before he got to that final milestone that involved the artist bouncing between a number of comic book companies during the decade.

The journey for Ditko began when he was still working at Marvel Comics. In 1989, Ditko finished up the final ongoing mainstream series that he would ever work on, as Speedball, starring a character that Ditko helped created and whose series Ditko co-plotted with Roger Stern, was canceled after ten issues. However, while sometimes this period is written about in terms of Marvel sending Ditko the door right after that, that really was not the case.

RELATED: How Steve Ditko Defined Spider-Man for a Generation

No, while Speedball was the last ongoing series that Ditko worked on for Marvel, the company continued to make it a point to find assignments for the artist to work on, because there clearly was a desire from Marvel's editorial staff to find work for such a legendary artist if they could find it.

When Marvel Comics Presents debuted while Ditko was still working on Speedball, the anthology series was a perfect fit for Ditko, as he could work on a variety of characters.

In Marvel Comics Presents #7, Ditko did a Namor story with Hollis Bright...

In Marvel Comics Presents #10, Ditko returned to Machine Man with Mike Rockwitz...

One amusing bit is that in the late 1980s/early 1990s, Ditko often appeared in Spider-Man Annuals. You might think, "But wait, Brian, didn't Ditko insist on not drawing Spider-Man upon his return to Marvel?" That's true, so the stories he did were all back-ups featuring other characters, like a Speedball back-up in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #22 (to help promote Speedball's then-current solo series)...

and, of all things, a Solo back-up in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #24...

The problem, of course, is not that people were not finding work for him, but that they were not finding enough work for him. This was still a guy who believed that he could do a regular series and he was mostly getting short feature work.

Around this time, Marvel decided to launch a new series that Ditko would be heavily involved in. During the 1980s, Marvel had a book called Marvel Fanfare, which was designed to be a special book for the direct market that would have fancy paper and would spotlight stories from Marvel's top creators. As time went by, however, the way that editor Al Milgrom was able to get top creators on to the book was to use inventory stories a lot. Inventory stories are stories that were originally intended as fill-ins for other comics that did not end up getting used, so Marvel had them lying around in their, well, inventory. Milgrom would work these inventory stories into the series when he felt that they were of a high quality.

When Marvel Fanfare ended, Marvel replaced it with a series called Marvel Super-Heroes, which was an over-sized quarterly book that was made up mostly out of inventory stories. One of these inventory stories led to perhaps the last great comic book character that Steve Ditko would co-create...

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