Another week, another Marvel movie, and I am really running out of things to say about them. This one stars Benedict Cumberbatch, and I really do need to see him in a role other than an arrogant, insufferable genius one of these days, with Mads Mikkelsen as the bad guy. The visuals are some of the most creative and imaginative in any of these films, and I liked the realization of the Dark Dimension, which is filled with the same spheres-with-nodes shapes that were found in the original comics, where Steve Ditko first created the strange, otherworldly realm of Dormammu and the Mindless Ones.
In fact, let’s pause a moment and not take the usual route of these silly posts, because I’d rather talk a little about Ditko, who died earlier this year at the age of 90. We lost Dr. Strange’s other co-creator, Stan Lee, as well, but everybody knows about him. Steve Ditko was one of those artists that I didn’t “get” as a kid. To my young eyes, his work seemed too simplistic and cartoony, and so I avoided many of the books he worked on in the late seventies, like Marvel’s Machine Man. Later, I fell in love with DC’s Legion of Super-Heroes and grumbled about the occasional fill-ins that Ditko provided during a long period where the book was looking for a cohesive writer-artist team.
But before these, there was a house ad that ran in DC’s books in the summer of 1978 that featured an outlandish character in a multi-colored suit and tie. I was thrilled by the look of that character and couldn’t wait to meet him. It took decades.
As I got older, I finally began to understand the thrill of Ditko’s artwork and his creativity. He worked best with a writer to give his plots a more solid script. Left on his own – he self-published dozens of titles – his prose could turn into solid walls of text, but with Stan Lee or Michael Fleisher or Denny O’Neil or Steve Skeates to ground him (comparatively, mind you, as comics from the 60s and 70s sure did make kids have to read a lot), he came up with some downright excellent comics, some of the very best that either of the “Big Two” publishers released in those decades.
Most of these books only lasted for a few years at most. Some of them only had a couple of issues or a very sporadic publication history in the companies’ anthology titles. Nevertheless, if you enjoy superhero fiction, you could do a lot worse than to track down Ditko’s work on both Doctor Strange and Spider-Man for Marvel, along with the Creeper, Hawk and Dove, Shade the Changing Man, and one of the more interesting versions of Starman for DC. Most of it’s available in nice hardback editions. He also worked for Charlton in the late 1960s, writing and drawing adventures of Blue Beetle, Killjoy, the Question, and Captain Atom, though I understand much of this material is currently out of print.
I had one issue of Shade the Changing Man as a kid and didn’t understand a word of it. It seemed to be set in the DC superhero universe, kind of, but it was a stand-alone science fiction serial that it took me until adulthood to figure out and appreciate. It’s about the weird culture of the planet Meta and a wrongly convicted criminal who is running amok on Earth with a stolen hallucination-inducing gadget called an M-Vest. That’s where the outlandish character I mentioned above was meant to appear. The Odd Man was intended to be the star of an every-other-month eight-page backup strip from Shade # 9 forward, but that comic was never published. DC cancelled almost half their line in 1978, and the completed Odd Man strip was dumped into an issue of Detective Comics months later. Took me years to even learn it existed. It was worth the wait.
Ditko never gave interviews, never attended cons, was probably not photographed by anybody in the last fifty years of his life, and was utterly disinterested in the money he could have made from toys and movies based on his characters. He lived to draw and let his work speak for itself. He was an incredible talent, and while time has dated the scripts and caption boxes that surround his art, nobody drew like him. If you enjoy Tom Holland and Benedict Cumberbatch’s performances as his characters, why not treat yourself to the original stories sometime?
(Click the images to visit Marvel and DC’s sites and look around at reprints, but better yet, visit a local comic shop and ask the staff to sell you some Ditko! If the hardcovers cost more than you’d like, Marvel has collected all of Ditko’s Spider-Man and Dr. Strange adventures in their low-priced black-and-white Essentials line. Stop by a funnybook store and tell ’em that yer pals at Fire-Breathing Dimetrodon Time sent you. They’ll be sure to say “Who?!”)
Six movies between us and the release of Captain Marvel. Can we do it in time to see the film in a theater? Stay tuned!