Steve Ditko's Mr. A
September 22, 2012 2:10 PM   Subscribe

Mr. A debuted in 1967, in the third issue of Witzend, a collection of more artistically fulfilling side projects by mainstream comics professionals led by Wally Wood. In his very first panel, the Objectivist hero addresses his readers directly, stating his case that in moral life, there are no shades of gray, only evil or good, black or white. The hero stares at us, blank, emotionless. There’s a montage around him showing that his calm face is actually a metal mask, and that evil is truly disgusting. At the story’s end, Mr. A. beats up a nasty juvenile delinquent, ironically named Angel, and then allows the kid to fall to his death from a city rooftop. - Pat Barrett

Mr. A's own title lasted only two issues. Here is the first.

Steve Ditko's Objectivist concerns reached their fullest expression in 1973's Avenging World.
posted by Egg Shen (46 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
In his very first panel, the Objectivist hero addresses his readers directly, stating his case that in moral life, there are no shades of gray, only evil or good, black or white. The hero stares at us, blank, emotionless.

There's a hole in your logic
You who know all the answers...

Goodbye Mr. A!
You had all the answers, but no human touch...

posted by Rhaomi at 2:21 PM on September 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


This city is afraid of me. I have seen its true face. The streets are extended gutters and the gutters are full of blood and when the drains finally scab over, all the vermin will drown. The accumulated filth of all their sex and murder will foam up about their waists and all the whores and politicians will look up and shout "Save us!"... and I'll look down and whisper "No."
posted by radwolf76 at 2:30 PM on September 22, 2012 [6 favorites]


There's a certain brand of crazy you can detect on sight from the word/picture ratio.
posted by The Whelk at 2:31 PM on September 22, 2012 [10 favorites]


Alan Moore's old punk band, The Emperors of Ice Cream, had a song called "Mr. A." as a tribute to Ditko (and The Velvet Underground):
He takes a card and shades one half of it in dark
So he can demonstrate to you just what he means.
He says, “There’s black and there is white,
And there is wrong, and there is right,
And there is nothing, nothing in between.”

That’s what Mr. A says.
posted by Doktor Zed at 2:33 PM on September 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


As repellent, pathetic, and downright melon-headed as I find Randism, if there is a collected edition of "Mr. A" and "Avenging World," I would buy it in a microsecond. Ditko is one of the raging geniuses of the field, and the passion projects of raging geniuses are always worth checking out. Even if they are screeds against reality as it exists.

Look at that art, man.
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 2:50 PM on September 22, 2012 [6 favorites]


It takes a particularly infantile sort of self-righteousness to declare that there's an absolute and "objective" morality out there, and then try to prove that point with a pulp detective comic populated by straw men. However good their intentions, people who demonize compromise and treat their own beliefs as infallible can only turn out badly.

Rorschach was meant as a lampoon of Mr. A, not as a role model.
posted by fifthrider at 2:51 PM on September 22, 2012 [6 favorites]


Well, it's just a fantasy. Not great story-telling, but a pretty radical idea to explore. I enjoyed it.
posted by deo rei at 2:54 PM on September 22, 2012


To be fair, Angel was a real jerk.
posted by cmoj at 2:56 PM on September 22, 2012 [7 favorites]


Please correct the FPP: the article was written by Pat Barrett not Robyn Chapman. Thanks.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 2:58 PM on September 22, 2012


a pulp detective comic populated by straw men

This is an exact description of Atlas Shrugged, of course.

Which is why this is the perfect medium for expounding Objectivist thought. Where Rand has to give characters unpleasant sounding names and characterize them as weak and nasty, Ditko can simply draw them as grotesques to get the point across.
posted by Egg Shen at 3:07 PM on September 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


The accumulated filth of all their sex and murder will foam up about their waists and all the whores and politicians will look up and shout "Save us!"... and I'll look down and whisper "No."

This beautiful/tragic irony in Watchmen, which keeps Rorschach a sympathetic character despite Alan Moore's stated intentions, is that when Rorschach does get that killer wave meant to cleanse the world of filth and villainy, he hates it and is horrified. It weakens him as a pure, unrelenting Objectivist archetype for parody, but he trades it for being human.

Love the art, Ditko & Mr. A, but give me Rorschach or JLU's The Question any day.
posted by nicebookrack at 3:27 PM on September 22, 2012 [18 favorites]


Has any rhetorically inclined comics writer actually created a superhero (or supervillain) named "Strawman"?
posted by benito.strauss at 3:28 PM on September 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


If there was not a parody of The Sandman done with The Strawman I am very disappointed in the comics community at large.
posted by nicebookrack at 3:32 PM on September 22, 2012


Don't forget Libertarian Batman (a.k.a. Berlin Batman a.k.a. Ron Paul's favorite comic book character).
posted by jonp72 at 4:25 PM on September 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


If there was not a parody of The Sandman done with The Strawman I am very disappointed in the comics community at large.

The Strawman can solve any problem, no matter how complex or varied, with a simple parable
posted by The Whelk at 4:27 PM on September 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


There's The Straw Men. Although I don't think it really covers argumentation in any great detail. I read the first one a few years back, and enjoyed the way they were setting it up, but never found any other issues.
posted by sneebler at 4:28 PM on September 22, 2012


If there was not a parody of The Sandman done with The Strawman I am very disappointed in the comics community at large.

The Strawman can solve any problem, no matter how complex or varied, with a simple parable


Or maybe Strawman has the power to confuse his foes with flawed duplicates of himself, thus lulling them into a false sense of rhetorical superiority.
posted by Strange Interlude at 4:30 PM on September 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


I imagine The Strawman to project a sort of illusion of competence, but exist primarily to make his foes look good beating him.
posted by reprise the theme song and roll the credits at 4:37 PM on September 22, 2012


then The Strawman vrooms picturesquely into the night on his sleek metal steed, the Stalking Horse
posted by nicebookrack at 4:49 PM on September 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


The Strawman actually wants you to beat him. It makes his plans hard to stop, because whenever you have a chance to beat him up you have to check: who ELSE will benefit? Because he's already arranged that everyone hates him for different reasons, and removing The Strawman will surely make someone look very good, but it may not be you.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:19 PM on September 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


It's so weird seeing these poses and clothing styles that look so much like characters from classic Spider-Man stories in such a different context.

That panel of the guy hunched over, sweating, with his fists balled is such a classic Peter Parker emote.
posted by straight at 6:21 PM on September 22, 2012 [3 favorites]



Alan Moore:
"A few years ago, I was in a local rock band called The Emperors of Ice Cream, and one of our numbers that always went down very well live, was a thing called, "Mr. A", says Moore. "The beat and the tune of it were completely stolen from "Sister Ray" by the Velvet Underground, but the lyrics were all about Steve Ditko ... One of the verses was, "He takes a card and shades one-half of it in dark, so he can demonstrate to you just what he means/He says, 'There's wrong and there's right, there's black and there's white, and there is nothing, nothing in-between.' That's what Mr. A says." [laughter] And then we'd go into the chorus. Yeah, it was a Velvet Underground thrash, but with lyrics about Steve Ditko."
posted by anazgnos at 6:51 PM on September 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


It takes a particularly infantile sort of self-righteousness to declare that there's an absolute and "objective" morality out there, and then try to prove that point with a pulp detective comic populated by straw men.
no worries, i didnt make a comic so we are good
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 7:10 PM on September 22, 2012


if there is a collected edition of "Mr. A" and "Avenging World," I would buy it in a microsecond.

Fantagraphics published two volumes of "The Ditko Collection" back in the eighties that covered at least a substantial amount of Mr. A and the Avenging World, but prices for the two volumes on Amazon are kind of outrageous. Their catalog page for Ditko shows a new ongoing retrospective series for Ditko, but the third volume seems to be only up to the late fifties.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:12 PM on September 22, 2012


stating his case that in moral life, there are no shades of gray, only evil or good, black or white.

Well, OK, but isn't that actually all superhero stories? Doesn't Superman always do good, and his enemies are always 100% evil? Even with the endless releases of new "darker" Batmen, Batman still never does anything wrong, or kills an innocent person. And even if the Joker or Bane get a few semi-clever "justification" speeches, at the end of the day they're still 100% evil because they're evil.

Which is not to say I don't enjoy some superhero stories, but they all tend to exist within an extremely simplified moral universe.
posted by drjimmy11 at 7:13 PM on September 22, 2012


Steve Ditko is aces in my book. Compare his stuff: raw, visceral, emotional, to the bland, plastic work of someone like Jim Lee. I admire Lee's technical ability, but it lacks emotional involvement by the artist. Ditko's Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, Beware: The Creeper, Shade: the Changing Man, Mr A (and, hell, even Speedball) have a dynamic quality that Lee's posed supermodels simply lack.

Maybe it's just bits like straight alluded to: guys hunched, sweating, fists clenched. You don't see that much of fluid acting (in the Will Eisner sense) from most "fan favorites" these days. I can't imagine Jim Lee turning in something as intense and gripping as The Final Chapter.
posted by SPrintF at 7:15 PM on September 22, 2012


A few years back, Jonathan Ross did a really good documentary about his appreciation for and attempts to meet Ditko. Neil Gaiman shows up to hang out for a while, too.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 7:20 PM on September 22, 2012


"Boy, Mr. A, you're a real dick when you...actually, you're a real dick all the time."
posted by RakDaddy at 7:22 PM on September 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, OK, but isn't that actually all superhero stories? Doesn't Superman always do good, and his enemies are always 100% evil?
1)No 2)Also no and no
You are wrong because reasons, also Grimdark Nineties Antiheroes and Ed Brubaker and Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E.

I'm not sure telling you "you need to read more superhero stuff" would be helpful since superhero stories clearly aren't your catnip in terms of genre, so why force you to read things you don't enjoy? You aren't wrong exactly in your basic idea, but you've totally obscured it with gross oversimplification and easily correctable misinformation that will derail this thread into Why You Are Wrong (answer: REASONS) offshoots.

Mr. A is actually more interesting here in the modern era because of his One True Way Of Goodness stance that comes off as dated; most modern superhero stuff tries to emphasize its subjects' fallible humanity with crises of faith, "oh god what have I done," etc. not always successfully or well, but.
posted by nicebookrack at 7:46 PM on September 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


The Strawman actually wants you to beat him. It makes his plans hard to stop, because whenever you have a chance to beat him up you have to check: who ELSE will benefit?

The Strawman is the rigged combatant who throws the fight and collects his pay; he's the distraction you pummel while the orphanage is quietly robbed across town

and he gets away with it, because as much as you argue it, you can never really prove the Strawman is connected to anything
posted by nicebookrack at 7:54 PM on September 22, 2012 [2 favorites]



I saw another car today (well, minivan, but whatevs) that had a "Who is John Galt" sticker on the bumper.

I realized that I need to make "A Union organizer who use the power of collective action to effect societal change" bumpers stickers to adhere next to theirs.

Yeah, it's vandalism. But so is Randalism.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:32 PM on September 22, 2012 [6 favorites]


You are wrong because reasons

Where is this meme from?
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 9:22 PM on September 22, 2012


The interesting thing about that first Mr. A story is that Ditko tries pretty hard to convince the reader of the rightness of his argument. That argument may be batshit insane, but it's still refreshingly different from dudes like Jack Chick (and modern propagandists) who just preach at you and don't have arguments at all.
posted by Kevin Street at 9:55 PM on September 22, 2012


Hell.
posted by adamdschneider at 9:56 PM on September 22, 2012


Missed it by that much.
posted by adamdschneider at 9:59 PM on September 22, 2012


yeah, i guessed as much
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 10:31 PM on September 22, 2012


Wow. I've heard of Mr.A, even seen a couple representative panels here and there, but I'd never had a chance to see the whole thing. This is… wow. I don't have words.

I also totally skimmed the hell out of the second story, with all the typewritten dialogue and Mr. A delivering a moral at the end of every page. Or an Objectivist argument. Or something.

That is some pure unadulterated something, right there.
posted by egypturnash at 10:35 PM on September 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Mr. A is about as transparent and shallow as a Jack Chick tract. I don't see the appeal, outside of historical interest, but then Chick keeps making tracts, so somebody out there likes them.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:32 AM on September 23, 2012


I saw another car today (well, minivan, but whatevs) that had a "Who is John Galt" sticker on the bumper.

I realized that I need to make "A Union organizer who use the power of collective action to effect societal change" bumpers stickers to adhere next to theirs.


Close. The character organized a class to create a new community. He can thus be said to be a community organizer. One who set up a commune, if you really wish to be mean.
posted by jaduncan at 3:01 AM on September 23, 2012


I saw another car today (well, minivan, but whatevs) that had a "Who is John Galt" sticker on the bumper.

I realized that I need to make "A Union organizer who use the power of collective action to effect societal change" bumpers stickers to adhere next to theirs.


Or, "a fictional character who would not have given the 'parasite' driving this car the time of day."
posted by adamdschneider at 7:41 AM on September 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Mr. A is about as transparent and shallow as a Jack Chick tract. I don't see the appeal, outside of historical interest, but then Chick keeps making tracts, so somebody out there likes them."

I'm not saying it's appealing (other than maybe the graphic design), just that Ditko is aware that his readers won't agree with him, and he structures the stories to deal with what he perceives as the main objections to his central argument that there is only black and white. Chick was a bit less "This is so, because BIBLE!" in the beginning too. Maybe Ditko would've gotten more and preachy if he kept his character going.

UPDATE: But having now read "Avenging World," I see he reserved most of the preachiness for that title. So it was a conscious publishing strategy: tell stories about an objectivist hero with Mr. A, then "inform" the same readers about the ideals that motivate their hero with Avenging World.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:13 PM on September 23, 2012


Ditko self-publishes (with partner Robin Snyder) much of his library including a Mr. A collection and Avenging World and they're quite cheap. It might not all always be available, this is obviously not a conventional sale situation, but if you follow up the instructions there you can get your hands on his stuff. He continues to produce very weird new stuff. The Mocker is also worth a look.

I attempted to answer the Mr. A in print question in more detail in an Ask question a while back.
posted by nanojath at 11:05 PM on September 23, 2012


And since I'm answering questions "because of reasons".
posted by nanojath at 11:08 PM on September 23, 2012


One last thing - I picked up on the self-publishing because of Dave Sim's comments on Blake Bell's Ditko Biography. (I assume the recent Sim post had something to do with this one). Needless to say Dave Sim has a different perspective of Ditko than most. His point that discussion of his work merits a link to the place where he sells much of it on his own terms is, however, one I took to heart.
posted by nanojath at 11:24 PM on September 23, 2012


nanojath: "And since I'm answering questions "because of reasons"."

Thank you. I wanted to answer that question, but my brain had been convinced that it was from one of the "Rupert And Hubert" strips from Dresden Codak, and I was banging my head against the wall when I couldn't find it there. Wrong monocle & tophat wearing gentleman.
posted by radwolf76 at 11:11 AM on September 24, 2012


Wrong monocle & tophat wearing gentleman.

Well I'm happy to be pointed at something new to me as well.
posted by nanojath at 10:39 PM on September 24, 2012


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