Sunday, May 8, 2005



Book collects Ditko’s
best of Spidey
and Dr. Strange

ONE OF THE most distinctive and idiosyncratic comic book artists of the 1960s was Steve Ditko.

"Marvel Visionaries: Steve Ditko"

(336 pages, hardcover, $29.99)

Even though the world can thank him for co-creating the Amazing Spider-Man with editor/writer Stan Lee, I thought Ditko's artwork really came into its own during the man's initial run with the Master of Mystic Arts, Dr. Strange.

I remember with fondness taking in Ditko's quirky renderings of the interdimensional battles Stephen Strange had with his arch nemeses, Baron Mordo and the dread Dormammu. His stories overall exemplified his mastery of pacing, and his character drawings were distinctly his as well -- strong facial expressions of fear and surprise seemed to be his forte.

Ditko's collaborations with Lee, next to the now-classic Lee/Jack Kirby teamings, were seminal in making Marvel Comics a worthy competitor to DC, in particular due to the adventures of Your Friendly Neighborhood Wall-Crawler.

As the latest in a series of books, "Marvel Visionaries: Steve Ditko" not only collects the most notable Spidey and Dr. Strange stories, but, as part of the overview, Ditko's earlier fantasy and monster tales, his occasional take on other Marvel characters like the Hulk, Iron Man and Daredevil, plus his attempt during his later return to Marvel in the '70s-'80s to start up another teenage superhero like Spider-Man, namely "Speedball: The Masked Marvel."

Ditko did this humorous portrait of himself for the story "How Stan Lee and Steve Ditko Create Spider-Man!" found in the superhero's 1964 annual.

Besides Dr. Strange, the other stories in the book that were a pleasant jog of my childhood comic-book memories were the Spider-Man tales. There's his battle with the Chameleon from his very first self-titled book of March 1963. The battle royale featured in his first annual with the Sinister Six, made up of Electro!, Kraven the Hunter!, Mysterio!, Sandman!, the Vulture! and Doctor Octopus! (exclamation points a necessity when addressing superhero comic books of the '60s).

Each battle featured a finely wrought full-page splash panel, something that Ditko used rarely but to great effect. None were as iconic as the one of Spidey freeing himself from under "tons of fallen steel" in "The Final Chapter" of a three-part story that was the foundation of the character's greatness.

Very much a private person, a still-active Ditko releases a new, independent comic book now and then. For the latest, go online to the Ditko Looked Up Web site at www.ditko.comics.org, maintained by Blake Bell, who is doing an upcoming book on the man's artwork, as well as providing the brief intro to this volume of Marvel Visionaries.

And if you're an avid ol' school Marvel fan as I am, you won't be disappointed in the two previous collections featuring Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's work, with more on the way featuring other important creators' work in the months ahead.

Marvel Comics

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