Steve Ditko, the influential comic book artist perhaps best known as Spider-Man’s co-creator (with Stan Lee), died at the end of June at the age of 90. Not only did he design what could be the most iconic costume in comics history — Spider-Man’s (not to mention those of the Question, Creeper, Hawk & Dove, and more), he was a pioneer in using the medium to portray the weirdest, most wonderful, most mind-bending, and most dramatic scenes. Today, we take a look at 10 of our favorite Ditko covers, each representing the artist’s unique, inspiring vision and style.
Before he was a Vertigo/Young Animal property, Shade was still plenty weird. Just the concept of that projected, ghostly extension of Shade’s body quasi-randomly popping out as he battled his foes is odd, and under Ditko’s pencils not only did it work, but it’s so very kinetic. Shade the Changing Man #5 is a keen example of Ditko’s ability to blend quirky style with comic action.
While we didn’t want to post Amazing Fantasy #15 (Spidey’s first appearance) in this list, we absolutely needed to represent Ditko’s best-known co-creation. Instead, we turn to Amazing Spider-Man #4, which features the first appearance of one of Spidey’s most notorious foes. Sandman, in another artist’s hands, could have been just another comic book monstrosity, a golem of sorts, but under Ditko’s care, Sandman is downright grotesque and fear-inducing. Look at that last panel, how Spidey is practically drowning, and tell me you don’t also feel a bit short of breath.
Not only does the cover to Blue Beetle #3 feature Ditko’s redesign/modernization of the old Charlton Comics character – a character design we love – it shows an animated scene of BB surrounded by something Ditko drew very well: a crowd of weirdos. You can feel the madness of these Madmen in their expressions. I especially like the near-giddy yet pained look on the face of the guy who just took a punch to the face.
Ditko had such a flair for the dramatic – the device of showing a disembodied, oversized Hawk looming over his gentler brother Dove speaks volumes about their relationship – and Dove’s challenges in overcoming societal and familial pressure to act on his values. While it’s well documented that Ditko’s personal politics had influenced how Dove was portrayed in the comic (against writer Steve Skeates’ scripts directions), this cover of The Hawk and the Dove #2 nails it.
Beware the Creeper #3 – did we mention nobody does weirdos like Ditko did? The weird skin, the hair color, that odd mane, and, most especially, the signature “ha ha ha’s” – the Creeper’s design is awesome, and this “coming at you” perspective is so dizzying you may not even notice the legion of grotesques that the Creeper is seemingly so happy to be fighting.
An issue that came out while I was actually alive – and collecting comics – this cover is so energetic and mysterious that it was easy to believe the hype that Speedball would be the next Spider-Man. Unfortunately, it ultimately couldn’t overcome hokey plots and premises that were lightly regurgitated versions of what Peter Parker had experienced back when Ditko was drawing that book. Yet Speedball: The Masked Marvel #1 showed that Ditko’s art was sharp well into his 60s.
Mr. A was a character that Ditko not only created but owned outright – which means Ditko was doing creator-owned comics back in the 1960s (in witzend #3 from 1967, to be specific). Mr. A was directly influenced by Ditko’s belief in Ayn Randian/Objectivism-based political views; Ditko referred to his DC Comics character The Question as a version of Mr. A suitable for the Comics Code Authority. This cover hints at some of that, while not nearly as vociferously as the contents. But the cover of Mr. A #1 (1973) also shows his trademark dynamism and flair for the dramatic.
Speaking of The Question – we love this cover of Mysterious Suspense #1 for Q’s iconic look, dramatic pose, equally dramatic swirl of gas, and that odd facial cutout that shows The Question’s gross pseudo-skin mask that blanks out his face. Yuck.
Here’s an earlier work, a monster mag, that is a collaboration between Ditko and his peer/one of our comic creator heroes, Jack “The King” Kirby. Kirby, who penciled this cover of Strange Tales #79, and Ditko, who inked it, are each wildly kinetic, but while Kirby’s art tends to seem more explosive and powerful, Ditko’s art tends to be less outwardly showy and definitely creepier. I love Kirby’s goofiness and iconic depictions of creatures great and small, but this shows how Ditko’s inks may have lent an air of terror and eeriness that’s not characteristic of “The King.” I’m actually afraid for these hapless kids.
A “strange” irony – some of Ditko’s best art is his trippy worldscapes from his time doing Dr. Strange stories. But since most of those stories were in Strange Tales, sharing screen time with the likes of the Fantastic Four and Nick Fury, there aren’t a heck of a lot of Dr. Strange/Ditko covers, and very few showing those wacky scenes of interdimensional chaos that the Dr. Strange movie owes so much to. Here is one of those few covers, with Eternity, Marvel’s living embodiment of the cosmos, in full effect.
Did we miss one of your favorites? Of course we did; Ditko’s long and varied comics career guarantees such. But we hope you enjoyed this look at many examples of the man’s finest covers, and we’d love to hear about your faves.
Images: DC Comics, Marvel Comics