The Charlton line of super-heroes, which saw its heyday in the late '50s and in to the '60s, play an important role in the history of the comics industry. The company boasted talent like Denny O'Neill, Joe Staton, Steve Ditko and Pat Boyette among many with characters like Blue Beetle, Captain Atom and The Question. In 1983 the characters were sold to DC Comics and in 1986 Charlton closed up shop for good, but that sale ensured that the characters would live on for a long time.
In 1985, when DC Comics launched the mini-series "Crisis on Infinite Earths," the various Charlton heroes were merged into the DC Universe. And in Alan Moore's proposal for the groundbreaking series "The Watchmen," the Charlton heroes were originally to be the stars of the series.
Following the events of "Crisis," DC launched a number of series based on the Charlton heroes. Blue Beetle, The Question and Captain Atom all received their own series.
One of the more popular (yet enigmatic) characters from the Charlton stable has to be Vic Sage AKA The Question. Sage is a popular TV journalist who always seems to have the scoop on breaking news stories. Of course, his alter ego as the faceless Question allows him access to areas of the world most journalists wouldn't dream of going in to. His relentless battle against crime re-emerges this November in a new six-issue series written by Rick Veitch with art by Tommy Lee Edwards. CBR News caught up with both Veitch and Edwards to learn more about the series. Today, we sit down with Veitch to learn more about the series.
"The Question was created by Steve Ditko for Charlton Comics back in the 60's," Veitch told CBR News when asked to describe the character. "His story was pretty basic; crusading TV journalist Vic Sage decides to become a street vigilante by donning a mask and battling corruption in Hub City (or Chicago, depending on which year we're talking). Like all the Charlton characters, the Question was batted out for abysmal page rates, but since it was batted out by Ditko it had a lovely subterranean charm to it. Vic Sage would press his belt buckle, viscous Ditko gas would envelope him and out would step the faceless and unstoppable crimefighter."
As we noted earlier, DC bough the Charlton heroes in the '80s and gave the Question his own series written by Denny O'Neil and artist Denys Cowan, bringing a martial arts angle to the character and a devoted following to the book. "I read it regularly and it was really good stuff, too," noted Veitch.
"What affected 'The Question' in an odd way was what Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons did with 'Watchmen,' which was originally conceived as starring the Charlton characters. DC changed their mind and had Alan and Dave create knock-offs of the Charlton gang, and the knock-off they did of the Question ended up becoming one of the most unforgettable characters in modern comics, Rorschach. So the Question then seemed to exist in the shadow of Rorschach and kind of laid fallow for a decade or more."
In the O'Neil/Cowan "The Question," Sage called Hub City his home. Since then Chicago has become his home, but in this new series Sage will find himself called to Superman's home, Metropolis, and a new enemy, at least to Sage, to battle.
"The story concerns The Question being intuitively drawn to Metropolis and on the trail of the Subterraneans. These guys are a group of ultra professional criminals who have taken the challenge of operating under Superman's nose and are getting away with it. At the same time, Luthor's tearing up half the city to build his monstrous 'Science Spire' as a monument to human endeavor. But the Question, while kicking the stuffing out of any criminals he comes across, gets a glimmer that there is far more to Luthor's project than meets the eye. In fact, it presents a great danger to Superman.
"What makes 'The Question' different, both as a series and as a character, is how the reader is put into his particular intuitive mind set and slowly begins to amass clues in the same manner the Question does. But you never quite know if he's nuts or not."
The move to Metropolis for Vic is a deliberate one, part of a larger DC universe plan.
"The larger conceptual plan was called 'Superstorm' and was built around Brian Azzarello's planned 'Luthor' miniseries. They wanted to bring street level heroes, like the Question and Vigilante, into Metropolis to contrast Superman's larger than life presence. I think some of the titles got delayed with changes in personnel, but we're on track so DC's going ahead and releasing 'The Question' ahead of the others. It works because 'The Question' miniseries introduces the unifying theme of 'Superstorm'; a massive building project in the center of the city called the Science Spire.
"My first choice would have been to launch 'The Question' in Chicago to establish how he talks to his own city, but Metropolis is the single coolest locale in the DCU so I'm not weeping or gnashing teeth. I'm especially having fun figuring out ways crime could flourish in a city under the all-seeing, all-hearing, faster-than-a-speeding-bullet presence of Superman. I think it was Paul Levitz who suggested that Vic and Lois might have known each other in college and that turned out to be a fertile idea I've been working with. We've set it up so that Vic has been head over heels in love with Lois since college, but has never been able to tell her and she hardly knows he's alive. Real Ditkoian, we thought. And yes, Superman appears, but seen through the Question's eyes, he's shown in a way he's never been shown (or imagined) before."
We asked Veitch what it is about the Question that makes him a unique and interesting, and what's allowed him to last so long as a character, something Veitch was happy to discuss.
"Well, probably, his original appeal lay in the fact that he was so relentless and over the top in terms of a 1960's comic book crimefighter," said Veitch. "Ditko went on to explore that aspect even further with his Mr. A character and I think Alan and Dave used both in creating Rorschach. This made perfect sense in the late '80s because no one had really explored what would prompt someone to become a vigilante. The impact of Rorschach (and 'Dark Knight') opened the floodgates for nutjob heroes in the early '90s and now everyone's pretty sick and tired of grim and gritty.
"We all agreed back in the very beginning that the Question needed some tinkering with to help him stand out a little more on his own while being true to his roots. He needed to be even crazier than Rorschach, but in a different and more creative way. I envisioned a Question who's spent so many years prowling the mean streets of Chicago in his lonely vigil that he's begun to see Chicago as a living entity. He talks to it and it communicates to him through his intuition. Like a native shaman who converses with nature spirits through the rivers and the mountains, the Question is in a dialogue with his city. He thinks that he walks in two worlds, the world of concrete objects that you and I perceive, and a hidden shadowy spirit world that only he a few others enter. He uses this knowledge to find criminals and bang heads in the name of truth and justice. But we never quite know if he's off his rocker or not."
Veitch's involvement with this new "The Question" mini-series dates back around three years ago while Veitch was working on "Greyshirt: Indigo Sunset" at ABC.
"Wildstorm had a list of DC characters that DC didn't have immediate plans for and Wildstorm was playing around with the idea of rebooting them from the San Diego office," said Veitch. "The Question was on the list and they asked me to make a proposal. I pitched them the 'urban shaman' idea and they loved it, but as it turned out someone else had dibs on the character so they asked me to take the concept and apply it the another guy on the list; Vigilante. Carlos D'Anda was to be the artist and since he dug doing wild, over the top, sci-fi/fantasy stuff, I wrote the first script and kind of moved away from the original concept; making it less mysterious and more action-wacky to suit Carlos' tastes.
"I was finishing the second script when Jim Lee called to say they wanted me back on 'The Question!' It turned out he and Dan Didio were cooking up some stuff in the DC Universe and Dan liked the 'urban shaman' concept and wanted it applied to the Question and integrated into a larger conceptual multi-series thing they were planning."
Once Veitch was back working on "The Question," Jim lee brought in Tommy Lee Edwards as series artist.
"The coolest thing about this whole project is how the book looks," said Veitch. "Tommy Lee Edwards is one of the best and most talented comic book artists I've ever had the pleasure to work with (and I've worked with some geniuses!). He does everything right and with this job he's handling the color himself. It looks like magic! We've also raided an old, long forgotten DC Comics visual trick to define the shamanic dimension that the Question operates in. Anyone remember how Carmine Infantino did 'Strange Sports Stories?'"
If you're looking for more Rick Veitch goodness, Veitch has a new volume of his "Rare Bit Fiends" coming out later this year.
"'Crypto Zoo' is Volume Three of the 'Collected Rare Bit Fiends" which was a dream comic I published in the mid '90s. While I love to do mainstream stuff, I also self publish art comics and my own flavor of superheroes, like 'Brat Pack,' 'The One' and 'The Maximortal' through my imprint, King Hell Press. 'Crypto Zoo' is a set of dream comics based on a detailed dream diary I kept in the 1970s when I was going through some really strange times. I pulled out the diary and illustrated them as comics in 1996. The whole process of getting back into where my 22-year-old head was in my 40s was revelatory. For this trade paperback edition I've also written a 20 page 'Annotated Crypto Zoo' that talks about the dreams and what they meant to me. There's also a little seen eight page color story, 'Three Dreams and a Coincidence' included."
Those who might be interested in looking at some dream comics should click on over to "Little Omens," the old Rare Bit Fiends letters page that published readers dreams. "Little Omens" has been relaunched online with lots of unseen dream comics featuring work by both his readers and Veitch himself. Fans who remember Veitch's work on "Swamp Thing" can rejoice next month when DC begins collecting his run on the title in TPB form, begining with "Regenesis." And there's more.
"I'm about two thirds through an original 350 page graphic novel for Vertigo titled 'Can't Get No.' I think it will ship in Fall 2005. I'm preparing a new edition of 'The Maximortal' for Spring 2005 from King Hell. And hopefully will collect my early graphic novel, 'Abraxas and the Earthman' in late 2005."
Return tomorrow for more on "The Question" with artist Tommy Lee Edwards.