REVIEW: Ditko Unleashed – An American Hero

Growing up in the UK, very rarely did I see first print Marvel Comics. This is probably why, at least in part, I am such a big DC fan. The 70’s were a confusing time for a Marvel fan, with a plethora of reprint books featuring your favourite heroes, out of their sequential elements meaning that on any given rack, Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four could be next to a John Byrne Marvel Team-Up book; the stylish art contrasting as much as complimenting each other’s strengths. Along the way was Steve Ditko’s Spider-Man. For the most part, being an ungrateful kid, I have to say, I didn’t like what I saw, used as I was to the elegant lines of Neal Adams or Jim Aparo. Ditko’s art just looked old and frumpy.

Then the summer of 1977 arrived.

Living in Newton Aycliffe, I pestered my Dad to buy me a comic. If my Dad were alive today, he would most definitely be geek. He encouraged my reading and supported every superhero. Imagine my shock when my pestering actually paid off and he bought me a Spider-Man summer special. Imagine my disappointment when I opened it to find Steve Ditko art! Had I complained, it would have been a quick clip round the ear before an early bed. So, I read it. The story, as I learned later was actually a reprint of Spider-Man Annual #1, originally printed in 1964. To this day, I remember getting totally and utterly engrossed in Spidey’s battle to save his Aunt and Betty from “that charming Dr Octavious” and his fearful companions.

That was the day I began to appreciate Steve Ditko.

Looking back, your vision is perfect, we can see now how perfect Ditko was for Spider-Man, how Kirby, the King of Marvel may have failed to inject the necessary disjointedness of a man crawling like a bug. But to see Ditko for just his Spider-Man work is a waste of the all the great work that came before Peter Parker was bitten by that spider and most assuredly, you would miss all the great art that followed.

This book is homage to Steve Ditko, the quiet man of Marvel, who like Kirby before him, had his run-ins with Stan Lee. But this didn’t stop Ditko from working at Marvel and across the comic book aisle, both with DC and smaller press. The book is broken down into specific years, charting his course through a wealth of books and characters, including Doctor Strange, The Creeper, Machine Man (no relation), Rom and so many others.

Flicking through this book, looking at all the heroes that Ditko worked on; some for the first time, only serves to rekindle my appreciation for the great man’s work. Turning the pages, I am sent back through time to that hot summers day in Newton Aycliffe reading that Spider-Man comic, my only regret; not meaning the polite “thank you” to my Dad for buying me the book and showing a sometimes spoilt kid that comics weren’t just about Dark Knight Detectives or Men of Steel.

(A/CA) Steve Ditko

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