Today, I continue my look back at my favorite comic book series of all time, The Question by Dennis O’Neil. While this is being done as a lead up to Action Comics #1005 — which will reintroduce The Question into Rebirth — that actually comes out next month. We won’t be done with our retrospective here at The Daily Fandom, but we will continue it because this series is just too good not to keep looking at.
This week we are going to look at The Question Volume 4: Welcome to Oz which contains my favorite arc in the series. We will also be taking a look at “Fables,” the crossover between Detective Comics, Green Arrow, and The Question.
Issue Nineteen: “The Plastic Dilemma”
This issue deals with the fallout of the previous arc as well as progressing Myra’s campaign for mayor. With Butch and Sundance out of the picture, more plastic gun dealers are coming in and causing quite a problem in Hub City. Myra, in order to have a powerful businessman backing her campaign, has to align herself with Alexander Polys. However, Polys owns a plastic manufacturer and is a dealer of plastic guns.
For obvious reasons, Myra objects to aligning herself with him. She brings up the car manufacturer argument — the idea that car manufacturers are not responsible for deaths caused by car crashes — trying to convince herself that it’s okay to accept his help. Vic correctly counters this, saying that guns, specifically plastic guns, are designed to kill. Therefore Polys is just as responsible as the person who wields the gun.
But Cobb, her manager, believes this is necessary for her success. After all, he is a criminal himself and, as we find out, only backing Myra for a shot at fame. Cobb sends out his former cellmate to put out hits on Vic and a taxi driver who might tell the truth about Polys’ shady deals. It’s like a mob hit. In Hub City, politics is treated like a criminal activity, something that Myra protests against.
The main theme O’Neil gets across is about refusing to compromise and accepting the small victories. Myra gets rid of Cobb, so while she doesn’t have a political genius working her campaign, at least she can keep it clean. The evidence against Polys was ignored, but at least Vic can rest easier now that he helped get some people on Myra’s side.
Issue Twenty: “Send in the Clowns”
Notice in the debate that Myra is the only real politician, as she is the only one that says anything of substance. Royal Dinsmore, being what he is, stands on the very far right and preaches “Christian” values despite being incredibly racist. He also operates on a platform of the police being judge, jury, and executioner rather than going through the legal system. Jazlett, on the other hand, wants to compromise which, as we saw in the last issue, no one else is willing to do. His centrist values are ineffectual.
During the discussion between Vic and Myra we get a furthering of the theme of sanity that runs throughout this series. Myra feels guilty as Mikey went off the deep end after seeing Vic and Myra in bed together in #12. She was a saint to him and she buys into her own image. Vic once again correctly counters her, saying that she is an ordinary woman with ordinary desires. Everyone sins, no one is perfect, and you just have to accept that to get through life.
One thing this issue deliberately shows is that the citizens of Hub City are easy to manipulate. One clown flashes his privates on television so it becomes open season on all clowns. Dinsmore uses this to his advantage in his campaign ads, standing on a platform of patriotism so as to be easily understood. It’s a nice touch when Vic turns the tables on him at the end by defacing his campaign posters.
Questioning Rick Magyar’s Farwell
It is worth noting that this issue is the first issue out of two that is not drawn by Denys Cowan. The art in this issue is actually done by Rick Magyar who has been the series inker since it started. This is his final issue on the series so he draws and inks it himself. As a result, the art is a bit more fluid and cleaner than it has been before. While still realistic, Magyar’s art is far more stylized than Cowan’s. The original creative team of Dennis O’Neil, Denys Cowan, and Rick Magyar are no more. But the next few inkers will bring their own style and take the series in a new artistic direction.
Issue Twenty-One: “Rejects”
O’Neil brilliantly parallels Junior and Vic in this issue. Junior knew his family, or at least his father, and thus is able to understand which of his negative traits came from them. Vic never knew his family and will never know which parts of his personality came from them and which are uniquely him. It adds to his curiosity and so despite the hardships Junior has endured, Vic sees him as luckier.
The main theme O’Neil is conveying in this issue is that sometimes people don’t change, even if they are given the chance. Vic’s high school classmates seem friendly at first, but then, behind his back, call Vic a monster and say that he hasn’t changed. We as the reader know how far Vic has progressed. Same with Junior’s father. Junior scarred himself and got a heart to save his father. But his father still treats him horribly.
In contrast, Vic and Junior have both changed as the symbolism with their faces makes clear. Vic’s mask is a featureless piece of artificial skin, signifying that he doesn’t know who he is becoming. Junior’s face is scarred by the acid he poured on himself to impress his father, showing that he will forever live with the trauma his father put him through. But, as Vic says in the end, monsters sometimes have a chance to change for the better, which is why he asks Izzy to go easy on him.
Questioning The Continuity
This issue actually begins with a flashback to the end of #6. O’Neil had mentioned before that he had a general plan for where the series was going which you can tell. His sense of continuity is very good and callbacks like this are quite common. This issue will be the last appearance of Junior and the Musto crime family in the main series.
Issue Twenty-Two: “Election Day: The Fix”
This is the beginning of the three-issue arc “Election Day” and it is my favorite arc of the entire series. These three issues encapsulate many of the ideas and concepts that made me fall in love with the series. This is pure O’Neil genius and makes me wish he was still writing comics regularly.
O’Neil demonstrates perfectly how politics is an unfair game where winning means you have to play dirty. We got hints of that in previous issues, but it comes to bear fully in this issue. Myra is losing because she chose to play fair. And Maurice even mentions that he makes a good manager because he was a make-up man. He is an expert on false promises which is what politics is all about.
She finally accepts it and denounces Wesley publicly. She didn’t want to do this, as she feels he is emblematic of the problems in Hub City and wanted to help him. But she is desperate. If Dinsmore wins, many of the people she trusts, like Maurice, will be put into camps or worse. As we’ve seen before, she is willing to make sacrifices if it means she can help people.
Questioning The Inkers
The new creative team is officially in place. Malcolm Jones III is the inker for the rest of the series. Denys Cowan has mentioned that, while he liked Magyar’s inks, they were always cleaner than his original pencils. Jones’ style is grittier, dirtier, and grimier — a better match to Cowan’s pencils. The look the series takes on is much rougher and may throw some people off. But I think it fits the tone of the series and helps to show us just how twisted and dirty a place Hub City really is.
It’s worth noting that #21 was inked by Dick Giordano who has an interesting history with the character of The Question. Giordano used to be in charge of the Action Heroes line at Charlton Comics in the 60’s. He hired Steve Ditko on to revamp a few old characters and create a few new ones. One of the new characters created in the back pages of the new version of Blue Beetle was The Question. O’Neil actually worked at Charlton at the same time under a pseudonym.
Issue Twenty-Three: “Election Day: Welcome to Oz”
We saw in #5 that Hub City was founded by a man that was killed by scoundrels. It has always been corrupt. This issue flashes back to 1888, where we see that the Dinsmore family has been in Hub City for a long time. And, like we expected, Hub City is not only still corrupt, but the Dinsmore family has always resorted to violence to get what they want.
After Tot is injured due to Dinsmore’s plan, Vic realizes that he will have to compromise his morals in order to help Myra out. If he does his job, Dinsmore wins, but if he doesn’t, people get hurt. So he has no choice but to become The Question and use dirty methods in order to get people to turn on Dinsmore. The scene when he breaks the bones of the bikers in order to get them sent to a hospital is haunting. And you can see his disgust when he reports it to KBEL.
While he got the bikers to go after Dinsmore by reporting false facts, he knows that Dinsmore will be killed. He can’t abide by that, but knows he has to live with the consequences of his actions. O’Neil is a master of writing and this demonstrates perfectly that he can take something as major as an election and bring it down to a personal level.
Questioning The Real Life Parallels Of Dinsmore’s Plan
Dinsmore’s plan is classic dirty politics. Get the poor and homeless registered to vote on skid row, give them a hat and a name to vote for. Any person not wearing one of the caps will be taken out by his hired gang. Like Maurice said in the last issue, no one ever lost anything by underestimating the intelligence of the American public. The cap and name part of this plan is very similar to the campaign strategy of a certain current President of the United States.
Issue Twenty-Four: “Election Day: The Dark”
The storm has come to Hub City both physically and metaphorically. The biggest tornado in history strikes, making the city’s exterior match what was always on the inside — a city that is eating itself through dirty dealings and corruption. It’s dirty both physically and metaphorically now.
The scorpion and beaver story, which is repeated by Vic, is the perfect allegory for the series. Vic goes out of his way to help Hub City, but all it does is stab him in the back. But despite it all, after he survives the storm Vic feels alive and clean. He’s the only good man in a filthy city.
This issue primarily focuses on the aftermath of the storm and the election. Dinsmore won by only one vote. Vic, as he was busy helping as The Question, never got to cast his vote. So he blames himself, despite of the fact that a large majority of people didn’t vote due to the danger. But he knows deep down he did all that he could. When Maurice calls him a good man, he doesn’t question it like he did when he was called that in previous issues.
The cliff-hanger that this issue ends on is masterfully handled. Over the past few issues, there have been shots of Wesley with a gun and his classic nonsensical ramblings. And if you recognize the names he is reciting, you can see where it is going. O’Neil builds to it in such a way that it’s foreshadowed but still surprising. And we are left in agonizing suspense over what will happen to Myra. This is how a cliff-hanger should be handled and it demonstrates why O’Neil is a master at his craft.
Questioning How O’Neil Writes The Romance
The conversation with Myra at the end is heart-breaking. Myra managed to get the victory after Dinsmore was found dead, but she isn’t happy about it. She never wanted to be mayor. It’s merely something she’s doing out of a sense of duty. Vic tells her to live in the moment and that even if it’s not what she wants, to make the best out of it.
She’s the best shot at redemption that Hub City has. But, due to their senses of duty and their penchant for self-sacrifice for the benefit of others, they both acknowledge that they will never be together. Despite both wanting to be. To be the heroes that they are, they must give up what they want. Just like Vic said.
This is a crossover between the annuals of Detective Comics, Green Arrow, and The Question in 1988. All three heroes involved in this crossover are ones O’Neil is quite famous for writing. Vic himself has a minor role in Detective Comics, but naturally has a major one in his own annual. As a result, I will talk about each issue, but I won’t go into as much depth with the other two. This is a The Question retrospective after all. They are all great issues, but my focus is on Vic and his journey.
It is worth noting that for continuity’s sake this
takes place between #19 and #20.
Detective Comics Annual #1: “The Monkey Trap”
O-Sensei trying to teach the three heroes a lesson is a good through-line for this arc. Batman’s lesson is about how he is trapped. He is Batman and always will be Batman. That means to be happy, to be with Talia, to have kids, he must give up Batman. That is something he would never do.
The way O’Neil ties this lesson into the b-plot is masterful. Penguin gets a hold of a poison that can only be resisted if you have testosterone. Which means women and children will be affected. The two things Batman can never have, love and children. This is of course barring current continuity since this was Dennis O’Neil writing Batman the way he should be written and was in the 80’s before the invention of Damien.
Green Arrow Annual #1: “Lesson for a Crab”
Green Arrow’s lesson is that he has to let go of his guilt and pride to defeat his foe. An archer has shown up that is as good, if not better, than Ollie. He is killing innocent people and Ollie blames himself. He secludes himself, neglects to pay attention to his wife, and loses his skill with a bow.
Dinah, conversely, accepts that there are people better than her. We see this when she fights Lady Shiva in a duel. Ollie needs to learn that there are going to be people better than him and by accepting that he can grow and learn. So he gets rid of his bow to fight the archer. Without it, he relinquishes his guilt about how the thing he uses to save people is also used to kill them. And he doesn’t have to be tested, all he has to do is simply be.
The Question Annual #1: “The Silent Parable”
This issue addresses some continuity stuff. First of all, it touches back on Jake, the thug that worked for Reverend Hatch in the opening four issues of The Question. He turned on Hatch and attempted to steal the money in the manor. Famously, Hatch died in the fire that was accidentally caused by both Vic and Jake. So this is Jake’s attempt to get that money again and he has learned how to fight Vic this time.
This issue is all about Vic learning his lesson slowly. O-Sensei doesn’t give him a parable like he did the others. We get flashbacks to Vic’s past, one during Richard Dragon’s training and one to his childhood. Dragon’s lesson is the one Vic relearned in #14, so it was great to see that, and it adds to the theme of learning from failure.
The childhood flashback adds to Vic’s feelings of inferiority. He was told that orphans are privileged and have less suffering, but he himself did suffer. He, of course, lashes out in anger. But, in the present, Green Arrow and Batman, among other things, make him feel inferior. He is an investigator but not as good as Batman, and a martial artist but not as good as Batman. It’s a great moment when Vic is brave enough to tell Batman to leave.
In the end, Vic believes he failed. O-Sensei died at sea and he couldn’t find O-Sensei’s wife which was what this was all about. But O-Sensei’s lesson to him was sent to him later. Failure doesn’t exist. Failure allows us to learn from mistakes, to grow, and change. And to live is to change.
This crossover was O’Neil teaching important life lessons, not only to the characters but to the readers too.
Questioning The Question
These issues perfectly demonstrate why I love this series. O’Neil’s The Question is both a fun comic but also a deeply personal and introspective series. It builds its stories slowly and lets the characters drive the narrative. These issues right here remain, in my opinion, some of the strongest of the series.
Next month we will be taking a look at The Question Volume 5: Riddles in which we see the aftermath of the “Election Day” arc and a certain member of Batman’s Rogue’s Gallery comes to town. We will also be covering the annual issue that details the origin of this version of The Question.