by Sam Berlin, contributor
This month’s issue of The Phantom Stranger advertised a shocking guest star to be revealed on the inside of the issue’s fold-out cover, but the real surprise was an illustrated cameo by Steve Ditko.
Ditko is best known for co-creating Spider-Man at Marvel comics in 1962, where he also designed the character Doctor Strange before moving to Charlton Comics in 1966 and DC in 1968. Unlike Stan Lee, Steve Ditko has declined the publicity that accompanies these characters. He rarely does interviews, does not talk at convention panels and never appears in film or cartoon adaptations of the comics he worked on. Despite his lack of self-promotion, Ditko maintains a devoted fan following who continue to support the Ditkomania fanzine, now on its 90th issue.
The touted character appearance in Phantom Stranger #7 was actually The Question, formerly a masked reporter and vigilante detective philosopher who has been re-interpreted as an unidentified mythological villain (likely candidates include Alexander the Great, Prometheus and Satan) cursed to walk the earth forever with no face or memory. The Phantom Stranger also encounters Jack Ryder, an arrogant reporter whose madcap antihero alter ego The Creeper has yet to appear in the “new” DC continuity.
The Stranger is currently searching for his abducted family, and meets Ryder in a bar to find out what information he’s gained about the people behind it. This is where are introduced to the no-nonsense bartender.
His “I am John Galt” button is a nice nod to the Objectivist philosophy that inspired the original Question and characters based on him such as Ditko’s own Mr. A and Moore and Gibbons’ Rorschach.
Both The Question and Jack Ryder are Ditko creations, and aside from a few passing crowd panels in major crossovers and lists of annoying DC universe reporters, they have never interacted so this is the perfect opportunity for an homage to the man who brought them to life. The book’s writers, Dan Didio and J.M. DeMatteis are fond of industry in-jokes and the artists, Gene Ha and Zander Cannon have experience doing panels filled with obscure character and creator appearances.
As a fan, I’m easily amused by comic creators appearing in the fictional worlds they have helped develop and a Ditko appearance is especially exciting. If you are interested in reading more about his work, Yoe Books and Blake Bell have done a series of art retrospective books. The BBC also produced a fantastic documentary called In Search Of Steve Ditko hosted by Jonathan Ross, that is available free online.
Steve Ditko and Comics newsletter publisher Robin Snyder continue to produce new work; compilations of philosophical essays, adventure stories, original art and industry anecdotes. Their latest publication is The Ditko Public Service Package 2, the result of last month’s extremely successful online funding campaign.
Images courtesy of:
The Phantom Stranger vol. 3 #7. ©2012 DC Entertainment. The Phantom Stranger, Morgan Edge and Jack Ryder are the property of DC Comics and its parent company Time Warner inc./Warner Bros Entertainment.
The Creativity of Steve Ditko. ©2013 Idea Design Works Publishing & Yoe Books.