Steve Ditko has developed a reputation within the comic book community as a bit of a curmudgeon, but nobody–fan, professional, or otherwise–can deny his immense artistic talent. Few books demonstrate his remarkable range better than The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1, an early product of his tumultuous collaboration with legendary scribe Stan Lee. The cover story, “The Sinister Six,” packs action, melodrama, suspense, humor, and shameless self-promotion into forty-one pulse-pounding pages–and Ditko’s elegant illustrations perfectly convey every emotion.
Consider Doc Ock, the fiendish mastermind that brings together Spidey’s deadliest foes. Drawn by Ditko as a weird, lurking figure, always hunched over a computer monitor, his four mechanical arms busily manipulating the mysterious machinery in the background, this diabolical doctor absolutely oozes menace (the fact that his face resembles a rotten jack-o’-lantern doesn’t hurt)–which helps build tension toward the inevitable showdown.
Consider the spectacular splash pages Ditko devotes to each of ol’ Web-Head’s enemies–how the super-powered teen’s body bends and contorts around fists, lightning bolts, metallic tentacles, and even ravenous leopards, his insidious opponents scowling and snarling all the while.
And consider our web-swinging hero’s breathtakingly expressive body language–how his shoulders slump as he relives the pain of Uncle Ben’s death on a lonely rooftop, how he desperately hugs that flagpole when his powers fail him for the first time, how he springs triumphantly to his feet when his strength and agility return in his hour of greatest need. The movies frequently contrive situations in which Spidey must remove his mask so that the performer can more easily communicate his emotions… but Ditko never treated it as an obstacle.
And that is nothing short of amazing.
[Originally written July 17, 2012.]