Steve Ditko, co-creator of Spider-Man, dies at 90

Steve Ditko’s cover to Amazing Spider-Man 33

Steve Ditko, co-creator of Spider-Man and a key member of the Marvel Comics “bullpen” of the 1960s, has died at 90, TMZ reported.

Ditko was found dead in his New York apartment on June 29, TMZ said. The website said the chief medical examiner listed the cause of death as “arteriosclerotic and hypertensive cardiovascular disease — basically, a heart attack brought on by clogged arteries.”

The Hollywood Reporter, in a separate obituary, said Ditko may have died two days earlier.

Ditko co-created Spider-Man with writer-editor Stan Lee. He took over the assignment after artist Jack Kirby had taken on the project. Ditko drew, and later took plotting credit for, the earliest Spider-Man stories, lasting from 1962 into 1966.

The character has been the subject of six movies from 2002 to 2017, with another set for 2019. He also appeared in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War and this year’s Avengers: Infinity War.

Nerdy Hero

Spider-Man’s true identity was nerdy teenager Peter Parker. While other heroes were admired, Spider-Man was feared, thanks to publisher J. Jonah Jameson. Parker had to worry about making ends meet for himself and his aunt May.

Things happened to Ditko’s Spider-Man that other heroes didn’t experience.  In Amazing Spider-Man No. 25 (the first to carry a Ditko plot credit) Spidey was forced to ditch his primary costume. But Aunt May also found his spare costume.

Peter came up with an explanation but May kept the costume. In the next issue, Peter buys a costume but it gets stretched out. He’s forced to use his webbing to keep it in place.

Memorable Sequence

One of Ditko’s most-remembered Spider-Man sequences Amazing Spider-Man No. 33. the climatic installment of a three-issue story arc. Spidey is underneath “tons of fallen steel” while a serum Aunt May needs “laying just out of reach.”

The artist used the first five pages to depict Peter working up the strength to lift the steel. The final page was a full-page panel where Spider-Man finally throws off the steel.

In later interviews, Stan Lee acknowledged the idea was Dikto’s. Lee likened his scripting to doing a crossword puzzle to come up with the right dialogue and captions for the moment.  The sequence was adapted in 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming.

Dr. Strange as drawn by Steve Ditko

Ditko also created Dr. Strange, who had his own Marvel film in 2016 and who also appeared in Avengers: Infinity War. The artist also also helped to revamp the Hulk when that character (created by Lee and Jack Kirby) got revived in the mid-1960s (in Tales to Astonish) after an initial comic title of his own was canceled after six issues.

In the 1960s, Ditko’s politics were far different, and much more conservative, than his many college-age fans. The artist was an admirer of author Ayn Rand, and that influenced much of his post-Marvel comic book work with characters such as Mr. A.

‘J.D. Salinger of Comic Books’

Ditko was known for being a recluse. Writer J.M. DeMatteis once called him ” the J.D. Salinger of comic books.”

In 2007, British television show host Jonathan Ross reported a documentary about the artist. The program went into detail about how much Ditko extensive contributions to the early Spider-Man and Dr. Strange stories.

The show’s climax was Ross finally getting in to see Ditko (with the assistance of writer Neil Gaiman), but that moment took place off-camera. “It was quite magical, actually,” Gaiman says on the documentary. “It was really, really cool.”

Ditko abruptly quit Marvel after clashes with Lee. He’d eventually return but it wasn’t the same as his 1960s stint.

As news of Ditko’s death spread, there were tributes by comics professionals influenced by the artist’s creativity.

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Dr. Strange conjures an $85M opening weekend

Dr. Strange poster

Dr. Strange poster

Marvel’s Dr. Strange movie conjured up an $85 million estimated opening weekend in the U.S. and Canada as the studio successfully introduced another one of its characters to the screen, according to a Twitter post by Exhibitor Relations, which tracks movie box office figures.

That was better than initial projection for the film with Benedict Cumberbatch as the title character to open up at $55 million to $75 million.

Since then, there was a surge of positive reviews. Dr. Strange has a 90 percent “fresh” rating at the Rotten Tomatoes website. Dr. Strange was the 14th Marvel film to open at No. 1, according to Exhibitor Relations.

The U.S. opening was another example of how Marvel has reached deep into its roster of characters and translate them to the screen. The Walt Disney Co.-owned studio previously adapted The Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man, both relatively unknown to the general public, into financially successful films.

Meanwhile, Dr. Strange also is doing well in international markets. The movie has generated international ticket sales of $240.4 million, according to Box Office Mojo. Its worldwide total is $325.4 million, according to the website, which compiles box office information.

Dr. Strange was created in 1963 by artist Steve Ditko. The Sorcerer Supreme’s first appearance was a five-page story by Ditko and Stan Lee in Strange Tales No. 110.

Here’s the tweet by Exhibitor Relations.

 

Dr. Strange: Marvel conquers the mystic realm

Dr. Strange poster

Dr. Strange poster

Last month, this blog ran a post saying the Dr. Strange move was a test whether Marvel’s movie juggernaut would continue.

The studio’s answer, essentially, was, “C’MON, MAN!”

That’s because the movie starring Benedict Cumberbatch successfully translates one of Marvel’s quirkiest characters to the screen while still retaining the studio’s basic style, which includes a health amount of humor (without going overboard).

Put another way, Dr. Strange is a movie you can enjoy without every having read a Dr. Strange comic book story or, for that matter, having watched another Marvel-produced film.

The Scott Derrickson-directed film uses the eight-page Stan Lee-Steve Ditko Dr. Strange origin comic story (the sorcerer’s third appearance in Strange Tales) as a springboard for a much larger epic.

Dr. Strange also is an example of how computer effects are integral to the movie. Realizing the mystic realms devised by Ditko (the artist created the character) would be impossible without them. At the same time, the Dr. Strange movie tells an actual story, complete with an arc for its lead character.

James Bond film fans should take note. The lead villain is played by Mads Mikkelsen (Le Chiffre in 2006’s Casino Royale). Another sorcerer, Mordo, is portrayed by Chiwetel Ejiofor, who was in the conversation to play Blofeld in SPECTRE before Christoph Waltz was cast. Readers of the original Dr. Strange comic book will recognize the significance of the Mordo character name.

This being a Marvel film, Dr. Strange makes a (brief) connection to the rest of the Marvel movie universe. There are two brief scenes in the end titles. If you’re one-and-done with Dr. Strange, you can pass them by. If you’re a Marvel film fan, you’ll want to see them.

By now, Marvel has shown it can adapt virtually any of its characters successfully to the screen. The ride continues. GRADE: B-Plus.

Happy 89th birthday, Steve Ditko

Dr. Strange as drawn by Steve Ditko

Dr. Strange as drawn by Steve Ditko

Nov. 2 is the 89th birthday of artist Steve Ditko, one of the “founding fathers” of the Marvel Comics universe. His co-creation, Spider-Man, is the leading  character in that universe.

He’s more than that, of course. Ditko produced stories for other publishers and created other characters.

His birthday this year takes place the same week that the Dr. Strange movie, based on the Ditko-created character, comes out in the United States.

Ditko doesn’t do interviews. There are very few photographs of him. He’s the opposite of the outgoing Stan Lee, who makes a cameo in all movies based on Marvel characters.

To his many fans, however, Ditko is unique. The Dr. Strange movie wouldn’t have been possible without his unique vision. So, happy birthday Mr. D.

 

Dr. Strange gets a surge of early positive reviews

Dr. Strange poster

Dr. Strange poster

Dr. Strange, the newest Marvel Studios movie, is enjoying a surge of positive reviews ahead of its Nov. 4 U.S. release.

The character, created in 1963 by artist Steve Ditko, is one of the quirkiest of the Marvel Comics characters of the 1960s. He was never a huge commercial hit but has long enjoyed a cult following.

It’s early days but the Dr. Strange movie has a 97 percent “fresh” rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website.

What follows is a no-spoilers sampling of the early reviews.

CHRIS NASHAWATY, ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: “There’s nothing particularly new about serious, over-qualified actors being recruited to class up a Marvel movie. But the studio’s latest, Doctor Strange, wouldn’t work as well it as it does (and it mostly works very, very well) without Benedict Cumberbatch and Tilda Swinton — two actors, who in addition to being intelligent, top-shelf stars both project a slightly alien, otherworldy air.”

SCOTT MENDELSON, FORBES.COM: “I don’t know whether an extra reel would have made Doctor Strange more than a conventional ‘fill-in-the-blank’ origin story. It is a hodge-podge of King Fu Panda, Green Lantern and The Matrix. Lacking distinctive characterization, it’s the closest thing the MCU has yet offered to a generic superhero movie.”

TODD MCCARTHY, THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: “A ’60s cult figure stuck on the periphery of the Marvel Comics universe for 50 years finally spins into orbit to command the world’s attention in Doctor Strange, an engaging, smartly cast and sporadically eye-popping addition to the studio’s bulging portfolio.”

PETER DEBRUGE, VARIETY: “Yes, this new project shares the same look, feel, and fancy corporate sheen as the rest of Marvel’s rapidly expanding Avengers portfolio, but it also boasts an underlying originality and freshness missing from the increasingly cookie-cutter comic-book realm of late. From this second-tier side character, the studio has created a thrilling existential dilemma in which its flawed hero’s personal search for purpose dovetails beautifully with forays into the occult New Age realm of magic and sorcery where Doctor Strange ultimately finds his calling.”

TOM HUDDLESTON, TIME OUT: “There are sequences in ‘Doctor Strange’ that could burn the top layer off your eyeballs, crammed as they are with some of the most unashamedly drug-inspired imagery since the ‘The Simpsons’ episode where Homer takes peyote. But problems arise when ‘Doctor Strange’ tries to tackle the everyday stuff, like telling a half-decent story.

Dr. Strange a test whether Marvel’s juggernaut continues

Cover to Strange Tales No. 146, featuring Steve Ditko's final Dr. Strange story.

Cover to Strange Tales No. 146, featuring Steve Ditko’s final Dr. Strange story.

For the past eight years, Marvel Studios has been a juggernaut. The natural question is how long can this last? Next month may provide an answer.

The Walt Disney Co.-owned brand’s next movie up is Dr. Strange, Marvel’s master of the mystic arts.

The good doctor has been more of a cult hit than a mass-market one. He began as a backup feature in Strange Tales, the creation of artist Steve Ditko, who turns 89 on Nov. 2, two days before the movie’s U.S. release date.

Dr. Strange operated in alternate dimensions. As portrayed by Ditko, they were visual striking but looked nothing like our own. Strange had once been a talented, but arrogant, surgeon. He could no longer be a surgeon following an accident, but those events would lead him to his true vocation.

Some college age fans in the 1960s were convinced Ditko was on drugs. He wasn’t. His politics were considerably different than the ardent followers of Dr. Strange.

Dr. Strange wasn’t the commercial success of other Marvel characters. Ditko departed Marvel in 1966, with his final Dr. Strange story appearing in Strange Tales No. 146. While Ditko would later return, he refused to illustrate stories featuring Spider-Man or Dr. Strange, where he made his mark.

Various talented artists and writers took up the Dr. Strange mantle over the decades, including Gene Colan, Frank Brunner, Roy Thomas and Steve Englehart among others. For some, though, it would never be the same without Ditko.

The character was the subject of a 1978 TV movie, but not much came of it.

Now, 53 years after his debut, Dr. Strange hits the big screen in the person of actor Benedict Cumberbatch.

Marvel has had some unlikely hits, including 2015’s Ant-Man, based on one of its lesser known characters. But Ant-Man was still a super hero, Marvel’s bread and butter. Dr. Strange….well, he’s something different.

At this point, it’d be foolish to bet against Marvel. Still, it’s going to be interesting to see how one of the company’s quirkiest characters, devised by one of its quirkiest creators in Steve Ditko, translates to the screen.

How will the Dr. Strange film handle the creator credit?

Cover to Strange Tales No. 146, featuring Steve Ditko's final Dr. Strange story.

Cover to Strange Tales No. 146, featuring Steve Ditko’s final Dr. Strange story.

We’re three months away from Marvel Studios’ next movie, Dr. Strange, as the studio tells its first mystic story. We’re curious about a non-magical question, namely how will the movie present its creator credit?

Dr. Strange made his debut in Strange Tales 110 in 1963. The comic’s lead feature was solo stories starring the Human Torch of the Fantastic Four. Doc’s first tale was a mere five pages and he wasn’t mentioned on the cover.

That first story, “Dr. Strange, Master of Black Magic!” simply credited Stan Lee with the story and Steve Ditko with the art. But things were more complicated than that.

The Comic Reader No. 16 included a promotional letter from Stan Lee saying Dr. Strange, “‘Twas Steve’s idea.” (Check out the Steve Ditko FAQ page maintained by the United Fanzine Organization and the Dial B for Blog website for more details.)

Moreover, it has become known Ditko plotted stories he drew. With the Amazing Spider-Man he began getting a plot credit with issue 25 and with Dr. Strange, he got one starting with Strange Tales 135. By coincidence, that was the same issue Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. made its debut, replacing the Human Torch (and later Human Torch and Thing) stories.

With Marvel movies until now, Stan Lee has received top billing in the “based on the comic by” credit credit where the lead character’s first comic stories was either plotted or written by him. Also, in interviews, he has said in such cases he should be considered the creator because such characters were his idea to begin with.

With Dr. Strange, that’s not the case. So will the film leave him off the creator credit? Or would he be included but with second billing? (“Based on the comic by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee”)

The guess here is the credit will read, “Based on the comic by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko,” and be consistent with previous Marvel films. But we’ll see.

In 2007, Jonathan Ross hosted a documentary about Ditko, even seeking out the reclusive artist in New York. Here’s the segment concerning Dr. Strange, one of the most unusual characters in Marvel’s roster.

 

UPDATE Nov. 2: People who’ve seen the movie say the credit is “Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.” Can’t say the Spy Commander is surprised.