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CSBG Archive

Year of the Artist, Day 190: Steve Ditko, Part 9 – Daredevil #264

ditkodaredevil4004 (2)

Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Steve Ditko, and the issue is Daredevil #264, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated March 1989. Enjoy!

So there’s a strange issue with Daredevil #264, which isn’t really an inventory story since Ann Nocenti wrote it in the middle of her own run but feels like one, as Marvel gave John Romita Jr. some time off due to his “impending wedding” (so reads the type at the top of Page 1 in this issue) and they needed to push their “Inferno” story back a month. According to the credits printed in this very comic (which may or may be accurate), Ditko drew this and Mike Manley and Al Williamson inked it. As I was poking around the Internet (which is a very dicey proposition, I know), I discovered that some people have Ditko listed as laying this story out and credit Manley with the pencils. This is why, as I’ve noted several times this year, it’s hard writing about art. How detailed were Ditko’s pencils? Did he simply lay the pages out in the sketchiest way possible (the book was produced on a pretty tight deadline, it sounds like) and Manley penciled it? Or did he lay the pages out in the sketchiest way possible and Manley and Williamson just inked the pages? I don’t know, but as it’s officially a “Ditko” book, I’m going to treat it as such. Ditko, at 86 years old, could probably kick the living shit out of me even now, so if he happens to stumble across this post (I’m sure he spends a lot of time on the Internet!), I’d like to apologize to him if I gave him too much credit for this comic book.


As I’m unclear whether Ditko actually did the pencils or just the breakdowns in this issue, I don’t know how much influence Manley and/or Williamson has, either. As we saw recently with John Romita, Jr., Williamson has a beautiful, brushed style, but on this issue (only 4 months later!), we don’t see too much of that. So how much did Williamson ink? We’ve seen that Wallace Wood and even Steve Leialoha were able to smooth some of Ditko’s hard edges, and Williamson could probably do that, but either he didn’t want to or he didn’t ink as much of this as Manley did. Manley as a penciler is a bit hard-edged, more like Ditko, so perhaps he did the majority of the inking. I don’t know. We see on this page that there’s not a lot of nuance in either the penciling or the inking – there’s some nice spot blacks on the Owl, but otherwise, it’s a fairly straight-forward look. Ditko, as always, is good at laying out a page, and this is perfectly easy to read. The Bombers, which is the gang that the Owl is working with, are a bunch of really oddball dudes. I don’t know what Nocenti and Ditko were thinking with them.


There’s some nice inking on this page, as someone lines the sky behind the Owl to give the gloaming a more tactile look as our villain soars toward his hideout. The blacks on the hills in the background are nice, too, as they almost blend into the sky and water. Ditko, it seems, has always been interested in very modernist architecture, and the Owl’s hideout in Panel 2 looks sleek and clean, in a bit of contrast to the bland buildings around it. Once again, we get nice thick blacks on the Owl’s outfit, and some beautiful feathering on the owl as it lands on the Owl’s arm. Whoever is inking this knows what they’re doing.


Daredevil, of course, is patrolling the city, and he senses a bomb going off and goes to investigate (the Owl’s plan is goofy and complicated – the page above gives us some of it – so I won’t go into it here). This is another reason I’m not sure how much inking Williamson did – as we saw in the Romita post, he did a very nice job with Matt’s radar, yet here it’s just concentric circles, and while it gets the job done, it’s fairly utilitarian. Ditko’s somewhat stiff figure work makes the bottom two panels unintentionally funny, as the dude with the bag looks like a marionette and Daredevil’s landing is somewhat off. Such is life, I guess.

Story continues below


The fight between Daredevil and the Owl is laid out well, as Ditko moves us well across the page. His figure work in Panel 4 betrays him a bit, as it doesn’t really look like the Owl glides out of Matt’s way as he leaps, which allows him to slash at our hero as he goes by in Panel 5. The sequence of events from Panel 3 to 4 is strange, as the Owl’s body rotates so drastically between panels that it’s tough to read it. The lack of motion lines in Panel 4 makes it more unclear that the Owl has “flown” upward to allow Daredevil to leap past him. The lack of motion lines in the panels above weren’t a big deal because it was obvious what the Owl was doing. Here, it’s a bit harder to parse.


There’a a baby involved in this story, and Matt returns it to the man who found it in the trash (he promises/warns that he’s going to keep an eye on him even though he doesn’t report him, which seems really, really irresponsible of someone who’s not only a hero but, you know, a lawyer). These are some classic Ditko panels – the man’s angular face is a very Ditko-esque face, and Panel 3, where we get a close-up of his crying eye, could be a Ditko panel from the 1960s. The hatching is well done on this page, too – we get that the man is scruffy (due to his homelessness), but he’s not filthy, implying that he can be a good father. The inking is in line with the depiction of New York as a crappy urban jungle, but it’s not too dark, so the story’s upbeat ending doesn’t clash with the art. The less we think about this story, the better, as Matt’s attitude toward the man and the baby that’s not his child is depressing, even though Nocenti means for it to be uplifting. So we’ll just take this “happy” ending.

This isn’t the best example of Ditko’s art, probably because it was a rush job. One thing you notice as comics artists get older is that tastes move on, and I think Ditko’s art began to be seen as increasingly old-fashioned in the 1980s and 1990s. Many creators had fond memories of Spider-Man or Doctor Strange or even his 1970s work, but the way artists created comics art had moved on, and I know that when I started paying attention to artists (I had seen Ditko’s art in the original Spider-Man stuff when I was young, but I didn’t care about the art back then), I thought it was too old-fashioned. Despite the speed with which I imagine the artists had to work on this issue, it’s not terrible, but it does look like a lot of Ditko’s art from the 1970s and 1960s, and it just seems like in 1988/1989, comics readers weren’t that interested in this kind of art anymore. I could be wrong, of course.

Tomorrow we’ll finish up with Ditko with yet another inker, this one a much odder fit for him, but one who does pretty neat work over his pencils. And never forget the archives!


Why does the Owl have Wolverine’s haircut and claws?

Anyway, the layouts question is an interesting one. My favorite issue of X-Men is #12, which credits Kirby for layouts, Toth for pencils, and Colletta for inks. It’s the layouts that really blow me away about the issue — it’s a really wonderful kind of monster-movie piece, with the X-Men increasingly confined as the Juggernaut tears his way through the mansion and his face isn’t seen until the end — and I’m inclined to think that’s more Kirby’s work then Toth’s, though I could be wrong (and wouldn’t dream of diminishing Toth’s incredible level of talent).

I know this is blasphemous, but I never really cared for Ditko’s work. His early Spider-man and Blue Beetle issues are fairly interesting, but more in his layouts than the actual art.

When I was a kid, one of my first real favorite comics was Micronauts, and when you are used to the detailed art of Michael Golden and Pat Broderick, those two annuals Ditko did were just horrific in comparison. Looking back, you can tell he phoned those in. And considering my only other experiences with Ditko were his late career occasional fill in issues like Marvel Spotlight ( I remember the Captain Universe and Dragon Lord issues he did), ROM Spaceknight and his Shroud backup in the Marvel Preview issue that Moon Knight was in, I never became much of a fan.

It seems pretty clear that Ditko did more than breakdowns for this. The first page in particular reads pure Steve. And, that close up of the crying eye? Nobody else pencilled that. Oddly enough, though, the inks don’t look like Williamson at all. He favored much more delicate, wispier lines in his own work. I wouldn’t have guessed his involvement in a million years!

I read in the Blake Bell book that at this time in his career he was providing only the loosest of work, without fine detail. It was all part of his Randian ideal of doing only minimal work to pay the bills so that he could work on what he considered his serious work.

Thad: I’m always curious to see layouts as opposed to full pencils, before the inking process, because it’s something I know so very little about.

turk: I don’t think it’s blasphemous! As I noted, Ditko still isn’t my favorite artist, and part of it is that he’s never been all that great at fluid action but he has drawn a lot of superhero comics, where that’s very important. His Spider-Man was always better as a gangly kid rather than a superhero, and his best work, to me, is when he’s not doing superheroes or when he’s inked by someone like Wood, who can smooth out his rough edges a bit. But I do like him more than I used to, and no one can deny his influence!

mrclam: Yeah, I wrote this pretty much accepting that Ditko drew it, but I thought I should mention the conflicting information. Like you, I’m much more puzzled by Williamson, to the point where I really do wonder if Marvel forgot to leave him out of the credits, as his inking looks nothing like the stuff he was doing on Romita during this very run!

markr: That’s awesome. It sounds like such a Ditko thing to do!

Hi Greg. On that third page with DD’s missed landing, I do think it was meant to be funny, with the sound effect being “wonk!”. Seems a bit goofy of a sound effect to me. That gang had that goofy vibe, though. I really do like that 2nd of the Owl flying.

Just looking through the pages you selected, it doesn’t feel like a 60’s comic to me, although 70’s maybe. I am pretty sure I own this comic (I started reading DD later in Nocenti’s run, but I think I went back and bought back issues going back to FM’s run), and I think I would’ve remembered being put off by the art if it had felt like a 60’s comic. I definitely was one of those that felt that style was “old and stodgy”. In fact, I remember feeling that way about Speedball when he appeared in the Amazing Spider-Man annual, which came out in the late 80’s.

I think my appreciation now comes from being older and appreciating art history/pop culture. What’s that saying, you know you’re getting old when all of your favorite bands are playing on the “classics” radio station? Ha ha! I can’t even call my new appreciation of Ditko nostalgia, because the 60’s were way before my time. (I also did not like Grease when it came out, but I can enjoy it now.) I definitely don’t know enough of the 60s & 70’s artists to qualify if I like any over the others, I just haven’t been exposed to most of them yet. That is another reason I am really enjoying this series of articles!

There’s very little Williamson to see in the pics above. My best guess is that Manley inked the figures, while Williamson inked the backgrounds (those wispy lines in the sky are certainly Williamson’s touch). One exception would be the last pic, which looks like pure Williamson inks to me.

Some of this looks like Steve’s work inked as delivered, some looks like liberties were taken. I’d guess that Williamson inked the four panels with the Owl flying over the city and the five panels in the sequence where Daredevil jumps down from the roof. Williamson made everything her touched better. Couldn’t help himself. Much of this he clearly didn’t touch at all. That suggests to me that it was a late job with some pages done by Williamson, some by Manley. There may have been uncredited background inkers. Williamson wouldn’t be anyone’s background inker. Steve probably wouldn’t remember. Anybody ask Manley or Annie? Soon after this job Steve came to work with us at VALIANT. He did some great stuff.

Most of the background skies definitely look like they were inked by Al Williamson.

I e-mailed Mike Manley a link to this entry, Greg. Let’s see if he can remember who did what.

Too bad you didn’t do the issue of Legion of Super-Heroes Ditko drew, where all the buildings of the future looked like bottles of perfume, shampoo, etc. copied from a woman’s dresser!

this ones new to me, those inks are spot on brilliant on a technical level throughout most of the sample examples , i also don t know who did of what on the arts vrious developmental stages, but i do know however it got handled by whoever, that end result , randyman idealist work ethic non-withstanding, knocks this cartooning (yea, i said it) endevour out of the park. an impressive colloboration. thank you, greg, as per the norm i had fun and i am real excited for what tomorrows got in store. i never liked ditko. just kidding i was curious how it felt to type those words. it felt wrong. see you, so to speak, tomorrow, which is already today.

Some stupid japanese name

July 10, 2014 at 4:06 am

Would the “wonk” panel fit the criteria for an Amazing Fantasy 15 homage?

David: Yeah, I’m sure that panel was supposed to be funny – the entire story is a bit goofy, so it fits the tone entirely.

I agree – “1970s” works a bit better. It definitely doesn’t look like a late 1980s comic, though!

Jim: Thanks for the insight. I didn’t want to speculate too much, and since you know better, it’s appreciated. I don’t own any Valiant Ditko stuff, unfortunately, although I might have to track it down! If you come back around, you’ll see that Ben sent Manley a link, so maybe he’ll shed some light on the subject.

Mike: That sounds pretty awesome. I don’t own the issue, though!

s!moN: The final entry of Ditko also has an odd inker, but one who works quite well with him.

Some stupid japanese name: I think so. I should have mentioned that!

“Why does the Owl have Wolverine’s haircut and claws?”

Well, the hair actually makes sense for the Owl, since it mimics the shape of an owl’s head. I don’t know why Wolverine’s hair is like that, but it’s not because he’s mimicking a wolverine. The claws are talons, I guess?

And Owl came first, anyway! Wolverine’s been stealing his schtick!


July 10, 2014 at 10:14 am

@ turk – It’s not blasphemous to not like Ditko.

He and Kirby are both such stylists that it’s bound to turn some people off. Ditko has always been problematic for me. some of his work I really like, others not so much.

Ditko has all those stock poses & faces and the hands, dear God those hands… it can all get quite tedious.’

I’m really curious about the way he draws hands, it’s such a truly bizarre artistic tic.

It’s funny but Kirby has a lot of the same “problems”, stock characters and poses, but for some reason I eat that stuff up with a spoon and come back for seconds! I think part of it may be that Kirby’s art seems so robust and full, even in his lesser works, Ditko’s work usually has a tentative, thin, unsure of itself quality that kind of gets to me after a short while – if that makes any sense at all.

With Ditko, I find a little goes a long way, I find his personal story/philosophy to be much more interesting than a lot of his actual artwork.

BTW: Anybody watch that “In Search of Steve Ditko” BBC documentary, it’s on youtube, pretty good stuff.

Ditko’s strength to me was character design and writing good action scenes. I love the Dick Tracy villain-ness of the early spidey characters. But sometimes when he tries to draw emotional figures it doesn’t really pan out.

LouReedRichards: Thanks for posting that bid about the BBC documentary, that was awesome and eye-opening (for me).

I e-mailed Mike Manley with a link to Greg’s write-up on DD #264, asking him: “Hi, Mike! Assuming you can remember back to what was a rush fill-in issue that was drawn way back in 1989, do you remember who did what on this comic book?”

Here is Manley’s reply, which he gave me permission to post here:

“Yep, I know exactly how this all went down as I was sharing Al’s studio at the time. To give JRJR a breather Carl Potts had Ditko come in and lay out the issue, they were what would be called breakdowns in the olden days. Everything placed, broken down storytelling wise, but no details, figures were like dolls, yet a guy like Ditko, much like Buscema could put in everything that was important and essential, you just had to dress it up.

“When Al got the job it was so loose he didn’t feel like he could do a good job on it and was going to turn it back, but I told him to keep it. I tightened up the pencils into full pencils trying to keep it in Ditko’s style or a Wood/Ditko style. I pulled out my ditko comics and had a pile right next to me. Then Al and I inked it with me doing about 80% of the job. It was a highlight for me early in my Marvel career, I got to work with two artists who’s work I loved and got me in good with Carl. My only regret is I never got any pages back from the job. There is a goofiness sometimes to Ditko’s work, there always was, very humorous in spots, go look back at those old Spidey’s with the great cartoony faces and poses. Romita’s glamour style moved us away from them and the stories became much more serious.”

Ben: That’s awesome. Thanks a lot. And thanks to Manley for the information!

Pete Woodhouse

July 11, 2014 at 3:41 pm

For a great Ditko Daredevil, see #234 with Klaus Janson on Madcap – that was a super combination! Like Wood, Janson’s inks “roughed out” Ditko. Highly recommended.

Pete: Thanks. I don’t think I own that issue – I’ve tried to pick up the post-“Born Again” issues in recent years, and I think I missed that one.

That Madcap issue is better than this. Much better.
There is also a Mr Hyde DD story after Born Again with Ditko, which is a small secret favourite of mine (with the help of google it is DD #235, right after Madcap).

bryan rasmussen

July 13, 2014 at 8:10 am

“Why does the Owl have Wolverine’s haircut and claws?”

He’s a criminal, you can’t trust those people.

Stephen Conway

July 13, 2014 at 8:46 am

Panel six in the first page you posted nearly reads as a commentary on Ditko. “You listen, old man! Your style is obsolete! You’re a relic! Crime these days has got to have a rap, a vibe that’s modern!” Replace crime in that last sentence with art and it becomes even clearer. At this stage Ditko was around 3 generations off the cutting edge. Heck, even JRJR, the regular artist on this run, had in many ways been supplanted by the Lee/McFarlane/Silvestri/Liefeld generation by ’89.

Fisk: I know I don’t own that one – as I mentioned, I tried to buy everything after Born Again through issue #300, but I missed a few of those early ones!

Stephen: I thought of that, but decided that was more a writing thing than an art thing. I wonder if Nocenti was actually thinking that, especially as the Owl turns out to be more bad-ass than the punks.

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