Sunday, February 15, 2015


A few weeks back, in my post on SPIDER-MAN: BLUE, I mentioned that I preferred John Romita's wall-crawler over Steve Ditko's. Here's why:

To most fans -- especially the historians among them -- there is no contest. Steve Ditko created or co-created Spider-Man, Aunt May, J. Jonah Jameson, Gwen Stacy, Flash Thompson, Dr. Octopus, the Green Goblin, Electro, the Lizard, the Vulture, Kraven, Mysterio, and so many more. Ditko gave us the "Master Planner" saga, and Spider-Man lifting the rubble off his shoulders. Without Steve Ditko, Spider-Man, his allies and his enemies would not exist.

But without John Romita, those same characters would not exist as we know them now. Romita's lasting contributions as far as original characters is much smaller than Ditko's, but he did give us Joe Robertson and the Kingpin, at the very least. Mostly, however, he re-used Ditko's villains on a regular basis.

But, all that said -- and taking Ditko's contributions for granted as the starting point -- I much prefer John Romita on Spider-Man. Romita's artwork is far more attractive to me. All Ditko's characters are very... quirky looking, to say the least. Ditko's Spider-Man lives in a dirty, mundane world. Romita's inhabits a glamorous universe where every man is dashing and handsome, and every woman is beautiful and sexy. It may not be as "realistic" as Ditko's interpretation, but it's a lot more pleasing to look at.

Romita may never have had sole plotting duties on AMAZING SPIDER-MAN like Ditko did, but his input is apparent. Under Romita, Peter Parker becomes more likeable. But more importantly, so do Gwen Stacy, Jonah Jameson, and Flash Thompson. They're no longer a group of unredeemable jerks, in place specifically to torment Peter. They're fleshed out into three-dimensional characters, and even the most unlikeable among them show occasional flashes of benevolence. Romita's Jameson isn't just a blustery blowhard; he's a crusader for civil rights and a loving father. Romita's Flash isn't just the "BMOC" jock A-hole; he's a young man who enlists in the army to support his country's war effort.

Romita also gave us the Peter-Gwen-Mary Jane triangle -- though really, it wasn't a triangle for all that long. Peter pretty quickly settled on Gwen. But nonetheless, these soap operatics, while definitely an element under Ditko, really took hold under Romita. Ditko's Peter Parker was generally a mopey sad-sack. Romita's was plagued by angst, but he was far more chipper about it in both his identities. Romita's contributions to the dramatic tone of the Spider-Man series would continue to define the character for years to come.

And, getting into more personal preferences, Ditko really only ever gave us one extended storyline -- the afore-mentioned "Master Planner". Otherwise most of his issues were single-story "done-in-one" installments, with only sub-plots carrying over from issue to issue. Under Romita, Spider-Man's adventures truly became serialized, with almost every issue leading into the next. There was scarcely time for a reader to catch his breath, as a new adventure was just around each corner. The "Stone Tablet" storyline lasted for a whopping ten issues, counting the two-part finale featuring the Lizard! Romita was well ahead of his time when it came to such epics, which would later become the standard for superhero comics.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that Romita refined Spider-Man. Ditko created him and his cast and definitely started the ball rolling, but left the various pieces spread about, waiting to be hammered into place. Romita created the definitive visual interpretations of Spider-Man and his supporting cast which Marvel artists would follow for decades. But moreso, he created the mood, the atmosphere, and the storytelling style that made Spider-Man Marvel's flagship character.

So -- no disrespect meant to Steve Ditko. Like I said, without him we wouldn't have Spider-Man. But without John Romita, we wouldn't have Spider-Man.


  1. Although I like Ditko as well, I enjoyed the early Romita era as a fun time for Spider-Man. The cast was made, Peter had friends and socializing, etc.
    I remember at the turn of the century, I was under a major ER fanboysim (or specifically, an Anthony Edwards fanboysim) while reading the Romita Sr. Spider-Man. Knowing how Stan Lee had issues about JRSr. transforming Peter from the skinny nerd to the hunk, I exemplified it as JRSr. transformed Peter Parker from Anthony Edwards (mind you, the hirsute 1980s SURE THING/GOTCHA/REVENGE OF THE NERDS Edwards) into George Clooney.

  2. I think it's fine to prefer Romita's art, but there's no question but that there is no Spider-Man without Steve Ditko. Romita's comics feel like they're written by Lee, or at least have an assist from him, whereas it's night and day comparing Ditko's Spider-Man to anything Lee was scripting at the time.

    That said, I do like Romita's art. I feel sort of the same way about John Buscema when he'd take over for Kirby projects. While Kirby was a better idea guy, Buscema's art just looks better to me.

  3. Well, like I said, I understand that we wouldn't have the character without Ditko, but a lot of what appeals to me about Spider-Man comes from Romita. Just as an example, tons of people have complained over the years that it was absurd for Spider-Man to marry a supermodel; Spider-Man should never marry a supermodel. But, setting aside the fact that Mary Jane, while many things, was never actually a "super"model (at least not for long), I would rebut by saying that Ditko's Spider-Man would/could/should never marry a supermodel. Romita's Spider-Man absolutely could!

    I guess I just like Romita's more outgoing Peter Parker better than Ditko's introverted version.

    As far as Lee writing the stories, I do think it's evident in his scripting, but I believe Romita did a lot of plotting. I base this mainly on a panel I attended some years ago featuring Romitas Senior and Junior Romita explained that, while sometimes he and Stan would hash out the month's plot verbally together, other times he would simply get a memo from Stan saying something like, "This month's villain is the Rhino" and Romita would have carte blanche from there to tell the story.

    Plus, the soap opera aspect of the stories seems highly influenced by the romance comics Romita used to draw, and for the most part, Romita used a lot more down-to-earth villains than did Ditko. Aside from the Lizard, I'm hard pressed to think of a villain from a Romita issue who had actual inherent superpowers. Meanwhile, Ditko gave us Sandman, Electro, and Molten Man, none of whom Romita ever touched. If Stan was the driving force, one might expect him to bring these guys back. But instead, during the Romita era, the majority of the villains used equipment for their powers, and the few opponents with actual super-abilities (the afore-mentioned Lizard notwithstanding) were borrowed from other characters' books, like Medusa and Quicksilver.

    By the way, I don't want to come off as one of those nuts who believes Stan Lee did nothing. I love Stan Lee. Without him, the Ditko, Kirby, and Romita comics would not be anywhere near as popular as they are now. But I do believe that he was mainly a scripter on books like SPIDER-MAN and FANTASTIC FOUR, letting artists handle the plotting most of the time.

    (I just looked at the covers of ASM 1 - 100 as I composed this comment and I have such a yearning to go read all those issues! There are certain runs I can read over and over and over again, and that's one of them.)

    1. Matt: the soap opera aspect of the stories seems highly influenced by the romance comics Romita used to draw

      I love how they always managed to do it just right, with Stan taking the reader away from the scene and to more superheroic stuff with kind-of-apologizing note of "Before the reader thinks he has bought a Harlequin novel" and the said reader, me, going "Oh-a, I was reading that!"

    2. Hmm... Electro was in an issue of Romita's AMAZING. Somehow I completely forgot. I still think my point stands, though.

      Teemu -- I agree, Stan's banter was great. I don't think it ever worked better than in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN.

  4. The difference between the two is not only graphical it's a complete shift in direction. Suddenly Peter Parker is no longer the-from his peers- unacceptable, somewhat arrogant egghead with a strong tendency to smart-aleckeiness, he is suddenly an understanding intelligent guy who all the girls desire and who's intelligence they respect and admire.
    The graphics become much more schooled with Romita but lose significantly on imagination. No two Ditko fight-scenes look the same as Spiderman literally fights with his entire body instead of merely fighting with his fists. Ditko's Spidey/ Parker is clearly an immature teen while Romita´s is a sober, rather mature young man.
    I firmly believe that Spiderman would never have become a success without Ditkos's creativity and quirkiness because Stan Lee clearly understood that these were just the kind of characteristics that needed to be breathed into a young, immature and often quirky character.
    Then there are the villains Ditko created, many of whom later would supply other titles (such as the Hulk) with exciting adversaries.
    Romita may have been the better technician, but Ditko was far more creative than he and far more an Artist.
    Lastly, compare any artists version of Doctor Strange to Ditko's and you'll see the hugely significant drop in artistic ideas compared to Ditko's magnificent original version and work.

    1. Yeah, that's sort of what I'm getting at here. I like Romit's artwork better, but I absolutely like the shift in direction as well. I like the changes in most every character's personality as well as their appearances.

      I will agree with you that Romita was less creative on fights, though -- but it's a trade-off I can accept. (That said, I've always liked that Romita's Spider-Man tends to "open hand slap" non-superpowered bad guys rather than outright punching them. It's a good visualization for his holding back his super-strength.)

      I have to admit that I've never read Ditko's Doctor Strange stories, though I've heard good things about them. Perhaps someday...!