Welcome back, Fellow Questers!
I am so glad to be able to join you once more in the continuation of our celebration of the life of a creative who would become a key contributor to the birth of the Marvel Universe as we know it; a man who would also leave an indelible mark on the DCU, and the entire comics industry.
Of course, I'm talking about the gone, but never-to-be-forgotten, Steve Ditko, may he rest in peace.
A few days back, we studied the story of Mr. A, who was probably Steve Ditko's most personal creation. Today, we consider Mr. A again, sort of, but not really. Just hang loose; all will be explained as we seek to find answers by exploring...
Above, is my copy of Blue Beetle, vol 5, #1 published by Charlton Comics in June of 1967. This comic marks the first time that Ted Kord, Blue Beetle II, got his own title, but more importantly (at least to me anyhow), it is the comic in which Steve Ditko's faceless superhero, The Question, made his explosive debut!! Blue Beetle II, The Question, and Mr. A all come from the fertile mind of Steve Ditko!
Not to worry - there will be more to come on Blue Beetle II later. I'm a man of my word. :-)
Now, the obvious QUESTION (See what I did there?) is: Which came first, The Question or the very similar Mr. A? My answer is not going to satisfy you: I just am not sure. I read part of an interview in which it seems that Ditko implied that Mr. A came first, and that The Question was created solely out of the necessity for a companion feature for Blue Beetle in his new comicbook series:
hen Blue Beetle got his own magazine, they needed a companion feature for it. I didn't want to [use] Mr. A, because I didn't think the Code would let me do the type of stories I wanted to do, so I worked up the Question, using the basic idea of a man who was motivated by basic black & white principles. Where other "heroes" powers are based on some accidental super element, The Question and Mr A's "power" is deliberately knowing what is right and acting accordingly. But it is one of choice. Of choosing to know what is right and choosing to act on that knowledge in all his thoughts and actions with everyone he deals with. No conflict or contradiction in his behavior in either identity. He isn't afraid to know or refuse to act on what is right no matter in what situation he finds himself.
Where other heroes choose to be self-made neurotics, the Question and Mr. A choose to be psychologically and intellectually healthy. It's a choice everyone has to make.
--Steve Ditko in an interview with fanzine Marvel Main
(Source: The Vic Sage Site)
This quote from Ditko himself, leads me to believe that Mr. A was conceptualized, and realized before The Question. However, other comics scholars like the late, great Don Markstein, and Mr. Steve Replogle (thanks for your comments!), believe that it was indeed The Question that came first. Others still, like Thom Young over at comicsbulletin.com, believe that they were possibly created with some semblance of simultaneity. But which appeared in print first? That should be a question that is easy to answer...But, no. Since witzend #3 has no publication month, it's really hard to actually pin down which character appeared in print first without access to some other firsthand sources. But as to which character inspired the creation of the other, I do believe that Steve Ditko's above quote gives us some insight to the answer - and to me, that answer seems to be Mr. A.
The Question is Vic Sage, an incorruptible TV reporter in the fictional Hub City. Vic is secretly the vigilante known as...The Question! He is out for justice, armed only with his keen detective skills (honed by years as a journalist), his fists, and a faceless mask made of a new material material called pseuododerm, an artificial skin pioneered by Vic's friend, accomplice, and mentor, Aristotle "Tot" Rodor. The pseudoderm is donned by Sage whenever it's crime-smashing time. It is activated by a special gas, also invented by Tot, that cements the pseudoderm to Vic's skin, and reacts to chemicals that he has sprayed on his hair and clothing to give him a totally new identity as The Question!
In his first adventure, The Question is hot on the trail of a crime-boss named Lou Dicer. You can read it HERE. The Question, like Ditko implied, is a Comics-Code-acceptable version of Mr. A - he's still an embodiment of Ayn Rand's Objectivism, yet a bit watered down so as not to ruffle the feathers of the Comics Code Authority. The Question appeared in all five issues of Blue Beetle, vol 5, and in the cool Charlton one-shot, Mysterious Suspense, which was the first comic totally dedicated to The Question. Soon after, Charlton's action hero line went the way of the dinosaurs, and it seemed that The Question was going too. But at least Ditko could still give voice to his philosophy via Mr. A in Wally Wood's witzend. Eventually, DC would end up with many of Charlton's action heroes (you can read more on the whys of that HERE), but The Question wouldn't reappear, with several other Charlton heroes, until 1985 in issue #6 of Marv Wolfman's and George Pérez's SWEEPING EPIC, Crisis on Infinite Earths, a series which this humble fan refers to as "the SINGLE GREATEST event comic in history." Seen as denizens and heroes of Earth Four, The Question, Captain Atom, Blue Beetle, and other Charlton heroes are brought into the DCU in Wolfman's and Perez's chronicle of the desperate fight to save the multiverse from the Anti-Monitor.
(You can read the entire series HERE - if you haven't, you SHOULD)
Alan Moore wanted to use The Question, and others of the Charlton action line for his legendary 1986 series, The Watchmen. Moore wanted to kill the character off (Moore deeply disliked Mr. A, and The Question), but DC had future plans for him, and the other Charlton heroes DC owned. So, Moore was forced to create new characters, thus The Question spawned Rorschach.
Ironically, in a classic story in The Question, vol 1, #17, we find out exactly what The Question thinks of Rorschach: HE SUCKS. LOL.
(Source: Revolution Science-Fiction)
Soon, DC's plans for The Question materialized. They put him back in publication in his very own series, for the very first time. So, in February of 1987, The Question, vol 1, kicked off with a POWERFUL first issue:
The chosen scribe was comics veteran, Dennis "Denny" O'Neal, and the interior artist was one of the best of the age, the VERY unsung penciler, Denys Cowan - and if you know comics, you'll instantly recognize that cover as the work of the one-and-only Bill Sienkiewicz. O'Neal, who did not share Ditko's views, decided that the best thing to do was to give the character something like a soft reboot...by KILLING him off in the first issue!!! The Question is soundly beaten by one of DC's deadliest fighters, Lady Shiva (hired by Vic Sage's enemy, Rev. Hatch), and handed over to two henchmen to be viciously pummeled to a pulp, and finally shot in the heat and dumped in a river.
Yeah. Talk about a bad day.
Luckily, Shiva saves The Question out of respect for him, and delivers him to Richard Dragon, another of DC's greatest fighters, who hones Sage's physical prowess, combat skills, and most importantly, his new Zen-like philosophy that moves him away from Diko's Objectivist point-of-view. O'Neal knew that only Ditko could write The Question in the Objectivist way, the way in which he was conceived, so O'Neal killed and resurrected the character to take him in an entirely new direction. The series ran for 37 issues, and 2 Annuals, and then spawned a follow-on series, The Question Quarterly. As much as I love Ditko, I have to admit that this volume of The Question hangs in my mind as a truly legendary series - so much so, that I would, without hesitation, recognize it as one of the best series of the 80s, and one of my favorites of all time. It is one of the few titles of which I own a COMPLETE run (don't judge me - I am not a completist):
(The Question vol 1, issues 2 through 6, from my collection)
You can read the series HERE. I hope you read it, enjoy it, and come back and let me know what you think about it.
In 2007's series, 52, things went badly for Ditko's creations. The Blue Beetle was murdered, and The Question died of lung cancer, leaving his protege, Renee Montoya, to be the new Question.
In 2011, once again, The Question was retconned in The New 52, seen as one of several beings punished on The Rock of Eternity for unrevealed sins. Made to forget his face and identity, he is supernaturally forced to seek out his own identity, and solve conspiracies and crimes:
The Trinity of Sin (The Phantom Stranger, Pandora, and The Question)
As of now, Vic Sage has been retconned to have no ties to The Question. He was a high-level government agent over Task Force X (Suicide Squad) until he screwed up. Then he went rogue, and tried to take down Amanda Waller. You can guess where that got him.
Needless to say, this iteration on Vic Sage is a real head-scratcher. Nope. I don't like it.
The Question, and Mr. A: two very similar characters churned from the same feverishly inventive mind. Whether you dig The Question or Mr. A more probably has to do with your own personal beliefs and worldview; however, the fact is that both of these characters are part of a great legacy. Both reflect the complex life philosophy, thought processes, and moral beliefs of a singular creative icon in varying degrees of intensity. The Question was created with more of an intent to be accepted by the comics mainstream - an audience that Ditko knew wouldn't swallow Mr. A's bitter pills of his treasured, hardline philosophy. And he was right. The Question has a rather large following, especially after he debuted on The WB's smash series, Justice League Unlimited, quickly becoming a fast favorite:
But Mr. A? He is still only known to hardcore Ditko fans, comics enthusiasts with a love for comics history, and probably, followers of Objectivism. Maybe Mr. A will find a wider audience someday - I can't say, but The Question has, with a great bit of dilution, begun to bridge the wide gap between prevailing worldviews, and Rand's philosophy. Like Mary Poppins said, "A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down." I have been taking this medicine happily for many years: The Question is one of my favorite Ditko creations, and one of my favorite superheroes.
Thank you for reading!
IN LOVING MEMORY OF STEVE DITKO (1927-2018)