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The Comic Book Alphabet of Cool – Q

by  in Comic News Comment
The Comic Book Alphabet of Cool – Q

We continue our tour through the alphabet, with a different cool comic book item each day, from A to Z!

Today we look at a hero who was replaced with a female hero of the same name when he was killed off.

You know what, I would love to regale you with reasons why Vic Sage, the Question, is awesome, but since Eric Newson wanted me to feature the Question so bad, I think it makes more sense for me to use Eric’s words to tell you about the Question!

Here, courtesy of Eric’s awesome Question web site, is a look at the history of the Question!

Any discussion of the Question has to start with his creator, a writer / penciller named Steve Ditko, known for his uncomprimising attitude and fierce independence, a passion for the works and beliefs of Ayn Rand, and the rigid black-and-white moral code that served as the basis for most of his work. Oh, and he also co-created some character named Spider-Man.

When Ditko left Marvel in 1966 (the reason remains a subject for debate), he found himself in familiar surroundings at at Charlton Comics, where he’d helped create the atomic superhero Captain Atom during his first decade of work in the 50s (as well as tons of other characters and stories in the pulpy Charlton pages). Ditko first worked to revitalize Cap in the age of the Action Hero, then, in the back pages, turned his interests to a decades-old character named the Blue Beetle. Ditko replaced the old Beetle with a new face, new gadgets and a quick wit, and soon the popular new Blue Beetle was starring in his own book.

For the back pages of Blue Beetle, Ditko created a hero that expressed Ditko’s personal morals and philosophies. He was given the name Victor Sage and a gimmick: a mask that, instead of giving him a new alter-ego face, gave him none at all. The faceless hero was nicknamed the Question, and Charlton had another Ditko hit on it’s hands. But the profits were down for Charlton Comics, and the hero line was downsized. Ditko’s Question was featured in all five issues of Blue Beetle and one full-length issue of his own, inexplicably entitled “Mysterious Suspense.”

It is a testament to Ditko’s skill that this character, few as his Charlton appearances may have been, still inspires discussion and debate to this day.

The Question was featured in a CPL/Gang Publication, a sort of fanzine run by Bob Layton called “Charlton Bullseye.” Ditko could not be reached to do a Question story, so Layton turned instead to the artist’s artist, Alex Toth for the artwork. The Question next featured in a second version of Charlton Bullseye, this time put out by Charlton itself, though the company was already beginning its death throes. The final appearance of the Question before moving to DC came in a book called Americomics Special, which united Captain Atom, Nightshade, Blue Beetle and The Question in a sort of Justice-League-type team called the Sentinels of Justice. Before the issue hit newsstands, the characters were resold to DC.

Denny O’Neil and Denys Cowan’s version of the Question debuted to jeers from the Ditko audience who cried foul on O’Neil’s non-objectivist portrayal of Ditko’s creation. O’Neil addressed the issue by having The Question die at the end of the first issue, resurrected in the second and born again as a wholly different character. O’Neil’s Charles Victor “Vic Sage” Szasz was an orphaned protector of a hellhole — Hub City — taught by a zen Kung Fu master, and dealing with a wealth of grotesque characters and villains as Hub toppled like Sodom and Gomorrah around him. The series became known for it’s thoughtful handling of real-world issues, an excellent letter column, and, from some, for not being Ditko. The series featured detailed and absorbing art by a young African-American named Denys Cowan, who, along with inker Rick Magyar, was twice nominated for the Eisner Award for best art team.

After the Question series, and a brief follow-up Question Quarterly finished their runs, Vic Sage skipped here and there across the DC universe, making appearances in other O’Neil-penned one-shots and cameos in other characters’ books. Giordano joined writer/inker Bob Layton (former Charlton Bullseye publisher) for a simple-but-fun six-issue teaming of the Charlton heroes called the L.A.W. Under the helm of writer Greg Rucka, a self-professed fan of the O’Neil series in college, the Question began a relationship with Gotham vigilante The Huntress in a six-part series called Cry For Blood.

Writer Rick Veitch and artist Tommy Lee Edwards took a new approach to the Question in their 2004-05 six-issue miniseries, turning the Question into a sort of urban shaman who “spoke” to cities through a channel of lifeforce. In the miniseries, the Question comes to Metropolis and has a run in with Superman himself, and it’s revealed that, in journalism school, Vic had a huge crush on Lois Lane.

After successes with animated Batman and Superman cartoon shows, Warner Bros. decided to expand their roster of heroes in 2001 with an animated Justice League. The show featured Wonder Woman, Flash, Hawkgirl, Martian Manhunter and John “Green Lantern” Stewart alongside Batman and Superman in more cosmically epic tales aimed at both kids and long-time fans of DC Comics.

As the Justice League cartoon gained popularity on the Cartoon Network, the rosters were expanded again in 2004 to include anyone and potentially everyone in the DC Universe. From B’wana Beast to Vigilante, any character imaginable had the potential to be a member of the Justice League for an episode. Enter the Question.

The animated version of the Question was voiced by Jeffrey Combs, famous for the Re-Animator films and his appearances on Star Trek and Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners. Bruce Timm, the producer and originator of the series’ style, spoke to fans at a panel at 2004’s WonderCon: “”When we recorded the episode with him, we got Jeffrey Combs, from the Re-Animator movies, to play The Question. And he’s so creepy. He’s like the creepiest hero character we’ve ever had in any of the shows. We were all totally jazzed when we recorded that show. He was awesome.”

Not quite the same as either the Ditko or DC version, the Question on JLU was an investigator of conspiracy theories just on the nuttier side of the X-Files’ Fox Mulder, just a little less wild than the Question analogue Rorschach from Alan Moore’s Watchmen. From his first appearance in the episode “Fearful Symmetry” (a potential dual reference to the Supergirl clone who appears in the episode and to Rorschach), this version of the Question was a hit with both creators and fans. Dwayne McDuffie told Comic Buyer’s Guide Magazine that, “Question seemed special from the first script. About halfway through the first recording with Jeffrey Combs, I looked over at producers Bruce Timm and James Tucker and said, ‘Let’s just do The Question Show from now on, okay?'”

JLU ended its run in May of 2006, with the Question having appeared in at least seven and having had a major role in five episodes.

In his last comic book appearances, Vic Sage showed up in the pages of 52, where he served as a mentor to Renee Montoya…

Eventually, Vic died…

And he wanted Renee to take over for him, and after some self-growth…

That’s exactly what she did, becoming the NEW Question!

Renee will soon be following in Vic’s tradition in ANOTHER sense, as she will soon be a back-up in the pages of Detective Comics, just as Vic was a back-up to Blue Beetle!

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