Mr. A righteously thrashes a felon. Artist: Steve Ditko.


Medium: Comic Books
Originally appearing in: Witzend
First Appeared: 1967
Creator: Steve Ditko
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In creating The Question as back-pages filler for Charlton's 1967 Blue Beetle series, Steve Ditko (Captain Atom, Spider-Man) gave free reign to his inclinations, making a hero to express his personal philosophy. This one didn't have to be commercially viable enough to sell the comic — The Beetle did that — and Charlton paid too poorly to insist that its artists toe the line on what a corporation is usually willing to allow. But a few months later, Ditko found that even there, company ownership could exert a powerful influence on what he could and couldn't do with a superhero. Charlton canceled …

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… its entire superhero line, leaving him without a venue for the most personal of his creations. His response was to change the character just enough to avoid infringing on Charlton's copyright, and arrange for the new version to be published where comic book artists could own and control their work, without being subject to a corporation's vagaries at all.

Mr. A, as he called his creation in its new form, made his first appearance in Witzend #3 (1967), published by Wallace Wood (Cannon, Sally Forth) for the purpose of providing an outlet for cartoonists unwilling to sell their creations to a corporation. The issue, for most, was potential future earnings, but for Ditko it was freedom — a large part of why a man with his standing in the comic book industry accepted Charlton's low rates in the first place. At Charlton, he was mostly free to express his point of view, but Witzend removed even the relatively slight shackles that bound him at Charlton.

It's been suggested that the "A" stands for "answer", a natural counterpart to a hero called The Question. Actually, there was nothing in Mr. A's series to suggest a connection of any type with Ditko's earlier creations. It referred to the Objectivist personal philosophy that informed the character's motivations and point of view. It calls to mind Objectivism's Law of Identity, expressed in the fiction of Ayn Rand, Objectivism's founder, as "A is A". That philosophy sees a sharp dichotomy between good and evil, with no gray area between. Mr. A gave out a calling card with no words, sharply divided between white on one end and black on the other, further indication that Objectivism drove the character.

Like The Question, Mr. A adopted a modified version of the Spirit/Midnight look, adding only a mask and gloves to a regular business suit, tie and fedora. In his case, the suit, tie and hat were pure white, signifying that in any fight he should happen to get into with the human filth he regularly dealt with, he was the good guy. The mask and gloves were metal, symbolizing his rigidity. His full-face mask was expressionless, so his thoughts and emotions never showed on his face, and could be deduced only through his actions — reflecting Ditko's own disinclination, over the years, to grant interviews, letting his work speak for itself.

Also like The Question, Mr. A was a crusading journalist in everyday life. Unlike The Question, he worked in print, not radio. Rex Graine, reporter for The Daily Crusader, tended to make enemies because he refused to compromise his principles and was absolutely incorruptible. Occasionally, his enemies would sway public opinion against him, but by the end of every story, Rex was always vindicated. No explanation was ever given as to why he put on a mask after hours and bashed criminals, but neither was any needed. It was just the kind of guy he was.

Mr. A dealt with the petty crooks who prey on ordinary people, not world-spanning criminal empires. He also rescued innocent victims as needed, but wouldn't lift a finger to help the scum that had victimized them, should their altercation lead to a situation where they needed rescuing. He'd never get proactive and actually kill anyone, but he didn't mind a bit if they died through their own actions. Those that lived were sure to be treated to a lecture on why their actions were evil — usually in response to their own insipid rationalizations of their deeds. Mr. A stories tended to be preachy that way. Often, that was the whole story. The vermin would carry on at length about how he wasn't such a bad guy, Mr. A would explain, also at length, why he was too such a bad guy, then the bad guy would slide into an abyss of his own making. The End.

Aside from being a champion of Good in its eternal struggle againse Evil, Mr. A hated all forms of collectivism like Jack Chick hated devil worship. Appeals to the common good meant nothing to him. Only individuals counted for anything, and only individuals could transgress against other individuals. His philosophy had no room for collective guilt. Each individual was responsible for his own actions and nothing else.

After Witzend #3, Mr. A appeared in the fourth issue, which came out in 1968, then in several fanzines, such as Comic Crusader and The Collector, during the late 1960s and early '70s. Between 1973 and '75, he was the main feature of a couple of comix with his own name as their titles, and two more titled Avenging World and What Th'. By that time, Ditko seems to have said most of what he needed to say through Mr. A. During the mid-1980s, Fantagraphics Books (Love & Rockets, Red Barry) reprinted several Mr. A stories in a couple of volumes titled The Ditko Collection.

In 2000, Robin Snyder (who has also written for DC and Archie Comics) published one last Mr. A story in a trade paperback titled Steve Ditko's 176-page Heroes Package.


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Text ©2000 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Steve Ditko.