Steve Ditko is, of course, best known for being the co-creator and original artist of Spider-Man. What most people don’t know, however (except serious comic-book nerds like Brakhage and me), is that in the early 1970s he went on a tear and produced a series of insane Objectivist independent comics/rants that are unlike any comics produced then or now.
The series of self-published comics featured an array of forgettable one-shot superheroes and one continuing series with his favorite character, Mr. A, loosely based on The Question, a superhero he had worked on for Charlton Comics a few years earlier. Mr. A was the Randian hero moved to a superhero setting; like Howard Roark in The Fountainhead, he was the uncompromising perfect man, set upon by the cowardly, mediocrity-loving elites, including a newspaper publisher (J. Jonah Jameson in Spider-Man was also right out of Rand; at one point in the early series he admitted he hated Spider-Man because he made him seem ordinary by comparison — the mediocre dragging down the perfect). Alan Moore would later base the character of Rorschach in his series Watchmen on The Question/Mr. A; Moore lacked the political empathy and understanding, however, to truly parody someone whose beliefs were so far from his own, and Rorschach became simply a fascist psychotic, albeit a memorable and oddly charismatic one.
My favorite of these, though, was Avenging World. Not a superhero comic, or indeed even really a narrative comic at all, it was more of a diagrammatic tract outlining all the movements he hated (Christianity, Communism, welfare, post-modernism, equivocation) and explaining what was wrong with the world. This style was perfect for Ditko; while his lecturing diatribes would often sound ridiculous in the mouth of Mr. A (who would frequently be seen saying something like “Why did you deny what truth you did know as true?… How did you expect your dishonesty to lead to an honest gain… a worthy end?” while pummeling a miscreant), they worked very well in the context of his more abstract, tract-like diagrams.
His art, too worked better in this format. When he needed to draw a club representing coercion, he drew a club; I submit to you that there isn’t an artist in the comic-book world that could draw a more evil club than Ditko. Not only is it twisted and knobbing in a menacing fashion, it literally is oozing evil. This is the most hideous, scary, abstract-concept–representing club you will ever see.
I picked a bunch of his comics up because I’m generally a fan of bizarre propaganda and ramblings, and from what I knew of this I was sure I find it terribly amusing. And I did, but…
Uh, heh, well.. (cough, cough)… I’m a bit embarrassed to admit this, but when I read Avenging World, I realized that I pretty much agreed with what he had to say (I probably would have made this discovery had I ever read any Ayn Rand, but I never had the attention span for that). I recognized the lunacy behind it, and yet… I dunno, I just couldnt find much to argue with. Quibble, yes. But since everyone knows Ditko is just this right-wing lunatic, what does that make me? (Don’t answer that.) Oh well. I hope we can still be friends.
In honor of Ditko’s 80th birthday last Friday, here’s the long-out-of-print Avenging World; take your pick of PDF or Comic Book Archive format.