The other day, I opened up Instagram for some early-morning browsing.
I’m really terrible at waking up, and spending some time slowly waking up with my phone in hand generally makes it easier for me.
I don’t typically see a lot of posts from Marvel, for whatever reason, but that day, I did.
It struck me as a little odd, because Spider-Man came out last year, the next one isn’t due out until next July, and right now, Marvel is in the middle of promoting Ant-Man and the Wasp. So what was Marvel’s original bug-themed hero doing in such an epic and poignant feature?
As it turns out, that photo (which was posted on the Marvel Studios account as well) was a touching and simple tribute to Steve Ditko, who passed away on June 29.
If you’re unfamiliar with the name (which I certainly was), Steve Ditko was the man who worked with Stan Lee, our favourite cameo master, to develop Spider-Man. After Jack Kirby drew up the original sketches with Stan, Steve took over designing the character as we know him today.
Steve’s co-creation made his debut in Amazing Fantasy #15 in August 1962, and set the stage for Marvel’s approach to superheroes from then on.
Because the trademark of Steve’s art style is his ability to bring out the humanity of the heroes he worked on. Sure, they were superhuman, or even supernatural—but his work with Stan always drew out what made them human beneath all that.
That’s a style that permeates the entire MCU as we know it.
The start of modern superheroes
Spider-Man was arguably the starting point of the superhero film revival that we live in. The modern movement toward realistic superhero movies started in part with Sony’s adaptation of Steve and Stan’s teenage hero in 2002.
It did an adequate job of portraying some of the aspects of the original Spider-Man; he had a normal job, he had normal interests, and he had normal human limitations. Mostly emotional ones, because he had superhuman strength, but you know what I mean.
However, even though I wasn’t a hardcore Spidey fan, it always felt to me like it was missing something.
Several sequels and reboots would follow over the years, with all of them missing the mark for many Marvel fans, myself included. One had a great Peter Parker, the other had a great Spider-Man—but neither had both.
It wasn’t until a recent deal between Sony and Marvel to reboot Spidey again that we finally got a chance to see the character done right.
How Spidey came home
I actually loved Spider-Man: Homecoming for several reasons.
One, the title was a beautifully written nod to the fact that Spider-Man, whose film rights had been sold off in 1999, had finally come back to Marvel.
Two, it created a version of the character who could actually be both an amazing Spider-Man and a perfectly normal Peter Parker.
And three, it did it all with Marvel’s signature flair.
That, I think, is what really brought the friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man home. It brought him back to the humanity that Steve Ditko had brought to life 56 years ago, and it brought him back to the roots of what started superheroes as we know them.
Sure, maybe I didn’t know where that humanity in superhumans had started. Maybe that’s what Steve wanted.
But I know for sure that the work he started all those years ago doesn’t end here.
Thank you, Steve. You stayed out of the limelight all these years, so few of the newer Marvel fans knew the impact you had. But rest assured, we won’t forget you or what you’ve done for all of us.