charlton comics

Mysterious Suspense #1

Cover of Mysterious Suspense #1 by Steve Ditko“Return of the Question” – Oct. 1968

Plot: Steve Ditko
Art: Steve Ditko
Lettering: A. Machine
Published by Charlton Comics

What is the greatest battle an individual must fight? Is it against the mystic terrors of unknown dimensions? Is it against the hordes of alien beings from outer space, or against foreign armies or criminal conspiracies? No! The greatest battle you or any person must constantly fight is not any of those! What, then, is man’s greatest battle…The Question stands on a wet ledge stories from the street, listening to two figures speak through a rain-soaked window. One of the figures is Max Kroe, one of “the biggest racketeers in the state!” So far, Kroe has been like Teflon and has gotten away from the law scot-free, but the Question has taken great pains to follow him to a secret meeting.

The other figure is the respectable Crown City king of the soda pop industry, Jason Ord. The meeting’s not for blackmail or a pay-off, but there seems to be some money passing hands. The men seem to be on good terms with each other, leading the Question to think they’re in cahoots: “Ord’s worse than Kroe! Ord’s using an unearned reputation to deceive the decent people he deals with!”

Meanwhile, at W.W.B., Syd Starr has launced another one of his “Get Rid of Vic Sage Quick” schemes, convincing a businessman named Fry to drop his sponsorship of Vic Sage’s controversial show in favor of more family-oriented fare. Fry approaches Sage in the hallway and tells him the news. Sage isn’t offended: “It’s your money, Mr. Fry, you can spend it anyway you please!…One question! Did you come to this decision by yourself?” Suddenly, Fry is offended: “What difference does that make?” Sage replies, “If you’re spending your earned money on what others decide you should buy, are you getting what you want?” Syd and his Yes Men gather around Fry to celebrate, but suddenly, Fry’s not in the mood for such joviality.

But as soon as Syd succeeds in his plan, things are foiled. One of his flunkies pops in with the news that the Soda Pop King himself is here to sponsor Sage! Sage meets with Ord in Sam Starr’s office, and immediately refuses to shake his hand: “Mr. Ord’s not acceptable as my sponsor!” Ord accuses him of joking, but Sage assures him this isn’t a joke. Starr believes it to be a misunderstanding, and uncharacteristically lashes out at Sage: “Vic, this is intolerable! Jason Ord! …And you treat him like he’s a plague! Why??” Sage responds that he believes Jason Ord to be in cahoots with Max Kroe, owing to a tip-off from a trusted source.

“Honest men don’t deal with known thieves. It can only lead to corrupting that which is honest! I intend to prove Kroe and Ord are two of a kind!” Starr calms down, but still believes Sage’s source to be wrong: “You lost Fry and now you’re refusing Ord! The network could lose the whole Ord account because of your attitude with an unprovable charge!” Sage responds: “A man’s a fool to accept things on faith! You can only decide about Ord on what you know or can prove! And I can’t ignore what I know!” Starr acknowledges that Sage never makes charges recklessly, and agrees to give him until he gets back from an out-of-town trip to prove his case.

Syd Starr, hearing from a flunkie who had an ear to the door, couldn’t be more ecstatic: “We couldn’t have done a better job on him than he did himself!” He tries, in vain, to steal away Vic’s staff, focussing specifically on Sage’s secretary/girlfriend Nora Lace. “What’s the name of those things that crawl to trouble spots so they can get their thrills abusing the victims?” she asks her fellow reporter. “They’re called ‘Sydics,'” he replies, infuriating Syd, who leaves. “When they can’t find victims, they feed on themselves,” Al adds.

But things aren’t all fun and games and mocking co-workers. Al has fears about job security if they all stick with Sage. Nora is steadfast however in favor of her boss/boyfriend. Fred Pine chimes in: “Let’s stick to the faces and that is we’re riding on a collision course to disaster and we don’t know why!” Vic Sage arrives to hear his staff contemplating disaster and demands that they settle now: “If I ever expected blind obedience in any of you, I’d have fired him! No one here owes me anything! Anyone who wants the best will be glad to have any one of you working for him!” His staff responds: “That’s not what we want to hear, Vic! Just give us the facts like you’ve always done!”

But Sage can’t give them the whole story without revealing his extra-curricular heroing activities. He tells them as much as he can and they’re skeptical. Al says, “And on that alone, you’re going after Ord! If your charge leaks out to the public before you can prove it, you’ll be denounced by everyone! …You realize the kind of pressure he can put on the network, on you, on all of us?” Sage promises not to use anyone on the investigation that doesn’t want to be and leaves to start said investigation, but the team is still concerned. Bob Hasel sums it up: “I think Vic’s making the fatal mistake that a lot of people have been praying he’d make.”

Jason Ord stands in his office, indignant and infuriated by Sage’s attitude: “Sage is going to regret what he did! I’m going to break him! Before I’m through, Sage will come crawling to me to sponsor him…then Mr. Sage, it will be my turn!”

A group of journalists approaches Sage as he eats dinner. They start by saying they hate his guts, but ask him, out of the spirit of professional brotherhood, to save himself the trouble and give in. Sage replies, “Why, gentlemen, should I, this one time, accept poison in my food?” The journalists walk away, one of them accusing Sage of twisting everything and refusing to face facts. But another has a clearer mind about the situation: “No, he makes them too clear! We hate him because he’s fighting the battle we ran out on before it ever started! He won’t give in to what is wrong and we refuse to stand up for what is right!”

Jason Ord meets with Syd Starr, and explains that he’s not an unreasonable man, he only wants an apology from Sage. Syd replies that Sage, “needs to be knocked off his self-made throne!” The two decide to align their powers to take Sage down. Ord starts by handing money to a chap named Felix and ordering him to start a smear campaign against Vic Sage. Felix replies, “Before I’m through, even Sage will hate himself!” But Ord has more in mind than making Sage apologize. He’ll act like he’s still going to sponsor Sage if he reneges his accusation, but will use that moment of apology to, “spit in his eye and turn him down!”

The smear campaign begins, as news spreads that Sage tried to frame Sam Starr, that pressure by Sage drove some to suicide, that Sage bugged the W.W.B. conference rooms and blackmails his bosses and sponsors to keep his job, and finally, that he spoke out against the U.N. But when faced with the accusation, Sage responds by asking, “if decent people should deal with cutthroats, and if not, why should free governments deal with dictatorships that enslave their own citizens.” And now, the picketers have gathered outside of W.W.B. with signs reading: “The U.N. must stay! Sage must go! / Sage wants our sons to die!” and also, “Sage is a war monger! Remove Sage!”

Syd sets up a meeting between his father and Sage, while Captain Lash drops by with the results of a file search: Nothing connects Kroe to Ord. Sage asks, “You think I’m rubbing two names together so some of Kroe will stick to Ord in people’s minds? Lash responds: “Not you, Vic. But I think you fell for a lie! Drop it before you get in too deep to back out!” But Sage refuses to stop his fight, even as he’s attacked verbally by the protesters outside. Inside, he finds that Al has disappeared. Syd accuses Al of…well, Syd says, “What’s the quote about ships deserting a sinking someone or other, you know how it goes!”

Syd and Sage go to a meeting with Sam Starr and Jason Ord. Ord has threatened to take his advertising to other networks unless Sage apologizes, which would cost W.W.B. millions. But Sage continues his line of thought, asking an outraged Ord if he ever knew or met Max Kroe. Sam puts the direct question to Sage: will he accept Ord’s offer of sponsorship? Sage replies: “No!”

The other W.W.B. staff in the room raise fists to Sage, demanding he take Ord’s offer. They call on Sam Starr to sack Sage, but Starr refuses: “Too many sudden smears and pressures have arisen…I don’t like it! Those tactics are worse than if a man used a gun to get his own way!” Starr gives Sage the two weeks until Fry’s contract expires to prove his case. But Syd and his gang of brown-nosers rejoice at finally having Sage where they want him.

Sage talks to his staff in the office, promising to keep after Ord even after the time limit runs out if need be: “I can’t willingly accept a known evil or pretend it’s something less than it is! You have no way of judging Ord, so…If anyone’s going to stand with me, he’s going to have to give a good reason why! I won’t accept the lame reasons about my being the under-dog, every misfit can claim that! Or that I need help. I’m not a charity case! I’ll accept only a reason why you personally want to make the stand and on your behalf, not mine!”

Ord takes a phone call from Max Kroe, who has a dynamite idea for getting rid of Sage. Ord finalizes plans and hangs up gleefully: “He’s going to be finished for good!” At the same time, Sage walks down the sidewalk, ignoring the jeers and insults of everyone around him.

The greatest battle a person must constantly fight is to uphold proper principles, known truths, against everyone he deals with! A truth cannot be defeated! But when a man refuses to know what is right or deliberately accepts, or does, what he knows is wrong…he defeats himself! The truth remains unbeaten!

Part II:

What is a hero? Is he a man with super powers, who, when in costume, fearlessly seeks out dangers, daringly confronts all obstacles and performs great feats of bravery but then returns to his everyday life, living in helplessness and fear? …Afraid of what he says and how he acts for fear of revealing his secret identity, thus forcing himself to live unnaturally, stripped of the ability to face up to and act upon the everyday problems of life? His response to them may not be one of fearlessness, daring or bravery but one of a constant brooding about his inability to cope with them successfully! Is it a power or a disguise that makes a hero or is a hero a man who faces up to the challenges and obstacles of life and acts on them in a manner that does credit to himself and the proper principles that have been proven to be true?! WHAT MAKES A HERO?

Nora provides her reason for deciding to stay (“Decent people can’t exist where force is the only rule for dealing between groups.”), Fred doesn’t like having his job threatened and didn’t appreciate bribe attempts, and everyone is in except for Al. But hey, where is Al? Sage receives a phone call from Capt. Lash and dashes to police headquarters where Al is being held on charges of murder! Apparently, the police found Al groggily standing over the body a man named Joe Elp with a weapon in his hand after an anonymous call reported gunshots.

Al spills his side of the story to Sage, saying that Elp had tipped him off long ago that Ord and Kroe were in cahoots. They shared a few drinks while talking until Al found himself being bludgeoned from behind. Sage asks Lash to hold off on breaking the news of Al’s booking, and heads off to make the evening broadcast. Al feels terrible: “And I had to add this to all his troubles!” But Capt. Lash sees things differently: “Vic’s not complaining! He knows the difference between victim and assailant! He doesn’t penalize the innocent for what the guilty cause!”

That night, Sage reports that his assistant has been charged with homicide, but instead of distancing himself from him, lets it be known that he’s standing behind Al and believes him to be innocent. Apparently, Sage didn’t break the news to anyone else before the broadcast. Fred and Nora are shocked, but vow to back Al up. Syd Staff attempts to push his father into firing Sage again. Calls from viewers denouncing Sage flood the switchboards and Ord and Kroe share a secretive chuckle over the phone at the effectiveness of their plan.

Sage finds himself facing more angry citizens outside the W.W.B., who believe him to be a hypocrite for standing up for Al. He walks by them without comment and heads to the police station where he bails Al out. Al’s shoulders are drooped as he walks down the steps: “I can’t go back with you! I’ve caused you enough trouble! It’ll be better for you if I keep out of the way!”

Sage snaps back that Al is doing him no favors: “If you want to crawl in a hole even though you’re innocent…go ahead! If you’re ashamed to be seen with your firends…run away! If you can’t stand the stares and tongues of public idiots…go hide! But don’t tell me I’m responsible for what you decide…that it’s for my benefit! You owe me nothing!” Al apologizes for feeling sorry for himself and stands up straight. Back at W.W.B., Vic rallies the troops for the

While Sage and crew work round the clock to find leads on the Ord-Kroe connection, the program continues to face issues with advertisers. Kroe drops by the network and puts on the face of a reasonable man, offering to renegotiate with Sage. Crosstown, at the King Drug Co., the owner faces pressure to drop his financial support of Sage. But he refuses, comparing the use of his drugs to fight bodily diseases to Sage’s commentary that clears up issues of the mind: “You can refuse to buy my products or listen to Vic. But if you deliberately reject quality and truth, you must be willing to settle for that which is inferior and lies! You do not hurt Vic or me if you choose to cripple your body or mind!”

Sage faces the rejection of everyone fearing the backlash they’ll receive just from socializing with him. But he takes on his status as a social pariah well, rejecting a gossiper trying to sell information on Syd and his crowd. Sage meets with Capt. Lash who has just interrogated local stoolie Lippy to no avail. Sage follows Lippy down the street and plans to ask some questions in a different persona. He removes the mask from his belt, smooths it over his face, releases gas from his belt buckle, and waits for the chemical reaction. Vic Sage has become the Question!

The Question uses the element of surprise against Lippy, coming in through the window and releasing his trademark yellow gas into the room. He puts a finger to the small of Lippy’s back and demands answers. He gets them: Joe Elp’s real killer was Bo Bene, currently staying at the Grand Hotel. The Question exits through the window and warns Lippy not to try to warn anyone, or else he’ll be back with dire consequences.

Ord is starting to crack. Sweating and drinking, he calls Kroe, who reassures him that everything is taken care of. A hired killer in a derby and bow-tie takes care of Bo Bene with compliments from Kroe just before Sage and Lash arrive. Both men are frustrated that they seem to be a step behind, but Sage has a sudden spark of inspiration.

Thirty minutes remain before Ord’s deadline comes around. Syd and his crowd are already toasting Sage’s downfall. Nora, Al and Fred continue working and plan to until Sage tells them to quit or they’re tired. Sam Starr stands at his window, hoping that Sage will come up with proof. And Ord finds himself holding a mysterious envelope.

As Ord opens the envelope, it begins to smoke and a question mark appears. The letter states that the Question has photographic and audio proof of Ord meeting with Kroe and that he’s seeking a payoff. Without the money, he’ll turn the evidence over to Sage. Ord gets Kroe on the phone, and together they set up a plan to take down the Question.

Sage tails Kroe to a secret warehouse meeting place, with a camera and tape recorder to get the proof he’s already told Ord, via his secret identity, that he has in his possesion. He knocks out the guard muscle, but finds himself on the business end of the derby/bow-tie’d killer’s pistol. The killer takes him to Ord and Kroe. Ord panics, but Kroe points out the obvious: “A scoop is no good to a dead newscaster!”

But killing isn’t good enough for Ord, he wants Sage to suffer: “I want to hear him beg me to stop!”

Part III:

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.

Kroe does the dumbest possible thing and launches a punch at Sage, who deftly side-steps and kicks the gun from the killer’s hand in the confusion. Sage fights his way out of the room, throwing a chair through a window and swinging from electrical cords to the warehouse floor. Ord has begun to sweat and panic again: “He better not get out! If he does and he talks, I’ll be ruined! You know what that means, Kroe?” Kroe, who has started to sweat himself, replies: “Shut up! You should never have gotten mixed up with Sage in the first place!”

Below, the thugs spread out to find Sage. But Sage has a plan for mass confusion — by switching back and forth between himself and the Question, he can convince the bad guys that they have more than one enemy. Sage, quickly donning and then removing his featureless mask, is making short work of the thugs, as Ord and Kroe continue to panic: “That lousy age and the Question are down there! They must be in this together…! It was a trick…The Question didn’t have any evidence!” Kroe shakes a fist at his business partner: “Now Sage does! Then we have to stop both of them! I could kill you for dragging me into this jam!”

Back at W.W.B. Syd and his crowd have gathered to gloat over Sage’s impending pink slip. They think he’s gone into hiding rather than face up to the consequences. But Nora arrives, saying Sage asked her to represent him surrogately. She puts his contract on Sam Starr’s desk. Syd laughs: “That gutless boss of yours is too scared to face us himself! That coward had to send a woman in his place! The great Mr. Sage turned tail. Ha ha. Where’s your fearless newscaster hiding? Who’s protecting him while you’re here?” Tired of his ramblings, Nora decks him. Sam kicks his son out of the office, and tells Nora to take Sage’s contract back, as he doesn’t yet have anyone to replace him.

Nora goes back to the office shaken, but soon finds herself present for good news. Capt. Lash drops by to let Al know that he’s been cleared: the gun was proven to be Bene’s. Al feels the weight of the world taken off of him: “Thanks, Vic, wherever you are.”

Vic happens to still be in the warehouse, performing his quick change and beating up thugs. But the constant running and fighting is wearing Sage down, and soon, he suspects, the thugs will bring out their guns. He spots a phone on a pole and sneaks over to it, putting in a call to Nora. Handily, Lash is still standing by and heads to the warehouse to help. Sam Starr orders the newsteam to prep the mobile unit, and everyone heads off to cover the big story. They pass Syd in the hallway, where one of his lackeys wonders where their co-workers are running off to. Says Syd: “Who cares! Sage probably stubbed his toe and they’re going to give him a blood transfusion!”

Meanwhile, back at the warehouse, the sirens are getting closer as Ord and Kroe are in a state of full-blown fear. The two start throwing careless accusations at each other, unaware that Sage waits around the corner with tape recorder in hand. The thugs run from the building like rats from a sinking ship, and Ord and Kroe head for a secret exit. But Sage foils their plans again: “No one’s leaving this party yet! You two are going to become a public item…trial and prison!” Kroe throws punches while Ord goes for his pistol, shooting Kroe in the back: “If I get rid of both of you, I’ll never have to worry about anything! You know too much about me, Kroe! You’d make a dal to save your hide! I’ll find someone else to run the rackets…I’ll still be Jason Ord, respectable businessman, with you dead, Sage!”

Ord fires a shot that glances off Sage’s forehead, and runs to the alley, where he finds Lash and the W.W.B cameras waiting. He drops the gun and raises his hands in surrender. The news team races upstairs where they find Sage taking Kroe’s dying words of confession on tape. “It seemed unbelieveable…Kroe and Ord, partners in crime!” says Nora. “It was,” replies Vic, “…As long as there wasn’t any proof!” Sam Starr asks Sage to clean up the paper that, “your secretary littered my desk with…see that it is removed!”

But Syd has one last chance to undercut Sage. With his father called away to Washington, Syd can scoop Sage’s story on Ord by appearing on the roundtable discussion show “Community Challenge.” Syd finds himself being questioned on the removal of Ord as an advertiser, and Syd lays it on thick: “When we became aware of his activities, though not prove…we refused any additional sponsorship. We took the loss until the issue was resolved! We tried to be fair to all concerned, now it belongs to the courts.”

Sage’s news team is infuriated at the scooping. “What are you going to do, Vic?” asks Al. “Nothing! Syd is building his own trap and he’ll find himself caught in it! Syd can’t hurt my program, he’s just mouthing and distorting events. I’m covering the fundamental principles of the proper relationship in dealings between people…that explain the Kores and Ords! I’m not reporting on what happened, but why and how! It’s the difference between just seeing something and understanding the nature of what that something is!”

Syd finds himself the center of attention in the W.W.B. hallway, as people question him of his heroism in helping take down Ord. “Well, I don’t like to take all the credit…others did do their part after the facts were pointed out to them. I was suspicious of Ord very early in our dealings…” Syd starts. But then he catches sight of Sage walking behind him and begins to stutter. He can’t go on lying, excusing himself by saying that he has a slight throat infection. But his fists are clenched and shaking at the sight of Sage walking away.

When does a man achieve victory? When after he has honestly applied himself to the task facing him and having overcome it…is secure in the knowledge that whatever he has accomplished, the fruits of that goal belong to him! He will know…no one else matters.

3 Responses to “Mysterious Suspense #1”

  1. Qman says:

    This was an awsome story

  2. Anthony Lloyd says:

    My favourite comic of all time stiil re read it after all this time Ditko’s slant on corruption still rings true today hard to believe he turned 82 2nd of this month!

  3. Yanolala says:

    A bit difficult to read (reads more like a philosophy tract than a comic) but certainly worth the effort! Here is a Vic Sage with fierce integrity and while he wouldn’t be too fun at a party he is dedicated to truth like few superheroes are.

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