Avenging World

Avenging World cover

By Steve Ditko

Avenging World is a 1973 comic by Ditko wich outlines Objectivist philosophy as he understands it. Unlike some of his other explicitly Objectivist works like Mr. A, there's no attempt to mingle superheroics and philosophy — instead, this is more of an illustrated essay or tract.

Avenging World can be divided into a few simple sections. There's an initial section, where the "Avenging World" broadly satirizes the sort of people that are driving him to ruin, which is topped off by a few short strips showing some of these types in action — notably, "The Neutralist" and "The Political Power Luster." There's a middle section where he ruminates over good and evil, punctuated with some illustrated examples on the "Collective Good Fallacy" and the "Initiators of Force." And then, there's a final three-page strip, "The Deadly Alien," which is a complete change in tone — it's more like a three-page Atlas monster comic.

I'm not sure what sort of audience this is intended to reach. At 60 cents a pop, it's way too expensive to be purchased in bulk and distributed as a tract, especially in 1973 terms (by comparison, Chick tracts cost about 15 cents today). An Objectivist who purchases it is already going to agree with most of what Ditko says, and may even find his presentation of the issues to be somewhat simplistic. At the most, you might get a few Spider-Man and Creeper fans to consider Objectivism, but that's about it.

The biggest problem, though, is that the comic is about as subtle as a sledgehammer. To some extent, that's a function of its tract-like nature — after all, the whole point of a tract is to make a quick but lasting impression — but all that anger and exasperation becomes grating over the course of 32 pages. Even the art is extremely unsubtle — the people ruining the world aren't just misguided — they're pure evil, represented by unwashed hoboes, cretinous slavering sycophants, Dick Tracy-esque monsters. Whereas the the forces of reason and goodness are represented by Brick McSquarejaw, Mr. Handsome American 1955. It's so unsubtle it actually unmakes Ditko's points by turning characters into easily dismissable caricatures.

On the plus side, Ditko's use of empty silhouettes to represent everymen and crowds is quite interesting. There are some nice expressionistic seuquences in the second half of the book that might work better in one of Ditko's mystic comics. There are some nicely organized double-page spreads that work pretty well.

Far and away the best thing in the book is the final strip, "The Deadly Alien." One of the reasons it works is that it's more explicitly comic-like than what's come earlier, and Ditko's comfort with the ouevre may have helped him here. Here's the strip in its entirety...

Avenging World p. 30-31 Avenging World p. 32

Avenging World p. 30-32

Okay, first things first. The lettering is way too small. I have no problems reading fine print, but this is really fine print. Ditko's not really using many of his normal storytelling techniques here, instead relying on the regularity of the sixteen panel grid to keep you moving — not necessarily a bad decision, but not a great one either. The characters are the usual array of grotesques. The hatching is a tad overdone and is too close in weight to the other thin lines, which makes things look a bit muddy.

On the plus side, that Atlas twist ending story structure really works here. Yes, it telegraphs that there's a twist coming from a mile away, but Ditko does a good job of surprising you anyway. And the composition on that last page is fantastic — the "dark" forces of unreason are on the outside, aggrivated, tense, heavily hatched, while the "light" of reason is on the inside, uncluttered and confidently posed. Indeed, the whole central area of the picture is mostly white, except for the swaddling cloths, and the black halo of the bedboard, which draws your eye right to that baby.

I can't really recomend this to anyone, though it's certainly an interesting read. If you really want to read Avenging World, it's available for download here. Though you didn't hear it from me.

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