Steve Ditko, the writer and artist who co-created Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, and created superhero pillars like Blue Beetle, The Question, Hawk and Dove, and others, has died. Ditko’s professional comics career began in the 1950s, working primarily on horror and science fiction for an assortment of small publishers. But it was his work during the early days of Marvel where he stepped into the spotlight, overseeing the creations of some of the most important characters in comics history.
Ditko is one of the three pillars of Marvel, along with Jack Kirby and Stan Lee. Without Steve Ditko, Marvel as we know it would not exist. Ditko co-created Spider-Man with Stan Lee, and drew and co-wrote Spidey’s adventures for 38 issues. Ditko’s Spider-Man was a moodier, stranger character than the romantic, comedic leading man that he later became, but his stories were innovative, weird, and even a little dangerous. Marvel may have had greater commercial success with later eras of the character, but those Ditko issues of Amazing Spider-Man are essential reads for any comic book fan, and stretched the boundaries of what was expected from superhero storytelling in the early 1960s.
While not as well known than his work on Spider-Man, the work Ditko did on Doctor Strange (a character he also co-created with Lee) is arguably his masterpiece. Nightmarish, surreal, and psychedelic, Ditko’s Doctor Strange comics were adopted by the burgeoning counter culture of the ’60s as the comic of choice for mind-expanding experiences, despite the fact that Ditko himself was a conservative who favored Ayn Rand’s philosophies and never touched drugs himself. The Ditko era of Doctor Strange has arguably never been matched by any other creator, and is as definitive to the early Marvel style as the work Jack Kirby was doing on Fantastic Four or Thor.
Ditko left Marvel over creative differences with Stan Lee. He found himself at Charlton, where he created Captain Atom, the Question, and the Ted Kord version of Blue Beetle, three characters who would eventually make their way to the pages of DC Comics and serve as the inspiration for the characters in Watchmen 20 years later. The Question was one example of Ditko sneaking objectivist philosophy into his comics work. That philosophy found itself unfiltered in Ditko’s mysterious Mr. A character, as well.
Ditko would then move on to DC Comics, creating Hawk and Dove (soon to be seen in live action on the Titans TV series) and the Creeper for the company. His time at DC was short-lived, and he spent a chunk of the 1970s working at various publishers, before returning to do more work for DC and Marvel. In particular, his second stint at DC yielded characters like Shade, the Changing Man, and a particularly underrated version of Starman.
Ditko spent his later years producing more personal work for smaller publishers. He became increasingly reclusive, never embracing his legacy or place in comics history, and rarely granting interviews. While he was never as openly hostile to adaptations of his work as someone like Alan Moore is, he didn’t have much time for the blockbuster interpretations of Spider-Man or Doctor Strange. Fortunately, creators that followed him, whether on the page or the screen, had plenty of time for his work, and if you are new to these familiar characters and haven’t yet had the pleasure of acquainting yourself with the work of their creator, now is a perfect opportunity.