Friday night brought some sad news for longtime comic book and superhero fans with the news that Steve Ditko, who co-created Spider-Man for Marvel Comics with Stan Lee, had passed away at the age of 90.
Ditko’s death (along with Harlan Ellison’s recent passing) is a reminder that many of the creators responsible for the stories and characters which established the geek culture we currently enjoy did so 50 to 60 years ago. Each time Stan Lee pops up on news alerts for lawsuits, estate disputes or elder abuse allegations, my initial instinct is that he died. The man is 95 years old, though he seems spry in his continued Marvel movie cameos.
Of course, it means we’re getting old too. I probably first read Ditko’s Spider-Man stories 30-plus years ago. When I began reading comics, John Romita Sr., Gil Kane and Ross Andru were the guys drawing Spidey. Marvel’s reprints of the original Spider-Man comics led me to Ditko.
Sure, maybe I just wanted more Spidey stories back then. But this was probably also an early example of appreciating artists by going to the beginning, like listening to a band’s first album or watching a director’s early films. What were those original Spider-Man comics like and how did they compare to the stories I first read?
Ditko’s art fit the idea of Spider-Man so well. A superhero with the powers of a spider would be a bit creepy, right? And Peter Parker was a nerd who got bullied, crushed on girls, was adored by his uncle and aunt, and was a brilliant student. Romita’s version of Spider-Man was a bit too polished, though fit the post-high school version of the character. But Ditko’s version, in addition to the world these characters populated, looked a bit unusual.