I woke on the morning of 7th July 2018. It was to be the start of another great weekend. Instead, I was greeted by the devastating news of the loss of yet another comic book legend. Steve Ditko had passed away at the age of 90. Most non-comics fans have probably never heard of Ditko since many of Marvel’s iconic characters have always been mostly attributed to Stan Lee alone.
The late Steve Ditko actually played an integral part in co-creating Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, as well as several DC Comics characters. Without Ditko, I can say without hesitation that Spider-Man wouldn’t have been the pop culture icon he is today.
It was the year 1962, and Stan Lee wanted to create a new type of superhero, a character whom teenagers could relate to and identify with. No one at Marvel Comics approved of this idea since superheroes at that time were all adults and teenagers were often relegated to sidekick or assistant status.
Marvel publisher Martin Goodman finally accepted the idea, and only because the Amazing Fantasy comic book anthology series would be ending soon. Lee later asked the legendary late Jack Kirby (creator of the Fantastic Four and many more iconic characters) to design Spider-Man. However, Lee hated Kirby’s designs, citing it as being too “heroic.” Lee then turned to Ditko, whose art he liked.
Yes, Stan Lee had the idea for Spider-Man, but Ditko designed his iconic costume and mask, remaining mostly unchanged almost 60 years later. That’s how timeless and unique Spider-Man’s design is. Ditko was also the one who introduced the concept of Spider-Man’s hidden wrist web shooters and his ability to cling to walls.
These were all essential in making Spider-Man the cultural phenomenon he is today, and it’s all thanks to Ditko. Many of Spider-Man’s iconic villains were also co-created by Ditko, including the Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, Electro, Sandman and the Lizard.
After Spidey’s success, Ditko helped co-create Doctor Strange. His art was extremely influential in making those early Doctor Strange as trippy and surreal as the sorcerer supreme’s foray into other realms and dimensions. To this day, Ditko’s arguably best and most memorable work remain Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, but those were not his only creations.
He also co-created Squirrel Girl with Will Murray for Marvel. Squirrel Girl will be played by actress Milana Vayntrub in the upcoming animated movie Marvel Rising: Secret Warriors.
Ditko also worked for DC Comics, co-creating several fan-favourites which have actually been pretty popular albeit not as widely-known as Spider-Man or Doctor Strange. He co-created Captain Atom and The Question, as well as the superhero duo Hawk & Dove. Even if you’re not familiar with those characters, Captain Atom and The Question were the inspiration for Watchmen characters Doctor Manhattan and Rorschach.
Rest in peace, Steve Ditko. Thank you for all your contributions to the comics industry, and for giving us beloved icons that endure half a century later. We will always remember you, alongside other late comic book legends like Jack Kirby, Steve Dillon (co-creator of Preacher) and countless others.