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Steve Ditko: Marvel Visionaries
Review by Steve Welch

Steve Ditko Visionaries Review: Cover Image
Steve Ditko: Marvel Visionaries

Steve Ditko

Marvel Comics
Harcover Collection
Publish Date
May 2005
Cover Price

First off, Steve Ditko: Marvel Visionaries features a great forward by Blake Bell, who is writing a book about the art of Steve Ditko. It opens, interestingly, with a quote:

“When you talk about artists like Steve Ditko, you have to put them in a special category. They are what I call creators. The rest of us are illustrators. We illustrate as close as we can to what the editor wants. The difference between guys like Ditko and me is that when you’re in their world, you don’t have to look around and see which part of it reminds you of them: buildings, figures, storytelling, everything about them is distinctive. I’ve been calling myself a paid illustrator for years and the reason for that is guys like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko.” – John Romita, Sr., the artist who followed Ditko on the Amazing Spider-Man.”

A classy quote by one of the classiest men to work for Marvel Comics, and a very fitting opening to a hardcover volume that celebrates the odd, innovative, and awe-inspiring work of Steve Ditko, a true comics visionary.

As a collector of pre-hero Marvel comics and Steve Ditko original art, it’s particularly refreshing to read a book that celebrates Ditko’s accomplishments by starting with some of his quirky, surprise-ending, pre-hero stories from Tales to Astonish, Amazing Adult Fantasy, and Strange Tales, including the “prototype” appearance of an Aunt May and Uncle Ben in the story, “Goodbye to Linda Brown” in Strange Tales #97 . You can see some of the thoughtfulness and barrier-breaking that set Ditko apart from others at the time. The book then moves to the character Ditko is most famous for co-creating: Spider-Man. What is particularly enjoyable about this book is that it reprints classics as well as stories that are some of his less well known and/or rarely reprinted.

After the “Spider-Man vs the Chameleon” from Amazing Spider-Man #1, it follows with Hulk #6 ("The Incredible Hulk vs the Metal Master") and then a nice selection of early and later Dr. Strange yarns from Strange Tales, including some of his most mind-blowing, inter-dimensional stories featuring the Dread Dormammu interspersed by an Iron Man story from TOS #48 when Ditko redesigned Shell-Head’s armor, then the classic Sinister Six tale from ASM Annual #1, famous for the multiple single-page splashes of Spidey putting a major-league whoopin’ on each of his sinister foes!

But wait, true believer, there’s more! How could any volume be complete without the Master Planner trilogy from ASM #31-33, with one of the most defining moments in the history of Spider-Man? Throw in a few of Ditko’s later works on Daredevil, Hulk, Speedball, and, in a very odd move, the infamous “The Coming of Squirrel Girl” from Marvel Super-Heroes #8, undoubtedly the oddest Dr. Doom story in Marvel history.

This book contains a nice mix of Ditko classics and represents his work on some of Marvel’s most notable heroes. It would have been easy to focus on the Amazing Spider-Man issues that made Ditko famous, and the fact that they focused just as much on Dr. Strange and other characters is a fitting tribute to a man who helped shape the early Marvel universe. It makes the book particularly enjoyable for those of us who’ve read those Spidey stories countless times because it’s not just about the webbed wonder. It’s also clear that Ditko was at his best when he wrote his own work and when he collaborated with Stan Lee.

Steve Ditko Visionaries Review: Interior ImageWhat can be said about Ditko’s art that hasn’t been said before? People tend to either love it or hate it. I’ve had numerous debates with people who just don’t get it, or don’t like it. But the Amazing Spider-Man and Dr. Strange are undeniably Ditko to the core. No other artist could have imbued Peter Parker with that quirky nerdiness that endeared him to a generation of comic readers who had never seen a teenage hero portrayed with the angst of his struggles with family issues, money problems, and downright contempt of his school peers while keeping his identity secret to protect the ones he loved.

Likewise, Ditko redefined the concept of mysticism in comics with Dr. Strange when he created the mind-blowing, multidimensional, reality-bending portals that our favorite sorcerer supreme traversed to do battle with the likes of Baron Mordo, Dormammu, and the mindless ones. And when you compare that art to other stories like the Tales of Suspense #48 that was inked by Dick Ayers, it’s clear that Ditko was at his best when he penciled and inked his own work.

Bonus Features
Some great extras in this volume include some of the unused covers to Amazing Fantasy #15 (originally by Ditko, but the story goes that Stan Lee wanted the cover to be more dynamic resulting in the one that was used), Amazing Spider-Man #10, and the un-inked pencils to a couple of Amazing Spider-Man pages. Great stuff for fans of Ditko’s art! My only beef is that it would have been nice to have them juxtaposed with the final pages as they appeared in the book so fans can see how the final product differed from Ditko’s original concepts at the pencil stage.
Final Words

This book is well worth the $29.99 retail price. It should appeal to Ditko fans as well as those who aren’t as familiar with his work. With a whopping 344 pages of comics and art, it sports a fitting variety of classics and the pre-hero stories showcase some of the odd, Twilight Zone-like shock ending plots that are Ditko’s signature. Ditko was, and is, truly a visionary who helped to build the Marvel universe. In spite of the creative differences that ultimately led him to leave Marvel to work elsewhere, the mark he made and the concepts that he developed are aptly showcased in this fitting tribute to one of the great thinkers, philosophers, and enigmas in comic history.

Highly Recommended

Steve Welch is an avid collector of pre-hero and Silver Age Marvel comics as well as original art by Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby, and other notable creators. He works in the medical publishing and communications field, but his heart belongs to comic books, his wonderful wife of 12 years, and their three great danes. He sells comics and original art through his company Albino Rhino Comics, is an avid scuba diver, and believes that life is too short to drink bad wine.
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