Sunday, February 06, 2011
Ditko Cannot be Subdued
Spider-Man's creator, Steve Ditko, took his leave of the character and the company for which he'd concocted it with #38 of the Amazing Spider-Man. Exactly why he did this no one will likely ever really know. I have read that there were issues with licensing over which he was not happy. Other than that, I've never read precisely what it was that drove him to abandon one of the greatest comic book icons ever invented. The property has generated, unbelievably to some, billions of dollars of commerce. Of that, I'm sure Mr. Ditko has received not a penny since he walked away from the book (with the possible exception of reprint payments).
With this final issue you can see some obvious signs of Ditko's own right wing thoughts having percolated completely to the surface. There is a brief scene where Peter Parker encounters some college protesters (this was the mid-60s, remember) and we see Parker pretty much seethe with rage at these obviously slimy bastards who are just in his way as he marches with steely resolve and purpose across the college campus. He even muses about giving them something to protest about. His contempt for the left-wing agitators is front and center.
Even the cover of this issue was not the norm. I've often suspected that Ditko didn't actually create the cover and that it was merely cobbled together from interior panel illustrations. It does resemble the patchwork multi-paneled covers that were typical for the Marvel titles just prior to the emergence of the super-hero fad that made the company so successful. But this type of cover had been largely abandoned for at least two or three years and this made it an anomaly among the hero-centric titles Marvel was then publishing.
That said, the image of Spider-man that dominates this cover is classic Ditko at his absolute best. Even if it was just light-boxed by another artist into a production composite, it's still an absolutely wonderful image, and almost fitting as a swan song from Steve Ditko.
For a story, "Just a Guy Named Joe" was pretty pedestrian for Ditko. The villain here was not really a villain. Just a schmuck blinded by delusions of grandeur and temporary mental and physical imbalance. In addition, the villainous foil here is given his super-powers via a combination chemical/electrical accident that was tired and contrived even by 1966 standards. Unlike most Ditko villains, this one was relatively blameless and not at all dogmatic.
However, if we look at the book briefly and fleetingly in another way, two things are quite apparent. Peter Parker strides through this book like a pillar of pure will power. He knows what he's doing and he knows where he's going in every scene. If Peter Parker was a comic book analog of Steve Ditko, then it's obvious what's going on--a decision has been made and there is no going back, no side trips along the way. Second, the other important feature is that a major character who looms large by his very absence is J. Jonah Jameson.
Over the years, it has become obvious to me that Jameson was, in fact, Ditko's fictional interpretation of his glib, talentless, nepotism-placed boss Stan Lee. In this issue, Jameson/Lee makes only a very brief appearance and Parker basically flips him off. There is not another peep from the creature. There is only Parker/Spider-Man/Ditko battling against the forces of society and accident, standing strong and true in the face of predicament.
In a strange way, that final issue by Ditko is a fitting last word by its very pedestrian content.
And, for all that, supremely sad.