O Say Can You See: The Greatest Patriotic Super Heroes of All-Time
DITKO WEEK, the theme that demands to be put in all caps, swings into Day Two! It’s DITKON TWO out there! Anyway, today it’s the most popular superhero in the world, who Steve Ditko co-created, of course.
I’ll always have archive for you.
(Ditko’s original cover for Amazing Fantasy #15, seen above. was better than Kirby’s. Yeah. They should’ve used it.)
I admit it; I’m not a fan of Spider-Man. That’s probably why Spider-Ham showed up before this one did. I liked him when I was a kid, of course, and I love the movies– especially the second one, one of my favorite movies ever (God bless Sam Raimi), but the comics leave me cold. I am, however, a fan of Steve Ditko’s Spider-Man. (By the way, I forgot to mention the Steve Ditko volume of Marvel Visionaries that you should all run out and buy. There are also Amazing Spider-Man and Amazing Fantasy omnibi out there or forthcoming.)
We all know Spider-Man, right? I mean, this is a comics site. Stan Lee and Steve Ditko gave us Peter Parker, bitten by a radioactive spider, proportionate speed and strength and agility, web-shooters (yes, web-shooters, dammit), Uncle Ben dies, with great power comes great responsibility, Aunt May, Mary Jane, all the baddies, etc. Probably the most popular superhero for a few decades running. The hero who could sort of be you.
I tried to read my way through the ’60s Spider-Man comics, but I gave up shortly after Ditko left. Sure, I think John Romita Sr. is a terrific artist and I liked his first few issues, but Ditko’s my preferred Spider-artist. Ditko’s Peter Parker was a weird nerd who fought a succession of bizarre freaks. No one else has been able to capture that feel since. Romita drew Spider-Man as a romance. Ditko drew it as a tragedy, or one of his 50’s sci-fi horror strips.
(I love that Marvel called itself “Marvel Pop Art Productions” for a while– and meant it.)
Peter Parker works as an oppressed figure who can’t catch a break. Spider-Man is the inner hellion yearning to be let free and have a go at the world. He can’t be shat upon all the time, though. I forget who said it, but they were right– it has to work so that when Peter is having a good day, Spider-Man is having a bad one, and vice versa.
The Ditko era set up the world, the supporting cast, the Daily Bugle, and the villains. My God, the villains. Wonderful, frightening, strange villains, a seemingly endless parade of brilliance, all designed by Ditko: Vulture, Dr. Octopus, the Lizard, Mysterio, Kraven, the Scorpion, Electro, Green Goblin, and everyone’s favorite, the Looter. Deranged baddies chewing up the pages with crazy dialogue by Lee and stunning portrayal by Ditko. All of them with stories of their own, all birthed from mad science and thirsty for revenge on a hateful world. Sensational. The first annual, with the Sinister Six, is one of the most joy-inducing comics I’ve ever read.
So, yeah. I love the Ditko era. I can see the seeds for what would become a beloved character, I can see how he works, I can see his storytelling engine. Wha hoppen?
Under Lee and Ditko, Spidey/Peter grew up, changed, moved on, all in the span of 38 issues and an annual. After that, time started to slow down for him, and his status quo became more and more static. Oh, things changed– Gwen Stacy died and Peter got married and he was gonna have a kid– and I’m all for that. They just took place over longer and longer periods of time. He was almost frozen in Carbonite or whatever.
It also doesn’t help that recent regimes just don’t seem to “get” the character. I mean, if Joe Quesada thinks the Peter/MJ marriage “ruins” Spider-Man, how the hell could he let Spidey become a mystic totem, or let Gwen have adult kids fathered by Norman Osborn, or reveal Spidey’s secret identity to the world? These change the fundamentals of what makes Spider-Man who he is. The marriage is an organic development from the characters and story (so was Aunt May’s death in #400, but don’t get me started). This isn’t about what’s wrong with Spider-Man– that’s enough for some other post at some other time. This column’s above love, remember.
I like to think I “get” Spider-Man– I just find his villains more interesting. I’d love to write a Sinister Six ongoing. But that’s not what this column’s really about, either. Heh. Let’s save that talk for a Villain Week or Month or whatever.
Since “change” is cyclical in the Marvel Universe these days, we’ll have Spider-Man rise above all his troubles and pick himself back up and be knocked down and have it all start again and again and again. He’s one of the few indestructible franchises in comics, I think. We’ll always have a few of them around in some fashion, and Spider-Man is one of them. He’s a superhero concept that will never die, because he achieved something no other superhero concept had before him. He was a kid, a regular joe, who happened to have super-powers and believed in doing the right thing. A compelling origin and mantra and an interesting set of powers and a cool supporting cast and a brilliant rogues gallery give Spidey an edge over a lot of other characters. We have Stan Lee and Steve Ditko to thank for that. Now if only the comics could be executed as well as they were back in the day.
Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can. One of the greatest theme songs ever, of course. I wish I had a personal theme as good.
Don’t forget to visit Spider-Fan, the greatest Spidey website in existence.
Now it’s your turn. Why do you love Spider-Man?
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