Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Searching for the Lightning

After Steve Ditko left Marvel for points elsewhere, it is obvious to anyone who has observed his career and his work that he was going to do his best to top what he had done with The Amazing Spider-Man and Dr. Strange. Both of those characters had been works of near-genius and he was out to prove to the world (and especially to Martin Goodman and Stanley Lieber) that he could do it again.

When you look at the power of the work he was creating for Warren Publications you can see that Ditko was spreading his creative wings and trying new things. When you see the art he was putting down on the page for Charlton it was obvious he was doing his damndest to duplicate the magic of Spider-Man within a different world and with similar characters.

But it was with the things he created at DC that one tosses aside any idea that he wasn't out for blood, so to speak. Ditko was going to prove to everyone that lightning does strike twice, and he was the man to cast that thunderbolt down.

Alas, it wasn't to be. With The Creeper, he was doing his best to recapture what he had done with Spider-Man. It ultimately failed, not just for reasons of content and not having the right voice, but due to Ditko's health problems at the time, which were apparently severe.

One project that held a lot of promise for both Ditko and his fans was THE HAWK and THE DOVE. This was a heavy-handed attempt at political commentary by Ditko. On philosophical and political lines it failed because Ditko held ideas and expressed philosophies that I can only describe as neo-Fascist. There's really no other way to term them. His intent was to try to give voice to both sides of the war/anti-war struggle then running through America's collective psyche. But because Ditko was such an adamant right wing extremist, he could not adequately do justice to what was otherwise a creative and honorable attempt. His readers, the base to whom he was aiming the book, were more than likely to be leftists, and Ditko's fascistic rants just rubbed them the wrong way.

And so, the book being a failure on so many other levels, it failed on the level that mattered most: the bottom freaking line. The book lingered for six issues, most of them under the draftsmanship of Gil Kane, but it was finally cancelled. And so, what had begun with so much fanfare and so much optimism--Ditko's move from Marvel to DC--ended up as a bit of a whimper.

Ironically, though, all of the characters that Ditko either created or reimagined for Charlton and DC have had extended lives for the corporation that ended up owning them. The Hawk and the Dove still flit through the pages at DC. The Creeper rises now and again to lay claim to the copyright and thrill the modern fans. Ditko's Blue Beetle has enjoyed many great runs under the authorship of other artists and scripters. And The Question reigns supreme of his post-Marvel creations. It not only has the Question enjoyed great status and sales on its own, but was copied by Alan Moore and became the most popular part of DC's THE WATCHMEN as the thinly veiled analog, Rorschach.

The lightning finally did strike again for Ditko. Unfortunately those thunderbolts landed decades later than intended and exposed gold for those other than the man for whom they were meant.

My copy of THE HAWK AND THE DOVE #2.

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