When people talk about Marvel Comics, the founding days, the peak creative window, the names most likely to come up are, in order, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Love him or hate him or correctly assess his place in history as both historic AND aggrandized simultaneously, Stan the Man was Marvel Comics. He arrived at that position as the only one left out of that 60’s group, and if you’re the only one in the room, history is what you say it is. Second is The King! Jack Kirby, a hard scrabble pugilist of fascists, whose commitment to ‘head down, productivity up’ was so intense that it wasn’t until much later that he realized he may not have been in the best boat, left to work for DC, and the New Gods were born.
That leaves Steve.
Steve Ditko would be name number three, by default, and possibly by choice. Like Kirby, he had issues with Lee. Those issues popped up much earlier, and with Amazing Spider-Man #38, poof, he was gone. Jazzy Johnny Romita took over ASM, and Spider-Man’s place as Marvel’s Main Man was cemented.
It could be argued that the lack of availability of Ditko’s work from the current version of Marvel could have been seen as trying to hide a corner of their own less marvelous history. “Could have been…” is the key phrase there because, drumroll please, a wealth of work from or about Steve Ditko is (back) in print for modern comic readers to engage with. Let’s start somewhere ‘Strange’ with those.
Ditko might be best known for his time on Spider-Man (we’ll get to him, I assure you) but arguably his best Marvel work was on the wild, wooly, and wigged out Strange Tales/Doctor Strange. His surreal starscapes and magical realms took the reader outside of anything resembling reality. The creation of Stephen and his gang that disturbs him includes the Ancient One, Baron Mordo, the Dread Dormammu, Clea, Eternity, Nightmare, and more all occurred under his watchful hand. Two full volumes are available under the Mighty Marvel Masterworks banner, a location we’ll have more to say about shortly. Those books would be ‘The World Beyond’ and ‘The Eternity War’, $15.99 each.
Since Peter Parker picked a peck of prelude in the previous paragraph, let’s look at Spider-Man and revel. John Romita might have defined Spidey’s look for decades, Ditko’s was a wiry, lean, gangly thing. His Peter was clearly a high school student, picked on, pushed around, and panicked. Let’s just say he was very easy for bullied kids to relate to. Ditko was (co) responsible for the creation of such notables as the Green Goblin, Lizard, Sandman, Mysterio, Scorpion, The Beetle, Molten Man, Vulture, Doc Ock, and Electro…!?!? That list is INSANE, a murderer’s row of the best rogue’s gallery in comics. He drew 38! Issues and an annual, and they’re all back in print under that Mighty Marvel Masterworks heading we talked about earlier, three full volumes of wonder. Just ask any Graham Crackers location to help get you ‘With Great Power’, ‘The Goblin and The Gangsters’, and ‘The Master Planner’, $15.99 each.
“Yes”, you say, “But what if I want the real Amazing Spider-Man #1?” That’s easy, I respond. Twelve Thousand Dollars, please! “GAH” you gurgle. BUT!, I yell, I do have this FACSIMILE EDITION with all of the original content, ads, letter columns, bullpen bulletins, AN EXACT REPLICA for just 3.99! Take home a book honoring the history of this wonderful artist. It features his first Spider-Man cover as well!
That’s a lot of offerings for even a casual fan, but let’s say you’re more than casual. You’re a Friend Of O’ Marvel thru and thru and you’d like to know what deeper cuts might be available. OK FOOMer, we’ve got just the things for you- Marvel Masters of Suspense Omnibus volumes 1 and 2, featuring earlier, classic short tales of terror by that team of Steve and Stan. Coming in at a combined page count of 1384! you’ll get your fill of the creepier side of Marvel from the 50’s/60’s.
Sure, you’ve filled your shelves now, but are probably asking “Hey, did Steve Ditko ever draw the last issue of the original run of The Hulk?” That’s a fairly specific, fairly leading question, because, SURPRISE, the answer is yes. That means MMMW Hulk volume 1 features not only Kirby, but Ditko as well. ‘The Green Goliath.’ Ask for him by name, provide $15.99 + tax, and he will come live with you.
Whew. That’s a lot of material. There’s probably nothing else of interest covering his time at Marvel, right? I mean, he never came back to work there again, did he? On licensed properties? In the 1980’s?? THERE’S ABSOLUTLEY NO CHANCE HE DID WORK ON THE MICRONAUTS AND ROM AND MARVEL IS REPRINTING THOSE COMPLETE SERIES THIS FALL, IT JUST COULDN’T BE?!?!?!
I mean, if he did a long run of Rom, and P. Craig Russell inked him, I’d probably have to mention that too, right? Marvel has indeed taken the surprising step of getting the rights back for both of these titles to reprint them in omnibus form. The Romnibus will be out in January of 2024, with Micronauts popping up in April of that year. Ditko’s work will not be in the first Rom collection, but will feature heavily as they finish the series. His work on Micronauts Annual #1, his return to Marvel, is likely in that volume 1.
While that’s far from a comprehensive list of all of Ditko’s major work, it does cover a great chunk of what Marvel has or will have back in print. Now, the man himself was a fascinating recluse later in life. There are a couple of books to recommend to cover the very interesting past of Ditko himself. First, we have the all-ages option Along Came A Radioactive Spider by Annie Hunter Eriksen and Lee Gatlin, a fanciful interpretation of the creation of everyone’s favorite wall crawler. It was just released this week, at the friendly neighborhood price of $18.99.
For a considerably more in depth and more dire run through his career, there’s a corker of a biography called Ditko Shrugged by David Currie. The title is a play on ‘Atlas Shrugged’ by noted strict anti-government program, yet Medicare + Social Security recipient, Ayn Rand. That Ditko was a devotee could explain a great deal about him. It is a blunt walk through of the highs and lows, oh so many lows, of one of the greatest comic artists ever, full stop. How would he feel about having a $49.99 biography about him in the world? In this one case, since he had some participation in its creation, he’d probably be ok with it. He was viewed as number three at Marvel, often treated like number two, but he’s for sure my Marvel number one.