The Creator of Doctor Strange Will Not See You Now

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Photo: Benjamin Marra/Vulture

For a recluse, Steve Ditko is surprisingly easy to locate. You won’t see him in public: Despite being one of the most important figures in comics history, the most recent published photograph of the 89-year-old was taken about 50 years ago. And though his name appears prominently as “co-creator” in the credits of Marvel Studios’ Doctor Strange — which has already grossed more than $490 million worldwide — he has never been on a red carpet, or appeared on TV or radio. But if you ask within the comics community, you can readily find the location and phone number of his Manhattan studio. The man’s around. It’s putting that contact information to good use that’s difficult.

Ditko hasn’t done an interview with a journalist since 1968, two years after he shocked comics fandom by leaving Marvel in a move for which he offered no explanation — even to his boss, Stan Lee, with whom he created Doctor Strange and Spider-Man, among other classic characters. What followed has been an idiosyncratic crusade that has consumed Ditko’s capacious imagination: the creation of spite-filled, didactic, and often baffling comics and essays that evangelize the philosophy of Ayn Rand. Ditko has long been principled in a way few popular artists are, and he changed the comics medium twice: first with his elegant, kinetic, at times psychedelic artwork; then by being the first high-profile creator to inject serious philosophical arguments into superhero comics. His influence is staggering, but his personal story is almost totally hidden. He remains one of pop culture’s most enigmatic figures.

That’s why a few weeks ago, with Doctor Strange set to arrive in theaters and Ditko’s info in hand, I decided to seek out the creator, hoping that the increased profile of one of his greatest creations would make him more amenable to discussing his career. I tried calling first, and actually got him on the line. “Hello?” an aged voice said. I asked if I was speaking to Mr. Ditko; I was told that I was. I said I was a journalist and that I’d like to meet him, even if our visit would be off the record. “I can’t hear you,” he said. “There’s something wrong with the phone. Write me a letter.” Click. I did as he said, and after seven days without a response, I called again, greeting him and asking if he’d received my letter. “Oh, I don’t know,” he said, irritated. I asked again if I could come visit. “Look, I don’t have time for this,” he replied. Click.

In the days that followed, I talked to people who have known and spoken to Ditko and asked them how to proceed. Almost unanimously, they told me to swing by his office in person; that they’d done it and heard of others doing it without calamity. Since I was already working on a profile of him, I felt duty bound to try my luck. So after the conclusion of a midweek screening of Doctor Strange in late October, I left the Times Square theater and walked nine blocks north to the west midtown building that houses his studio. On the right-hand wall of the lobby hangs an LCD-screen directory of its occupants, and the first thing I saw upon exiting the elevator was a nondescript door bearing a metal sign with large Helvetica letters reading “S. Ditko.”

Deep breath. Knock knock. A pause. No response. Knock knock knock knock. Nothing. I pressed my ear to the metal surface. A TV was playing inside, giving me hope he was in. Maybe he couldn’t hear the door? I dialed his number on my iPhone, and heard a blaring ring from an analog phone on the other side of the door, but the tone just continued; no answering machine intervened. Perhaps he’d gone to lunch? Figuring I’d give it some time, I slumped against the wall to the left of the door and buckled down for a stakeout.

Though Manhattan has been Ditko’s place of business for nearly 70 years, he’s not a New Yorker like Lee and the other mid-century Marvel titan, Jack Kirby. Ditko was born and raised in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, the child of working-class parents from Eastern European stock. He’s rarely discussed his early life, so what’s known about him comes largely from yearbooks, Army records, and secondhand recollections — many of which were dug up by writer Blake Bell for Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko, a biography that Ditko not only refused to participate in, but which he publicly declared, without having seen it, to be a “poison sandwich.” 

We do know Ditko was a member of his high school’s science club, and according to Bell, became obsessed first with the newspaper comics of the 1930s, then the emerging genre of superhero comics in the 1940s. His yearbook photos reveal him to be a dead ringer for the gawky, nerdy image of Spider-Man’s alter ego, Peter Parker, that he would envision decades later. After a stint as a soldier in postwar Germany, Ditko enrolled in New York City’s Cartoonists and Illustrators School and studied under pioneering Batman artist Jerry Robinson. An obvious prodigy, Ditko met Lee when the latter visited the school in 1950 while working as editor-in-chief of Marvel, then called Atlas Comics. Six years of freelancing passed before Ditko started work under Lee. Superheroes were out of favor at the time, so the young artist cut his teeth on horror and science-fiction tales.

Lee was both EIC and writer for nearly all of his company’s titles, and over time he came up with an innovative technique for crafting comics, something that came to be known as the Marvel method: He would give an artist a synopsis of a story; the artist would flesh it out by devising a plot and drawing its pages; Lee would get the pages and, sometimes incorporating suggestions from the artist, write the dialogue and narration. If an artist was as gifted a storyteller as Ditko or Kirby, the method allowed them to tailor narratives to their strengths, unleashing comics of remarkable power. Even so, the credits pages only listed them as artists.

It was through that workflow that Lee and Ditko co-created Spider-Man in 1962, just a few months after Lee and Kirby had reignited interest in superheroes by co-creating the Fantastic Four. Lee has variously claimed that he was inspired to propose the character by seeing a spider on a wall or remembering a pulp hero called the Spider, though there's a possibility that Lee was riffing on an existing concept from Kirby. Lee says he also thought it would be interesting to have this new character be a teenager, an age group previously reserved for sidekick roles. Kirby drew five pages of a Spider-Man story that historians believe depicted a kid who used a magic ring to become a spider-themed hero, though the whereabouts of those sketches are unknown. Lee says he decided Kirby’s hero looked too beefy and conventional, and opted to give the project over to Ditko.

Ditko was an unlikely choice for a superhero story. His work was more realistic than most comics artists of the time, which for him meant faces as ugly and awkward as those of average people, not the chiseled jaws and beaming grins of Superman or the Flash. He had a gift for human anatomy and kinetic motion, but often drew his bodies in awkwardly unflattering poses. Nevertheless, he quickly drafted one of the most visually iconic figures in the genre’s history. Though Spider-Man’s name and broad concept originated with Lee, his likeness — the crosshatched costume, the luchador mask, the textured webs, the yogic poses, the shock-lines of his “spider-sense” — was pure Ditko. Spidey debuted in the 15th and final issue of the series Amazing Fantasy, cover dated August 1962, and was an instant smash. A solo series, The Amazing Spider-Man, was a no-brainer.

Even as they were crafting these early adventures of Spider-Man and Peter Parker, there was friction between Lee and Ditko. At first, it was productive: Lee loved poppy, witty, ingratiating verbiage, but the characters Ditko put into the stories often looked unnerving and anguished; Lee liked high-flying action, Ditko wanted pathos. In a series of mid-2000s essays entitled “A Mini-History,” Ditko said his Spider-Man plot contributions were what led to the comic’s unusual focus on the struggles of its hero as a put-upon teen. The resulting character was unlike any other in the superhero corpus: an awkward, despairing, and oft-seething teenager who struggled through life both in and out of costume, but managed to banter his way through the darkness and always triumphed in the end. He was a kid who saw his powers as a burden and only assumed a heroic mantle after tragedy forced him to reevaluate his life choices, but who leapt and swung along the rooftops with acrobatic aplomb. It’s hard to imagine either Lee or Ditko coming up with such a contradictory and revolutionary character on their own.

And yet in retrospect, it’s easy to see how those differing creative impulses seem destined to lead to a clash. Creeping conflict became apparent a few months after Spider-Man’s debut, when Lee first announced the impending debut of their next co-creation, a magician named Doctor Strange. Speaking to fanzine The Comic Reader in early 1963, Lee took a dig at Ditko while teasing the new character:

“Well, we have a new character in the works for Strange Tales, just a 5-page filler named Dr. Strange. Steve Ditko is gonna draw him. It has sort of a black magic theme. The first story is nothing great, but perhaps we can make something of him. ’Twas Steve's idea.”

Lee’s tone was dismissive, but he was right about the narrative of that first story — a flat little fantasy tale published in the July 1963 issue of Strange Tales. When it came to artwork, however, there was great promise. Readers met Strange, a stoic mage clad in a blue tunic with vaguely Satanic markings, orange gloves with black dots, an overflowing collar, and a massive amulet. He had the ability to cast spells and throw his “metaphysical spirit” out of his body, a concept illustrated in the form of a floating, colorless version of Strange that rose out of his meditating body like steam. His adventures quickly became a recurring feature in Strange Tales. Lee contributed fun magical terms like “Eye of Agamotto,” “Wand of Watoomb,” and “Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth,” but the visuals were what merited attention. There was nothing like them anywhere else in superhero comics.

“Steve’s Doctor Strange material demonstrated what was, at the time, an absolutely unique ability to visualize worlds that had no apparent laws of physics yet seemed to have internal consistency,” says comics historian Paul Levitz. College students and psychonauts loved Strange — in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Tom Wolfe revealed that Ken Kesey and his cohort were obsessed with the character. Ironically, Ditko could not have been more unlike those sorts of readers. By all accounts, he had no interest in countercultural movements or altered states. Instead, fans of Ditko’s work on The Amazing Spider-Man and Strange Tales might have been shocked to learn that he had become a student of one of the 20th century’s most polarizing, conservative ideologies: Objectivism.

At the time, in the early 1960s, Ayn Rand was in vogue: A paperback edition of Atlas Shrugged was providing new exposure, her followers were setting up learning centers and newsletters, and she did a much-discussed interview with Playboy. Her philosophy spat on weak-willed moral relativists who enabled societal decay; she celebrated principled self-interest and bold individuals who dared to create. Though Ditko’s Marvel work didn’t explicitly address Objectivism, certain story elements suggest it influenced his plot ideas in Spider-Man: Peter Parker looked down on student protesters in one issue; Parker’s blowhard editor J. Jonah Jameson was an exploiter of public gullibility who profited off the work of others and sought to tear down the noble wall-crawler through falsehoods; even the very character arc of Peter followed his transformation from a self-pitying nebbish into a self-actualized titan.

Ditko and Lee had always held differing views on what made Spider-Man great. For Lee, it was Peter’s vulnerability, his buoyant sense of humor, and his goodwill toward people; for Ditko, it was his journey toward becoming a Randian Übermensch. As the story went on, their differences became more pronounced and their relationship frayed. Ditko pushed to have the flashy, exaggeration-prone Lee give him more control over Spider-Man plots; after that was granted, Lee bashed one of the new stories in his own letters pages, writing, “A lot of readers are sure to hate it, so if you want to know what all the criticism is about, be sure to buy a copy!” Ditko demanded plotting credit in the title pages for Spider-Man and Strange Tales; Lee gave it to him, then derisively told a reporter, “Ditko thinks he's the genius of the world.”

Over time, the accumulation of those slights, differences of opinion, and disputes took their toll. Writer Roy Thomas recalls getting briefed on the situation during his first day at Marvel in late 1965. “One of the first things I learned was the fact Steve and Stan no longer spoke,” Thomas told me in 2015. Ditko claimed in a 2015 essay (which, like all of Ditko’s essays, can only be obtained by mail order or at a handful of comics shops) that Lee was the one who broke off communications, and that he never got an explanation as to why. One day, Ditko decided he could no longer tolerate his situation. For decades, it was rumored that Lee and Ditko’s split was caused by a disagreement about whom they’d reveal as the alter ego of the Spider-Man villain Green Goblin. Ditko finally dispelled that notion last year, when he published an essay that said his reason for leaving was much simpler: “Why should I continue to do all these monthly issues,” he says he thought to himself, “original story ideas, material, for a man who is too scared, too angry over something, to even see, talk to me?”

Whatever the cause for Lee’s estrangement, the end of his and Ditko’s working relationship was strangely quiet. “One day, Steve walks into the office, turns in his work to [Lee’s production manager] Sol Brodsky and walks out,” Thomas recalls. “Sol goes into Stan's office and comes out a minute later and says, ‘Ditko's quit!’” Ditko turned in the remaining Doctor Strange and Spider-Man work he was contracted to do, but that would be it. Lee, who has never stopped issuing massive praise for Ditko’s artwork, still doesn’t understand what happened: “I really don't know why he left to this day, and he's never told me,” he said in a 2002 interview with the Los Angeles Times. In Ditko’s mind, that’s Lee’s own fault. As he put it in that 2015 essay about his departure, “The only person who had the right to know why I was quitting refused to come out of his office or to call me in. Stan refused to know why.”

Back in the fluorescent-lit hallway of Ditko’s building, I rummaged through my bag looking for a way to kill time while waiting. Eventually I decided on one of the artist’s recent comics-format manifestoes — a 2000 tract with the scolding title Tsk! Tsk! As is true of all of Ditko’s comics and essays published since the turn of the millennium, the only sure way to obtain it is through a snail-mail transaction with Ditko’s Washington State–based publisher, Robin Snyder. Ditko never makes things too easy, even for those sympathetic to him.

Each page of Tsk! Tsk! is an argument consisting of a dense, black-and-white mélange of all-caps text and simple sketches. “IF THE TRUTH IS NOT TOLD OR SOUGHT OR UPHELD, THERE’S NO REAL KNOWLEDGE BUT ANTI-KNOWLEDGE,” read a portion of the seventh page. The 17th page bore the heading “THE SELF-CORRUPTER, NEGATOR” above a human head floating in blank space, its face inexplicably crisscrossed with wavy lines. The face glibly laughs and shouts, “I DON’T  ACCEPT THAT A IS A” — those latter four letters form a cryptic Randian axiom that appears with obsessive frequency in Ditko’s writings and comics — “TRUE IS TRUE, THE EARNED, DESERVED, MERIT: JUSTICE.”

If Ditko were a different sort of man, he could have easily turned his 1966 Marvel walkout into a cause célèbre. He might have framed his departure as a stand for the rights of fellow artists who were similarly disrespected by their employers; it could have been a pursuit of, indeed, justice. But Ditko wasn’t interested. “He only railed for himself — not for anyone else, because that would be un-Randian,” says comics publisher Gary Groth, who had his own rocky partnership with Ditko in the late ’90s. “A lot of artists thought the arrangement of the comics business as it existed then was fundamentally unfair. He didn’t. He stood up for himself when he thought he was being unfairly treated.”

Instead, Ditko retreated into his own work and philosophical soapboxing. A year after his departure from Marvel, he debuted two vigilante crime-fighters who were, more or less, Randian wet dreams. One was Charlton Comics’ the Question, a suit-and-tie-wearing bruiser whose head was adorned with a fedora and an eerie mask that made it look as though he had no face. (The Question later served as the inspiration for the character of Rorschach in Alan Moore’s Watchmen.) He patrolled the streets for ne’er-do-wells, spouting Objectivist rhetoric at them or, if they got violent, just beating the shit out of them.

The other character, who first appeared in an indie magazine called witzend, was even closer to Ditko’s heart: Mr. A. His name came from a passage in Atlas Shrugged about “the formula defining the concept of existence and the rule of all knowledge: A is A.” It’s an idea about the binary nature of everything in existence. Something is always something, and it is never another thing. Red is red, red is never blue. Heroism is heroism, heroism is never villainy. If you lose sight of the fact that A is A, you become poisoned by unreason — there is no gray area. Mr. A preaches that philosophy with his words and his fists, wearing a metal mask while remorselessly murdering those who violate Objectivist ethics. “To have any sympathy for a killer is an insult to their victims,” Mr. A says after overseeing the death of a teenage hoodlum in his 1967 debut. “I don’t abuse my emotions!” That kind of brutal morality was revolutionary for comics, a purer expression of philosophy than anything published before.

For the next 30 years, Ditko’s career was bifurcated between his Objectivist passion projects and uninspired mainstream jobs, which yielded hackwork valuable only to the Ditko completist — books such as Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Tiny Toons Adventures, and Chuck Norris Karate Kommandos. But even when he was doing seemingly innocuous corporate gigs, his principles could lead to conflict. Comics writer Denny O’Neil recalls giving Ditko a DC Comics script featuring a scene where the hero has a nightmare about being a villain. He says Ditko staunchly refused to draw that bit, because a true hero would never even subconsciously flirt with evil. Ditko agreed to do the rest of the comic, but another artist was brought in for the dream sequence. “Maybe that kind of behavior could beg some questions,” O’Neil says. “But it is not my job to ask those questions.”

As time went on, Ditko became increasingly volatile, even on work where he had creative control. Groth formed a decades-long friendship with Ditko and launched a series featuring his stories in 1997, but trouble arose after the first issue came out. Its cover wasn’t colored to Ditko’s specifications, and there was a text page that poked slightly mean-spirited fun at Ditko's Randian beliefs and distaste for interviews. The artist was furious. Groth apologized and asked what he could do to make it up to him. “He said, ‘You can’t do anything. You’ve already made the mistake,’” Groth recalls.  “Nothing could make him happy, because it was a transgression and there was no making up for it. I had crossed a Ditkovian line.” A few years later, when Groth agreed to publish Bell’s biography, Ditko told Groth over the phone that he was a “parasite” and ceased all communications.

What finally sent Ditko over the edge into outright rejection of the comics industry appears to have been, appropriately enough, another fight with Lee. It was preceded by a surprising interval of détente: In 1992, Marvel’s then-EIC Tom DeFalco nearly convinced Ditko to team up with Lee for a series called Ravage 2099. He brokered a meeting between the two, where they hugged and reminisced about old times — but as DeFalco later recalled to Bell, Ditko didn’t agree with the “philosophical underpinnings” of the series and the Lee-Ditko reunion never came to pass. Then, in 1998, a Time story about Lee credited him as the sole creator of Spider-Man, while a Comic Book Marketplace interview from the same year quoted Lee as saying he had the idea for a famous Spidey story Ditko had devised. Seeing the pair of high-profile inaccuracies, Ditko blew up.

There were two issues at hand. The Comic Book Marketplace interview picked a scab that hadn’t fully healed from the 1960s, which was Lee’s habit of obscuring Ditko’s narrative contributions. The Time story, however, represented a new offense: mischaracterization of creator credit. When speaking with the media, Lee had historically downplayed Ditko’s role in bringing Lee’s loose character ideas into visual reality — a role that almost inarguably makes him a co-creator. Ditko tolerated the minimization for decades, but never before had a publication as important as Time overlooked him.

Ditko wrote furious letters of complaint to the magazine and to Comic Book Marketplace; Lee, shocked at the vitriol, called Ditko to work out their differences. “I think the person who has the idea is the person who creates it,” Lee told Ditko during the tense conversation, which he recounted in Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics: The Untold Story. He recalled Ditko contending that “[h]aving an idea is nothing, because until it becomes a physical thing, it’s just an idea.” Lee offered what he saw as a concession, publishing an open letter in which he said, “I have always considered Steve Ditko to be Spider-Man’s co-creator” before outlining the artist’s many contributions. Ditko wrote a response in an essay three years later, stating, “‘Considered’ means to ponder, look at closely, examine, etc., and does not admit, or claim, or state that Steve Ditko is Spider-Man’s co-creator.”

It was a fair point, but Lee gave up trying to argue with his erstwhile partner. More recently, Lee has taken to calling Ditko a co-creator in public, though the claims often ring hollow since he regularly includes caveats about how he doesn’t really believe what he’s saying. “I really think I’m being very generous in giving him ‘cocreator’ credit,” he wrote in his 2002 memoir, but “[a]n idea in a vacuum is just an idea until the artist brings it to life, sayeth Mr. Ditko.”

Ditko, meanwhile, has never publicly forgiven Lee, and around the turn of the millennium walked away from mainstream comics for good. Since then, the only way you can find new material from Ditko is in those mail-order publications — and it all feels relentlessly uninterested in whether anyone likes or gets it. The comics are often incomprehensible, filled with crudely sketched human figures and only casually flirting with narrative sense. But there’s something magical about them. They are pure expressions of the impulses of a Pop Art genius in his twilight years:

It’s all so raw and strange that reading it almost feels perverse, like perusing entries from a stolen diary. “It’s a harsh comparison, but it’s kind of like The Shining, when the wife finally sees what Jack’s been writing,” says comics historian and illustrator Arlen Schumer of Ditko’s recent work. The mail-order curios float in the uncertain waters between Henry Darger and Jack Chick.

Ditko’s abandonment of conventional superhero comics coincided with the beginning of Hollywood’s superhero boom, which has made his co-creations more profitable than ever before. But since he wrote and drew on a work-for-hire basis, he has no legal ownership or creative control of Spider-Man or Doctor Strange. When New York Post reporter Reed Tucker ambushed Ditko outside his studio in 2012, the artist told him, “I haven’t been involved with Spider-Man since the ’60s.” Tucker asked Ditko if he’d been paid anything for the Spider-Man movies produced since 2002. “No,” he replied. And Doctor Strange director Scott Derrickson told Vulture he hasn’t talked to Ditko, adding, “He wants to be left alone.”

That context was swirling through my head as I sat in Ditko’s hallway. I knew my visit to his building was a roll of the dice. While other journalists’ attempts to talk with him at his office have typically been fruitless, I was emboldened by a tale Schumer shared with me about showing up at Ditko’s door in 2004 and ending up in an energetic, two-hour conversation. Then again, I ran the risk of ending up like Bell, who came to Ditko’s office bearing a copy of the finished biography in 2008. “I said, ‘You’ve never really seen the contents of the poison sandwich,’” Bell recalls. “‘I’ve got a copy here, would you like to see it?’ He said, ‘No, it’s too late for that.’” Ditko bade him a brusque farewell, and that was that.

I had given up on my first stakeout after waiting for 45 minutes, but I returned two days later and rode up to the seventh floor once again. The soft voices of the TV hummed inside. Knock knock. Nothing. Ring ring. Nothing. Ditko’s next-door neighbor, an entertainment-industry manager, came out to see what was going on. I told him what I was doing and he said Ditko’s hearing is shot — he runs into Ditko occasionally, and lately the octogenarian’s been shouting, “What?” when the manager greets him. As we talked, another occupant of the seventh floor walked by. She said she gets in very early most days. They’ve exchanged pleasantries and once talked about lease renewal, but not much else — though she did have one intriguing story.

“One time, about ten years ago, I accidentally got a piece of his mail,” she said, her eyebrows rising scandalously. “I opened it and then realized it wasn’t mine because that check had too many zeroes.” My body jerked up with shock — that contradicted Ditko’s claim that he doesn’t get a cut. I asked for more details. She said it was from a movie studio, and that when she gave it back to him, he just took it and said nothing. “That’s probably why he can work in that little office,” she said, and laughed. “He’s doing all right.”

Then the two neighbors left and I began another stakeout, reading more recent Ditko oddities. An hour passed. I decided to give it another go, and as I approached the door, I heard shuffling inside. My heart skipped a beat. I gulped down air. Knock knock knock.

The lock clicked. The door opened. And there he was.

Imagine Uncle Junior from The Sopranos, but with sagging cheeks and a taller stature. He was wearing a black-and-gray checkered sweater-vest over a light-blue button-down. Coke-bottle lenses floated in thick, black spectacle frames. I didn’t get a look at his pants or shoes. He looked directly into my eyes, his expression sharp and preemptively irritated.

“Mr. Ditko?” I asked.

Before I could finish the second syllable of his name, he furrowed his brow, pursed his lips, and narrowed his eyes. He turned his head down and to his right at a 45-degree angle, and then shook it in what I assume was disgust. The door swung back into its frame and the deadbolt slammed in. The whole interaction lasted about six and a half seconds.

I stood there and the first thought that came to me was, Yeah, that seems about right. I considered knocking again, but froze. What am I doing? I thought. Why am I bothering this guy? I had done my due diligence, and now I felt a little ashamed. I grabbed my backpack and headed to the elevator.

The encounter encapsulated the fundamental paradox of Ditko, the one that makes him a source of both fascination and frustration: He despises people making claims about him without getting their information firsthand, but he only provides that information piecemeal and on his own terms, in the form of elliptical essays on scattered topics. He has often said he wants his work to speak for itself, but then he writes about how no one understands it — and when his screeds about the work confuse or contradict, there’s no way to have him clarify what he so passionately wants you to understand. It isn’t a dialogue. You can’t ask a follow-up question.

As I walked out into the gray autumnal wind, I thought of the very first Doctor Strange story, published 53 years ago. In it, we learn nearly nothing about our hero; he is an inscrutable man with talents unattainable by ordinary people. A weak visitor comes to Strange’s door, begging for help combatting horrible nightmares. Strange takes a tentative step toward altruism and aids the supplicant by entering the man’s dreams. In that terrifying, alien landscape, he meets faceless monsters and learns that the man is being tormented because he’s cheated others in business deals. The man betrays and almost kills Strange, but the good doctor stops him and shows the individual the error of his ways.

That brief saga is the essence of Ditko distilled into just a few dozen panels: the eye-tricking landscape and the eerie figures who wander it. The smart, strong-willed man of principle. The lesson about enlightened self-interest and the dangers of trusting those who are weak of mind and morals. The belief that the greatest victories are won by those who don’t desire recognition. Not only does the latest Marvel movie owe Ditko a debt, so too does the entire superhero genre, because no one before him had thought to mix together such potent elements. Ditko expanded the visual, narrative, and even philosophical potential of comics in a way that few others have. ’Twas Steve’s idea. Maybe that’s all we need to know.