Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Steve Ditko revisited

Jack Kirby may have been The King, but my favorite comic book artist as a kid in the ’60s was, hands down, the great Steve Ditko. I read everything of his I could find, starting naturally with Amazing Spider-Man, then moving on to Doctor Strange (the Strange Tales back-of-the-book feature) and even his very early monster and sci-fi stories. I followed Ditko from Marvel to DC, where he produced the Creeper and Hawk & Dove, but the stuff he ground out for Charlton Comics in 1966-68, like the “new” Captain Atom and a relaunch of the Blue Beetle, is what enthralled me most.

Best of all Ditko’s Charlton creations, though, was his no-nonsense, blue-suited, faceless, Randian hero, The Question. (A few years later, I’d discover his similarly Objectivist-themed and even more unswerving Mr. A in Wally Wood’s Witzend fanzine.) The original Question canon consisted of just five short appearances in the back of the Blue Beetle comic and one full-length solo book — just 62 pages in all. (The Question also appeared in a Beetle story, but only as reporter Vic Sage.) Those stories were tremendous fun and crammed with hardcore “A is A” values:

“Help! Do something! We’re caught in the current! Can’t hold on much longer!” shout two murderous thugs The Question has kicked into the city’s raging sewer system.

“So why tell me your problems?” says The Question. “You’re both crazy if you think I’d risk my neck to save the likes of you! As far as I’m concerned, you’re just so much sewage! And you deserve to be right where you are!”

“You’re inhuman! You can’t leave us here! You’ve no right! It’s your fault we’re here! You must save us! It’s your duty! It’s...”

“Duty?? — to whom??”

I lost my copies of The Question’s original Charlton appearances long ago. I reread them so often that I probably just wore ’em out. But I never lost my love for the character. Unfortunately, Steve Ditko never returned to Vic Sage and most attempts to resurrect him have been unsatisfying. Denny O’Neil tried his hand at it in the mid-’80s, thoroughly discarding the unique Ditko flavor and injecting instead an inappropriate Zen philosophy. Recently, the Justice League Unlimited cartoon series presented a version of The Question more inspired by X-Files than Ditko. As far as I know, the genuine Ditko article has shown up just once in the past 40 years, still checking his premises and spouting the Objectivist jargon; that was in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Strikes Again graphic novel in 2002 (“I’m no Ayn Rander!” The Question yells at Left-leaning Green Arrow. “She didn’t go nearly far enough!”).

Anyway, I’ve wanted to get hold of and revisit Charlton’s original Question stories for a very long time. So everybody in San Diego last week probably heard my big gasp when I discovered at Comic-Con that Ditko’s entire Question saga, plus every smidgen of his Blue Beetle and Captain Atom work from the same period, is now collected into a wonderful, single hardcover book, part of DC’s Archive Editions series. The book’s titled The Action Heroes Archives Volume 2, and it’s fantastic. The reproduction is crisp and beautiful. For Steve Ditko fans, this book is a dream-come-true, as is the first Action Heroes volume, published in 2004, which features all of Ditko’s earliest Captain Atom stories from as far back as 1960.

Long live Steve Ditko. And long live The (quintessential) Question.

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At 1:30 PM, Blogger Warren Bluhm said...

I'm in total agreement with you - yeah, yeah, Kirby's the king in terms of total output and wild imagination, but I just love the way Ditko draws. Not even Kirby could make Spider-Man as spidery as Ditko did - I loved Creeper and Hawk & Dove - and stuff like the Question and Mr. A made Ditko a downright hero in his own right!

At 4:41 PM, Blogger Eric said...

You should drop by my Question site and talk with other fans on the forum!

At 1:59 PM, Blogger Wally Conger said...

Thanks for the invitation, Eric. I'll plan to do so!


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