The formation of Marvel was truly a three-pronged attack. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby had already established themselves with the Fantastic Four and The Incredible Hulk.
So, when Stan Lee wanted to do a comic book for a third hero he had thought up, he went to Kirby again. But according to Stan, Kirby’s work was too beautiful. His heroes were powerful and majestic-looking. Stan wanted his new hero to be a teenage boy and he wanted him to be on the scrawny side and not very attractive.
At the time, Marvel’s other output consisted of westerns, romance books, and anthology titles such as Strange Tales, Tales to Astonish, Journey into Mystery, Tales of Suspense, and Amazing Adult Fantasy. One of the artists on these books was a balding, unassuming man named Steve Ditko.
His work was almost the exact opposite of Kirby’s. His characters were rail-thin, unattractive even when they weren’t meant to be, and appeared more miserable than happy most of the time – perfect dynamics for what Lee had in mind for his third hero.
Ditko took the assignment. Though not as popularly prolific as Kirby, Ditko was nonetheless a brilliant visual storyteller. He brought a moodiness and atmosphere that was starkly different from Kirby’s clean, techno-futuristic elements. Ditko designed the costume for the new hero, whom Lee had decided to call Spider-Man. The costume was red and blue and had a mask that completely covered his head, and even had white one-way lenses that hid his eyes. Ditko also gave Spider-Man devices that he wore on his wrists that could shoot out webbing which he could hang or swing from.
Lee had trouble convincing his boss, Martin Goodman, that this new creation was a good idea. Goodman couldn’t imagine anyone being interested in reading a story about a kid and besides, no one liked spiders.
But undeterred, Lee chose to put his and Ditko’s Spider-Man story into the final issue of Amazing Adult Fantasy. And for the last issue, Lee dropped the ‘Adult’, and just called it Amazing Fantasy. Issue #15 hit the stands in August of 1962.
Within weeks, the mail started pouring in. Readers loved this new superhero. But it wasn’t just the character they loved. The art work was strikingly unique from anything else on the news stands. Ditko’s style is hard to describe but you definitely know it when you see it.
Very soon, it became clear that Peter Parker was a fictional alter ego for Ditko. He was a near dead-ringer for Ditko when the artist was in high school. He also included some of his own experiences in his portrayal of the character.
The only other hero Ditko famously created and drew for Marvel was Dr. Strange. With this character, Ditko really expanded his sense of the wild and weird. Dr. Stephen Strange was an arrogant surgeon who lost his livelihood when his hands were irreparably injured in a car crash. Seeking a way to heal them, he traveled to Tibet and got an audience with an ancient figure in a mysterious temple high on a snow-swept mountain.
As Strange realized that he had not found what he had hoped to, he also realized that the Ancient One’s shifty protege, Baron Mordo, was trying to secretly overthrow his master. Strange overcame his own selfish tendencies and his eyes were opened to something more important than his own needs.
He agreed to become the Ancient One’s pupil and learned the dark secrets of the Mystic Arts. In doing so, Dr. Strange was carried away into fantastic worlds the likes of which had never been seen in comics before, thanks to the incredible imagination and artistry of Ditko.
While he was at Marvel, Ditko helped create some of the most iconic characters and drew some of the most memorable covers and interiors.
With the Amazing Spider-Man #33, “If This be My Destiny..!”, Ditko drew what may be his most iconic and talked-about piece. Spider-Man, trapped under tons of debris underground, may have finally met his end. But over four agonizing pages, Ditko shows the true heart of the hero.
Ditko left Marvel in the late 60s due to a dispute with Stan Lee over a plot choice in The Amazing Spider-Man. He would return in the seventies and draw many, many characters for Marvel through the 1990s, even creating some.
Ditko will go down as one of the most important and influential figures in comic book history. With a style all his own, he was one of the three influential men who started The Marvel Age of Comics.
COMPREHENSIVE LIST OF DITKO’S WORK FOR MARVEL
- Journey into Mystery #33, 38, 50–96 (1956–63)
- Mystery Tales #40, 45, 47 (1956)
- 2-Gun Western #4 (1956)
- Journey Into Unknown Worlds #45, 51 (1956)
- Strange Tales #46, 50, 67–146 (Doctor Strange in #110–111, 114–146), Annual #2 (inking Jack Kirby) (1956–66)
- Marvel Tales #147 (1956)
- Spellbound #29 (1956)
- Strange Tales of the Unusual #5 (1956)
- Astonishing #53 (1956)
- World of Mystery #3, 6 (1956–1957)
- Strange Worlds #1–5 (1958–59)
- World of Fantasy #16–19 (1959)
- Battle #63, 68, 70 (1958–1960)
- Tales of Suspense #1–49 (Iron Man in #47–49) (1959–64)
- Tales to Astonish #1–48, 60–67 (The Hulk in #60–67, Giant Man in #61) (1959–65)
- Gunsmoke Western #56, 66 (1960–1961)
- Amazing Adventures #1–6 (1961); becomes
- Amazing Adult Fantasy #7–14 (1961–62); becomes
- Amazing Fantasy #15 (debut Spider-Man) (1962)
- The Incredible Hulk #2 (inking Jack Kirby), #6 (1962–63)
- The Amazing Spider-Man #1–38, Annual #1–2 (1963–66)
- The Fantastic Four #13 (inking Jack Kirby) (1963)
- Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #15 (inking Dick Ayers) (1965)
- Tower of Shadows #6, 8–9 (1970–1971)
- Machine Man #10–19 (1979–81)
- Tomb of Dracula magazine #2 (1979)
- Micronauts #39, Annual #1–2 (1979–1982)
- Daredevil #162 (1980)
- The Incredible Hulk #249, Annual #9 (1980)
- Marvel Spotlight vol. 2 #4 (Captain Marvel), #5 (Dragon Lord), #9–11 (Captain Universe) (1980–81)
- Marvel Preview #21 (Shroud) (1980)
- Crazy Magazine #68 (1980)
- Marvel Team-Up #101 (1981)
- Fantastic Four Annual #16 (1981)
- Iron Man #160 (1982)
- What If? #35 (Tigra) (1982)
- U.S.1 #12 (1984)
- Rom Spaceknight #59–75, Annual #4 (1984–86)
- The Avengers Annual #13, 15 (1984–86)
- The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones #21, 25–28, 32–34 (1984–86)
- Chuck Norris: Karate Kommandos 1–3 (1987)
- What If Special #1 (Iron Man) (1988)
- What The–?! #1 (1988)
- The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #22 (debut Speedball), #24–25 (1988–1991)
- Marvel Age Annual #4 (Speedball) (1988)
- Speedball #1–10 (1988–89)
- Marvel Comics Presents #7, 10, 14, 54, 56, 58, 80–81, 83 (1988–1991)
- Web of Spider-Man Annual #5 (Captain Universe) (1989)
- Iron Man Annual #11 (1990)
- The Destroyer #4 (1990)
- The Destroyer vol. 2 #1 (1991)
- Marvel Super-Heroes vol. 2 #1–3, #5–8 (#8 debut Squirrel Girl) (1990–1992)
- Phantom 2040 #1–4 (1995)
- Mighty Morphin Power Rangers #2, 4 (1995–96)
- Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Ninja Rangers/VR Troopers #4–5 (1996)
- Heroes & Legends #1 (1997)
- Shadows & Light #1 (Iron Man) (1998)
- Incredible Hulk and the Human Torch: From the Marvel Vault #1 (story created in the 1980s) (2011)