Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

R.I.P. Steve Ditko (1927-2018)

The Hollywood Reporter has confirmed that Steve Ditko, the legendary co-creator of Spider-Man and Dr. Strange, among others, has passed away at the age of 90. Mr. Ditko died in his New York City apartment sometime around the end of June, and his body was found a few days later on June 29th. The Hollywood Reporter confirmed Mr. Ditko’s identity with the NYC Police Department.

It’s a sad ending for one of the all-time great creators of comics. While Mr. Ditko has no known surviving relatives, he leaves behind a legion of beloved characters that he either created or co-created, including Spider-Man, Dr. Strange (as well as most major figures in their Rogues’ Galleries), the Ted Kord Blue Beetle, Captain Atom, the Question, Mr. A, the Creeper, Hawk and Dove, Shade the Changing Man, the Prince Gavyn Starman, Speedball, and Squirrel Girl. For a man with the Objectivist attitude of “My work is me,” it is perhaps fitting that he is ultimately survived by all the great characters and stories he gave us.

We’ll have more to say about Mr. Ditko and his work in the coming days here at the Atomic Junk Shop, but for now, we offer our deepest condolences to all who knew, worked with, or loved Steve Ditko. We certainly count ourselves among that number.


  1. Peter

    It was hard to know how to feel when this news broke. I think the circumstances of Ditko’s death would make me feel pretty sad in any other case… but I believe Ditko would have wanted to pass away while still working, knowing that his great work would outlive his body. Rest in peace, Mr. Ditko.

  2. M-Wolverine

    Well that sucks. I have a sad feeling we’re hitting a time frame where a lot of our founding fathers are going to pass. Just looking at that banner he’d have had a great life even without Spider-Man. But with something like Spidey the body may pass but the work will be immortal. Hopefully they have more than enough time for a nice tribute in Far From Home.

  3. A few years back, I was surprised to see the name Steve Ditko credited as the artist on a Tiny Toons Adventures comic book. He did a lot more than just superheroes and Objectivist propaganda.

    While we’re at it, let’s at least acknowledge that Ditko’s version of Objectivism is the most humane and respectable that the philosophy could be.

    He didn’t interpret Rand’s philosophy as permission to be a selfish jerk; he filtered it through his own innate morality and humanism. To him, “altruism is sin” meant that it was wrong to demand that people engage in acts of charity that they didn’t believe in, that it’s wrong for church, state, or anyone else to compel acts of faux kindness. But his comic heroes still engaged in self-sacrificial heroism because they believed in their responsibility to do for others what they could, on their terms and according to their moral code.

    Unlike many, Ditko stuck to his principles even (and especially) when it would have profited him to abandon them. His “A is A’ mantra prohibited rationalization, self-deception, and excuse-making. I wish more people’s worldview included that aspect.

    I think Ayn Rand was wrong about almost everything, and her teachings have the capacity to be corrosively toxic to society and the self, but I seriously hope that Steve Ditko’s noble and heroic version becomes the dominant form.

  4. Elsewhere online someone observed recently that at least Rand created characters who earned their wealth by being visionaries, inventors and creators. What most people take from Rand is just “I’m entitled to be a selfish shit.” As you say, Ditko took a different slant. I’m curious — had he actually discussed his thoughts on this topic or is this derived from looking at his work (it’s a reasonable interpretation if so).

    1. My observations are totally derived from Ditko’s work, comments he made about his work, and the decisions he made and stands he took. His most rigid stances were times when it would have been to his advantage to take the offer, make the compromise, and accept the rationalizations. I’ll give him credit, he was absolutely not a hypocrite, and he absolutely lived by his principles.

    2. Jeff Nettleton

      Closest I am aware of is his essay on the Masters of Comic book Art, that was hosted by the late Harlan Ellison, back in the mid-80s. Ditko was one of the ten featured; but the only one not to appear on camera. he was recorded reading an essay about Mr A, while images from Mr A stories appeared on the screen. It was filled with Randian stuff, as it applied to Mr A. He made no commentary about anything else.

  5. M-Wolverine

    Eh, I think there has been a lot of mis-interpretation of Rand, both by those looking to justify their own bad behavior, and those just too ignorant to do anything more than say “cool, I can be an asshole and it makes sense!” And then add a dash of those with differing philosophies who like to paint it in the worst possible light.

    Don’t get me wrong, she has flaws, and wasn’t a great author. But a lot of her philosophy is something that is similar to Marxist communism, where in an ideal world a lot of it sounds like a pretty good idea, until you get people involved in it. Because they never act ideally.

    Which at least makes Rand’s a bit more practical than Marxism, because the main idea is that everyone acts out of self interest, even when they’re being charitable. (It makes them feel good about themselves). Which isn’t that far off with humanity. She just paints that as a good in that the betterment of the one betters society. Basically capitalism > than socialism. Which is another whole debate, but it’s not crazy.

    She has heroes in her story, so heroism isn’t false. They’re just usually fighting against government control in a libertarian bent. As most stark philosophers do she takes it to absolutes and extremes, where it starts to get into that area that doesn’t really work in the real world. Safety nets and regulation vs. Darwinism and laissez faire. I think, which is all I can do because who really KNOWS Ditko, that Ditko was probably very much a “real world objectivist.” He thought value is self support, self worth, and being left alone (I know for sure he believed in that last one). But wasn’t so out of touch with his ideology that he couldn’t see gray, or know there are no absolutes in the real world.

    1. Her biggest failing (aside from admiring and fawning over a sociopathic serial killer) is that she believed people would be smart enough to recognize that their self-interest had to include the long-term.

      Devoted Randian Alan Greenspan was shocked – SHOCKED! – to discover that self-interested people would happily and gleefully crash the global economy in pursuit of immediate profit. It was an absolute article of faith with him that no successful person would ever be stupid enough to kill the golden goose. Until they had a goose-slaying festival right in front of him.

      It was an existential crisis for him. And it is the central fundamental flaw in Objectivism.

      1. M-Wolverine

        Yes, if humanity has shown us anything it’s that they’ll always choose immediate gratification over longer term greater gain. Heck, the main problem with business today is fast profit over sustainable gain, because the guy who makes it gets the bonus/promotion/new job and is long gone by the time the ramifications take root and the long term affects have to be cleaned up.

        It’s really the same flaw with communist theory in that what might benefit everyone more will always get ignored for how “I” can benefit now. Philosophies couldn’t be more opposed, but have the same problems.

  6. Eric van Schaik

    Maybe I’m the only one but I find it a bit strange that after just few posts were not talking about Steve Ditko anymore. It boggles the mind.

    One of the last comics I have (apart from the Marvel Masterworks of Spider-Man) with Ditko art was Dark Dominion. I found it at a comic book convention in Holland. The zero issue was as a trading card set. Funny idea.

  7. So, Ditko. By an odd coincidence I just finished binge-reading his Spider-run, before starting the Epic with the first year of Romita. It’ll never have the punch it must have done at the time (as everything that made the book unusual is now standard), but it still works. And Stan and Steve (Leetko?) really make use of Peter being just a kid, like having him break down after Doc Ock first defeats him.
    Though. Dr. Strange remains my favorite of his work. Shade harks back to that style, though, and it’s striking just how much plot he seeded in the few issues we got. It could easily have run for a year or two just wrapping that stuff up.

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