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The Walt Disney Company announced its inductees into their Legends program yesterday, and while there were some folks who you would have thought were there already – Harrison Ford, Frank Oz, John Williams – they also named Spider-Man artist Steve Ditko to the program.

Ditko, artist on Spdier-Man, Doctor Strange, Iron Man and more, joins Jack Kirby in this “walk of fame” – the induction festivities will be part of this summer’s this summer at D23: The Ultimate Disney Fan Event. Kirby and Ditko are perhaps the only two Disney Legends to have previously been involved in running the company, but all are forgiven in the sands of time.

The Disney Legends program began in 1987 and then was a current “Walk of Fame” type thing on the Disney lot. Carl Barks was honored in 1992 (along with Fess Parker), an event I was there to witness, but it was a private company thing. Now it’s become a glitzy ceremony as part of the biennial D23 fest. Since then, 318 people have been named Legends, from Mary Blair this year, Miley Cyrus. (Other 2024 honorees: Colleen Atwood, Angela Bassett, Martha Blanding, James L. Brooks, James Cameron, Jamie Lee Curtis, Mark Henn, Kelly Ripa and Joe Rohde.)

Legends is definitely a cool way to honor the big stars but also the many people – animators, Imagineers, musicians, Mousketeers – who have worked behind the scenes to make Disney films and theme parks the beloved institutions they have become. It’s also a way to gloss over a lot of strife along the way.

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Jack Kirby’s heirs were involved in a long legal battle with Disney over the rights to the characters he co-created with Stan Lee which formed the basis of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a popular series of movies. The battle was settled in 2014, with an undisclosed settlement. It was definitely friendly enough that the Kirby family has had only positive things to say since then. Jack Kirby was named a Disney Legend in 2017.

Ditko passed away in 2018, and in 2021 his heirs filed for copyright termination on Spider-Man, Doctor Strange and Iron Man. Disney responded by suing Ditko, Gene Colan and other Marvel creators, claiming that it was all work for hire. Those suits were settled last year, and once again, the settlements seem to be enough to satisfy the families. Despite the murky paperwork of Marvel in the 60s (the basis for many of the legal claims) it’s unlikely that anyone could have overcome Disney’s battalion of combat ready lawyers (something Ron DeSantis was not aware of). However the specter of aged creators dying in poverty while Disney made billions at the box office using their creations was a bad optic. It probably only took the box office take 10 minutes of even Quantumania to settle everything up.

Thus, some may think it very disingenuous to be honoring Ditko just a few months after Disney dropped a lawsuit against his family. And of course, Ditko was a lifelong adherent of a very strong principles, refusing to talk about the work he did with Lee, or return to his most beloved characters…even though he continued to work for Marvel and DC.

That’s the thing. A lot of people assume Ditko would have said this or that, but putting words in his mouth is a dishonor to the man as well. He did go on the record as disliking awards. Well, dislike may be too mild a word. When he was given an Inkpot at SDCC Ditko wrote to his publisher Deni Loubert, “Awards bleed the artist and make us compete against each other. They are the most horrible things in the world. “How dare you accept this on my behalf!”

Luckily Rob Salkowitz reached out to Mark Ditko, Steve’s nephew, who has been a public spokesperson for the family, as well as a link to the man, not the legend. Mark Ditko had this to say:

“What would my uncle think about this award?” said Ditko’s nephew Mark when asked for a reaction to this news. “Anyone who really knew him would know the answer to that question without hesitation. Bluntly, he wouldn’t let it even ever-so-slightly break his stride or influence him in any way. He didn’t do what he did for awards, or status, or fame. “He was motivated by his own passion to do what he loved, and he did not need anyone to tell him whether or not he accomplished it.”

…Notwithstanding his uncle’s attitudes, Mark Ditko continued that the family “truly appreciate it, and see it as an appropriate recognition regarding his role in the establishment of the foundations of the Marvel Universe. “This honor aligns with our desire to let others around the world know who Steve Ditko was, and the contributions he gave to the Comic Industry.”

Hypocrisy or not, Ditko is absolutely a Disney Legend. He’s a legend, period. He disliked honors and attention, but as the many people who corresponded with him over the years, and his family members can attest, he was n’t a scary recluse, but an actual human man who stuck with his beliefs and he was passionate about creating.

In that spirit, enjoy some Steve Ditko.

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