Ditko-Verse1 of 12Steve Ditko is one of the original architects of the Marvel Universe, co-creating Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, as well as greats like Ted Kord and the Question for Charlton (later bought by DC).
But it all comes back to Spider-Man, one of the greatest superheroes of all time, who debuted 55 years ago today on August 10, 1962 in Amazing Fantasy #15.
In honor of the anniversary of Spidey's first appearance, we're looking back at the greatest characters created and co-created by the enigmatic and aloof Ditko.
Gwen Stacy2 of 12
Gwen Stacy isn't just Peter Parker's first "true love," she's an integral part of the wall-crawler's mythos and the baseline against which all of Peter's supporting cast would be judged for years.
But she's more than just Spider-Man's girlfriend.
True, many of Gwen's biggest moments (like her death, and reinvention as Spider-Gwen) came long after Ditko's time on the character, Gwen's nature as a true foil for Peter and her iconic style developed in the waning days of Ditko's time on Amazing Spider-Man.
Doctor Octopus3 of 12
Doctor Octopus is such a compelling villain that, a few years ago, he actually replaced Peter Parker as Spider-Man… And did kind of a good job (even though Peter Parker would never approve of his methods).
But before he was the Superior Spider-Man, Doc Ock was one of Spider-Man’s deadliest enemies – a brilliant scientific mind driven insane by the same accident that bonded four prehensile metal arms to his torso.
Doc Ock might just be the truest expression of one of the core ideas of Spider-Man: youth versus experience. In their earliest clashes, Peter Parker is a 15-year-old high school student fighting a scientist who is approaching middle age. It’s not hard to imagine that Peter and Otto Octavius would have had a lot in common under other circumstances. But that generation gap was a big part of Ditko’s approach to Doc Ock, who constantly bristled at Spider-Man’s youthful vigor and reckless wisecracks.
There’s something elemental about Doctor Octopus as a villain – as strange and occasionally silly as he may sometimes seem. Ock is one of Spider-Man’s greatest villains, and a lot of that rests entirely on Ditko’s shoulders as the man who codified the sneering, mad-science-minded Ock as a dark reflection of what Peter Parker could have been if he never learned where power and responsibility intersect.
Hawk & Dove4 of 12
Batman & Robin may be the dynamic duo, but it's hard to argue that the duo most known as a duo would be Hawk & Dove.
Originally created in 1968 by Ditko and Steve Skeates, the two brothers - Hank & Don Hall - were a then-unique take on a team-up book. Not a mentor-mentee like the dynamic duo or an odd couple like... well, The Odd Couple... Hawk & Dove were a family with ideological difference that they literally wore on their sleeves.
Taking on some of the physical attributes of their animal names, Hawk & Dove also mirrored some political mannerisms of the time - "war hawks" and "peace doves."
Enough politics though - DC's Hawk & Dove concept, even when Don was replaced by Dawn Granger, is a team with a unique dichotomy and a costume design by Ditko that is one of the few relatively unchanged since in its 40+ year history.
Norman Osborn5 of 12
Norman Osborn is best known as the Green Goblin, but he’s so much more than that. Yet another surrogate father for Peter (and actual father to Peter’s best pal Harry Osborn), Norman was, for a time, the very opposite of his sneering alter ego.
Maybe it’s the apocryphal story that Ditko didn’t want the Green Goblin’s secret identity to be revealed as Norman Osborn, but Osborn himself has always been bigger than his (first) evil identity. The fact that he’s endured so long – and had some of his best and deadliest years without any pretense of secret identity – proves that.
And like the Green Goblin himself, Osborn is yet another example of Ditko’s unerring design sensibilities (just look at that hair). To this day, Osborn can visually stand toe to toe with almost any other villain and be recognizable no matter what he’s wearing.
Squirrel Girl6 of 12Some people might think that Squirrel Girl is the newest face in Marvel's line of current titles, but she's an old soul - and in some ways, Steve Ditko's last major creation to date.
Debuting meekly in a back-up story to a 1991 Marvel holiday anthology, Ditko and Will Murray's Squirrel Girl is a throwback to the happy-go-lucky superheroes of the 1960s, with her sincerity being a stark contrast to the nuanced (and sometimes angsty) heroes of today.
Earnest, eager, with a personality that's infectious, Ditko's original design baked that in - even in spite of the times in which she was created. (Remember 1991? Shoulder pads, clenched teeth, guns, cross-hatching.)
Although Ditko only worked on the character for a short time, there's some kind of magic that made it so his and Murray's initial designs remain intact today - and expounded on by Ryan North, Erica Henderson, and others.
Blue Beetle7 of 12
Technically, Steve Ditko didn't create the Blue Beetle.
Like many Silver Age heroes (like the most of DC’s top characters), Ted Kord was a reinvention of a concept that had blossomed and withered decades earlier, when Dan Garrett was introduced by Fox Publications as a pulpy, two-fisted, magic-based adventurer.
But Ditko’s version of the Blue Beetle set aside nearly everything about the Garrett version (though in some versions of the story, Garrett is Kord’s mentor) for a science-based swashbuckler who better reflected the ideals of the time.
And, of course, there’s the little matter of the costume. Ted Kord’s Blue Beetle look remained basically unchanged for almost his entire history as a character, and with good reason. It’s easy to see the parallels with Spider-Man’s iconic look, and yet in many ways the two heroes almost couldn’t look more different.
The Question8 of 12
In some ways, the Question may be the character closest to Steve Ditko himself. Created for back-ups in Charlton’s Blue Beetle, the faceless vigilante the Question borrows from Ditko’s earlier masked man, Mr. A, while leaning slightly less on Ditko’s Objectivist philosophy and more on his unerring belief in the absolutism of right and wrong.
The Question isn’t exactly an A-lister; to this day he’s rarely held down his own title outside of the still highly regarded Denny O’Neil and Denys Cowan series of the late 80s. But the featureless crimefighter, whose trenchcoat, right wing beliefs, and “Pseudoderm” mask were all co-opted for Watchmen’s Rorschach, remains a fan favorite due in part to his striking visuals, and his philosophical nature.
Over the years, Ditko’s personal philosophy has faded from the Question’s make-up – and other heroes, such as Renee Montoya, have taken up the identity. But the Question endures – probably because, as his name would imply, there is no true answer to life’s deepest questions.
J. Jonah Jameson9 of 12
It’s hard to imagine that J. Jonah Jameson could have ever been intended as just being Peter Parker’s boss. And honestly, he probably wasn’t.
Created by Ditko and Stan Lee, Lee has often professed that his over-the-top dialog and demeanor were based on Lee’s own personality (ironic, considering the personality conflicts between Lee and Ditko themselves). But Jameson just wouldn’t have the same charm, the same personality, or the same iconic status if not for Ditko’s masterful character design and body language.
In some ways, just as Doctor Octopus or Green Goblin could be considered Spider-Man’s greatest nemesis, Jameson is Peter Parker’s ultimate foil. In Jameson, Ditko and Lee created an ersatz father figure for Peter Parker in the absence of Uncle Ben – one who constantly reinforces Ben Parker’s lesson of power and responsibility by so often losing sight of it.
And again, the fact that Jameson, a normal businessman who has never been a costumed adventurer, could have as much visual panache and presence as the weird and eerie Spider-Man is a testament to Ditko’s power as an artist and designer.
Doctor Strange10 of 12
Doctor Strange is billed as a co-creation of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, but Lee himself has said it was Ditko who dreamed up the character - and his debut story - all on his own. The Marvel E-i-C added in his own Chandu the Magician-style verbiage and plotlines later on, but in many ways Strange is the most pure Ditko creation at Marvel.
Inspired by the surrealist fine art movement spearheaded by Salvador Dali at the time, Ditko's Doctor Strange stories were a visual menagerie of shapes, lines, and colors - and not just the background - look at Strange's Kirby-dots-esque gloves. Ditko figuratively and literally put Strange as the sole bit of humanity against a strange (no pun intended) variety of worlds, creatures, and ideas at a time when the public were going through a cultural revolution into the late 1960s.
Although the name was nicked from an early one-note Marvel villain, Ditko and Lee's Doctor Strange cut a wide swath into Marvel Comics at the time that mixed magic with Marvel-style superheroics.
Spider-Man11 of 12
When Jack Kirby couldn't crack Stan Lee's idea for a teen spider-based hero, Steve Ditko stepped up.
After Jack Kirby's initial development was "too heroic" according to Stan Lee, Ditko went back to Lee's core concept and developed a costume design, the concept of webshooters, and much of the relatively oddball Peter Parker personality that was against the superhero template. What happened next surprised everyone.
Working off of Lee's short 'Marvel-style' plot summaries, Ditko developed a teen hero who wasn't a sidekick, wasn't a kid, but wasn't yet a man. With nervous energy, a shy public face, and witty barbs behind the anonymity of a mask, Peter Parker was the everyman hero for superhero age. Not infallible like Superman, not collected like Batman, and without a stable family life like the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man stood alone.
Through expert storytelling skills and body language, Ditko imbued Spider-Man with a unique energy that was strong enough to live on through the hands of the many writers and artists who followed.
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