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.