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Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Steve Ditko,co-creator of the Marvel Universe

We all know Stan Lee, but who is Steve Ditko?  Steve Ditko is many great things, but one thing for certain he is a co-creator and founding father of the Marvel Universe.

No one really can say with certainty what was the nature of the creative discussions between him and Stan Lee, but no doubt they (with the help of Jack Kirby) came up with one of the best comic book franchises in history.

Read below and/or click to view video:

As we know from the previous blog, Jack Kirby, with Stan Lee created the building blocks of the Marvel Universe, but it was Steve Ditko that put an abstract twist on some key items that completed the identity of Marvel and some key characters.

We'll break Steve Ditko's contribution down to 5 important details that rounded off Kirby's building blocks into a Marvel identity that was far more complete and intriguing.  These 5 things are the visual creation of Spider-Man (including his villains) in 1962, the creation of the Marvel comic cover corner-box in early 1963, the visual creation of Dr. Strange in mid-1963, the revamping of Iron Man's armor in late 1963, and the concept that anger/stress trigger Bruce Banner's transformation into the Incredible Hulk 1964.  In the image above, I put what preceded those creations, and below are Steve Ditko's rather incredible transformations which significantly transcended the originals.

According to Ditko in Robin Snyder's History of Comics Vol 1, #5 (1990), Jack Kirby and Stan Lee worked on a 5 page "Spider-Man" that Ditko was going to ink.  Ditko noticed that the Kirby/Lee Spiderman origin was like Jack Kirby and Joe Simon's The Fly, a 1959 Archie Comics character which included the same transformative magic ring.

He also mentioned that the costume was very much like other Kirby costumes including this 1964 image of Giant-Man or Captain America.

He portrayed that costume in his 2002 essay, An Insider's Part of Comics History: Jack Kirby's Spider-Man ©S. Ditko. ( I highly recommend people contact Robin Snyder to purchase the whole essay, it is riveting)

Ditko also portrayed the difference between his and Stan Lee's contribution to the creation of the character in 1990 shown here, ©S. Ditko:

To put it in perspective there were quite a few Spider-Men in comics and we'll talk about that in another episode, so this visual creation of Marvel's Spider-Man by Steve Ditko was a huge standout success, and a huge jump from the Kirby/Simon Fly character which is the only Kirby image we have that has any relation to the Kirby/Lee Spider-Man.  

The visual creation of Spider-Man also came with a whole rogues gallery and a supporting cast which was highlighted in one of the best annuals to date in Amazing Spider-Man Annual 1, 1964 by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee.

One of his most notorious villains was a CEO and director of the board, Norman Osborn who first appeared with his cornrow haircut in Amazing Spider-Man 23, 1965 as an unnamed character in the background (we didnt know he was the Green Goblin yet), and fully named in Amazing Spider-Man 37, 1966.  He and his haircut both have a Steve Ditko Charlton Comics precursor in Strange Suspense Stories 33, 1957 in “Director of the Board”

The name "Electro" was used in Atlas and Timely comics which later became Marvel.  However, Ditko also worked on an electrically powered character in Strange Suspense Stories 49, 1960 before visually creating Electro in 1964, Amazing Spider-Man 9.  

There is also a fairly strong Chamelon precursor by Steve Ditko for Charlton Comics Out of This World 7, 1957 where a spy is seen using various masks to accomplish espionage.  This same ability and spy origin is used for the Chameleon in Amazing Spider-Man 1, 1963.

Spider-Man was of course a slam dunk for Marvel, and there are other blogs that explore how much of his own life he put into Spider-Man.  This visual creation was a huge contributor to Marvel's success, but his contributions continue.  Ditko wrote that in 1963, he came up with the idea for the Marvel letterbox on the top left of the comic book cover, and showed it to both Stan Lee and Sol Brodsky.

In Fantastic Four 18, 1963, Stan Lee confirms that "Steve Ditko dreamed up the idea."  In 1961, Jack Kirby and Stan Lee wrote Amazing Adventures 1, 1961 and came up with a character named Dr. Droom. Droom traveled to tibet and underwent a transformation to become a crime fighting mystic.

Ditko inked these Kirby/Lee Dr. Droom stories, and a couple years later, worked with Lee on the same type of plots, but took this type of character to a whole new level when he visually created Dr. Strange in 1963.  Stephen Strange also travels to tibet to become transformed into a mystic.  

Dr. Strange with his rogues gallery became another solid structure in the buddening Marvel Silver Age, and to think that Ditko would apply his sensibilities to this Droom type character, and escalated the visual presentation to a whole other level.  Dr. Strange would use his hands to cast teleportation spells which Ditko did years earlier with a prior character in 1959 for Charlton comics Space Adventures 27:

Check out his work before Marvel in 1957 Strange Suspense Stories 32 for Charlton comics which portrays his art of dimension traveling.

Now check out how he applies his innate skill for this type of art and evolves it to a completely higher level in these two full page splashes in Ditko's cataclysmic Dormammu vs Eternity pages.  

These pages are simply incredible.  In the case of Iron Man, we spoke in the Iron Man Jack Kirby episode that he was assembled from various elements and presented in Tales of Suspense 39, 1963.  It was a great comic book with the bulky tin plated armor that became a yellow/gold color as shown in issue 45 below.  

However, when Ditko got his hands on the character, he streamlined the character's armor into the red and gold design we all know today which is significantly successful in current films.  The premiere of Steve Ditko's red and yellow suit is unveiled here in Tales of Suspense 49, 1964 with the shedding of the old bulky armor.

Of course this is the armor design that helped put the Marvel film franchise on the map.

So yes, thank you Mr. Ditko!  Another in a great series of genius improvements.  Ditko's transformative wizardry also extends to the Incredible Hulk.  When the Hulk first appeared in issue 1, 1962, he presented as a monster comic who turned his powers on or off depending on if it was night or day.  

He was essentially a frankenstein/werewolf hybrid type character that only lasted 6 issues.  Steve Ditko did work on some issues before his cancellation, however the Hulk was brought back in Tales to Astonish with Ditko again helming the character.  One key character contribution was essentially retconning the character so Bruce Banner transforms into the Hulk whenever he got angry or stressed.  

This trigger is so key to the character now, that no one can really think of the character in any other way as shown in this meme with a line from the Incredible Hulk TV show of the late 1970's:

This sense of nervous anxiety of when the stress will come to trigger a transformation puts the Hulk into the unpredictable mobile bomb category that adds much more entertaining uncertainty to his story, and that was yet another fantastic contribution by Steve Ditko.  Here is Ditko in his self portrait in a back up feature of him in Amazing Spider-Man annual 1, 1964 clearly showing that all jokes aside, he was hard at work expanding, improving, and creating in the 1960s.

This has been a fun episode of CBH.  It's impossible to study comic book history without running into Steve Ditko.  Steve Ditko was clearly more than a co-creator of Spider-Man.  It was his wizard-like transformations, along with Jack Kirby's creations, that helped Stan Lee solidify the Marvel brand, as well as the Marvel characters.  He was relatively newer in the game than Kirby and Lee, but had up to 9 years of comic book experience before he started these key contributions listed here.  His talent can never be ignored, and if anyone wants to know more about him, please buy his essays located online with Robin Snyder.    Cheers and have a good night.

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Images are not used to infringe on copyright, but rather for academic purpose.

Adventures of the Fly ©Joseph H. Simon, Amazing Fantasy ©Marvel, Journey Into Mystery ©Marvel, Incredible Hulk ©Marvel, Tales to Astonish ©Marvel, Amazing Adventures ©Marvel, History of Comics ©Robin Snyder, Tales of Suspense ©Marvel, Amazing Spider-Man Annual ©Marvel, Patsy Walker ©Marvel, Avengers ©Marvel, An Insider's Part of Comics History: Jack Kirby's Spider-Man ©S. Ditko, Spider-Man "creation" ©S. Ditko, Strange Tales ©Marvel, Iron Man 1 movie poster ©Marvel Studios, Incredible Hulk film ©Marvel Studios