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Ditko: Vic the Enforcer (pt 2)

I may be vacationing out of state, but I still found time between hanging around with the family to crop up Mysterious Suspense #1 for you guys.
The first full title Vic carried, Mysterious Suspense was proposed as a quarterly series starring The Question, but by the time its first issue was published in October 1968, Charlton's Action Hero line had been dead for the better part of a year, though Blue Beetle would manage one more issue (#5, in the previous post) after a year of nothing. Ditko himself had already moved on to new things, having created both the Creeper and Hawk & Dove for DC in the months preceding Mysterious Suspense. The future was looking bleak for Vic Sage, but he still gave it his all for this one issue.

So, without any further ado,

(8 1/2 pages out of 26)

The issue is split into three parts, each bookended with Ditko's "man and morals against the world" narration. No credits are given, so whether Ditko did the dialogue or if D.C Glanzman was still at it I couldn't tell you. Cherish the No-Face on this page, you won't see him much this time.

While investigating a crime boss, Vic catches him fraternizing with a supposedly legitimate businessman, soda king Jason Ord. Disgusted to his core, as so many things I'm sure must make him, he vows to find proof of the connection to take Ord down, or would at least if things hadn't gotten in the way.
Meanwhile Syd, up to his old tricks, talks one of Vic's sponsors into dropping him due to the image he associates with the company. When the sponsor informs Vic of the bad news, Vic tells him he's fine with it ("your money, your decision" essentially), as long as it's really what the sponsor wanted, and not what others convinced him he might want. Vic says that kind of thing a lot in this story. Despondent, the sponsor walks off when Syd catches up with him.

Ord, greatly offended, storms out. Sam asks Vic what the hell he's doing.

Vic says a man's a fool to accept things on faith, and that he can only decide about Ord by what he knows or can prove. Whether Vic's saying that Sam shouldn't assume Ord's an alright guy because of his rep, or that he understands if Sam can't accept what he's saying without proof is unclear. The former would be typical of Vic, but the latter would harmonize with the tune he's singing throughout the issue. Either way, Sam tells him he'll decide what to do after he comes back from a trip he's on his way out the door for.

Anyway, Syd hears about how Vic treated Ord and goes to taunt his team about the likelihood that they might lose their jobs. The heavy snarks of Vic's news team send Syd and his goons home licking their wounds. When thoughts on the situation take a more serious turn, Vic pops in to say some inspiring words.

Or not. Nothing is meaningful to Vic but justice. Friendship is just a word to him.
Vic spills, says no one can be a part of the investigation unless they want to be. Al tells him they're gonna get burned either way when the heat is on. After Vic leaves, the team goes back to worrying he might be digging his own grave.

Meanwhile, Ord is playing like he's the Kingpin.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this is shaping up to be Born Again, only 18 years earlier and only one issue long.
Syd plays like he's offering an olive branch and tells Vic he'd be better off apologizing the Ord. Of course, to Vic this is more like an act of war. As Syd and posse walk off, one of the goons has a familiar thought.

Okay, so it's a month before a story built on that idea is published in Blue Beetle #5, so it's not quite cliche yet at this point, but it's still egregious and so strawman-y. I will never be cool with it.

Anyway, Ord gets to work on his defamation game.

The problem with Ord's plan of course is that Vic is about as compromising as a mountain. The police can't find any connection between Ord and Kroe and warn Vic that he might fallen for a lie. It's easy to dispel doubts though when you're your own uncited source. Sam's come to a decision about the whole thing and calls everyone in his office.

Vic gives his team the straight, repeating the line-in-the-sand tune like a parrot.

Ord and Kroe plot on ways to keep Vic busy for two weeks, and Vic practices his Mule walk as part one comes to a close.

As Nora makes her I'm-not-helping-out-of-loyalty speech, Vic gets a call from the cops. Al has been caught at the scene of a murder, drunk and carrying a gun. When Vic gets there, Al explains this guy Joe Elp once told him he'd found a connection between Ord and Kroe, so Al went to see him to help Vic. They'd been drinking a bit when someone hit Al from behind, and he didn't wake up till the police got there.

This leads to more public fallout, which is really no surprise. Ord and Kroe gloat to each other, Vic gets a little stonier. Al's bail is set, Vic turns even doing a friend a solid into a self-righteous recital of his favorite song.

I get what you're saying there Vic, but sometimes "You're welcome" is enough. This could've been interesting if the smear campaign had gotten Vic so intense and self-righteous that he alienated everyone he knew out of principle, and even though he was right in the end, the way he handled it made everyone a little wary and distrusting of him, but that's a little too unheroic and deconstructionist for Ditko.
As Ditko has it, Vic still doesn't quite stand alone, and again it's an old white man backing him up.

Oh, fantastic. Now we're supposed to believe that it's directly unhealthy to one's mind to refrain from listening to Vic's broadcast! Thanks, Ditko. :/

Vic keeps up his investigation into Elp's death, knowing it will prove Al's innocence, and hoping it'll stick to Ord.

Vic leads the police to get Bo, but unfortunately for them (and for Bo) Kroe's men have already been there. Vic decides it's about time the situation were under his control.
As Sam's deadline draws near, we go to an intermission at the WWB offices.

And Ord receives a mysterious (and suspenseful!) note in the mail.

Vic, with a camera and tape recorder in tow, tails Kroe to the meeting, figuring Ord'll be too paranoid to be safely followed. When he gets there, a thug with a gun gets the drop on him and takes him to see the boss. Part two ends abruptly on Ord shouting about seeing Vic suffer.

"Why does a man fight? To survive! To achieve proper values and goals! To keep secure the values he already has! The alternative? Give up...lose by default." That's what part three's opener says as Ord takes a swing at Vic. Our hero turns the fight around handily and works his way deeper into the warehouse, where it's easier to hide, and easier to do this:

Ditko's Vic might've been a bastard, but he was certainly clever.
Vic keeps this game up for a few pages while the deadline at WWB runs out. Sam calls a meeting, but Nora has to stand in. Syd gloats in for face, so she gives him a fist, and hands Sam Vic's contract per Vic's orders. Sam doesn't want to send them packing without Vic being there, so he postpones his decision again.
Back in the warehouse, Vic has fought his way to a telephone.

Actually, Syd, Vic's snuck up on Ord and Kroe with his tape recorder.
The cops arrive and everyone panics. Vic comes out of his hiding spot to confront Ord and Kroe.

He fires toward Vic and runs off. The cops catch him and everyone goes looking for Vic, who's still busy doing his job.

Sam tells Vic his job's safe, and we cut back to WWB where Syd, in a last ditch effort to undercut Vic, breaks the Ord story in a broadcast of his own.

Syd is regaling a group with tales of his bravery throughout the investigation when he sees Vic walk by, gets nervous and clams up. I'm sure I'd seen that happen in one of the other stories, but the specifics fail me.
The story ends on one more narration box.

And there you have it. Ditko never handled The Question again, but he did create Mr. A, who was pretty much Vic, only more ruthless, more uncompromising, more Randite. Where Vic showed a flagrant disregard for the lives of criminals, Mr. A actively killed them. He had similar distinctions even, include a calling card (though A's, instead of a smoking question mark, was a simple black and white card, to emphasize his moral views), a weird mask (a stone-faced metal helmet), similar jobs and similar tastes in clothes. You can watch this video of Alan Moore recounting a song he'd written about him way back when, or read about him.

Vic himself sat on the shelves for a good thirteen years before meeting with some renewed interest. Next time we'll look at those issues, featuring Vic's team-ups with Ted Kord and his journey from Charlton to DC. Don't miss it!
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