Steve Ditko's Other Creations
Steve Ditko is best known as co-creator (with Stan Lee) of Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, but Ditko's contribution to the comics pantheon is even greater than that. Here's a look at some other important characters and ideas that Ditko helped create. You'll recognize most, if not all of them, but you may be surprised to discover that they are Steve Ditko creations.
Ditko At Marvel
As writer and co-plotter of Spidey and Doctor Strange's earliest adventures, Ditko helped create many of those heroes' most enduring foes. Just a small sampling from this list: the Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, the Lizard, the cosmic entity known as Eternity, and Doctor Strange's arch-nemesis, the Dread Dormmamu.
Iron Man Red and Gold Armor
Iron Man's original armor looked like it was built in a cave, using primitive resources - which, of course, it had been. Tony Stark soon painted the armor gold, which improved the appearance, but it was still clunky-looking.
A sleeker armor, in the familiar red and gold color scheme first appeared in Tales of Suspense #48 (December, 1963), with art by Ditko. The armor has been revised many times since, but all basic elements that say "Iron Man" were there in Ditko's design - the red and gold color, cuffs on the gloves and boots, and so on.
The Marvel Method
The "Marvel Method" used by Stan Lee meant that artists were usually co-plotters of the stories they drew. Some artists, such as Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, were excellent plotters and did most, if not all, of the plotting for their stories. Upon receiving the finished artwork, Lee would then write the dialogue and captions for these stories.
Ditko illustrated issue #6 of the Hulk's first series, and the first eight appearances of the Hulk in Tales To Astonish (issues #60-67). The idea of Bruce Banner transforming into the Hulk during times of extreme emotional stress was introduced in Tales to Astonish #60 (October, 1964), and was probably Ditko's idea (see sidebar, right). Prior to that, the transformation either happened at sundown, or was triggered by Banner's gamma ray device.
Hulk's arch-enemy the Leader first appeared in Tales To Asonish #62 (December, 1964), by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. The Leader was essentially the Hulk's antithesis. Both were created in accidents involving gamma rays, but where the Hulk had acquired incredible muscle and strength, the Leader developed a super-intellect. The Leader has returned many times since, often aided by his super-androids, known as Humanoids.
Ditko at Charlton Comics
Charlton Comics was a low-budget publisher that operated from 1946-1985, using cheap paper and a substandard printing press. They paid creators a low rate, but often allowed them greater creative freedom than the big publishers. Despite their low-budget philosophy, Charlton occasionally published some very good comics. Some of the best were published in the 1960s, as part of their "Action Hero" line of superheroes.
Watchmen and the Charlton Heroes
Captain Atom's origin will sound familiar to readers of the graphic novel Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. It is similar to the origin of Watchmen's Dr. Manhattan. Watchmen was originally written to feature the Charlton line of super heroes - Captain Atom, Blue Beetle, the Question and others. The character's new owners, DC Comics, had other plans for these characters, however, so Moore created new characters for his story. Elements of the original Charlton characters can still be seen in Moore's creations.
Ditko's Charlton Work Reprinted
Ditko's Captain Atom, Blue Beetle, and The Question stories for Charlton have been collected in a high-quality hardcover format by DC Comics.
When scientist Allen Adam was disintegrated in an atomic explosion, he was somehow able to reassemble the atoms of his body, and Captain Atom was born! His new body posessed super powers, including super-sonic flight, invulnerability, super strength, and the ability to alter his molecular structure.
Captain Atom first appeared in Space Adventures #33 (March, 1960), and was the creation of Ditko and writer Joe Gill. This pre-dated Ditko's work on Spider-Man by two years, making Captain Atom the first superhero of Ditko's career. Ditko worked on Captain Atom until October, 1961, and returned to the character in 1965, redesigning his costume soon thereafter. Captain Atom is now owned by DC Comics, who purchased the Charlton characters in 1983.
The original Blue Beetle was a character from the Golden Age of comics, published by Fox Comics. The character was sold to Charlton in the 1950s, but failed to sell well enough to sustain its own title. In 1966, Steve Ditko developed a new Blue Beetle for Charlton. This was a totally new character, with a new costume, secret identity and modus operandi. The character had no super powers, but had a great intellect, and developed sophisticated gadgetry to help him fight crime, including a flying airship, shaped like a giant beetle.
The Blue Beetle was originally a backup feature in the Captain Atom title, but was soon given his own title, which ran until 1968 when Charlton cancelled its entire action hero line. The character is now owned by DC Comics, and was the inspiration for the character Nite Owl in Watchmen.
Ditko created the Question as a backup feature for the Blue Beetle series, and he first appeared in Blue Beetle #1 (June, 1967). The character is darker and somewhat more ruthless in dealing with criminals than other superheroes of the time. The Question's disguise is a featureless skin-colored mask, which makes it appear as though he has no face. A special gas makes the mask adhere to his face, and also changes the color of his hair and clothing (a regular man's suit, hat and tie).
The Question has no super powers, although he is an excellent detective and fighter. Ownership of the character went to DC in 1983, along with the other Charlton heroes. The Question evolved into the character of Rorschach for the Watchmen graphic novel.
Ditko at DC Comics
In 1968 Steve Ditko created two new series for DC that deserved greater success. Unfortunately, Ditko was ill at the time (possibly a relapse of the tuberculosis he'd had in the 1950s), and this undoubtedly affected the quality of his work on these series. Ditko left DC altogether shortly after creating these series, and no writer since has been able to figure out how to use these characters to their full potential. These series remain cult classics, but they could have been so much more.
Ditko's character the Creeper made his first appearance in Showcase #73 (March, 1968). He was soon given his own series, Beware the Creeper which lasted for 6 issues.
The Creeper has a generic superhero origin and powers - a serum gives him super strength, reflexes and agility, plus a super healing factor. What makes the Creeper memorable are his striking appearance and persona. With his bizarre look - yellow face and costume, green hair and red fur cape - and maniacal laugh, he looks, sounds and acts like a madman. This act is designed to confuse and intimidate his opponents, but it soon puts the Creeper in the unusual position (at least for superheroes of that time) of being wanted by both the police and the underworld.
The Creeper and Hawk and Dove by Ditko have been collected into high-quality hardcover format by DC Comics.
Hawk and Dove
Hawk and Dove were created by Steve Ditko and Steve Skeates for Showcase #75 (June, 1968), which was quickly followed by their own series. Ads for the series said the stories would be as "new as tomorrow's headlines". An interesting premise, as headlines in 1968 were filled with violent civil rights clashes, anti-war demonstrations, and assassinations.
A mysterious, disembodied voice gives brothers Hank and Don Hall the ability to transform into superheroes Hawk and Dove when evil is present. What makes the series unique is that the brothers have diametrically opposed worldviews. Hawk (Hank) will fight for what he believes in, sometimes to the point of being hot-headed, acting without sufficient thought. Dove (Don) is a pacifist. He will not fight, and his tendency to think things over can lead to indecisiveness. They are the yin and yang of superheroes.
It had the potential for some interesting stories, but perhaps those stories could not have been told under the guidelines of the Comics Code at the time. DC has tried, unsuccessfully, to revive Hawk and Dove in their own series a few times. Hopefully the right writer will one day discover these characters.
NOTE: All characters and images are property of their respective copyright holders. Use of these images is believed to fall under the Fair Use doctrine, which allows use of a small portion of a copyrighted work for purposes of commentary and criticism.