Ditko and High School: The History of an Office Rumor

There’s a certain rumor about Spider-Man that’s worth exploring in detail: that Steve Ditko allegedly objected to Spider-Man graduating high school and wished for him to never age out of 16 years of age. This post will explore the rumor, its basis in fact, and also explore the context from which it originated. Investigating a post like this is extremely hard and topical, because it’s possible that new sources might emerge to date this quickly. So my feelings here are entirely subjective.

When I was working on my post on the ideology behind “illusion of change”, there was material that I wanted to cover. But it didn’t fit in and the post was too long as it is. I mentioned this chestnut in one of my first posts. This post is an addendum to both.

DITKO SHRUGGED

https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/71iBi9Ok5dL.jpg

Steve Ditko quitting Marvel in 1966 is the stuff of legend.

When Ditko quit, Spider-Man was Marvel’s top-selling title having just over-taken Fantastic Four in the earliest year for which Marvel’s sales figures are available [1]. For anyone to leave a title that big, and after negotiating plotting credit from ASM#25 to his final issue, at the height of his powers moreover, was unthinkable. It made his departure the stuff of office legend and fan gossip while marking the start of him becoming a reclusive figure. Till the day he died in 2018, Steve Ditko was someone you interacted with letters, or someone you caught a glimpse of if you visited him at his studio in Midtown Manhattan, or if you were a colleague you would know him professionally at Warren, Charlton, DC, and yes Marvel again (he returned during the ’70s but categorically refused to work on Spider-Man or Doctor Strange, and would only work as a penciller and inker on several small titles), as well as various independent publications.

All the Ditko Images released publicly during his lifetime
Beyond Spider-Man: Steve Ditko's Letters Provide Insight into an Enigmatic  Creator - The Comics Journal
Ditko in the army. New Image released by the Ditko Estate after his passing in 2018.

During his life there were five verified photographs available to the public. Since his passing, the Ditko estate has shared many more images. A biography is currently in the works and when that arrives, our view of Steve Ditko will change and will continue to do so going forward.

Till then, we have to reckon with the rumors that flourished as a result of Ditko’s withdrawal from publicity.

THE THREE GREAT RUMORS

With Spider-Man, there are three major rumors about Ditko of consequence:

  • Rumor #1: Steve Ditko objected to Norman Osborn being Green Goblin
    This is the only rumor that Ditko definitively debunked during his lifetime. I have covered this in detail here. The flourishing of this rumor despite personal rebuttal goes to show, that even if Ditko hadn’t been reclusive, rumors would likely circulate.
THE UNTOLD STORY — Above: Campus protests in the pages of The Amazing...
  • Rumor #2: Steve Ditko left Spider-Man because of his Objectivist turn
    Steve Ditko was an Objectivist. That’s not up for debate. Several fans and observers have theorized that Ditko left the title because he wished to turn Spider-Man into a Randian character and he had political disagreements with Stan Lee about it. The major evidence for this is a campus protest scene in ASM#38 that’s been subject to debate and scrutiny but little actual textual basis.
  • Rumor #3: Steve Ditko objected to Spider-Man graduating High School
    Ditko believed that Spider-Man was best as a teenager and opposed to him aging. This was cited by Brevoort and I will restate his claim:

As Steve Ditko once pointed out, being High School age meant that it was acceptable for Peter Parker to screw up, to make mistakes and learn from them, in a way that would have been pathetic for more established, more heroic super heroes. (Ditko also lamented having had Peter graduate High School and go onto College.)

Tom Brevoort, qtd. in Re-Examining Spider-Man 01 – The Brevoort Manifesto

Let me say that, barring new evidence and new sources of information, I do not think any of these rumors are true.

I’m calling this the “Three Great Rumors” because they are the most notorious and debated. There are other rumors about Ditko and his time on Spider-Man — his connections with the famous fetish artist Edwin Stanton, the case of the “Halloween costume” by Ben Cooper, issues with the coloring of Spider-Man’s costume — but those rumors are more obscure and don’t concern the narrative of Spider-Man.

ASM#39 – John Romita Sr.’s first issue after Steve Ditko left concluded the Green Goblin mystery
  • Of the three great rumors, the first two (Ditko’s Objectivist Turn, Green Goblin’s Identity) are most organic. Both of them originated near-contemporary to the period of Ditko’s departure from Spider-Man titles.

  • Given that Ditko left in ASM#38 and the issues right after (#39-40) revealed Green Goblin as Norman Osborn, it’s fair to assume that Ditko might have had issues with the story direction. In hindsight we know that’s not the case, but people back then didn’t have the internet, they went by the news-stands, letters columns, and fanzines.
Ditko's Mr. A.: The 50th Anniversary Series: Book One: The Avenging World  by Steve Ditko
Steve Ditko’s Mr. A (1967)- A Comic that’s outright Randian Objectivist Propaganda first published a year after Ditko left Marvel.
  • Likewise, Ditko subsequently did become known as an Objectivist. This happened after he left Marvel and not during that time, but it’s a fair leap to assume that his politics factored in his decision to leave.

I can’t hold it against anyone for believing the Goblin Rumor or the Objectivist rumor in good faith. In that time and place, I’d believe it too.

What I find harder to accept is the flourishing of these rumors after it’s been debunked, with frew doing the basics of fact-checking and resource verification. It’s an example of Krugman’s “zombie ideas”, the undead rumors lurching around preventing a deeper understanding of the material. Yet zombie ideas were living rumors at one point. A Frankenstein monster of a rumor is a bit harder to wrap one’s head around.

What I find most peculiar is the third great rumor. The other two are grounded in the reading experience of the 1960s; they did sprout organically in the wake of Ditko’s departure. The third rumor though doesn’t seem to have ever existed in the ’60s or ’70s. In my research on Spider-Man publication in various places, I cannot find reference of Ditko objecting to Spider-Man aging before the 2000s. The “high school” rumor is the most recent by far and it’s a Frankenstein-rumor jury-rigged with new life based on a weird mix of material.

HIGH BURDEN OF PROOF

Spider-Man: The Original Clone Saga by Gerry Conway
The First Clone Saga, was directly commissioned as a response to the backlash of Gwen Stacy’s death, laying the seeds for the more proverbial Clone Saga 20 years later.

As far as I can tell, Peter Parker graduating high school provoked no controversy for the first 30 years of his franchise history. Gwen Stacy’s death for instance sparked a backlash, and led to erratic actions by Stan Lee whose long-term consequences is the regressive “illusion of change” doctrine and the Clone Saga. The footprint of Peter graduating is comparatively nonexistent.

As I mentioned before, not a single adaptation of Spider-Man featured him in high school until the first half of Spider-Man 1 in 2002. The first animated series in high school was in 2008, only one video game ever featured that version. To reiterate a point I made before, there’s far more content of teenage Spider-Man generated between 1995-2022 than at any point before. The tendency of seeing Spider-Man as a teenager is mainly a late-90s phenomenon.

  • In ASM #28, Peter graduated high school and three issues later, in ASM#31, Peter began attending college which he entered on scholarship.
ASM#25 First Page
  • By ASM#25, Steve Ditko received plotting credit, an acknowledgement, that the story ideas and story beats, the who-does-what-where-how-when of each panel was decided by him.

  • In 2002, in a personal visit to Ditko’s studio by Russ Maheras, the latter records Ditko declaring that he planned the “three-part story arc in “Amazing Spider-Man” #31-33, where Aunt May is dying,” to “occur just as Peter Parker started college – for maximum dramatic effect” [2].
Spider-Man and Doctor Strange abbrievated as S-M and DS
  • In 2015, Ditko published an essay where he elaborated on his work processes on Spider-Man:

When doing [Spider-Man], [Doctor Strange], I always wrote down any ideas that came to me about the supporting characters, any possible, usable story idea…I remember I once asked Flo to ask Stan if he still wanted P. Parker to graduate from high school and go to college. We had discussed different ideas, potentials, for S-M when we collaborated: fans had complained about a too ugly, too old Aunt May so some beautifying, even dying or killing her was considered; Peter Parker as a reporter ala Clark Kent on JJJ’s paper; graduating was one idea. At some point, Flo said, ‘Yes’.

Steve Ditko [3]

Ditko was the prime mover for the continuity decision to have Peter graduate in ASM#28. If Spider-Man graduating was an inevitability it need not have happened on Ditko’s watch with Ditko’s agency. He chose to remind Stan Lee about this plot-point, and instigated it. In essence this is a non-controversy. In no other situation, would this qualify as anything other than an open-and-shut case. As the phrase goes, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”. The burden of proof has to be borne by people arguing that Ditko objected to Peter graduating high school:

  • If Ditko objected, why he would he remind Stan Lee of Peter graduating as a story concept? How does his objection explain why he would put so much creative effort behind a story — “The Master Planner Saga” — that only ever makes sense with Spider-Man as a grownup who has left behind his high-school years?

  • Given that Ditko’s been vocal about a number of disagreements, why did he never raise this among the many issues he had with Lee? He’s been open about his disdain for Lee’s original Green Goblin pitch, his constant shoehorning of Fantastic Four cameos, the rocket flight in ASM#1. Why was Ditko silent in his writings about his presumed objections of aging up Peter?

  • One can argue that Ditko is lying or misremembering details. But most of Ditko’s utterances have been corroborated. Likewise, one has to explain why Ditko’s lying? To make people who prefer Spider-Man aging feel good? Because caring about public opinion is not something Ditko’s best-remembered for!

The other rumors at least were based on something tangible — the Goblin’s secret identity was revealed immediately after Ditko’s departure, Ditko did become publicly known as an Objectivist a year after he left Marvel — but this rumor isn’t grounded on anything observable in the 1960s.

In my examination, I came upon two sources for this rumor. The first public indication of this notion was in the 2000s and I have yet to date it prior to that period.

MARV WOLFMAN

File:Marv Wolfman (1982, cropped).jpg - Wikimedia Commons
Marv Wolfman in 1982

Marv Wolfman is one of the most respected figures in superhero comics. He was important for creator’s rights when DC was forced to officially credit creators on anthology titles by name for the first time [4]. He also filed a lawsuit with Marvel over Blade. In addition to that he wrote important runs on several cult titles such as The Tomb of Dracula and later achieved fame for his run on Teen Titans with George Pérez. Wolfman-Pérez’s run on Teen Titans made it DC’s biggest selling-title, selling 4 times as many as any other DC title and keeping it afloat in a period of low sales [5]. The success of that run led to the team getting the prestigious gig of Crisis on Infinite Earths, the landmark DC Event Crossover of the 1980s which means that Wolfman is one of the founders of the DC Universe post-1985.

Why Wolfman and Perez's THE NEW TEEN TITANS Is a Must-Read
The New Teen Titans: Wolfman-Perez’s run is a landmark comics title

Wolfman was also briefly Editor-in-Chief during the chaotic 1970s between Stan Lee and Jim Shooter, where he worked on quite a few Marvel titles including four issues of Machine Man (where Steve Ditko worked as a penciller), a run on Fantastic Four and Amazing Spider-Man (1978-1980). Outside of his work on The Tomb of Dracula, Wolfman’s run at Marvel is generally not as highly valued as his work on DC.

His run on Spider-Man was once highly regarded but has subsequently fallen in esteem, with Mark Ginocchio deprecating the run for its unmemorable villains such as “Stegron the Dinosaur Man, Mirage and the ghost of Hammerhead”[6]. Wolfman’s ear for dialogue is also criticized with criminals reading “like a Dick Tracy cartoon”[7]. It’s been criticized for making characters unlikable — introducing dubious plot elements like Peter in a presumptive romance with Betty Brant while she was married to Ned Leeds, which neither Wolfman nor Marvel acknowledge, since it’s both out-of-character personally, and detrimental to the character’s ethical standing [8].

Amazing Spider-Man #194 – Felicia Hardy’s First Appearance

That said, during Wolfman’s tenure, he did have Peter Parker graduate from college in ASM #185, he co-created the character Black Cat/Felicia Hardy (with Keith Pollard) and most ironic of all, it was Wolfman who dropped the first hints of Mary Jane Watson’s complex backstory[9]. However weakly executed, Wolfman’s run did provide a foundation that later writers improved and developed beyond him.

He left Marvel around 1980, and he found greater fame at DC. He conducted a major interview with The Comics Journal in 1983. From the context of his career until that time, his time on Spider-Man was fairly minor, so Wolfman’s comments on Spider-Man in this 1983 interview are quite cursory and lacking in detailed observations about storylines in general [10]. I’ve tried to find Wolfman interviews where he talks about his Spider-Man run published before 1987 but I’ve struggled to find resources at present.

In 1987, Spider-Man got married. This storyline was unexpected and controversial among Spider-Man creators even if it was widely popular among fans as I’ve discussed here. Wolfman was among the faction opposed to this decision. One can even argue that Wolfman is known among contemporary Spider-Man comics readers for his vocal opposition to the marriage than for his own run whose legacy has declined by comparison. Certainly when I first got into reading Spider-Man, when I heard of Wolfman it was either for his work at DC or his vocal opposition to Spider-Man’s marriage.

WOLFMAN AND DITKO

https://i.annihil.us/u/prod/marvel/i/mg/c/03/5382c862773d1/clean.jpg
ASM#185 – Published in July 1978

Wolfman’s run on Spider-Man included the story development of Peter graduating college in Amazing Spider-Man #185 in 1978. Peter graduated high-school in Amazing Spider-Man #28 in 1965, four years after his first appearance. It took him 157 issues and 13 real-time years for his next academic achievement. An example of a “stretching” timescale (characters age but they age slowly) as opposed to “sliding” timescale (where everything is compressed and nobody ages).

A reader who followed Wolfman’s run from the stories as published would well have a right to assume that the author wasn’t opposed to Peter Parker growing or aging up and yet in Comic-Creators on Spider-Man, published in 2004, Wolfman voiced antipathy to any serial advancement.

In doing so, he makes several claims including an anecdote about Steve Ditko:

Comics Creators on Spider-Man by Tom DeFalco | Penguin Random House Canada

At that point, a decision had been made to make Peter older for some reason. I had talked with Steve Ditko about Spider-Man while he and I were working on Machine Man. Steve felt, and I agree, that sixteen would have been the best age to freeze Spider-Man. Sixteen is the last year where you are allowed to be a total foul-up. You’re not yet an adult, but you’re no longer a kid. You’re at a very awkward age, and still haven’t figured things out. When the decision was made to graduate Peter, I felt that we needed to forget how old he actually was. I planned to put him in graduate school, and just leave him there. I didn’t like the idea of letting him get married or have kids. If he’s still fouling up as an adult, he just isn’t a hero anymore. He’s pathetic.”

Marv Wolfman [11]

To use a contemporary phrase, this paragraph has a lot to unpack:

  • To start with, Wolfman claims that “a decision had been made to make Peter older” implying that it was made against his intentions. If one looks at the credits for Amazing Spider-Man #185, one comes across this credit: “Marv Wolfman – Writer/Editor”. In the 1970s, it was common for many titles to features writers serving as their own editors especially those such as Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, Marv Wolfman. This practice ended when Jim Shooter became Editor in Chief, that happened in 1978 the same year this issue came out but obviously it took a while for Shooter to professionalize Marvel (for better and worse).

  • So the question is who, if not Wolfman, made the decision to send Peter Parker out of college and into graduate school, because unless it was Shooter or Stan Lee himself, nobody would’ve had the authority to overrule Wolfman. He names neither man, nor does he explain his own position within the editorial chain-of-command. If he objected to Peter graduating college his voice as editor/writer would have carried weight. The decision to graduate Peter from high school, and later from college, provoked no controversy and wasn’t subject to any significant grumbling. It only became controversial after the marriage. I’ve not been able to trace any contemporaneous pre-marriage record of any ruckus on this, nor did Wolfman appear to have mentioned this at any point before 1987.

  • Wolfman enters into self-contradiction when he claims: “When the decision was made to graduate Peter, I felt that we needed to forget how old he actually was. I planned to put him in graduate school, and just leave him there.” Well for one thing, if Wolfman “planned to put him in graduate school and just leave him there” it stands to reason that said plan would require Peter graduating from college to start with, implying very strongly the decision had to have been made by Wolfman himself, but which he’s now projecting externally to an unnamed third party.

The centerpiece of Wolfman’s exchange with Defalco is the claim that Wolfman had an exchange with Ditko, where Ditko agreed that 16 was the best age to freeze up Peter:

Machine Man #10 – the start of a four issue collaboration between Wolfman (writer) and Ditko (Penciller-Inker) Published in May 1979
  • It’s absolutely true that he and Steve Ditko worked on 4 issues of Machine Man. However, there’s a major problem. The issue where Spider-Man graduated college was published in July 1978 but Machine Man #10, the start of the Wolfman-Ditko 4-issue run was published in May 1979, nearly a year after Peter graduated college.

  • The gap between both runs is wide enough that there’s no overlapping production lead-time to consider. If as Wolfman claims that his exchange with Ditko happened during his collaboration on Machine Man then the truth is that Wolfman had already had Peter graduate college before he worked with Ditko, not as he implies in that conversation that the exchange with Ditko preceded and impacted the issue where Peter graduated college.

  • I have not been able to locate this anecdote by Wolfman at any time before 1987, before the wedding. The most detailed description is in this 2004 book describing an encounter that transpired in and around 1979, 25 years prior. Wolfman has in past admitted that his recollection of his time working on Spider-Man is hazy, noting with regards to one major subplot from an issue of his run that “he did not recall the exactitude of his intent” [8]. He does not in any way transcribe or jot down what Steve Ditko said, merely paraphrasing from memory.

It’s possible to assume that it was Wolfman who brought up Spider-Man to Steve Ditko. He might have updated Ditko with happenings in Spider-Man (since as mentioned above Peter graduating college happened well before this collaboration) and sought his ear. Given that Ditko avoided being associated with Spider-Man after his return, and chose the most obscure titles, it’s not unreasonable to assume that Ditko humored Wolfman’s complaints, which the younger collaborator accepted as assent but which Ditko doesn’t seem to have given mind to. For Wolfman, his time working on Machine Man was a significant event, but for Ditko it was just a paid gig while his real labor was his independent work. That possibly explains why Ditko’s own writings make no acknowledgement to this exchange since it doesn’t seem he paid it any mind.

Regardless, we must note that even in Wolfman’s anecdote, all he records is that Ditko “felt and I agree, that sixteen would have been the best age to freeze Spider-Man”. What Wolfman doesn’t claim is that Ditko objected to Peter aging high school in the 1960s. He does not claim that Ditko was forced to age up the character by someone else. All it records is a late-70s exchange while working on a smaller Marvel title that obviously wouldn’t have had any significance had Peter not continued to age as he did in 1987 when he got married. It was the latter incident that led Wolfman to vocally declare on numerous occasions his antipathy to the character aging, in possible detriment to his own standing as a writer of Spider-Man.

AN EXCHANGE WITH WOLFMAN

Wolfman tweet response to author on April 8, 2020

On April 08, 2020 I had an exchange with Marv Wolfman himself on twitter in which he reiterated his claim. The exchange was in connection to a podcast interview by Tom Brevoort where he reiterated his claims from the Brevoort manifesto. Mr. Brevoort’s comments at the podcast provoked a range of views critical of his belief that Spider-Man is about Youth. I was among the people who responded. At some point, Mr. Wolfman’s twitter account was tagged by one commenter quoting the above exchange from the Defalco book. I responded to that, and Mr. Wolfman entered the thread responding specifically to me.

Here’s the link to the twitter thread in question I am putting on gallery here the screenshots of our exchange and I’ve affixed the main tweet from Mr. Wolfman to the side [12].

That’s the sum total of Mr. Wolfman’s intervention and I state it here, to affirm that Wolfman is still sticking to his story from 2004, as well as in the interest of full disclosure and transparency. Obviously, Wolfman’s not willing to take to aspersions on the reliability of his memory from some anonymous twitter hack (me).

RALPH MACCHIO

Marv Wolfman’s anecdote is the earliest trace of the Ditko high school rumor, dating to a 1979 exchange during a collaboration on Machine Man, and appearing in print in 2004. I haven’t found any mention in any context of Ditko objecting to Spider-Man, or any controversy about the same before that time, either anecdotally or in print.

Still there is one other figure working at Marvel, who interacted with Steve Ditko personally, who made similar claims.

Screenshot of Ralph Macchio in In Search of Steve Ditko (2007) at 26:10 timestamp

In 2007, Jonathan Ross’ BBC Documentary In Search of Steve Ditko had many testimonials by comics creators and others who talk about Ditko and his mystery [13]. Ross attempted to get Ditko on video only to be stopped at the building and recording his off-screen interactions with Neil Gaiman (who accompanied him). This documentary likewise has testimonials from quite a few comics professionals past and present, albeit no one who knew Ditko personally, and barring Stan Lee, none of them were actual professional colleagues during the 1960s. One section at around 26:00mns to 28:00mns has a testimonial from Marvel Editor Ralph Macchio, intercut with observations by Neil Gaiman, Joe Quesada, and Mark Millar. This section has them cover Ditko’s departure from Marvel and Jonathan Ross covers the three rumors I mentioned above.

Not to be confused with the actor who played The Karate Kid, Ralph Macchio is an editor of Marvel titles from the late’70s to around 2000, retiring in 2011. He began as a Marvel editor in the late 1970s and ’80s, most notably Frank Miller’s Daredevil run and Walt Simonson’s The Mighty Thor. He’d continue and boast another late success when he worked as editor on the Ultimate Marvel comics. Macchio was an editor that Steve Ditko interacted with at Marvel during the 1980s.

In the 2007 documentary with Jonathan Ross, Macchio claims the following:

“I know when I talked to him, a lot has to do with the essence of Peter Parker. That this was a high school character that once you graduated him from high school, he was no longer a character who could make mistakes. So it was time for him[Ditko] to leave, and go on and do other things.”

Ralph Macchio [13]

Macchio’s claim at first glance, seems to corroborate Wolfman’s account that Ditko indeed had misgivings about Peter graduating high school. That said Macchio’s quote is vague and speculative. All he says, that whenever he and Ditko discussed Spider-Man it was about ‘the essence of the character’ rather than anything specific. At no time, does Macchio claim that Ditko objected to Peter aging in the 1960s or that others forced him to age up the character. It doesn’t explain that if Ditko felt that it was time for him to leave after Peter graduated, why he stuck around for 10 issues after ASM#28 (which amounts to another year’s worth of work). And likewise developed his greatest story – The Master Planner Saga – which only ever makes sense with an older post-graduate adult Peter.

In the same documentary and the same section of 26:00-28:00mns, Macchio also claims that Ditko objected to Norman Osborn being the Green Goblin, though this time he doesn’t ascribe those views to any conversation he had with Ditko. Given that Ditko personally debunked this rumor, that certainly is an example of contradiction between Macchio’s narrative and Ditko’s own pronouncements.

This isn’t the only significant encounter between Macchio and Ditko to cover, however.

DITKO’S HYPOTHETICAL RETURN

Ravage 2099 #1 (1992) – Developed by Stan Lee and Paul Ryan, but originally a proposed Lee-Ditko reunion

There was always a longing within Marvel, and among fans, for Steve Ditko to return to Spider-Man and there were multiple attempts to make that happen.

Former Marvel editor Jim Salicrup describes one such attempt in the early 90s, where Ditko was tempted by Stan Lee to work again, initially for Ravage 2099, part of the Marvel 2099 series [15]. Ditko opposed a dystopian future project, favoring something in the mold of the 1960s Star Trek. Stan Lee then proposed a return to Spider-Man for a graphic novel:

Stan then made a pitch to do a Spider-Man graphic novel with Steve (“Think of all the money we’ll make!”), and again got turned down, with Steve saying he could never care about the character as much as he did originally.

Jim Salicrup [15]

Sometime in the mid-90s a second attempt was made and this one apparently did make it further. Ralph Macchio talked about this in a 2002 article for Wizard Magazine:

Macchio, however, admitted having what he considered “serious discussions” with Ditko about doing one final Spidey story, a tale that focused on Peter Parker’s life right after high school.

“I said, ‘Steve, you can do something really different,’” Macchio explained. “‘Go back to where you left off and do that next story that you wanted to do.’

“He was saying, ‘Well, I was thinking about doing Peter Parker…what he did during that summer. What happened after he graduated? What did he do with his life?”

It was a great idea, the editor remembered, noting something happened that caused Ditko to change his mind.

“Unfortunately, it didn’t come off, but we really were getting close with it,” Macchio said. “I didn’t want to press him any further, but he had thought about it. It was quite an exciting thing to have at least gotten him to that point.”

Article: Ditko: The Mystery Behind the Man Article (2002) [16]

There’s a glaring contradiction — while Macchio speculates, in 2007, that Ditko felt Peter shouldn’t have aged, in 2002 he mentions that the proposed return story had Ditko choose the period right after graduation, and not before. It was still in essence a story of Peter Parker older than how he started out when Ditko created him.

Furthermore the 2002 article makes no mention to Ditko’s objections about Peter aging, that innovation entered the narrative in 2007 (after the publication of Wolfman’s interview in 2004). It’s odd that Macchio doesn’t acknowledge Ditko’s Hypothetical Return in the 2007 and note the discrepancy. Perhaps Macchio did relate this anecdote and it didn’t make the final cut, who knows.

Amazon.com: Untold Tales of Spider-Man: The Complete Collection Vol. 1:  9781302931773: Busiek, Kurt, Lee, Paul, Olliffe, Pat, Frenz, Ron: Books

Ironically enough, the reason why Steve Ditko’s longed-for return to Spider-Man in the 90s was torpedoed was because of the nostalgia enterprise of Untold Tales of Spider-Man edited by Tom Brevoort and written by Kurt Busiek [17].

I had covered Untold Tales here. It was a series of new Spider-Man stories set in the period when Peter Parker was still a high school teenager and the commission and development of that project overlapped with Macchio’s overture to Ditko. The story goes that Ditko backed out upon hearing of the existence of Untold Tales of Spider-Man. There was an expectation that he might have had to acknowledge the “new canon” of content developed by Busiek as in continuity to his own “new canon” post graduation story of Peter during summer.

When Tom Brevoort was interviewed in 2020 about this, he affirms this, but as is his wont, he makes a claim that goes beyond what Macchio originally stated in 2002 and 2007:

Jim Thompson:
So one additional Spider-Man question talking about Untold Tales of Spider-Man and that revisionist going back and dwelling on the past, is there any truth to that Ditko was talking about doing something related to Spider-Man and he got mad at Untold Tales of Spider-Man and backed out of it?

Tom Brevoort:
Yes. Although, I don’t know that Untold Tales itself was the reason he backed out of it. Ralph Macchio who was then the Spider-Man editor, long-time Marvel editor, spoke to Ditko a couple of times about reuniting him and Stan for one last Spider-Man book. And Ditko had serious conversations with Ralph about this, deep enough that I know that he was saying, “Well, we’ll set it during his last summer before he graduates high school, because Ditko, his opinions over the years had only grown more intractable and he was really of the opinion that they never should have graduated Spider-Man from high school to begin with because it’s okay for a high school kid to be sort of insecure and to make mistakes and to foul up, but if a grown man does that, he’s not a hero anymore. […] So Ralph sent him some books for reference to showing what was going on and to keep him enmeshed and stuff as they were going to plot this out. As Ralph relayed the conversation to myself and Glenn Greenberg after it all happened, he got on the phone with him and Ditko said something like, “Oh, I have collaborators now, do I?” Talking to the Untold Tale stuff […] But either way, Ditko felt like this stuff was there. It was more of an impediment and between all of that, that project never happened

Tom Brevoort [17]

Brevoort implies or interprets that Ditko was forced to graduate Spider-Man in the 1960s but neither Macchio or Wolfman ever made that claim. Nor does he acknowledge the cognitive dissonance that Ditko objected to Spider-Man graduating but still chose to return by writing about the period after his graduation. There’s obviously a hint of embarrassment in Brevoort’s account. He’s long believed that Spider-Man shouldn’t graduate high school or ever age, and he approached Untold Tales as a proof-of-concept for that viewpoint. And yet this nostalgia enterprise based on what he took as creator intentions directly prevented said creator from returning to the title.

This anecdote typifies how misimpressions of Steve Ditko overpowers the actual nuanced interests of the real man.

GAME OF TELEPHONES

Spider-Man Pointing at Spider-Man | Know Your Meme

When one examines Ditko’s exchanges by Marv Wolfman and Ralph Macchio, and compare that to Tom Brevoort, one can see an effect of “telephone” where one person says something, a second person distorts and adds to what’s said, and so on.

  • On the record, both Wolfman and Macchio state that Ditko felt that Spider-Man should ideally be 16 since that’s the right age to “make mistakes”.

  • What neither claim is that Ditko objected in the 1960s to Peter graduating high school.

  • Tom Brevoort however is on record multiple times claiming that Ditko fought against the decision of Peter graduating high school in the 1960s. A step beyond what Wolfman and Macchio are claiming; clearly an attempt to impose his own agenda on the historical record.

At the end of the day, these rumors from the Marvel office are of consequence because they were weaponized to give legitimacy to company propaganda: namely the view of Spider-Man as a character who shouldn’t age. Since the character did age in the original run on the title and continued to age with no ebb in popularity and sales (the contrary in fact), the evidence by latter-day interpreters who clearly had no involvement in the creation and generation of the character have very little claims of legitimacy, though they do have a considerable amount of power to shape the perceptions of Spider-Man as per their preference. They also have the ability to impart their views and propaganda, however they see fit, and this has consequences in terms of how people respond to the comics in publication.

CONCLUSION

Comics You Should Own - 'From Hell' ⋆ Atomic Junk Shop
From Hell: Prologue. Art by Eddie Campbell. Text by Alan Moore.

Steve Ditko is this Sphinx-like figure in Spider-Man. He never wanted to be defined by Spider-Man. He clearly left the title behind him for his successors to proceed as they will. That action feels like generosity to me.

He expected his work to speak for itself and grow past him. In all his newsletters and pamphlets, across his lifetime, he could have decried the direction of Spider-Man titles after him as a number of comics creators past and present have done on the titles they left behind. And yet he never did. He left Spider-Man and let it go. I think Marvel Editors should likewise let Ditko go, and leave him out of their attempts to reshape the character going forward.

Yet, it’s possible that new information and sources could come to light to resolve this. If and when new information comes to light, I might revisit and update this piece. Maybe we’ll find definite evidence that Ditko did object to Peter aging after all, and Marvel Editors like Brevoort would be like Robert Lees in Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s From Hell: “I made it all up, and it all came true anyway.” It wouldn’t validate their propaganda or their rumor-mongering. Nor would it entirely set aside the fact that during his life, Ditko chose to present a dignified silence about Spider-Man, refusing to use his name as a cudgel on later developments. An example that obviously Marv Wolfman didn’t follow.

In general, Ditko’s main intent was to walk away from Spider-Man and let it continue after him, without any ties and reference to his feelings and attitudes. That much will always hold true. For all that Alan Moore and Steve Ditko disagree, the latter’s sentiments about Spider-Man are not so far from the final balloon of Watchmen.

REFERENCES

  1. Douglas Wolk. All of the Marvels: A Journey to the Ends of the Biggest Story Ever Told. Penguin Press (October 12, 2021). Page 49.

  2. “Steve Ditko Inside His Studio Sanatorium”. Russ Maheras. March 16, 2019.  
    https://popculturesquad.com/2019/03/16/steve-ditko-inside-his-studio-sanatorium/

  3. “Why I Quit S-M”Steve Ditko. Four Page Series #9. 2015.
    The Complete Four-Page Series And Other Essays (Ditko Complains)

  4. https://www.cbr.com/house-of-secrets-marv-wolfman-comics-code-credits/

  5. Eric Diaz. “Why TEEN TITANS Is DC Comics’ Most Important (But Undervalued) Franchise”. Nerdist. Aug 30 2016.
    https://nerdist.com/article/why-teen-titans-dc-comics-most-important-but-undervalued-franchises/

  6. Mark Ginocchio. “Black Cat Flashback: Amazing Spider-Man #194-195” Chasing Amazing. June 4, 2014
    https://www.chasingamazingblog.com/2014/06/04/black-cat-flashback-amazing-spider-man-194-195/

  7. Mark Ginocchio. “Big Box of Comics: Amazing Spider-Man #200” Chasing Amazing. February 4, 2013
    http://www.chasingamazingblog.com/2013/02/04/big-box-of-comics-amazing-spider-man-200/

  8. Brian Cronin. “Did Spider-Man Sleep With a Married Woman?”. CBR. Published Sep 29, 2008
    https://www.cbr.com/did-spider-man-sleep-with-a-married-woman/

  9. Brian Cronin. “Mary Jane Gets a Much More Sympathetic Portrayal…On The Way Out”. CBR. Published Sep 29, 2019
    https://www.cbr.com/spider-man-mary-jane-break-up-divorce-background/

  10. “Comics Journal #80: Marv Wolfman Interview”The Comics Journal #80, published in 1983. qtd. in Titans Tower
    https://www.titanstower.com/comics-journal-80-marv-wolfman-interview/

  11. “Interview with Marv Wolfman”. Comics-Creators on Spider-Man edited byTom Defalco (editor and interviewer). Titan Books. 2004. Print.

  12. https://twitter.com/marvwolfman/status/1247941674040320000

  13. “Jonathan Ross in Search of Steve Ditko”. BBC Four. First broadcast on September 16, 2007. Ralph Macchio Interview Segment.
    26:00mns to 27:48mns
    https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b007zl5r

  14. Sequart TV. “Ann Nocenti talks about Steve Ditko”. Feb 21, 2012
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zvQtwceDILI

  15. Jim Salicrup. “The LEE-DITKO Spider-Man Graphic Novel That Never Was”. The 13th Dimension. Posted By Dan Greenfield on Nov 14, 2018
    https://13thdimension.com/the-lee-ditko-spider-man-graphic-novel-that-never-was/

  16. “Ditko: The Mystery Behind the Man Article (2002)” by Rob Steibel Posted May 2, 2012. Kirby Museum.
    https://kirbymuseum.org/blogs/dynamics/2012/05/02/ditko-the-mystery-behind-the-man-article-2002/

  17. Tom Brevoort, VP of Marvel Interview by Alex Grand & Jim Thompson Created: August 31, 2020. Comic Book Historians.
    https://comicbookhistorians.com/tom-brevoort-vp-of-marvel-interview-by-alex-grand-jim-thompson/

8 thoughts on “Ditko and High School: The History of an Office Rumor

  1. I find this kind of stuff very interesting. I wasn’t aware that people rumored Ditko was against Peter graduating, it seems very silly and akin to the rumors Ditko didn’t want Norman to be the Green Goblin, where you have to ignore the fact Ditko’s plotting allowed for Peter to graduate to begin with. It’s pretty cool seeing the source of this traced down to a game of telephone between various writers and editors, and having an anecdote with Marv Wolfman on Twitter

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Don’t the guys think Stan was the main creator of Spider-Man and that Ditko was the secondary creator? Or that at best they were 50/50 collaborators? That’s essentially what Marvel has been arguing for years.

    So by their logic, it wouldn’t matter if Ditko was against growing Peter up because Stan never cared. Or at best (still going by their logic) Ditko’s opinion isn’t any more valuable than Stan’s.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Legally they are required to pay lip service to Stan(if not they lose rights to the characters since it’s Stan’s status as Marvel employee that gives them ownership) but in practice obviously bringing up Ditko is a tell as to who they truly think is the creator, and alternative source of legitimacy.

      Ditko eschewed publicity, Stan embraced it so much that he strove to say and do whatever the public wanted and desired which is another problem for Marvel. So both men ended up having the same attitude to Spider-Man after them paradoxically enough.

      Like

  3. Your point about Ditko not wanting to be defined by Spider-Man and moving on is also why I don’t think he wanted Spidey to be his “objectivist mouthpiece” like some think. It’s clear he was never interested in that, with Mr. A (and his CCA-friendly equivalent The Question) encompassing his “A is A” views far more than Spider-Man ever could.

    There is one curious take on Ditko, Objectivism, and Spidey that I remember but I’ve never seen talked about: Kirk Kimball (under the pen name Robby Reed) on the now-defunct Dial B for Blog somehow mixes the two ideas together: That Ditko wanted Spider-Man to both stay in high-school, but also grow and become a “flawless hero” in the objectivist mold. Here’s the full take for context, though it’s just one part of a much larger series on Ditko:
    https://web.archive.org/web/20150112050443/http://www.dialbforblog.com/archives/695/ditko6.html

    (Though I must give you a heads-up: Given how the Wayback Machine works, the pages will be slower to load given the amount of images used. There’s also auto-playing audio of Stan Lee interviews, so turn down your volume)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My go-to response about Ditko and Objectivism, is where is the objectivism in Doctor Strange? He worked on that at the same time as Spider-Man and that was a character he generated and created by himself rather than patch up a failed Kirby/Simon creation. He finished his final work on Strange the same month as ASM but nobody does objectivist readings of Strange.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I love Lee and Romita but I also love Ditko, though it’s a shame Ditko quit (and never returned) great that Lee worked with both.

    I did assume, feel that most of the claiming about Ditko felt Peter should have stayed young was of the something he later thought rather than objected to at the time and good to see that confirmed. The milder, yes probably more truthful version of he later on thought that is still an interesting if less dramatic idea.

    I like Wolfman’s run and writing of Peter and do think it’s valid that he shouldn’t age too much though I don’t think him getting married necessarily does do that.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Regarding the B for Blog articles, the idea of Peter should become flawless or at least exemplify only good is interesting although Ditko certainly had Peter being flawed and making mistakes in TASM #25. I don’t think the views are necessarily that divergent, he could have been exemplary and still had problems from being misunderstood. And Lee’s liberalism and Ditko’s individualism could have continued with just emphasizing Peter as contrarian and nonconformist though I can see that could be a struggle.

    Liked by 2 people

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