Thursday, May 25, 2006

An Incredibly Good Idea I Can't Believe No One Else Has Ever Had

It's common knowledge that Kirby's Fourth World characters have pretty much languished in mediocrity since Kirby left DC. With a couple notable exceptions - Grant Morrison and Walter Simonson - most of DC's attempts to exploit Kirby's properties have come off flaccid and dull, if not just plain stupid.

Well, I must give props to Neilalien for linking to Robbie Reed's recent three-part Mr. A extravaganza. It's got loads of great Ditko art as well as one of the most succinct explanations of the connections between Ditko's own work and his unique philosophy I've ever seen - complete with Ayn Rand excerpts where appropriate! Endlessly fascinating stuff for a Ditko-phile like myself, and even if you're already familiar with the bulk of the Mr. A material there's still some interesting commentary.

Anyway, in the second part of the feature, about two-thirds of the way down the article, there's a text piece from the beginning of a Mr. A story entitled "Right To Kill", detailing Mr. A's (and I think we can fairly assume Ditko's) attitude towards killing - ideas which fairly put the Punisher to shame (wow, the Punisher as a Randian objectivist? What a concept!) But there's a particular interesting passage right at the beginning of the essay:
A claim to a contradiction - or wanting it both ways at the same time - is a wish for the irrational to come true, the impossible to become possible. It is a confession of a wish to live in a fake, unreal world, and it can only be attempted by holding and acting on an ANTI-LIFE PREMISE! (his capitals)

Some men respect life - theirs and others. Some men abuse life - theirs and others. Most men do both in degrees.

You see where I'm going with this? People have been wrestling with the symbolic weight of Darkseid's infamous Anti-Life Equation for years, since Kirby left it so wonderfully vague. Read these lines and tell me you can't see Ditko drawing Darkseid - the ultimate expression of Anti-Life, the archetypal fascist, the most evil being in the universe. It's common knowledge that Ditko and Kirby didn't see eye to eye politically*, but the Old Testament-influenced thematic foundation of Kirby's heavily metaphorical mythological melodrama seems to overlap with Ditko's conceptual territory in an uncanny manner - what better device to explore the inescapable polarity of Good and Evil than the two worlds of New Genesis and Apokalips? What better character to epitomize the concept of self-determination and the pursuit of justice than Orion, a character literally "born evil" who made the conscious decision to fight on the side of good? Even the very concept of "The Pact" seems tailor-made for a Ditko story - of course the bargain between Highfather and Darkseid fails, because there can be no compromise between Good and Evil - you can either choose black or white, there is no "middle ground" that does not lead to corruption.

Even though Ditko in his later years has taken pains to separate the subjects of his "fantasy" stories from his polemical pieces, his philosophy still informs everything he does. Even Dr. Strange, undoubtedly one of the most far-out and fantastical characters ever created, still carried a strong undercurrent of Ditko's personal philosophy, as Stephen Strange was always able to keep a clear definition of "good" and "evil" despite the psychedelic disorientation of all his myriad cosmic adventures, proving that even under the most far-flung circumstances, it is still possible for a good man to keep his moral sensations intact. And while it's also true that Ditko never quite got the hang of drawing Kirby's other characters - his Fantastic Four must be seen to believed, but not necessarily in a good way - he could probably do some extremely interesting things with the broad palette provided by the war between the two planets of gods.

Of course, Ditko's New Gods would not be Kirby's New Gods. But the only interpretations of the characters that have ever succeeded have been those that tried to do something new instead of merely replaying Kirby's original ideas or, even worse, trying to write the New Gods as merely another superhero melodrama - which it is most definitely not. Ditko seems to be mostly retired these days but he was doing piecework for DC up until very recently on projects like the 80 Page Giants - how hard would it be for Dan Didio to call him up and give him carte blanche to draw a New Gods graphic novel? He's 81 this year - he's not going to be around forever. It would at least be interesting to see what he could do, wouldn't it?

*Despite the fact that Kirby was a lefty and Ditko was a righty, they apparently still had tremendous respect for each other's skill - I remember reading an anecdote once that Ditko made a point of defacing or destroying copies of Kirby's Thor in front of Stan Lee because he, like every other person in the history of the world, thought that Vince Colletta's inks over Kirby's pencils was a mockery.

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