Steve Ditko remains a genius even though a lot of his personal politics are not things I agree with. In fact Ditko’s politics it can be safely said are waaaaaaaaaaaaaaayyyy over to the right of mine, but his voice remains a fascinating voice as mainstream American superhero comics since the 1960’s has been dominated by a leftish-liberal (as in the American version) voice which at times has resulted in a blandness. Having genuinely original thinkers like Ditko, Steve Gerber, Alan Moore, Howard Chaykin or Frank Miller provides a variation to the muchness of mainstream superhero comics.
The Hawk and the Dove was one of the titles Ditko worked on when he arrived at DC Comics after his time at Marvel and Charlton, and in many ways it is pure Ditko. There’s the Hawk (Hank Hall), a brutal young man who’ll solve problems with his fists, and the Dove ( Don Hall, a pacifist) which allows Ditko to present his right wing views.
As seen in the panel above, Ditko is not fucking with us, or writer Steve Skeates who’d read the finest comic to see that Ditko had changed the entire script to make it fit his own philosophy so here’s the two heroes, one ready to kick arse, the other would rather not be there.
Hank turns into the Hawk in order to fight the baddies who are robbing his dad, while pacifist leftie Don stands cowering in the corner at the violence being committed towards his dad. Seeing as this came out in the middle of the Vietnam War and at a time in the 1960’s where the anti-war movement was growing having a jingoistic, gung-ho, right wing reactionary superhero was challenging to say the least.
Ditko can never be accused of subtlety. Don is a cowering spineless coward even when his brother is taking an absolute beating which isn’t hard to extrapolate that this is Ditko commenting on pacifism as a moral philosophy which is akin to selfish cowardice. This is brutal stuff, it’s wrong, I hugely disagree but seeing Ditko’s views writ large in this story is challenging even 40 or so years later.
So, after taking a kicking from the Drop-Outs, Hank changes from the Hawk, when his father makes it clear he feels the Hawk is as bad as the robbers, something Don gloats about.
After setting this up Ditko then goes in for the kill.
Here Ditko presents Objectivism for the reader, the philosophy championed by Ayn Rand. This isn’t a case of moral grey, but black and white, A is A. Ditko then engages the reader in a debate as to whether vigilantism is right, or whether it’s the duty of any of us to step in when they see laws being broken. Effectively he’s questioning the entire reasoning of the superhero, as after all Batman and Spider-Man are essentially unelected,undemocratic forces of chaos unlike Don and Hank’s dad who is an elected force for order. There’s a hell of a lot Ditko’s forcing the reader to deal with here. Some of it is libertarian bollocks, but there are points which the right and the left have to deal with.
Eventually after several pages of moral angst from Don especially, Hank ends up going after the Drop-Outs himself, risking his life in the process. Thankfully though Don has see Ditko’s moral light via a little help with his powers.
Don won’t fight, he does however find ways to turn defensive moves into attack without throwing a punch.
After a fight where The Hawk and the Dove defeat the Drop-Outs, the revert back to being Don and Hank, and yes, here’s Ditko again making the debate perfectly clear.
This is brilliantly demented stuff. You will simply not find this level of politics in mainstream superhero comics today, and when liberalism is veered away from it’s either insane right wing polemics, or some leftish mush that slides back into liberalism. There’s a simplistic political nature of more writers today in superhero comics, so they may be of the left or at least, near where my own personal politics are but they’re not saying anything interesting. Ditko did, I don’t agree with some of it but looking back at this with 40 years worth of hindsight it’s a more sophisticated story that I thought it was when I read it a wee boy wanting to see big fights.
Ditko is one of the last figures from the classic American era of the comics medium, he’s pretty much the only one still self-publishing via Kick-Starter projects. Go search his stuff out, it is, interesting…