Howdy! It’s Chad again! For the time being, I’ve been assigned to keep the blog moving on the latter half of the weekend. Or maybe you consider it the first day of the week. It doesn’t matter. It’s Sunday. I’m supposed to fill in stuff Sundays for the time being. Friday night, I was taken aback when I heard of the passing of Steve Ditko.
If you checked out our collective tribute yesterday, you know that I (and my ghost pals) credit Steve Ditko with having a huge influence in our comic book reading lives. Today, I wanted to focus on one of my favorite aspects of Ditko’s work: his characters. However, I know that Mr. Ditko was very prickly when it came to talking about his work. He did not like talking about Spider-man. So we won’t. Nor will we discuss Dr. Strange, because he’s too easy. Also, I’m not the biggest Dr. Strange fan.
Caveat: I know that these characters are not created solely by Steve Ditko, nor has he guided their entire publication history. Comics are a creative and collaborative process. It takes not only great art but great stories as well for characters to survive and thrive. Many of these characters have been expanded beyond the original vision–and that’s ok. Comics rarely work in a vacuum.
Allow me this quick tangent–I know the issue of credit for who created what causes a great deal of friction, especially when it comes to Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby and their relationships with Stan Lee. I want to put to bed early the idea that people like Stan Lee deserve ire for stealing credit from other creators. I’ve always seen creating a comic book like being in a band. Getting mad at Stan Lee because he acted the role of lead singer out in front of his artists is silly and futile. Stan provided input and without the combination of Stan and Steve Ditko, or the combination of Stan and Jack Kirby, the Marvel Universe doesn’t exist. There’s no Beatles without both John Lennon and Paul McCartney (or those other guys); there’s no Guns ‘n’ Roses without Axle and Slash (sorry Buckethead). I think all parties involved deserve praise for bringing to life something that has brought me and my friends great joy, so let’s keep things civil, kids.
On to the list! At least the first half! In an order that only really matters to me, here are my favorite characters brought to life in part by Steve Ditko that are not Spider-man!
10. The Question
The Question, originally created for Charlton Comics and later bought by DC, has such an unmistakingly cool look to him. Folks in comic circles will bring up how he was the inspiration for the Watchmen’s Rorschach as a primary point of interest, but I’ve always loved the simplicity of the character design. Old school noir fedora combined with a blue suit–he’s part Eisner’s Spirit, part hard boiled detective, part dude without a face. He’s scary and cool all at the same time.
9. The Dread Dormammu
I’d known of Dormammu for years before reading any really substantial stories that focused on him. He’s been around, for sure. Recently reading through his initial appearances really helped me to gain an appreciation for the Dread Dormammu. (I keep hearing Andre the Giant talking about the Dread Pirate Roberts in my head every time I type that name!) While this type of dimension ruling villain isn’t traditionally my scene, I’ve always been captivated by his look. He’s got the old school “my head’s on fire but we’re just going to put some lines here” look that Johnny Storm rocked for so many years. Then, you factor in the grandiosity of his appearances–he’s always got some scheme that doesn’t involve subtlety. Look at the way he saunters past Baron Mordo in this page to challenge Dr. Strange. It’s like Andy on his way to deliver his trivia answers! So confident! Such bravado! Even though he has a huge advantage, his next move is to pull out dual pairs of Pincers of Power to give Dr. Strange a fair fight. It’s crazy. I love it. This master of mystic dimensions chooses not to exploit his fearful power, he wants to use pincers instead. And this was after several issues of him being a talking head on a tv screen plotting with/yelling at Baron Mordo! it’s fun enough, he makes the list.
Electro’s costume is equal parts silly and ridiculously awesome. Look at the points jutting out of his mask! Not one for subtlety, either, Max Dillon lets you know his power-set though his lightning bolt gloves and lightning bolt suspenders and lightning bolt racing stripes going up the sides of his legs. If you see this bad guy on the street, you know what he’s about because those jaggy lightening bolts tell you all you need to know! The mix of green, yellow, and black in all seriousness work great against the primary colors of Spider-man’s outfit. His power levels consistently are undermined by his jobber mentality. He controls electricity! Electro is one of those bad guys, that in the right creative hands, could and should be a formidable threat. Or you can just web up your hands and punch him if you’re you know who. That works, too.
Speedball is a character I was introduced to as a young reader in the pages of New Warriors. Robbie Baldwin appealed to me as a teen because he was the kid who was always bouncing off of walls–literally. He served as comic relief on the title, and I always have a soft spot for characters who bring levity to all the melodrama. His unique power set involves kinetic energy and the use of bouncing balls to shield or project out as needed. If something hits Speedball, he could bounce uncontrollably or harness the bouncing balls as a shield or weapon. It just seems like such a fun, wacky power. It wasn’t until later that I learned he was designed in part by Steve Ditko. I hadn’t realized Ditko returned to Marvel to do work for hire in the late 80’s and early 90’s, but I’m glad he did. Speedball’s powers were unique, and his look was captivating. The blue and gold costume with the Dr. Strange-esque designs really looked like a throwback costume to a simpler time, especially as all the characters around Speedball got leather jackets and learned to brood. He did all that stuff, too, eventually, but he eventually found his way back to that classic Ditko design.
6. Blue Beetle
Next on the list is another character designed by Ditko during the days at Charlton comics who later found his way to DC after some sort of Crisis. The Ted Kord version of Blue Beetle is yet another great example of Ditko’s design aesthetic. The bug-eyed lenses, the scarab design on the chest, and the mix of light blue, dark blue, and yellow make for a really interesting looking and heroic character.
I have to make a confession, here, though. My love of the Blue Beetle character comes less from Steve Ditko’s version, of which I’ve never read an issue. My love of the character comes from the years of work that J.M. DeMatteis, Keith Giffen, Kevin Maguire and many others devoted to the character during the JLI run and the subsequent revisitings. It was during that run that Beetle became a vaudeville-esque comedy act with Booster Gold. Whether standing on the sidelines mocking Guy Gardner for being one-punched, or creating their own island getaway with their Justice League cred–Booster and Beetle were always entertaining.
Mr. Dematteis (@JMDeMatteis) said on Twitter yesterday,
“Without Steve Ditko there’d be no Ted Kord, which means no Beetle and Booster anchoring JLI. Without Steve Ditko there’d be no Kraven the Hunter, which means no Kraven’s Last Hunt. We build our careers on the backs of giants.”
I think that’s a nice sentiment to remember as I wrap up part one of the list for now. That creative process is a continuous one, and it says a lot that so many Steve Ditko characters remain relevant today. Stay tuned for part 2 sometime soon! You can put your money down on how many more Sinister Sixers make the list! It’s more than 0 but less than 5.
Until next time, my friends,
My blogs will remain the ones with ghost noises!
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