APRIL FOOLS FOR APRIL STOOLS or AW MOM, HE MADE ME DO IT!
Yes, 'tis another April Fool's Day, and once again I honor the BIGGEST FOOL OF THEM ALL with this blast from the past that remains just a relevant now as it did when first published five years ago. Funny how these maybe not-so-insignificant feelings stay around for so long, mainly because "getting over" stuff like what this guy dealt to me would be akin to "getting over" a gang rape (notice how I'm refraining from jokes regarding how said "bigmouth" would undoubtedly enjoy waiting for the sailors to come ashore so he can make his very own sequel to FIREWORKS?). Sheesh, it's as if I'm supposed to "forget" everything that "went down" back then as if nothing ever happened, and for one this THIS elephant never forgets believe-you-moi! And while I'm at it, didn't you think that it was funny when Lang told one of his toadie followers that the reason I loathe him is because he "wrote a nasty review of (my) magazine"...what an understatement on his part! That's like telling someone Michaelangelo Signorile says nasty things about normal people and leaving it at that!
But that's not the reason I'm posting anything today, the following review is...
***AVENGING WORLD by Steve Ditko (Steve Ditko and Robin Snyder, 2009)
For those of you who missed out on the two Ditko Fantagraphics collections of rare fanzine/independently-published material back in the eighties not to mention his various scribings and artwork for small publishers in the nineties, or even the originals when they first appeared in the seventies...here's yet another chance to at least abscond with a small part of it all.
You might remember when AVENGING WORLD came out on the Bruce Hershenson imprint right after the first issue of MR. A. and right before the rest of the various self-produced mid-seventies Ditko titles like WHA?. Who knows, maybe you remember when it originally appeared chapter-by-chapter in the pages of Wally Wood's WITZEND back in the late-sixties. While I'm at it, you may recall how for years these magazines were readily available via the underground comix market that was still profiting from reissued ZAPs and BIJOU FUNNIES years after their original publication dates. Not that the contents of Ditko's wares were exactly conduit to the same mindframe that would necessarily purchase those comics, but then again as Trina Robbins said at a comic convention (reported in COMIC CRUSADER #7) perhaps Ditko is as just as much an underground cartoonist as herself and the rest, for he draws his stories regardless of what the public might think if only to spread his own philosophies to a comic book reading audience, hair-trigger reactions be damned.
And so, a good forty years after some of this was originally published and twenty-five after they were first collected in book form here's another viewing of Ditko's most scabrous, preachy and downright off-setting work to ever combust its way outta his fervid mind. For those of you dabblers who only know of Ditko and his epochal work for the early-mid-sixties era of Marvel (SPIDER-MAN in particular) this may be a hard gulp to digest, and for those of you who tend to associate Ditko's DR. STRANGE with the launching of a thousand trips in some stinky dorm back in '67 you've probably already been turned off by these def. anti-hippoid offerings. But those of you who may even be on the periphery of appreciating comic art as well as dabbling in neo-objectivist/pseudo-anarchist libertarian extreme-rightisms...well maybe you have come to the right place.
Anyhow, here we have (in a $25 package which is even pricier than those self-produced mid-seventies comics we thought cost way too much at 75 cents a pop!) a downright satisfying collection of Ditko rarities, most having appeared in long o.p. titles that are relatively hard to latch onto these days. True this is far from a complete collection, but this package of Ditkorama is one that you won't be able to find elsewhere unless you want to dig into your pockets a li'l deeper via the next ebay auctions these rarities might turn up on, and they do on scant occasion don't get me wrong.
The original 1975 collection of the AVENGING WORLD title starts this book off, it being a long and overly penetrating re and reiteration of various objectivist philosophies that will polarize many, maybe even (especially?) those of you who do partake in the more libertarian aspects of political discourse with this saga's strong Randian "moral" tone (which I must admit is slightly "better" than many of the dealings to be found on both the left and the right of the spectrum these days, though when I do get into the anarchist groove I much prefer Murray Rothbard or Karl Hess over the cigarette-holdered Russian philosopher anyday). Cliched in many ways* (the "title character" cum narrator is a body with a bandaged globe/head straight out of some 1950's political cartoon, while the use of choice headlines to help preach the world's woes reminds me of a 1970 social science project), AVENGING WORLD is a title that is bound to upset, anger or just rub many the wrong way. Those who would dare to dig deep into the crux of what Ditko is saying about everything from mysticism and altruism to compassion and most of all corruption (a grey area where I'm sure he tends to see ALL OF US wallowing in for some strange reason) might just walk away feeling dank and angry. I'm positive Ditko turned off more than a few of the mellow pot smoking teenagers who tuned into the at time wide-eyed altruistic comics that were being printed in fanzines expecting something to assuage their own perhaps mooshy beliefs only to get slammed in the head with a rude awakening like THIS!
Serious fans will want to know that one page from the story that was originally printed in WITZEND and expurgated from various reprintings has finally been restored, this segment dealing with violent protesters who violate others' rights and cry foul when the police get called in to restore ordure. I figured that this page was originally cut out perhaps due to a change in heart regarding tarring many if not most protesters as violators of rights if they in fact do picket peacefully, but perhaps recent developments had Ditko changing his mind about this once again. Or maybe he felt that leaving the page out would ruin the "integrity" of his work, pretty much like the way he felt when a former editor wanted to correct Ditko's various spelling errors.
Some of AVENGING WORLD is satisfying at least to a curmudgeon like myself...after all do-gooders and various other "pragmatic" types have been due for a good reaming lo these many years. Who in their right mind can argue with that? But the no-holds-barred extreme tactics that Ditko can use to drive his point home might be just a little too overpowering in a medium that has already been way too pushy for the past fortysome years. I mean yeah, I know that communists are bad and that their appeasers are just as guilty and there's always been something fishy about people who cajole and force me to do things against my will for some perceived "good" common or not, but when reading this I tend to get the feeling akin to some ignorant pre-teen being told the "facts of life" by his father who for some reason thinks that these "facts" have to do with some long-dead alcoholic uncle totally circumventing the meat and potatoes of the carnal oompah it's all about. When the original "Avenging World" saga ends with a story about a dangerous creature that has arrived in a village which must be tamed to keep the "public good" (the creature being a newborn baby), sometimes I wonder if Ditko's real message is "to the objectivist chamber, go"...
But surprisingly enough for a man who I would believe an avowed atheist, Ditko's anti-religious diatribes seem rather tame by today's standards. But then again, given all of the carefully calculated (remembering not to offend the culturally protected religious classes!) anti-religion diatribes heard today at least Ditko's spew seems a whole lot better thought out than all of the rabble heard currently. Anyway, if anything time has only proven to us that British expats (especially those who like to jack off while hanging themselves) with their snobbish Trotskyite stances and neocon pandering are the ones who really poison everything. Whatever happened to those strict immigration laws anyway?
Even with all of the heavy-handedness (as I said years back, at times you feel like Ditko came over to your very abode and whammed you one good with a sledgehammer!) I really don't find much to argue about with Ditko's overall philosophy. His rooting for the guy who is made to sacrifice over and over for whatever want or need there might be is one rarely seen today, especially in a world where the movers and shakers (meaning you, if you're a workaday kinda guy) have to dish out more and more hard-earned in order to bail out everything from major corporations to people who can't keep up on their mortgages. Really, who other than Ditko would even acknowledge that it's the working slobs of all stratas who have to foot the bill for the whims and desires of others whether it be supporting various public "works" or livelihoods for people we don't even know much less care about. And from the top on down we're told to keep on dishing it out, and smile while yer at it! After we take your money it's the gonna be your property, and eventually your life. (See page three of "The Neutralist Settles a Dispute" or "To Be Right Is To Be a Loser!")
Not all of the material reprinted here as strong-arming as the main title, and in fact some of it can be downright light. "Heads" was a recurring Ditko title which seems a bit more open-ended and humorous to a degree, and although Ditko's personal opines do get the push here I don't feel like I'm being forced into choosing whatever perceived side of the black/white calling card of Mr. A. that is being tossed at me. The story featuring "The Screamer", a strange superhero who appears to deal justice at the most opportune time with no explanation or warning was pretty guffaw-inducing, especially with its commentaries regarding hard green environmental radicals and anti-technological nature lover types (led by a rabble-rouser known as "Bleeder, the Nature Pleader"!). And Ditko's more recent work which ridicule graffiti artists/litterbugs as well as spoofs the concept that television directly causes violence does show a bit of a lightheartedness, as if the ol' fanabla's even mellowing out a bit!
Also included amongst the comics are some of Ditko's writings on a wide range of subjects. None other than Mr. A. himself introduces "Violence, the Phoney (sic) Issue" from a late-sixties issue of the fanzine GUTS where Ditko brings up the subject of television/comic book violence and how it is not the blame for the then-rash of crime. Let's just say that Fredric Wertham would not be pleased. There are also some interesting articles on what does and does not constitute "art" (I think what "art" is can be summed up in Chris Burden's own words as to what a creator can produce that a clientele in a certain sphere would consider as such) as well as a piece detailing Ditko's own personal views regarding the big tiff re. Jack Kirby and Stan Lee as to who owns original comic art. Speaking of those two, Ditko also dishes out some ballistic blasts regarding the creation of Spider-Man re. their claims that they were in fact the ones who thought it up and Ditko only took the football and ran with it (even if Lee came up with a brief concept and Kirby's version was a totally different entity than the one which made Lee a pretty wealthy egoist). In all it is heady reading.
As you'd expect, this title is probably not going to pop up at your local book market, so your best best in latching onto a copy would be to scour the ebay listings or better yet email Snyder himself for information at firstname.lastname@example.org. I mean, you could do much worse, like latch onto the entire back issue run of CAPTAIN PLANET y'know.
*But, as I've said many a time, I just love cliches to the dickens or else I wouldn't use them so much!