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Steve Ditko: Violence and Romanticism in the Silver Age

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The introduction of Steve Ditko and Stan Lee’s Amazing Spider-Man radically changed the face of graphic literature. Spider-Man would go on to be one of the most recognized and beloved characters in western culture, and by mixing the individualist Zeitgeist of the mid-twentieth century with the ideals of Romanticism, co-creator Steve Ditko set a standard that would lead to some of the most significant work in comic book history. Unlike any comics creator who had preceded him, Ditko set a clear path for the psychological growth of his character and developed him over more than 38 issues. Applying a particular view of the Byronic hero, Ditko created a sort of ‘Romantic epic’ that continued in his post-Spider-Man works with the Blue Beetle, the Question and Mr A. Ditko set himself further apart from his contemporaries by developing a complicated view of violence that challenged the Comics Code Authority. The ‘right to kill’ that Steve Ditko invented for superheroes was not intended to bring the anti-hero to comics; rather, Ditko utilized it to demonstrate the moral authority of heroes against villains that, in his view, forfeited their lives. By pairing this new right to kill with psychologically complex protagonists, Ditko’s work reflected the anxieties of 1960s western culture and brought about a paradigm shift in Code era comics. This shift would lead to even more challenging works from creators like Alan Moore and Frank Miller and the eventual abandonment of the Code.
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Keywords: Ditko; Mr A; Objectivism; Silver Age; Spider-Man; violence

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Indiana University–Purdue University Fort Wayne

Publication date: October 1, 2014

More about this publication?
  • Studies in Comics aims to describe the nature of comics, to identify the medium as a distinct art form, and to address the medium's formal properties. The emerging field of comics studies is a model for interdisciplinary research and in this spirit this journal welcomes all approaches. This journal is international in scope and provides an inclusive space in which researchers from all backgrounds can present new thinking on comics to a global audience. The journal will promote the close analysis of the comics page/text using a variety of methodologies. Its specific goal, however, is to expand the relationship between comics and theory and to articulate a "theory of comics". The journal also includes reviews of new comics, criticism, and exhibitions, and a dedicated online space for cutting-edge and emergent creative work.

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