The Question: The Deaths of Vic Sage (2020)
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Denys Cowan and Bill Sienkiewicz
This recent DC Black Label mini-series provides the perfect opportunity for both a review and stealth superhero spotlight on a character who has intrigued me since I first saw them as a kid. The Question was a purchase by DC Comics when from their buyout of the flagging Charlton Comics in the early 1980s. He came with characters like Captain Atom, Blue Beetle, Peacemaker, Nightshade, and more.
The Question was the creation of writer/artist Steve Ditko, most famous for co-creating Spider-Man and Doctor Strange with Stan Lee. Ditko was an objectivist, aligned with the reprehensible philosophy of Ayn Rand, and saw The Question as a way to practically preach his ideas about individual exceptionalism. After appearing in Charlton comics through the 1960s, he became a part of the deal to sell intellectual properties to DC Comics. If his design feels semi-familiar, he was the inspiration for Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Rorschach in the pages of Watchmen.
Post-Crisis, The Question got his own series at DC under the pen of comics legend Denny O’Neill who, along with penciller, Denys Cowyn created a long-running noir-ish title that gained a cult following. Jeff Lemire is obviously a fan of that run and gives many nods through this prestige four-issue mini-series. Lemire has, in fact, rebooted the Question while retaining all the elements of O’Neill’s series in a beautiful homage. The vigilante is based out of Hub City, a smaller place than Gotham but equally riddled with crime. By day The Question is Charles Szasz, a television journalist intent on uncovering the corruption in his city and making enemies of Mayor Fermin and his cronies.
This mini-series pits him against The Thing with a Thousand Faces as Charles is tossed back through his past lives. He finds himself living as a blacksmith in Hub City circa the 1800s. As he’s known back then, Victor Sage tries to stay out of trouble but ends up pulled into a conflict between a black homesteader and the racist townsfolk. This sends Vic into a spiritual quest as he lies bleeding to death in the wilderness after an ambush.
Later in the mini-series, we find Vic Sage as a private eye in 1941 Hub City. As Lemire explores these incarnations, he reinterprets The Question as a figure outside of just one man or time. He represents a challenge to corrupt systems and systems of authoritarian oppression. It’s a brilliant remix of Ditko’s original, more right-wing ideology. Lemire uses his love and knowledge of the character plus his own personal, more left-leaning views to show a different side of the character. The Question is still a stubborn and violent person but his reasoning behind who he targets and why is much better thought out.
The artwork will be the element that stands out to most readers, and it is some classic work done by two comics legends. It feels just enough like the series from the 1980s and 1990s and fresh, so it will satisfy old fans and people who are just now discovering the character. On that same note, I think this is a perfect introduction to The Question for those who have zero familiarity with the character. Fans have said they couldn’t think of a better tribute to the spirit of Denny O’Neill’s work on the character, and it’s been one of the highest-reviewed comics of 2020. You’re definitely going to see this on some end of year lists next month.