365 Reasons to Love Comics #179

Alright, I admit it, I missed a day. The circumstances were beyond my control, as the cable conked out as I was going to post yesterday's entry. It's up now, though, in its rightful spot, so scroll down and check it out.

Welcome, now, to DITKO WEEK: Day Five! It's time for the companion piece to "yesterday's" column. Ditko's philosophical treatise... in the form of a comic!


179. Mr. A

A for Archive? No. But it gave me a cheeky link.

Mr. A is Steve Ditko's most personal work, and probably some of his best stuff. This is Ditko Unchained-- he wrote, drew, even lettered it all himself, unedited by any other hands. And yes, Mr. A looks kinda like the Question, who was created around the same time-- 1967 or so-- and shared similar philosophies. The Question is the "safe" and marketable Mr. A. The Question asked; Mr. A answered.

Mr. A, first appearing in the third issue of a publication called witzend, was really Rex Graine, a reporter with rock solid conviction and a penchant for crime-fighting. When he goes about his vigilantism, he wears a completely white suit and an expressionless steel mask. The superficial details were far less important than the ideas behind them-- mostly, the stories were Objectivist allegories.

I've been tossing around the "Objectivism" labels throughout the week so far, teasing everyone with it, and not following through with an explanation. Well, here goes. Steve Ditko adopted the Objectivism philosophy originally conceived by author Ayn Rand in her novel Atlas Shrugged. There is no subjectivity-- absolutes exist and are defined by reality, which is an external fact of existence. For something to exist, it has to have specific attributes. "A is A." Something is something. In Objectivism, there can be no ego. Who better to portray such a thing than Steve Ditko, the man who keeps to himself and lets his work speak for him?

"A is A." Hence, Mr. A-- the living embodiment of Objectivism. For Mr. A, there is only good and evil-- there can be no gray area in between, for that is a land of corruption. This explains his black/white calling card and his all-white appearance.

Quite a few Mr. A stories follow the same path. In fact, the set-ups are quite Eisnerian. We're introduced to a character who thinks they'll be fine if they live in the gray area, if they do a few bad things but still consider themselves good people-- but these bad things inevitably lead them deeper into an evil world, and Mr. A steps in to dole out his unique brand of justice. The individual blames society instead of themselves, and they usually get killed off at the end, succumbing to the dark abyss of evil. Other Mr. A stories are philosophical arguments, where Mr. A acts as a moral overseer, telling a character, and therefore the reader, about how his ideologies are right. In these tales, "plot" takes a backseat.

In Mr. A's first story, a young man, "Angel," shifts from petty theft to murder as he falls deeper into the black half of morality. Mr. A beats the crap out of people in order to find him. Everyone but Angel himself is blamed for his corrupt ways. Angel even goes far enough to injure his girlfriend before Mr. A tracks him down and lets him fall to his death. Once you've gone that far, there's no way out, but Mr. A will help the innocents, or the people who can still make a choice to follow the proper path. It's a grim tale. The final page can be seen below, along with the splash page for another Mr. A story. Click to enlarge:

Mr. A stories aren't "fun," but they're quite interesting. Some may not find them worthwhile, sneering at them as if they're Chick tracts or something, but I'm fascinated. Ditko was using the comics medium as a soap box for his personal philosophies, and that's great. Comics can be anything, and they're especially good at developing and presenting ideas. Outside of comics, Ditko's ideas would be ignored, but they can thrive on the comics page. I applaud Mr. Ditko for sticking by his principles and his philosophies this long, and for throwing himself so deeply into his work. In terms of importance to their creators, Ditko's Mr. A is on the same level as Kirby's Fourth World-- comic book worlds in which the creator's spirit, and their ideas, can be truly free.

Now, I spoke of how the Question was the basis for Moore's Rorschach-- but I think Rorschach would get along better with Mr. A. "No. Not even in the face of Armageddon. Never compromise." Even if one doesn't agree with what Ditko's saying, one should certainly be intrigued with how he says it.

A few of the images in this post were borrowed from Dial B for Blog, which gives us a three-part examination of Mr. A that charts his origins, reprints the entirety of his first appearance, and presents some other goodies, such as a large text piece by Ditko himself, and a list of all Mr. A appearances. I implore you to read it. It starts here.

Also, check out the Mr. A Wiki.

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