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.

Even cobbled and pieced and stitched, Ditko cannot be subdued.

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.

Enough of the blathering. I leave of my own accord.

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.

Mr. Ditko leaves, ascending.


The DPS Kid said... celebration of your favorite human being's birthday 100 years ago today I submit:

Enjoy the game.

HemlockMan said...

Game? What game?

Kirk G said...

How delighted I am that you have a copy of ASM #38 to examine. Please scan and post a copy of the page JUST prior to the final page you shared. Page #19 shows Spider-Man clearing a mob, and then arguing with himself as a dummy head sits grinning at him. He is angry and says he hates it cause the silly grin reminds him of Ned Leads. But what he doesn't see is that it is an obvious pointer to the fact that it's the Green Goblin's smile.
I think this is one of the strongest points to show that Ned Leads was going to be revealed as the Green Goblin, especially because he was absent so much of the time in the last 15 or so issues. However, I also note that Norman Osborn is introduced in just the prior two issues, and labled as a businessman, who used Mendal Stromm as his inventor and supplier of devices, and that he belonged to JJJ's personal club of weathy, powerful business men. So, I'm not 100% in either camp. How about you?

HemlockMan said...

Oh, I think it was going to be Norman Osborn all along. As I said, Ditko didn't choose to stay long enough to write the story he had in mind. He was building up clues and getting ready to deliver the punchline at some point. But I think he would have drawn it out for a bit longer. After all, he'd introduced the Goblin way back in Spider-Man #14.

My feeling is that Lee wanted to move the title on away from Ditko's influence and had Romita tie up the Goblin storyline and get rid of it. At the time, Lee and Goodman probably looked upon Ditko as some kind of threat--the only seminal Marvel creator to have fled the company. They likely feared what he might do when he finished making his move to DC. For that matter, they may also have worried about dents in their sales from things he would create at Charlton (but to a lesser extent as Charlton never seriously considered their comic enterprise as anything but a sideline). It was the mystery of what he was going to do at DC that worried them, and that he'd peel away Spider-Man fans with his new DC titles. Therefore, the best thing to do was have Romita scrub the title clear of the immediate Ditko characters and storylines.