Thursday, July 19, 2018

Friendly Neighborhood

Steve Ditko has gone to that big bullpen in the sky. If you're not familiar with Mister Ditko, this is the guy who drew Spider Man the first time. As with comic book origins, there is plenty of discussion about who did what for how much or how long and where did that web-slinging thing come from? Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and many others have a spoon in the pot that was stirred so long ago, a time in which comics were generated primarily by putting an adjective or noun before "Man." While so many men have come and gone, this one has stuck around. Like a spider, get it?
And what made Steve Ditko's "Man" so different? He didn't show up as a muscle-bound caped crusader. He wasn't a millionaire or an alien from another world. He was a weedy nerd of a teenager from Queens who had the misfortune of being bitten by a radioactive spider. He did share that absent parent thing that so many of our heroes endure, but the idea of having an adolescent navigating the hallways of a high school while intermittently battling super-powered bad guys made Peter Parker, Spidey's secret identity, relatable to a nerd who was instantly recognizable as such by his obsession with comic books.
Thank you for that, Steve. For a period of time, becoming Spider Man was a career goal for me. The idea that "amazing" would show up anywhere near my name was encouraging. The fact that I was unable to bench press a car or cling to vertical surfaces limited me to a certain degree, but having a mom who could sew did allow me to gain the use of a serviceable Spidey Suit. I did not use it for fighting crime as much as a costume for our Pep Band's super-hero night, the theme that I suggested and fought for until the rest of the band nerds caved. This was in the late seventies, before the cinematic renaissance of Marvel comics, when my costume easily outstripped the clunky version seen ever-so-briefly on NBC TV.
But reality was what really kept me from swinging from a web, and the cheesy TV show kept me going back to the comics, where fantastic things were more possible and occurred without visible wires. It would be another twenty years before Hollywood got it right. By then, I was buying Spider Man comics "for my son." Even my son was clever enough, at ten years old, to figure out that Spider Man 3 was an embarrassment. It would be another six years before Iron Man swooped into cinemas and stole my son's obsession.
Which is fine, for him. I will always remember that willowy costumed figure imagined by Steve Ditko, who helped Spidey stomp on the Terra. Aloha, Steve. Thanks for the memories.

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