Friday, July 3, 2015


Every comics fan has a different opinion on when the iconic Steve Ditko truly hit his creative peak. For some it;s the imaginative landscapes of Dr.Strange, for others it's the subtle and powerful Spider-Man, for others it's his monster and horror work, his space comics, his later work for DC, and so on. For me, the legendary creator hits his Randian glory in one spot only - the sort-of crossover with The Question in Charlton's Blue Beetle vol.3 No.5 (November 1968), "The Blue Beetle Faces the Destroyer of Heroes."

The titular villain is, ostensibly, a misshapen brown lump of artistic armor dubbed "Our Man," worn by permanently depressed hippie sculptor Hugo. Caught in what appears to be an endless existential dilemma, Hugo is touched by the seeming importance of the Our Man sculpture, heralded and lauded by sinister, self-important art critic (aren't they all - in fiction, anyway) Boris Ebar as "symbolizing man's inability to solve or control the illusion we call existence."

Actually, I'm not sure he's wrecking it,
I think he might be mating with it.
Feeling certain that "once rid of heroic symbols, no man will ever feel less worthy of others, for there will be nothing to look forward to and no man will have to struggle endless and uselessly to try and achieve the unattainable," Huge ironically builds an impervious suit of armor in the shape of Our Man, and goes around smashing up "noble, uplifting" artwork, like Thomas Kincaid paintings and motivational posters.

His goal IS noble, however, as Hugo believes that this sort of nihilism is the only was man "will find true happiness and peace with himself." That very nihilism is, obviously, what the title obviously refers to - the destroyed of heroes is ... being a total bummer!

On the other side of the argument is reporter Vic Sage (secretly the Question) and inventor Ted Kord (secretly the Blue Beetle), who prefer the arm of the museum which is filled with big orange statues of huge men posing like professional wrestlers. "It''s proof that man is NOT helpless" Ted mansplains to his aide-de-camp Tracey, who puts in her man-happy two cents as well: "The men who created these certainly thought well of man and his world." Sister, you need a little liberation theory.

The physical conflict of the story involves the Beetle slugging it out repeatedly with Our Man while Sage - never adopting his faceless identity as The Question - nonetheless contributes by kicking some hippies in the mouth. None of that is really the core of the story, however, as it turns out to be a breathless, text-heavy, sometimes meandering argument on the virtues of individual strength and the purposelessness of, well, what is portrayed in the story as 'self-pity' but which a slightly more emotionally well-rounded individual might call 'compassion.'

Eighteen pages of rambling debate involves a parade of strawmen whom we've never before met and who disappear after making their point - including a pair of kids inventing superheroes in a vacant lot, and given the year you can pretty clearly tell which one is meant to be Stan Lee and which one is meant to be Ditko. Like most strawman debates, of course, the alleged winner doesn't necessarily come off quite as incontrovertibly victorious as the author must have intended, but it's nonetheless one of the most unusual approaches to a superhero story.

Given that the tale ends with Hugo wandering off, defeated but still debating internally with a morose ferocity, and the Our Man armor intact but disassembled, worshiped by defeat-happy hippies, it seems that the debate still has some legs in it. All it takes is for Hugo to slip back into the suit.

As for the Question, he wraps up his half of the crossover in the backup feature, handing art critic Boris Rabe his ass by confronting him with what appears to be a men's underwear ad. Rabe tries to stab it with the pointy part of a sword cane, so it must have been a very engaging underwear ad, is my takeaway.

Asinine bloviating is a real turnon for Tracey.

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