This is part two of a four-part Silver Soapbox series entitled “Ditko Shrugged” that explores the influence of Ayn Rand’s Objectivism on Steve Ditko’s life and work—particularly on the Creeper, a character he created for DC in 1968.
In the summer of 1968, Steve Ditko went to work for DC Comics in a much-hyped triumph for the company. Here was a man who had not only co-created Spider-Man for Marvel, but who had become a fan-favorite while working on the character. He placed first in a 1967 Comics Awards Poll over such top-name illustrators as Jack Kirby, Wally Wood, Frank Frazetta, and Al Williamson. (Kirby placed second, 16 votes behind Ditko.)
Big things were expected from Ditko at DC. Additionally, shortly after signing on with the company, he helped bring the then editor-in-chief of Charlton Comics, Dick Giordano, to DC as well. In an interview published inComic Book Artist #1 in 1998, Giordano told Jon Cooke how he became an editor at DC 30 years earlier:
It was Steve Ditko, believe it or not, who made the pitch from DC. Steve and I remained friends throughout those times and I used to go down to a New York office that Charlton rented out. . . . One time, I went to the city and Steve came over. He had been doing the Question, Captain Atom, and Blue Beetle for me at Charlton, and he had just left . . . to do work over at DC. He was there discussing Beware the Creeper and The Hawk and the Dove. . . .
Anyway, Steve Ditko came up and told me that the people at DC were interested in talking to me about taking an editorial position. He was really the catalyst for that move.
After taking the job, Giordano became Ditko’s editor on both series. What’s interesting about Giordano’s statement is that he says that he and Ditko “remained friends throughout those times” —indicating, perhaps, that he and Ditko had not necessarily remained friends after that.
Ditko started at DC in the late spring of ‘68 with big things expected of him, but he was gone before the end of that year. As a consequence, both of the series he created fizzled out and were quickly canceled. As I mentioned earlier (in part one), after that experience, Ditko does not seem to have ever again worked with or for Giordano in any capacity.
Appropriate to the year famous for the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, as well as the Chicago Seven and the Democratic National Convention, the first sign of trouble for Ditko back in 1968 was on The Hawk and the Dove.
For his second series at DC, The Hawk and the Dove, Ditko was teamed with a man whom he supposedly considered a “hippy writer”—Steve Skeates. In the interview with Jon Cooke, Giordano explained the situation he found after he arrived at DC:
I came in as editor right in the middle of “The Hawk and the Dove” story in Showcase. Steve Ditko already had the rough plot worked out. Steve Skeates worked from that plot and came up with a script. TheShowcase was okay because Steve [Skeates] followed basically what Ditko wanted him to do. But from that point on it was terrible for them both.
Giordano then went on to explain a little of the tension between Ditko and Skeates, though it would appear his memory was faulty on some of the exact details:
I’m not sure where Skeates fit in there, but I think he leaned towards Hank [the Hawk].
Ditko would pretty much eliminate whatever was in Steve Skeates’ scripts that he didn’t feel belonged there. At that point, I think that Ditko’s agenda was more the furthering of his philosophical views than writing and drawing entertaining stories.
Giordano is correct that Ditko was interested in furthering his philosophical views, but he misremembered “where Skeates fit in there”—just as he misremembered elsewhere in the interview about when Ditko had worked for him at Charlton in relation to when he began working at DC.
Skeates’s own political inclinations are evident in the Teen Titans issues he wrote (#28-32) shortly after he stopped working on The Hawk and the Dove. In those issues, the Titans are held up as paragons of the antiestablishment movement—in one case, against their m
entors in the Justice League who represent the Establishment.
Regarding his working relationship with Ditko, Skeates has related a story about the only other time they had worked together—on the Question story in Blue Beetle #4, which was the last work both did for Charlton before moving to DC and The Hawk and the Dove:
Ditko and I very rarely had any personal contact at all! Still, a rather interesting happenstance did occur when I scripted my one and only Question episode (the one I wrote under the pen-name Warren Savin—”Kill Vic Sage!” it was called!)! I did a bit of dialogue in which The Question says to the villain of the piece “Now listen, my friend . . .” and therefore received a six-page letter from Steve detailing why the Question would never call a criminal “friend,” and even if he meant it sarcastically, why sarcasm was somehow beneath The Question!
This was a rather daunting and even rather scary letter for someone who was essentially still a “green kid” writingwise to receive, to say the least! The offending “friend” reference was of course removed from the finished product. . . .
However, after moving to DC and again being teamed with Ditko, Skeates stood up for his own views regarding the direction the series should take. Apparently, he was not only opposed to Ditko’s Objectivist leanings, but also to what he considered the more privileged position that Ditko gave to the Hawk’s right wing reactionary politics.
Hank and Don Hall (the Hawk and the Dove, respectively) represented two views of the use of violence to solve problems—Hank as a reactionary warmonger and Don as a radical pacifist. The language used to describe the characters on the cover of Showcase #75 supports Skeates’s opinion that the Hawk is presented more favorably.
The very concept of The Hawk and the Dove lends itself to a deconstructive reading—an analysis of binary oppositions in which one of the two elements is “privileged” over the other. Ditko probably wrote the text for his cover illustration, and he chose words that are “privileged” through the particular connotations they carry.
The Hawk is “tough” and a “challenger”—words that refer to traits that are considered favorable in American culture. Conversely, the Dove is “tame” and “challenged”—words that carry the connotations of weakness and a sense of being handicapped.
Essentially, the privileged position of the Hawk’s descriptors entered American culture from two linked sources:
- The seventeenth century New England Calvinists who continue to greatly influence all of American culture due to the seminal effect their sermons and other religious tracts had in the shaping of the American identity.
Their writings were practically the only things published in North America during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Thus, they were widely distributed and read throughout all thirteen colonies, and they had an incredible impact on the shaping of American culture.
The New England Calvinists expressed their preference for the Old Testament’s aggressive attitude toward sinners over the New Testament’s pacific attitude—a preference that persists throughout contemporary US popular culture.
- The rugged and individualistic frontiersmen who also helped establish American ideology as they expanded westward across the continent—taming the wilderness, the land, and the “savage” Native Americans as they did so.
As the writer of the dialog and narrative captions, Skeates should have been able to use language that bolstered the Dove’s stance if he felt the story needed it. Admittedly, though, given the privileged position in American culture of words evoking active force over passive peace, it’s difficult to find such words—especially for a superhero comic book, which has the notion of “active force” as one of its basic conventions.
Ditko was obviously going for alliteration on his cover. However, for the interior captions, Skeates could have described the Dove as disciplined rather than tame. It certainly would raise the Dove’s statu
re if readers thought of him as a “tranquil and disciplined” man (akin to a sensei) rather than as a “tamed pacifist.”
However, Ditko had the final say on script approval—at least on the first two stories—and he probably would have rejected “disciplined” as a descriptor because he would equate that trait more with a disciplined, rational mind such as an Objectivist should strive to attain.
Of course, choosing privileged words to describe the Dove was only half the problem. Ditko also controlled a lot with his visuals. For instance, the body positions of the characters on the cover for Showcase #75 indicate that Ditko did indeed favor the Hawk over the Dove—perhaps subconsciously, but I doubt it.
The Hawk’s shoulders are back and his head is held high. In contrast, the Dove’s shoulders are slouched and his gaze is downward in a submissive gesture. Additionally, the Hawk’s right hand (the strong hand for most people, and a symbol here for right-wing politics) is erect in a fist that allows him to either block a blow toward his head or use it offensively to deliver a blow. Conversely, the Dove’s left hand (the weak hand for most, and a symbol here for left-wing politics) is flaccid and can only provide passive protection of his genitals.
However, in light of the larger story he wanted to tell within the entire series, Ditko actually needed the ideological positions of the Hawk and the Dove to be equally off-center. He should have been in favor of both more egalitarian language from Skeates and more egalitarian body postures in his own illustrations.
The entirety of Ditko’s concept for the series reveals that his own ideological interest was not in privileging the Hawk’s position over the Dove’s since the Hawk is not the Objectivist in the story. Instead, the Randian character was the father, Judge Irwin Hall, who denounced the irrational views of both of his sons.
Ditko clearly intended Judge Hall to be a character created in the mold of such Rand protagonists as Howard Roark (The Fountainhead) and John Galt (Atlas Shrugged). Such characters are the epitome of Objectivism, and Rand presented them as two of the few men who are fit to judge others due to their own unquestionable morality and adherence to Aristotelian logic.
(This notion of the adherence to Aristotelian logic is the reason Ditko gave The Question’s supporting character, Professor Roder, the first name “Aristotle”).
In this regard, Judge Hall is also similar to Ditko’s Mr. A as the only character in The Hawk and the Dove who adheres to the Apollonian principles of rationalism and individuation (in contrast to the Dionysian values of emotionalism and assimilation).
Rand championed Apollonian principles, and she played them against what she considered the “mobocracy” of a democracy that exalts the Common Man and the emotional foundation of socialism/communism. She viewed both the “democratic mob” and socialism as Dionysian-based concepts that undermine the work of rational individuals in a capitalist society.
These Randian views are respectively translated in The Hawk and the Dove as the populist reactionary stance of the Hawk and the socialist activism of the Dove. As a “hippy” (especially in Ditko’s eyes), Skeates favored the Dove’s position on the Vietnam War (and towards violence in general).
Thus, due to this conflict with Skeates, Ditko only plotted the first two Hawk and Dove stories (Showcase #75 and The Hawk and the Dove #1). He then left the series after completing the pencils for the second issue, which was fully written by Skeates (including the plot).
Giordano must have supported Skeates’s position since Ditko was cut out of the plotting process and Skeates was allowed to take control of the direction the series would follow. Thus, in accordance with his principles as an Objectivist, Ditko was obligated to leave the series he had created. However, his departure from The Hawk and the Dove may have less to do over his conflict with Skeates and more to do with problems he was having on Beware the Creeper.
Of course, this was not the first time that Ditko had walked away from a series due to creative differences with the editor and writer. The first, of course, was when he walked out on Spider-Man due to creative differences with Stan Lee—who served as both Ditko’s editor and writer at the time.
Steve Ditko walked away from his most famous creation (or co-creation) when he quit working on Amazing Spider-Man at Marvel after issue #38. However, no one seems to know why Ditko quit—or at least they’re not willing to state it publicly for the record. In an interview promoting one of the recent Spider-Man films, Stan Lee was asked why Ditko left. Lee’s response was that he honestly doesn’t know but wished he did.
What has been documented, though, is that Ditko disagreed with Lee about the unmasking of the Green Goblin that was to occur in issue #39. Lee decided to reveal the identity of Spider-Man’s arch nemesis as Norman Osborn, and Ditko vehemently disagreed with that decision. Either he had another supporting character in mind, or he wanted it to be an unknown character who had not previously appeared in the series.
Regardless, the question that neither Lee nor Ditko has ever been willing to address is why this disagreement over the Green Goblin’s identity would be enough to cause Ditko to leave. The answer undoubtedly lies in Ditko’s Objectivist views—not only in that he would choose to walk away rather than give in to demands that he disagreed with, but because he probably created Norman Osborn to be a Randian Objectivist.
The Green Goblin first appeared in Amazing Spider-Man #14, but Norman Osborn wasn’t introduced in the series until issue #37 (Ditko’s penultimate issue). Based on Osborn’s portrayal in issues #37 and #38 as well as Ditko’s use of Rand’s concepts after leaving Spider-Man, it appears Ditko wanted Osborn to be an analogue of Rand’s Hank Rearden from Atlas Shrugged—a wealthy industrialist who epitomizes Objectivism and the righteousness of capitalism.
If Ditko meant for Spider-Man to grow into the epitome of the Randian hero typified by John Galt, the character would need to be tutored by a father figure who exemplified Objectivist principles. Ditko probably intended for Norman Osborn to fulfill that role, especially in light of the deaths of Peter Parker’s actual father and Uncle Ben.
Thus, Ditko would have been greatly offended by Stan Lee’s unilateral decision to reveal the Green Goblin to be the character that Ditko had created to be the teen-aged Spider-Man’s Objectivist father figure and mentor—and so Ditko left.
For the first three issues of Beware the Creeper, Denny O’Neil was listed in the credits as “Sergius O’Shaugnessy.” In the first issue, he was simply credited for “dialogue.” However, the second issue was “written by: Sergius O’Shaugnessy”—Ditko was no longer credited for plotting the stories, only for having “designed” the character.
Thus, it appears that Ditko lost his plotting duties on Beware the Creeper about seven months before he left DC. This timeline seems to indicate that losing the plotting duties on The Hawk and the Dove and Beware the Creeper had little or nothing to do with why he left either series.
He most likely lost his right to plot both series once Giordano became the editor—perhaps as an answer to the problem that Skeates had with working with Ditko on The Hawk and the Dove. One of the first things Giordano must have done was take all plotting duties away from Ditko as a way of preventing Objectivism as the driving force behind the stories.
Before Giordano started, Ditko had managed to get some minor aspects of Objectivism into his first Creeper story in Showcase #73—which had dialogue scripted by Don Segall (with Ditko’s direction and final approval). On the second page of that initial story, a liberal university professor named Dr. Clayton Wetley (a name that implies he’s as malleable as “wet clay”) was a guest on Jack Ryder’s television show.
Dr. Wetley is described as a “crusader against all kinds of violence” (much like Don “the Dove” Hall would be in Ditko’s next series). The entirety of Ryder’s interview with Wetley isn’t shown, but it ends with the professor declaring, “That’s why I say, Mr. Ryder, that even the police are a symbol of violence. They, too, use force for their purposes!”
Ryder’s response is sarcastic, “You’ve got to be kidding, Dr. Wetley! That’s like accusing doctors of liking diseases!” This rebuttal is enough to cost Ryder his job. The professor is a good friend of the show’s sponsor, who immediately demands that Ryder be fired—which the show’s producer quickly acts upon.
Ryder leaves with a sarcastic barb directed toward the liberals, “Well, I can always collect unemployment!” (Ditko had already established in a Mr. A story that people who collect welfare acquire their money “dishonestly”—keeping in line with Rand’s view of socialism). As Ryder heads out, the professor demands an apology to which Ryder replies, “Maybe you’ll get it—but it won’t be from me! Goodbye, Dr. Crackpot!”
Through his dialog, this scene reveals Ryder as a political conservative (which all Objectivists are). Additionally, it probably indicates that Ryder was intended to be a Randian character somewhat in the vein of Rex Graine and Vic Sage (Mr. A and the Question, respectively).
However, unlike Graine and Sage, Ryder is brash and sarcastic rather than methodical and straightforward. In the six-page letter Ditko wrote to him, Skeates noted that Ditko believed “sarcasm was somehow beneath The Question!” It appears it was not beneath the Creeper—making him a different kind of Ditko character on at least that one point.
Still, there is Objectivism to be found in the Creeper. In The Hawk and the Dove, Ditko created two Dionysian characters whose irrational philosophies were mediated by their Apollonian father, Judge Irwin Hall. With the Creeper, however, the conflict between the Apollonian and the Dionysian focuses on Jack Ryder and his alter ego, the Creeper.
Ryder is an individualist who speaks his mind and who won’t consent to an apology that he believes is unwarranted. Furthermore, as an investigator (his new job after being fired as a TV host), he’s a character who must observe objective facts and reason his way to a rational conclusion. These are his Apollonian qualities. However, his brash and sarcastic personality hints that he also has the Dionysian aspect of impetuous emotionalism.
Conversely, with his green hair, shaggy red cape, and yellow skin, the Creeper looks like an individual who has been caught up in the madness of Dionysian revelry. Additionally, when he assumes the identity of the Creeper, Ryder acts the part by pretending to be a supernatural being who leaves chaos in his wake. In contrast to this affected Dionysian persona, Ryder’s Apollonian nature is evident in the Creeper’s thoughts and actions.
Essentially, Ditko created a character whose rational nature keeps his emotional aspects mostly in check. Ryder is able to delve into the Dionysian, however, when he assumes the role of the Creeper while he maintains actual control through his investigative intellect.
A further indication of Ditko’s intent on having the Creeper’s stories tied to his Objectivist beliefs comes from a story that Giordano related in his interview with Jon Cooke:
I remember an incident (and this really wasn’t indicative of anything other than where he [Ditko] was as opposed to where I was): Denny had written a script ofBeware the Creeper and he wrote something about this character who was described as an “ex-criminal.” Steve jotted down a very bold note on the script that “there was no such thing as an ‘ex-criminal.’ Once you’ve committed a crime, you’re a criminal for life.”
First of all, that wasn’t in the copy. There was no need for him to take that attitude, to take that harsh a view over what Denny had written. Basically what it got down to at that point was that Denny and Steve couldn’t work together any more. It had nothing to do with me and I could no longer be the referee. Steve quit the book shortly thereafter.
This incident between Ditko and O’Neil is essentially the same problem that Skeates had experienced when he scripted the Question story for Blue Beetle #4. Ditko’s adherence to Objectivism permeates every aspect of his life—from the types of stories and characters he’s willing to work on to the way he handles his business affairs to the way he critiques the scripts of the writers he works with.
Giordano also notes that this incident occurred “shortly” before Ditko left Beware the Creeper (and, thus, DC), and it was “at that point . . . that Denny and Steve couldn’t work together any more.” This chronology would mean that the script was for either the fifth or sixth issue since Ditko is credited for the pencils on #5 and supposedly turned in the first eleven pages for #6.
What Giordano doesn’t indicate in the interview was why Ditko left the series (and the company) approximately three months after he had already left The Hawk and the Dove. Taking this chronology into account, it appears that whatever caused Ditko to leave occurred while he was working on Beware the Creeper #5, which has a cover date of February 1969. However, The Hawk and the Dove #3, which Ditko did not work on, has a cover date of January 1969.
This apparent contradiction of cover dates seems to confuse the problem until we look closely at the actual illustrations for Beware the Creeper&
nbsp;#5. Despite being listed in the credits as the penciler for the issue, hardly any of the panels in the story appear as if Ditko drew them.
Additionally, this was the first issue in which Ditko did not ink his own pencils. Instead, they were inked by Mike Peppe—most of whose known comic book credits are limited to his inking of Alex Toth’s pencils in the early 1950s. Thus, Ditko’s actual last issue of Beware the Creeper appears to have been issue #4, which is cover dated December 1968—making it more in line with the November 1968 issue of The Hawk and the Dove#2 that was his final issue of that series.
These dates also fall more in line with the October 1968 and November 1968 cover dates for his work on Mysterious Suspense #1 and Blue Beetle #5 at Charlton. Something had obviously happened while Ditko was working on Beware the Creeper #5 that caused his relationship with Giordano to sour and forced him into a decision to leave DC. A close examination of that particular issue seems to provide the answer.
Part three of “Ditko Shrugged” takes a closer look at the pages of Beware the Creeper #5, and the strong possibility that Ditko actually did very little work on them.