By 1967, Steve Ditko had become an industry legend. By this point, he had left Marvel and his two best-known creations, Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, behind. But he was on the cusp of revealing the character whose outlook and point of view most closely resembled his own–and he did it in the third issue of Wally Wood’s self-published pro-zine WITZEND.
Wood started WITZEND out of his frustration with mainstream publishing editors, with whom he’d had a contentious relationship for most of his career. In WITZEND, contributors could do whatever sorts of stories they wanted to, without having to compromise. And they’d also retain the rights to their characters and works. With no mainstream circulation to speak of, WITZEND was more about creative fulfillment than profits or building an audience. It cost a buck a copy at a time when regular comic books still had a cover price of twelve cents.
Freed from all constraints, be they editorial or sales-based. Ditko unleashed his most uncompromising heroic concept of all: Mr. A. Mr. A followed the precepts of Randianism: that there was no gray area, that a thing, an action, was either completely good to completely bad, and must be dealt with accordingly.
While in no way overly violent or gory, this first five-page installment was about as hard-hitting as a comic book story got in 1967. Far from the “peace and love” feelings of the era, Mr. A was a hardened badass who took no prisoners as he walked the difficult line between good and evil, never straying to the side of black, not even a little. As a result, he’s a hard character to like, as he can come across as cold and cruel. But like Mr. A, Ditko never wavered in his adherence to these principles.
The ending, in particular, was brutal and amazing. “Even if you weren’t hurt…I wouldn’t have saved Angel!” This just wasn’t the way comic book heroes behaved in 1967, and it sent shock waves through fandom. Ditko would go on to produce further Mr. A stories for the rest of his life–and he’d do a much more mainstream, watered down version of the same sort of character for Charlton as The Question.