Steve Ditko and the Search for a New Liberal Identity
How a creator transformed the hero and forever forged a brooding bond between philosophy and comics
Steve Ditko (1927–2018) is one of the most important contributors to American comic books. As the cocreator of Spider-Man and sole creator of Doctor Strange, Ditko made an indelible mark on American popular culture. Mysterious Travelers: Steve Ditko and the Search for a New Liberal Identity resets the conversation about his heady and powerful work. Always inward facing, Ditko’s narratives employed superhero and supernatural fantasy in the service of self-examination, and with characters like the Question, Mr. A, and Static, Ditko turned ordinary superhero comics into philosophic treatises. Many of Ditko’s philosophy-driven comics show a clear debt to ideas found in Ayn Rand’s Objectivism. Unfortunately, readers often reduce Ditko’s work to a mouthpiece for Rand’s vision. Mysterious Travelers unsettles this notion.
In this book, Zack Kruse argues that Ditko’s philosophy draws on a complicated network of ideas that is best understood as mystic liberalism. Although Ditko is not the originator of mystic liberalism, his comics provide a unique window into how such an ideology operates in popular media. Examining selections of Ditko’s output from 1953 to 1986, Kruse demonstrates how Ditko’s comics provide insight into a unique strand of American thought that has had a lasting impact.
"Steve Ditko left not only writings in his wake but a graphical visual trail of considerable volume. Zack Kruse has followed the trail of Steve Ditko through time to reveal, dissect, analyze, explore, and put together puzzle pieces into a cohesive whole. My view of my uncle has expanded enormously having read this!"- Mark S. Ditko
"This book offers a fascinating examination of the life and work of one of the most important comics creators of the twentieth century. Kruse introduces and utilizes a number of interesting concepts and constructs for understanding Ditko’s artistic and philosophical agenda and offers illuminating discussions of the Punisher, Foolkiller, Rorschach, Hawk and Dove, the Creeper, and, of course, Spider-Man. "- Kent Worcester, editor of Peter Kuper: Conversations
"Mysterious Travelers: Steve Ditko and the Search for a New Liberal Identity provides a unique and valuable take on the comics of Steve Ditko, one of the most important creators in the history of the medium. It also offers valuable insight into mid-twentieth-century philosophical and political thought. "- Andrew Kunka, author of Autobiographical Comics
"Zack Kruse’s Mysterious Travelers is a serious engagement with the philosophic vision that Steve Ditko brought to his comics, giving us new, generative terms to engage with Ditko’s work going forward."- Shawn Gilmore, Inks: The Journal of the Comics Studies Society