Mr. A. is Mr. A.

THE SECRET ORIGINS of Steve Ditko's Mr. A. began on February 2, 1905, with the birth of Alissa Zinovievna Rosenbaum, a.k.a. noted author/ philosopher Ayn Rand.

Rand was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, and she came of age during the Russian Revolution of 1917. The newly-installed Bolsheviks seized her fathers business, igniting in her a life-long hatred of communism. Rand knew she .wanted to be a writer since the age of nine, and for her inquisitive young mind, the closed nature of Soviet society -- with its midnight raids, enforced uniformity of thought and abhorrence of the individual -- was an intolerable, soul-crushing monstrosity.

Escaping the Soviet orbit, Rand came to America in 1926 to visit relatives. She soon found work, not as a writer, but as an actress. Just eight months after arriving in the land of opportunity, Rand found herself in Hollywood, California, appearing as an extra in Cecil B. DeMille’s silent New Testament epic, the original “King of .Kings” (scene from the film pictured below, right).

Rand met actor Frank O'Conner on the King of Kings set, fell madly in love with him, and married him. "You fall in love with a person," Rand once said, "because you regard him or her as a value, and because they contribute to your personal happiness. My heroes will always be reflections of Frank. He is my best proof that people such as I write about can and do exist in real life."

Meanwhile, back in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, on November 2, 1927, the very pregnant Mrs. Ditko was finally having a baby boy -- a boy to be named Steven. The Ditko family was of Slavic ethnicity. .Young Steve Ditko is pictured left as he appeared in high school, not yet sporting the very Peter Parker-like glasses he would later wear.

Ditko's high school would one day .serve as the architectural model for Peter Parker's high school. Ditko, like Parker, was something of a nerd, and as a boy he had to endure the constant needling of a bully similar to abusive jock Flash Thompson (pictured right, by Ditko).

Ditko reached manhood just as Ayn Rand began unleashing a series of novels that would inspire a generation by decimating the forces of collectivism with a new and totally uncompromising philosophy that would come to be known as Objectivism. The first of Rand's novels, published when Ditko was just nine years old, was titled WE THE LIVING.


Ayn Rand's semi-autobiographical first novel, WE THE LIVING (1936 first edition seen left), is set in her native Russia after the .communist revolution. Originally titled "Airtight," the story centers on beautiful young Kira .Argounova and her lover Leo Kovalensky (played in a 1942 Italian film by Alida Valli and Rossano Brazzi, shown right) as they struggle to maintain their integrity in oppressive, "airtight" Soviet Russia. Two key quotes from the novel:

“No matter how much your Party promises to accomplish, no matter what paradise it plans to bring mankind. Whatever your other claims may be, there's one you can't avoid, one that will turn your paradise into the most unspeakable hell: your claim that man must live for the state.

"Can you sacrifice the few when those few are the best? Deny the best its right to the top -- and you have no best left. What are your masses but millions of dull, shriveled, stagnant souls that have no thoughts of their own, no dreams of their own, no will of their own, who eat and sleep and chew helplessly the words others put into their brains? And for those you would sacrifice the few who know life, who are life? I loathe your ideals because I know no worse injustice than the giving of the undeserved. Because men are not equal in ability and one can't treat them as if they were.”


(1938 first edition shown right), a short story by Rand, was published a full decade before George Orwell's similiarly-theme "1984." Both tales are set far in a distant future where "equality" is strictly enforced, and individual thought and modern technology are banned. In this society, even individual names are .banned. Anthem's hero is known as Equality 7-2521, and the novella is written as though it was Equality 7-2521's forbidden diary.

This diary represents an individual effort, and so it opens by stating how his closed society would view it: "It is a sin to write this. It is a sin to think words no others think and to put them down upon a paper no others are to see."

Equality 7-2521 goes on to rediscover the electric light, but his innovation is rejected because he achieved it as an individual, and in this communistic society, "what is not done collectively cannot be good."

Ultimately, E 7-2521 reclaims his individuality, and gives himself a new name: "I have read of a man who lived many thousands of years ago, and of all the names in these books, his is the one I wish to bear. He took the light of the gods and he brought it to men, and he taught men to be gods. And he suffered for his deed as all bearers of light must suffer. His name was .Prometheus." Equality 7-2521 -- the new Prometheus -- is pictured holding the lightning of the Gods on the cover of a pulp reprint of Anthem printed in Famous Fantastic Mysteries (June 1953, seen left).

"I stand here on the summit of the mountain. I lift my head and I spread my arms. This, my body and spirit, this is the end of the quest. I wished to know the meaning of things. I am the meaning. I wished to find a warrant for being. I need no warrant for being, and no word of sanction upon my being. I am the warrant and the sanction. ... Many words have been granted me, and some are wise, and some are false, but only three are holy: "I will it!"

"The word "We" is as lime poured over men, which sets and hardens to stone, and crushes all beneath it, and that which is white and that which is black are lost equally in the gray of it."

"I am done with the monster of "We," the word of serfdom, of plunder, of misery, falsehood and shame. And now I see the face of god, and I raise this god over the earth, this god whom men have sought since men came into being, this god who will grant them joy and peace and pride. This god, this one word: I."


Rand went from appearing in movies to writing them with THE FOUNTAINHEAD (1943 first edition shown below), the story of architect Howard Roark's heroic .individual battle against the forces of collective mediocrity. This novel, originally titled "Second-hand Lives," was made into a remarkably faithful movie starring Gary Cooper and Particia Neal (pictured right). Here are some excerpts:
"Here are my rules: What can be done with one substance must never be done with another. No two materials are alike. No two sites on earth are alike. No two buildings have the same purpose. The purpose, the site, the material determine the shape.

Nothing can be reasonable or beautiful unless its made by one central idea, and the idea sets every detail. A building is alive, like a man.

"Collectivism... isn't that the god of our century? To act together. To think -- together. To feel -- together. To unite, to agree, to obey. To obey, to serve, to sacrifice. Divide and conquer -- first. But then -- unite and rule."

THE THING #12 (1954) THE THING #14 (1954) THE THING #15 (1954)
Steve Ditko studied and perfected his craft under one of his idols, famed Batman artist Jerry Robinson, and began professionally illustrating comic books himself in .1953, at the age of 26.

Ditko's first published work appeared in Daring Love #1 (Sept. 1953). This six-page tale, titled "Paper Romance," wasn't the first story Ditko drew (that would be "Stretching Things!" from Fantastic Fears #5), but it was the first one published.

Other early Ditko work appeared in Black Magic #27 (1953, cover by Jack Kirby pictured left), and several issues of Charlton's The Thing (three "Thing" covers drawn and signed by Ditko are pictured above).

At this point, it seems the artist had not yet been exposed to any of Ayn Rand's novels -- but the founder of Objectivism was only a few years away from completing the monumental novel which would insure her place in literary history, "Atlas Shrugged."


Who is John Galt? This is the haunting question posed in Ayn Rand’s masterpiece, ATLAS SHRUGGED (1957 first edition shown below right). This novel, originally titled THE STRIKE, tells the epic story of John Galt. .Who is John Galt? As all Ayn Rand fans know well, John Galt is "the man who swore he would stop the motor of the world... and did!"

Rand's entire philosophy, known as "Objectivism," is here set down on paper in a brilliant and highly influential novel that is an absolute must read for any creative person. In the book, John Galt "stops the motor of the world" by convincing the world's creative people to abandon civilization and establish a new, utopian society dedicated to the proposition that "A is A."

After Galt succeeds in his grand ambition, he makes a lengthy speech which is televised to the entire world. This speech defines and summarizes (if that word can be used to describe such a very long speech) exactly what Rand means by "Objectivism" and "A is A." Here are some brief excerpts from John Galt's speech:

"This is John Galt speaking. I'm the man who's taken away your victims and thus destroyed your world. You've heard it said that this is an age of moral crisis and that Man's sins are destroying the world. But your chief .virtue has been sacrifice, and you've demanded more sacrifices at every disaster. You've sacrificed justice to mercy and happiness to duty.

The greatest of your philosophers [Aristotle] has stated the formula defining the concept of existence and the rule of all knowledge: A is A. A thing is itself ... a leaf cannot be a stone at the same time, it cannot be all red and all green at the same time, it cannot freeze and burn at the same time. A is A. Or, if you wish it stated in simpler language: You cannot have your cake and eat it, too.

All the disasters that have wrecked your world came from your leaders' attempt to evade the fact that A is A. All the secret evil you .dread to face within you and all the pain you have ever endured, came from your own attempt to evade the fact that A is A. The purpose of those who taught you to evade it was to make you forget that Man is Man.

To call sin that which is outside man's choice is a mockery of justice. To say that men are born with a free will but with a tendency toward evil is ridiculous. If the tendency is one of choice, it doesn't come at birth. If it is not a tendency of choice, then man's will is not free. You must choose one side or the other. Any compromise between good and evil only hurts the good and helps the evil.

The world will change when you are ready to pronounce this oath: I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for the sake of mine."

After completing this monumental work, Rand commented, "I don't know whether I will ever write fiction again. The difficulty is that Atlas Shrugged was the climax and completion of the goal I had set for myself at the age of nine. I can never surpass Galt."

By 1963, Steve Ditko was back working for Marvel Comics, co-creating a sorcerer supreme known as Doctor Strange, and an offbeat new teenage character called Spider-Man. Who really created Spidey? Stan Lee, who, it should be noted, indisputably wrote Spidey's dialogue, says, "I have always considered Steve Ditko .to be Spider-Man's co-creator."

According to Jack Kirby, "Steve was the one who, in my estimation, developed Spider-Man, kept him going and kept him selling."

Finally, Ditko himself has said: "Stan Lee thought the name up. I did the costume, web gimmick on wrist and spider signal. No one person did or could do it all or claims to be the creator. No one mind or hand created the Marvel-published Spider-Man."

Ditko's legendary Spider-Man run featured two themes the artist would continue to refine over the course of his lifetime: a conflict between a principled loner and the representative of an uncaring, conformist collective (idealistic Peter Parker vs. tyrannical Daily Bugle editor J. Jonah Jameson), and a disguised or faceless figure who uses a special gas as part of their gimmickry (most notably Mysterio, Green Goblin, and the Crime Master, all seen below on various Spidey covers by Ditko).
It was apparently during his run on Spider-Man that Steve Ditko first became exposed to the writings of Ayn Rand, and her philosophy of Objectivism, perhaps by reading Atlas Shrugged, which was a popular bestseller .at the time, particularly on college campuses.

But there was a problem: an Objectivist Superhero would almost have to be portrayed as infallible or even somewhat godlike, and magical, supernatural powers had no place in Objectivist philosophy. Unfortunately, this put Ditko's new ideas at odds with Stan Lee's "superheroes with feet of clay" approach -- an approach that would soon make Marvel the top publisher in comics. Stan was not about to give it up, particularly on one of the company's flagship titles.

Things got worse when Marvel publisher Martin Goodman suggested that more pretty girls be inserted into Peter Parker's life, and Stan Lee decided that the villainous Green Goblin would be revealed to be the father of Peter Parker's friend, Harry Osborn. Ditko saw Parker as a shy .nerd, not a lady-killer. And he had wanted the Goblin to be revealed as a previously unseen character, "a nobody," for realism's sake.

There may have been other problems we will never know about, but whatever his reasons, after almost four years on with the company, Steve Ditko left Spider-Man, Dr. Strange and Marvel Comics in 1966. He has steadfastly refused to draw Spidey or Doc ever since, saying he does not want his new work to be compared to his earlier comics.

Pictured below is one of the VERY few existing public photographs of Steve Ditko, at work in his studio. The artist is notoriously interview-shy, and apparently takes a dim view of the media -- a fact reflected in his buffoonish portrayal of newspaper publisher J. Jonah Jameson. Ditko prefers to be known only through his work. One of Rand's villains once said, "We are poisoned by the superstition of the ego... we must destroy the ego first."
Although this view is contrary to the central thrust of Objectivism, it certainly seems to describe the ego-less Steve Ditko!



After leaving Marvel in 1966, Ditko returned to Charlton Comics, where he created The Question, a.k.a. crusading television journalist Vic Sage, who dons a featureless mask kept in his belt buckle, which also emits a special gas that seals the mask to his face, and changes the color of his clothes and hair, transforming him into The Question, implacable foe of corruption. The Question sometimes leaves a "calling card" which initially appears blank, but when touched, emits smoke that forms the shape of a question mark.
Although The Question represents a somewhat watered-down embodiment of the Randian creed, the character was Ditko's first attempt to blend Randian Objectivist philosophy with the superheroic ideal. The Question is like a prototype, or try-out version of Mr. A., an expansion of Ditko's favorite theme of heroic loner vs. corrupt society. The Question also features a few other devices introduced by Ditko during his Spidey run -- a featureless mask, and use of a special gas.

The Question first appeared in a back-up story in Blue Beetle #1, then graduated to a short-lived lead feature in Mysterious Suspense #1. Pictured below are the covers of these comics, as well as an interior page showing the Question in his secret identity as Vic Sage using his special gas to fix a featureless mask over his face, and change his clothing color to the uniform of The Question.
The Question's most recent revival came in several episodes of the Cartoon Network's excellent Justice League Unlimited series (below left). Here, The Question was portrayed not so much as a Randian Objectivist vigilante, but as a conspiracy nutcase turned superhero. Even so, this interpretation of the character provided a welcome and memorable diversion from .standard animated superheroic fare.

In one JLU episode, the Question tells Luthor: "Everything that exists has a specific nature. Each entity exists as something in particular, and has characteristics that are part of what it is. A is A, and no matter what reality he calls home, Luthor is Luthor."

To my knowledge --and that's the knowledge of me, Robby Reed, the author of this article and creator of this blog -- this incarnation of The Question rarely if ever appeared without his featureless mask.These big, egomaniacal Hollywood stars usually love to ruin comic book movies by refusing to wear a character's mask if it covers their face, but not The Question. No movie for you, Question!
In the mid 1980s, British writer Alan Moore developed a proposal for a mini-series which would reinvent old characters DC had recently purchased from Charlton, including Ditko's The Question. Moore's plot had the old Charlton gang dealing with real-world history, including the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, the Vietnam War, and even then-President Nixon.

DC loved Moore's pitch, but told him that they were already committed to other plans involving the Charlton heroes. Moore had the solution: He simply changed the names of the heroes, wrote new back stories for them, and dubbed his new super-group THE WATCHMEN

The Question was transformed into the mysterious Rorschach (pictured right, drawn by Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons), a character who, like the Question, applies the uncompromising principals of Randian Objectivism to vigilante crimefighting -- as seen in the WATCHMEN #1 panels shown below:

Things came full circle in The Question #17 (1988, cover seen right) by writer Denny O'neill and artist Denys Cowan, which showed .The Question in his secret identity as Vic Sage reading a copy of the Watchmen .comic book.

Sage initially views Rorschach with great admiration -- but after he becomes The Question and gets beaten up trying to emulate Rorschach's merciless brutality, he concludes, ironically, that "Rorschach sucks."

Reader, I don't suggest repeating that comment to the Rorschach action figure pictured left. He might just use his grappling gun to break into your house and snap off YOUR index finger!


It all came together in 1967, when Steve Ditko created Mr. A. -- the ultimate personification of his Objectivist philosophy. What makes Mr. A. (pictured right) different from The Question, and indeed different from every other superhero? It's his all-consuming Objectivist beliefs, and his confidence in dispensing due justice, .including even the death penalty, in accordance with them.

Precious few comic book heroes kill their opponents, and among those who do, no one does it like Mr. A. does it. Not the vengeful Spectre, nor even the original judge, jury and executioner, the death-dealing Shadow. The Spectre and the Shadow are portrayed as forces of nature, and their victims are more or less chosen by God, with no possibility of error.

But where the Ghostly Guardian and the Master of Darkness act as infallible supernatural agents of divine judgment, Steve Ditko's Mr. A. is a man on a soap box whose existence, whose extremist actions, whose very NAME itself, are a product of Steve Ditko's Randian Objectivist philosophy:

"The word "we" crushes all beneath it, and that which is white and that which is black are lost equally in the gray of it."

"I need no warrant for being, and no word of sanction upon my being. I am the warrant and the sanction."

"You must choose one side or the other. Any compromise between good and evil only hurts the good and helps the evil."

"A is A."

No! Wait! Make that... "Mr. A. is Mr. A.!"

What would a comic adventure starring the heroic personification of "A is A" be like? Reader, you're just 24 hours away from finding out! Tomorrow, we present Mr. A.'s first-ever appearance -- written, penciled and inked by the great Steve Ditko -- plus much more on the world's only Objectivist superhero. You can either read it, or not read it. It is either one or the other. Take your choice! But I suggest you make your choice... DIAL B for BLOG! It's ALL GOOD!