I remember hearing a lot of good things about writer Denny O’Neil’s run on the Question in the mid-80s. I just never got around to it. I am not sure why, but it was something I never really read. Quite frankly, I didn’t know much about the Question at the time. I have, of course, become more familiar with the character since then, including how he inspired the Watchmen character of Rorschach.
But it might be nice to actually see some of the things Vic Sage and his faceless alter ego actually did, so here I am at the beginning.
Issue: The Question #1, November 1986
Writer: Denny O’Neil
Artists: Denys Cowan and Rick Magyar
The plot: Vic Sage, as both himself and his faceless alter ego, goes about his day trying to bring down corrupt government officials in Hub City, not knowing as the narrator does that he will die at midnight at the end of the issue.
Commentary: When I was growing up, my grandfather had these two Smithsonian books. One was a collection of comic strips going back over 100 years. The other, smaller one, was a celebration of pre-Comics Code Authority comic books. That one had the first appearances of Superman, Batman, and Plastic Man, as well as various works representing individual creators or publishers. There was a C.C. Beck Captain Marvel story, a number of E.C. Comics stuff representing different genres, and three or four issues of Will Eisner’s The Spirit. When my grandfather died, I was given the comic strip book (it’s sitting in my office as I type this), but the comic book one went to my uncle. I have no idea what happened to that book after that. But the Eisner material stuck with me as the Spirit was often used as a means for Eisner to experiment in a wide variety of ways, and one of those stories was the last ten minutes of a young man’s life as he lost it after trying to rob a store and killing the kindly neighborhood shopowner and then trying to escape the masked lawman. Eisner’s narration opens to tell the reader this is the last ten minutes of the young man’s life, and sure enough, as his corpse is being hauled away on a gurney while the Spirit dourly looks on, a man and woman are arguing because the man doesn’t see why being ten minutes late is all that big a deal.
Seriously, I need to find a way to read more of those old Spirit stories. Frank Miller even claims he swiped the idea for Elektra from one.
But regardless, this issue reminded me very much of that story as O’Neil’s much-more overwrought narration tells the reader from the very first panel how much time Charles Victor Szasz has left. Only about halfway through the issue does the story let the reader know that crusading TV reporter Vic Sage, AKA the Question, is also Charles VIctor Szasz, but why shouldn’t he be doomed? He’s blatantly taking evidence from various low lifes of the mayor of Hub City’s corruption and then presenting it on television as himself. Granted, no one seems to see the connection between Sage and the Question, but the point stands. He isn’t even trying to hide what he’s doing very effectively. Even if people don’t realize Sage is the Question, they at least realize the two are somehow working together when the evidence the Question swipes ends up on Sage’s broadcast.
So, really, it’s only a matter of time, especially since while the mayor himself is something of a doddering simpleton, the televangelist acting as his spiritual advisor certainly isn’t, and he has someone on tab to take the Question down when the omniscient narrator’s time runs out: Lady Shiva. I’ve long known Lady Shiva as the best and most dangerous martial arts assassin in the DC Universe, so it isn’t much of a shock when she rather easily knocks the Question around long enough to get some guy with a pellet gun to shoot Sage in the head and then dump his body in the river.
Yeah, it does appear the character died in his very first issue.
Granted, there is a second issue, but the Question, like a few other characters that were starting to appear in DC books after the Crisis on Infinite Earths was one of the characters DC had acquired from Charlton comics, and while the Question’s creator Steve Ditko made him something of an Objectivist, there doesn’t seem to be too much Ayn Rand on display here. Instead, VIc Sage comes across as righteous and arrogant, a man convinced he’s not only right but also perhaps untouchable. O’Neil’s script also works to introduce the reader not just to Sage but also the basics on how his faceless mask works, who his allies are, and what the situation in Hub City is. Now Sage just has to not die to do something about it. Good start to what should be a moody series, one that fits into O’Neil’s general wheelhouse given his reinvention of Batman in the 70s as well as Cowan’s pencils to give the series a more grounded look. Vic Sage maybe needed to be brought down a peg or two to fight Hub City’s corruption, but that could allow him to rise to something bigger and better when he returns from the grave.