I am approaching this particular case file with a bit of trepidation. Every other character I’ve used for this ongoing column has been owned by DC or Marvel. Some were misguided, some were inconsistent, some of them sucked, and some of them were used really well at some point and then just forgotten about.
Today’s entry is about a character that I only know about secondhand, but I’m feeling philosophical about the whole thing, so here we are. Today’s character is creator owned by Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko and has appeared only a handful of times over the years. His name is Mr. A.
What makes Mr. A unique is he’s a philosophical hero, and not just any philosophy. Mr. A is an Objectivist, like his creator. Objectivists basically follow the philosophy set down by author/philosopher Ayn Rand.
Now, I won’t claim to be an expert on Rand’s work. I will say I read Atlas Shrugged once and didn’t like it. The philosophy did not appeal to me, and, speaking as an English teacher here, her writing isn’t very good. The novel, and its a big one, basically lays out her ideas using archetypes instead of three-dimensional people. Some of her ideas are fine. Think for yourself. Be an individual instead of part of a collective. But the rest bothered me. I’m not a religious person, but Objectivism states, among other things, that all religion is a sham, and there is no such thing as altruism, which bothered me. Further, there is a hierarchy of people. A select handful are real go-getters, who work for themselves and only for themselves. These truly great men and women do everything well, and you probably should just let them do what they want. They’re pretty much always right. Next are the worker class. These are decent hardworking people, but not the kind who should be allowed to run anything because they just aren’t capable. Then there are the moochers who just want to take stuff.
Finally, Objectivism does not believe in moral shades of gray. Something is either right or wrong. There is no in-between.
Essentially, Rand was endorsing capitalism as the be-all and end-all in how to live. She stressed reason over emotion, and didn’t truck much with all but the most basic of government activity.
Here’s the question then: how do you apply a godlike level of morality and a complete lack of belief in altruism to a superhero?
Truth be told, I am not sure how or if that works.
Ditko, it should be worth noting, is incredibly reclusive today. He doesn’t trust media outlets very much, which may be why J. Jonah Jameson had that Hitler mustache. There are few public photos of the man. There is a crowdfunding effort to bring new Mr. A adventures to the public, so we’ll see how that goes.
Mr. A also seems to be a bit of a retread of another Ditko creation, the Question. The Question is a bit of a watered-down prototype from the looks of things. Both use the generally featureless mask, though the Question’s faceless look really does that job more effectively than Mr. A’s immobile steel mask.
That’s right, by the way, Mr. A wears an immobile steel mask. He also favors metal gloves and all-white suits. His calling card is a half-black, half-white card. He personifies the “A is A” philosophy of Rand, hence his name. He goes out and punishes evil, often lethally. There’s no such thing as a moral compromise.
Again, I’m not sure how this works with a superhero, which may be why the character never really took off. While there were plenty of morally upright heroes who were generally in the right, like the various DC Silver Age heroes, they operated out of a sense of the common good, and none of them were using lethal force aside from the occasional incarnation of the Spectre and a few others. If a bad guy died in a DC story, it was due to the villain’s own hubris, and many times to the horror of the hero involved.
Likewise, its easy to see why the Stan Lee/Marvel model of flawed superheroes wouldn’t appeal to Ditko once he discovered Ayn Rand’s work, even after co-creating one of the most notable heroes to do right at all times out of some sense of responsibility, Spider-Man. Maybe another Ditko co-creation, Dr. Strange, works closer to the Objectivist ideal if you look at him the right way, but Stan Lee wasn’t interested in those sorts of characters, and Ditko hasn’t drawn his Marvel characters since he left the company in 1966 even for himself near as I can make out.
The best explanation for how any superhero who doesn’t believe in working for the greater good would work at all is to consider the idea that compromising with the forces of evil, or even just letting things slide a little, is the same as letting evil grow stronger and win outright in the Objectivist view. This lack of moral compromise in any and all things could explain how a superhero could believe such things, and added to Ditko’s general interest in a lone crusader working against a corrupt society, that may be the best explanation I can figure for Mr. A.
Now, Objectivism has its critics, obviously, and one of the loudest in the comics world is Alan Moore. It is generally known that Watchmen is based off the Charlton Comics heroes that DC acquired, and that Rorschach is a reworking of the Question. Moore had in the past voiced objections to Objectivism (try saying that five times fast), and used Rorschach as a morally uncompromising individual. Watchmen is filled with shades of gray over right and wrong, so it’s easy to see Rorschach’s fate coming. Even he knows it has to happen on some level.
Maybe, to Moore, that is the fate of the uncompromising individual who believes himself morally superior to, oh, everybody. Despite this, shall we say, not overly kind depiction, Ditko reportedly liked Rorschach (or so says Wikipedia) as being basically an insane version of Mr. A.
Draw your own conclusions. Mr. A might endorse that.