A Tribute to the of

Steve Ditko has left the building. As I’d long expected things to go, he seems to have passed away on June 27, 2018, but his body wasn’t discovered for a couple of days. Just last night, July 6th, the word began rolling forth on the web (you didn’t think I’d call it the internet in this context, did you?) with a vengeance; here are the tributes from MARVEL and DC Comics. The enigmatic Ditko was gone.

I found Steve to be fascinating and frustrating all at the same time. As a devoted DC guy, I could still appreciate some of his massive body of work and yes, I’d read some vintage Spider-Man in my time, although not that much. I have yet to read my first Doctor Strange story and I’ve read some of his other published stuff like Blue Beetle, but as the webmaster and I have discussed before, his work was kind of quirky and wasn’t always my cup of tea. Heresy, I know, but there you are. You like a Ford, I like a Chevy. I didn’t dislike Steve’s work, it just didn’t always appeal to me, never mind some of the themes.

And yet, I found myself getting involved in Rob ImesDitkomania publication, contributing articles after he extended the invitation. That was a direct result of his getting wind of my interview with Jim Shooter [Sages #194 & #195] when Jim revealed a pretty interesting story about working with Steve at Marvel. Rob asked permission to reprint that segment in Ditkomania and then offered me the option of submitting articles if I’d like. I’ve contributed several and enjoyed the opportunity, even though I rubbed some of the readers the wrong way when I’d suggest that comics aren’t necessarily the place for a social studies screed. In 2007, having had some success reaching out to other creators, I decided to try to crack Fortress Ditko. I sent him my first note, which was actually more of a vehicle for providing a copy of a recent New York Times article about Ayn Rand. He wrote a cordial reply, thanking me and sharing a few thoughts. I wrote a few more times and we seemed to be enjoying getting acquainted a bit. I even took the plunge and called him on the phone to wish him a happy 80th birthday. Here are my notes from the conversation:

I asked him how he was going to celebrate and he said he wasn’t sure, but that he thought he’d take the day off. I told him about his Spider-Man page recently selling for $44K and he just said you never know what’s going to happen. He made mention that he didn’t know why people were afraid to ask questions. I asked how he spent his time and he said he likes to read and he likes history and spends time at the library. There were a few other trivial things, but as you can probably gather, it was a friendly chat and I was glad I’d screwed up the nerve to call.

This was also right around the time I was interviewing Jerry Robinson [Sages #190, #191 & #192.], so I asked, via letter, if he had anything to share about Jerry, having possibly been his most famous student. He sent me this:

Jerry Robinson was a great teacher for teaching fundamentals in how to tell/show comic book story/art.

What one learns, knows from seeing, studying others artwork is mostly visual.

But what one learns from a teacher like Jerry is how to use one’s mind with solid comic book panel/sequence principles. It is that basic understanding that makes a comic book panel effective, dramatic, visually work for a story/picture integration and continuity creating a whole unique reading/seeing experience.

I was thrilled and when I shared it with Jerry he got excited and asked for a copy to include in his upcoming biography. It made it into the book, but somehow credit to me was left out. I contacted the author to let him know and he said it would be corrected in future reprints, but to my knowledge it was not reprinted, so more’s the pity. Ultimately, though, I got Steve to go on record about Jerry Robinson and I considered it a major coup and a nice addition to the comments I got from Stan Goldberg and Stan Lynde who also studied under Jerry.

Possibly emboldened by Steve’s comment about people being afraid to ask questions, I must have stepped over some invisible line, because I got a snotty reply to one letter, basically wondering why I was writing to him at all. It hurt. He even accused me of not reading any of his contemporary work, which wasn’t true, having ordered a couple of things through Robin Snyder, but I figured I’d inadvertently burned a bridge and backed way off. Finally, I called him up to apologize to which he simply responded, Forget about it.

Later I started writing again, though in smaller, more generic terms, sometimes passing along things he might find of interest and less frequently and he always replied and was always cordial, if often brief, so I counted that a victory.

I kept them all, because to me they were important artifacts, but a few were more so than others. Take this one from July of 2015 when I sent him a note thanking him for finally going on record in Robin Snyder’s publications about why he left Spider-Man and suggesting maybe it would finally quell the speculations. Check me on this, but did he sound a bit cranky, albeit not in my direction?

No matter what I write, and I have written a lot published by Robin, most CBF (comic book fans, in Ditko-speak) will NOT want to read it, and few will be satisfied wanting more: An interview, attend convention, etc. Continuing their complaining and wants.

Robin gets very few comments even with the “Why I left S-M.” CBF’s would rather chatter on the internet.”

Okay, then.

The last two letters I received from him had a lot better tone. I reasoned that despite his reading and library habits, it was unlikely he’d heard about the death of Martin Greim, someone he’d been friendly with and who had given me some material for an assignment I had with BACK ISSUE about the Mighty Crusaders, so I let Steve know.

Marty Grimes (sic), dead.

Marty and his friends from the Boston area used to attend New York’s summer comic book conventions, then they’d come to my studio for a lot of talk and usually complain that last years convention was better. It was a lot of fun.

Finally, I got this reply dated July 5, 2017 when I sent him some material about the passing of Flo Steinberg:

’Fabulous Flo’ Steinberg DEAD. What a SHOCKER.

Since I was doing so much work for Stan/Marvel I saw a lot of Flo.

Comic book fans who put out fanzines sent them to Marvel and Flo would let me have them to read.

At the FIRST comic book convention put on by Bernie Bubnis, I sat with Flo, listened to Tom Gill give a talk, etc.

So a lot of memories about “Fabulous Flo.”


So, I take some satisfaction that the last couple of notes we exchanged were good ones and that I was able to help him recall some good times and he, in turn, shared a couple of tidbits that I found very interesting, especially since Steve was so reluctant to talk about the past. I’ll always treasure them.

Once again, my observation of Steve’s fascinating yet frustrating persona comes to mind, but of course after this very lengthy preamble, I dedicate this edition of the Silver Age Sage to Sturdy Steve with a review of the first issue of The Hawk and the Dove after their one-shot in Showcase #75 [Sage #221].

The Hawk and the Dove #1, sporting a September, 1968 cover date, was penciled and inked, both cover and interiors by Steve Ditko with Jack Adler coloring the cover and the immortal Gaspar Saladino on cover and interior letters. “The Dove is a Very Gentle Bird” was written by Steve Skeates and our editor was the wonderful Dick Giordano.

Our protagonists, of course are the volatile Hank (Hawk) Hall and his more passive brother, Don “Dove” Hall with their ever-present father the judge, Irwin Hall in the wings. (Wings! Ha!) Being the tumultuous 60s and the two Steve’s being political animals, this will be another social commentary, no doubt and with the bad guys being dubbed “The Drop-Outs,” well, let’s just check it out.

The Drop-Outs appear in what seems to be an art gallery where the Halls are in attendance. They demand the attendee’s valuables and Hank urges Don to change into their Hawk and Dove identities and mop things up, but Don refuses, so Hank goes it alone.

As he attacks the Drop-Outs, bow-tie wearing Don tells the Judge that the Hawk is a barbarian, not content to stop them, but trying to crush them, while Irwin Hall responds that he “…doesn’t seem to care who gets hurt.” The fisticuffs continue in typical dynamic Ditko fashion. Don looks on, agonized, but Rita Watkins notices the gang leader’s facemask slip and there is recognition in her eyes (on page #4).

Just then the tell-tale police siren breaks things up, but not before the Drop-Outs KO the Hawk and beat a hasty retreat. Don hopes Hank will revive before he’s found out by either the authorities or their father, but as the police arrive and the judge mentions that the Hawk has committed enough offenses to be taken in for questioning, he revives long enough to slip out of sight and transform back into his civilian guise. He and Don exchange words, but nothing is resolved.

The Judge gives his sons a mini-lecture about how “Right and wrong can’t be a matter of convenience. A society must be governed by objective laws—and man by objective principles!” Sound familiar?

The next day the news of the aborted robbery is all over the town of Elmond and Judge Hall’s statement makes the news. Don is elated that the Dove is under the radar, while Hank trains fiercely to be ready for another fight as the Drop-Outs plot their next caper.

Controversy rages all over town with some insisting the Judge is too rigid in his position and that as a politician he must compromise. The Hall boys are getting drug into things, too, with some saying the Hawk’s methods are necessary while others contend he’s unlawfully meting out vigilante justice.

Meanwhile, Hank and Don continue their own bickering about matters, not coming within a country mile of agreement. Don stomps off to the University art exhibit while Hank looks for some workout gear.

Elsewhere the Drop-Outs are gearing up for action. Their leader is determined to smear the university that kicked him out so naturally they’re off to the art exhibit to stir up trouble. They burst in as Don has arrived and start to make off with a priceless painting. Don has an internal debate with himself about becoming the Dove, but ultimately decides he cannot follow his brother’s pathway and besides the police will be along soon enough to take care of matters.

The next day, it’s still the topic buzzing throughout town, but the way in which the latest robbery was committed has led the authorities to suspect the Drop-Outs are students. Don notices Rita Watkins again and recalls her reaction to the initial encounter with the gang and ponders what she may know.

Pages 13 and 14 of the story are a massive 2-page spread with three oversized panels showcasing Ditko story-telling with the gang running rampant, Hank/Hawk growing more and more restless and determined to take them down and the final one being a collage of the Judge being under fire from all sides and/or the apathy of his supporters while Don cannot decide what to do and Rita agonizes over whether to come forward with her knowledge about the identity of the Drop-Outs’ leader, Alan.

Later, Hank believes he has a lead on the hide-out and tells Don he’s going to find out for himself. Don goes into full angst mode, debating with himself over whether to stick to his resolve to never become the Dove again or to help his brother. Finally, after nearly a full page of raging with himself, he slips out the window.

First stop, Rita Watkins’ place, where she explains what she knows, that Alan was caught cheating on an exam and was expelled and that he used to hang out at a barn on apple road, which is precisely where Hank was going. Don strides away and to his shock discovers he’s transforming into the Dove, which must mean his brother is already in danger and his heroic persona is needed.

Arriving at the barn, the Dove comes upon a scene of carnage with the Hawk taking a beating. Then, to his growing horror, he observes the Drop-Outs’ attempt to unmask the Hawk, but it turns out the costume, conjured by some form of magic, cannot really be removed. Re-energized, the Hawk rejoins the battle with new ferocity while the Dove now joins in to lend his aid.

The battle continues and while the Dove is engaged, he is doing it his own way, refusing to throw any punches and using acrobatics and other forms of hand to hand to help his brother without using out and out violence. The police arrive, tipped off by Rita and the two transform back into their civilian identities, arguing all the way home about who is right and who is wrong in their methods of dealing with criminals like the Drop-Outs. Don contends that they can be rehabilitated while Hank is hardline, stating that they’ve made their choice and must be dealt with accordingly.

The story ends with no resolution in sight for the Hawk and the Dove as the lights go out and they turn their backs to one another in their beds, appropriately on opposing sides of their shared room. The muttering continues in the darkness: “Good night, baby!” “Good night, sadist!” “Bleeding heart!” “Witless barbarian!” “Sissy!” “Bully!” “Weeper!” "Thug!

Politically charged? Oh, you betcha, but what could anyone expect with the very moniker of the Hawk and the Dove? Easily the high point of this story was the classic Ditko fight scenes, which fill several pages of the 23 laid down here. While Steve Skeates was the scripter, so many of the details of the characters and their positions ring with familiarity of what would come out of the mouth of Mr. A, the Question and other prose by Steve Ditko. He was certainly a man of his convictions, even though I often found them incredibly repetitive and tiresome after a few readings. So, while I’ll always appreciate the legacy of Steve Ditko’s artwork and contributions to the comics medium, his philosophy overall left me kind of less than inspired and this comic and story weren’t the sort of thing I’d select if I were perusing the spinner rack for some entertaining reading material. I’ll rate it a 5, but only because of the terrific fight scenes that Steve did with such mastery. The story itself was certainly more on the “meh” side for this reader.

Ditko, of course, was only involved with this title through issue #2, making a total of 3 Hawk and Dove contributions from his pencil and brush and when Gil Kane took over, he couldn’t save it, either and the original title folded after issue #6. The Hawk and the Dove were a product of the times and have never really cemented themselves in the DC pantheon, despite the occasional appearance, but they remain an interesting relic of the late 60s and a pretty good, if brief, study in the kinetic, and leave us not forget, self-analytical artistic studies, reminiscent of Peter Parker, by Steven J. Ditko, may he rest in peace.

Do join us again the 1st of August for the latest installment and if you have something to say, please do so. Fire off an e-mail to: professor_the@hotmail.com.

Until next time…

Long live the Silver Age!

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