December 8, 2006

The Safest Place In The World [1993]

THE SAFEST PLACE IN THE WORLD was a one-shot comic book published by Dark Horse in 1993, featuring a 29-page story and cover by Steve Ditko, who's also co-credited with the colouring (with Rachelle Menashe). The story is labelled as being in the "B(i/e)tter Person Series", similar to how some earlier Ditko work is labelled as being in the "Hero Series" or "Justice Series".

In this story, a spy in a repressive (presumably but not explicitly stated Eastern European) country makes a copy of some military plans that the free world needs to be warned about. She's pursued by security forces, including Captain Kgrul and Lieutenant Orpus, but is able to pass the film on to Sten Agon before being captured and killed by Kgrul's pet wolf, Warrior. The scene switches to the school where Sten's kindly former teachers, husband and wife Kona and Mina Wisdr, work. Sten is tracked there and killed by security forces, and a weaselly teacher named Kasnig who resents the Wisdrs fingers them as former teachers of Sten who might know where he hid the film. Kona is killed and Mina is taken prisoner where she is tortured to reveal the location of the film. She finally decides that she can use the truth to her advantage and uses the fact that Kasnig was also once briefly part of a group that contained some people who were later traitors to divert the suspicion to him. This gets her freed, and she's given papers to go to the West (Kgrul hoping that her departure will help avoid questions about his inept handling of the situation), taking with her the film that she finds thanks to an earlier comment by Kona. Meanwhile, Kasnig, Kgrul and Orpus all end up dead as a result of their own brutality, cowardice and paranoia.

While there are some glaring flaws, I think overall this is one of Ditko's most effective longer personal works, and is well worth checking out. Often his longer pieces tend to collapse into preaching, but in this case he keeps a pretty steady eye on the narrative and uses it to make his point. In particular I thought he did a good job with showing the inner monologues of a lot of the characters, using them to demonstrate how living under an oppressive regime leads to paranoia and double-crossing if you let your cowardice get the better of you, and the particular twist of Mina finding a way to use the truth as a weapon of her own against those who reject truth was well in keeping with Ditko's point. He also nicely uses some visual metaphors, including the wolf representing the oppressive cruelty and birds representing freedom and the better side of humanity.

The cover and story were reprinted, black and white and with some modified artwork (mostly added shading), in the 2002 AVENGING WORLD collection.



2 comments:

  1. This one one of Ditko's best personal efforts, with a sense of story and very strong artwork. The last panel on the page is very effective. Ditko's names for his characters still give me a headache, tho....

    Nick Caputo

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  2. Just re-read this -- an absolute classic, and some of Ditko's best writing.

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