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Aalok Deciphers DC – The Question

3 Jun

Welcome to another edition of deciphering DC. Today, we take a look at one of the most acclaimed, oft requested to be collected and now finally here series from the late 80s, featuring erstwhile Charlton Comics character, THE QUESTION. /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:”Table Normal”; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; mso-style-qformat:yes; mso-style-parent:””; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin-top:0in; mso-para-margin-right:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:10.0pt; mso-para-margin-left:0in; line-height:115%; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:11.0pt; font-family:”Calibri”,”sans-serif”; mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;}

Writer: Dennis O’Neil

Artists: Denys Cowan, Rick Magyar, Malcolm Jones III, Bill Wray

I never thought reading DC Comics would be so intellectually stimulating. Apart from the standard stereotyped superheroes (aka Superman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Flash & the Justice League) the ones that would really seem different would be the detective (Batman & Detective Comics) but the truth is, everything DC was doing after the Crisis was dashingly different, turning Superman into a conflicted hero (here & here), Batman into the dark Knight (here) and the Justice League into….well, something completely different (here) and unveiling (now) classic takes on older, established DC Comics characters the all new, and sometimes all Brit way (Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing , Neil Gaiman’s Black Orchid & Sandman, Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol & Animal Man, & Jamie Delano’s Hellblazer). Amidst all of this, is it any wonder that a morally dark, suggested for mature readers title gets the short shift?

A little background first. The Question was created for Charlton Comics by Steve Ditko, and took centre stage in a series of ambitious adventures rooted as firmly in philosophy as in superheroics. When DC bought the Charlton characters, it was decided that they would feature in Watchmen. However, when Alan Moore revealed that the Question would eventually be killed, he was asked to create his own characters, hence Rorschach.

Dennis O’Neil wrote thirty six issues of the Question, plus a few annuals and five issues of another title called The Question Quarterly. He has also written many issues featuring the Batman in the early seventies, created the character Ra’s Al Ghul (see a retrospective of the most memorable Ra’s appearances here), written an acclaimed run of Green Lantern/Green Arrow with Neal Adams as artist and created the character Azrael, who would go on to assume the mantle of Batman, albeit temporarily. In the Question, for the most part (at least in the thirty six issues that get collected) he writes one shots. All the stories have a tangential connection to one another, and there are the occasional multi parters, which are few and far in between. Even the titles of the trades are the titles of random one shots contained in the trade.

So what makes this series so appealing, you ask? Well, The Question, aka Charles Victor Szasz (Vic Sage) investigative reporter for Station KBEL resides in a corrupt hellhole of a place called Hub City. The administration is corrupt, hell, if you thought Gotham was bad, this is Gotham’s Gotham, without the costumed nutcases though (although one of them does make an appearance here, more later). Vic seems to be actively fighting the system more than fighting random miscreants. His companions Aristotle Rodor (Tot), the philosopher; Richard Dragon, Kung Fu Fighter; Myra Connelly, lover; Izzy O’Toole, the only dependable cop in Hub City and even Lady Shiva, who appears on and off in the book are all fleshed out and hardly seem two dimensional.

A summary of all the stories and I’ll be here months from now. The story that sets the pace for the series begins with the Question’s defeat at the hands of Lady Shiva, following which he is shot and left for dead under the water. Lady Shiva brings him to Richard Dragon; an action that seems inexplicable to him then. Dragon trains him in the way of the warrior (Note: Both Richard Dragon & Lady Shiva were created by Dennis himself in the series Richard Dragon, Kung Fu Fighter) following which he returns to find his lover Myra married to Mayor Wesley Fermin, a lush at the behest of Reverend Hatch, who threatens to kill Myra’s daughter if she refuses.

Of note, Dennis creates the island nation of Santa Prisca here, when in the second trade, Tot gets kidnapped and is taken there. Dennis has a penchant for bleak landscapes. Finally in the fifth trade we see a rematch with Lady Shiva. The sixth trade ends with Vic leaving Hub city after Richard Dragon convinces him to do so, believing that doing otherwise would kill him. For peripheral ties to the DC Universe, you do have an appearance by Batman in the First trade, and one by Green Arrow (the only other then running DCU Suggested for Mature Readers title) in the fifth trade.

Now the one shots. I try to keep my reviews as spoiler free as possible, but here I couldn’t resist. If revealing one or two stories makes you go out & buy them all, well, good for you.

In a story from the trade above, aptly titled ‘Riddles’ Batman foe The Riddler meets a femme fatale who hijacks a bus. When Riddler gets released Gordon convinces him that he’s a has been that no one pays attention to anymore. Tot convinces Sage to spend a weekend in a cabin to regain perspective when he feels he is stretching himself too much in the wake of Myra’s shooting. The two run out of gas, and are forced to take a bus which just happens to be the one that Riddler and his female friend aptly called Sphinx are travelling on. When Sphinx hijacks the bus, and states that the passengers would be asked a riddle each and the ones that get it right would be allowed to leave the bus, the Riddler becomes an unwilling participant. Vic confronts Riddler by asking him fundamental questions about life (like If we know through our senses and our senses are imperfect how can we know anything?) , when the Riddler breaks down and confesses that even he ponders to these questions but the can’t answer them and so finds solace in mundane riddles. That is pure brilliant writing, featured in the fifth collection. A few other notable ones are when Vic actually reads the Watchmen comic book and comes to the conclusion that Rorschach sucks, and another one based on a pastiche of the Captain America strips.

The following trades make up the collection:







All are brilliant. I give each one a 10 on 10 rating. At 20 US$ each, given the quality of source material, they are a steal. Go get ‘em before they’re gone. They won’t be around as long as Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, V for Vendetta, Kingdom Come or even DC: The New Frontier