Who Is The Question?: A Retrospective On The Dennis O’Neil Run (Part 7)

The Question

In case you missed the rest of this retrospective, here are parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.

Welcome to the final part of The Daily Fandom’s retrospective on Dennis O’Neil’s run on The Question. The main series has concluded, however, Vic and various members of his supporting cast would appear from time to time in other comics. O’Neil wrote a majority of these until the late 90s at which point he let the character go. The Question was his most personal work, so I guess in a way he never really wanted to stop writing it.

I’m only going to cover the issues that Vic appears in that O’Neil wrote himself. This means his cameo appearance in Steel, written by Christopher Priest, will not be covered. The Showcase issue is also being skipped even if O’Neil did write The Question section in it. That was a short story that, while interesting, is far too brief for me to cover. And O’Neil didn’t write the entire issue either. We will also skip The Question Quarterly #4 as it was not written by O’Neil, though it’s a fun little adventure. So we shall begin with Green Arrow Annual #3, move on to the Quarterlies, then the Azrael one-shot, and finally, The Question Returns one-shot.

Green Arrow Annual #3: “A Walk In The Wind”

First, I will mention that the art by Tom Artis just feels off. He did a fine enough job on the previous annuals, but Vic is way off model in this one. Vic is drawn as this pretty boy with oh so 80s puffed up hair. This is in complete contrast to the rough, haggard, middle-aged visage I’m used to associating with Vic. His Black Canary and Green Arrow are very on point, however.

The main focus of this issue is about different types of parentage. Ollie and Dinah want a child but can’t have one. Vic now has Jackie to take care of, even though he has no idea how to handle being a parent. And then the drug operation that gets entangled into their tale is run by a mother and son. The idea being presented by O’Neil is that you don’t get to choose if you will be a good parent or not. No one is prepared for that responsibility, there is nothing you can do to get ready. You just have to hope you will do right by your child.

I like that it ends with Vic deciding to stay in the jungle with Jackie. He finds a sense of serenity here that he has never had before. But sadly, as I will go into in a bit, that won’t last. As with everything DC and Marvel, the status quo is king.

The Question Quarterly #1: “Any Man’s Death”

This issue is a very good way to find an excuse for Vic to put on the costume again. It provides a logical reason for it and ties in thematically with many of the ideas at the end of the series. Vic can’t avoid violence, it follows him. Like Richard Dragon said previously, it’s an addiction to him. He needs it. But the idea presented in this issue is that maybe it’s not Vic that needs it as much as another part of his personality.

The question of identity is all over O’Neil’s run, but this is where it comes to a head. At the masquerade, Vic is quite literally stripped and is given clothes that remind him of being The Question. Vic and The Question had previously been posited as the same identity, one given and one chosen. But what if they are two distinct people in Vic’s head? Is he crazy? Or is this normal?

This is further explored through Terry and Janice being revealed to be the same person. One side has become dominant and wants the other out of the picture. However, when one wars against oneself, the only person that will lose is you. Vic has to make a choice of what side of his personality he really wants to be.

The Question Quarterly #2: “Gomorrah Homecoming”

This issue introduces a new character to The Question cast, Marco. He’s a fun character but not especially interesting. His main purpose is to be representative of both Lady Shiva and Vic. He’s all about violence, baser instincts, but trying to channel that into something positive for the world. Which, in of itself, is one of the themes of this issue.

Vic needs to find a way to channel his demons into something positive. If he is to choose The Question over Vic then he must accept all the baggage that comes with it. His anger at possibly losing Jackie and curiosity at what killing would feel like drove him over the edge in the last issue. He knows he can do that again, and it scares him.

Vic going back to Hub City feels completely wrong. It ruins the poignancy of the ending of #36 and makes his character arc superfluous. However, in mainstream superhero comics, there must always be this concept of the illusion of change. Status quos must be preserved so that new readers can hop on. It sucks that O’Neil made this decision, but it is something he attempts to undue in Vic’s later appearances. One thing that O’Neil delivers on, though, is the death of Jackie. He makes Vic’s return cost something, and considering The Question has tried so hard not to be a superhero book, that really fits.

The Question Quarterly #3: “Hell In Hub City”

Denys Cowan does not do the art for this issue. Instead, the art is done by a very young Joe Quesada, who would go on to become very important to the comic industry. His art is alright but feels a bit unfinished in places. He also makes all the core characters seem a bit younger than they have been. This is nowhere more apparent than Izzy O’Toole, who now appears to be a handsome silver fox instead of a slimy man nearing retirement.

This issue is the perhaps the best out of The Question Quarterlies, as it feels like an issue of the main series. It uses the action movie motif to great effect, complete with having the captions be in standard screenplay format. This motif is used, just like in previous issues, to demonstrate Vic’s changing personality. His macho persona has given way to a much more intellectual but still gruff man. He is starting to find his peace in the world.

The idea that fiction often reflects reality is a common idea in most literature. But O’Neil makes it literal in this issue, by having characters film a movie based off of the events in the issue. Through doing this, O’Neil makes a metacommentary on how The Question has been an allegory for things he has witnessed or foresees. He also uses it to take a jab at the film industry and specifically at mindless blockbuster movies.

The Question Quarterly #5: “Outrage”

As it says on the first page, this is inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon. As a result, we get to see the different sides of Vic’s personality from different perspectives. This leads us to realize that the man we have come to know is a complex human being and can’t be boiled down in simple sentences. Unlike many superheroes, Vic feels like a real living and breathing human being, capable of as many successes and failures as us.

Myra’s version of Vic is the sage advisor who always does the right thing no matter what. The superhero, if you will. Izzy’s version of Vic is the know it all intellectual who is constantly doubting himself. Marco’s version of Vic is an action hero character who wants nothing other than to fight in complicated martial art techniques. Then, of course, the junkie sees Vic as a fellow junkie. A jerk that is only out for his interests and is addicted to something he can’t control.

What is handled well with this issue is that in many ways, all of these views are true. Not completely true, but bits and pieces. Vic can be a jerk, is addicted to violence, is a know it all full of self-doubt, is an advisor, and a hero. He is a human being and therefore a multifaceted person. And then you have the real Vic being just as enigmatic as always and not stating what really happened. Because if he did there wouldn’t be any questions.

Azrael Plus The Question #1: “The Anger, The Terror, And The Question”

Vic had a cameo in Azrael #10, however it was very brief as it only lasted a few pages. We know he no longer resides in Hub City, is retired from being The Question and traveled with Lady Shiva for a bit. This culminates in his appearance in this short one-shot. The theme of this story is feeling worthless. Jean-Paul Valley doesn’t know what to do with the powers given to him by the Order of St. Dumas. Vic doesn’t know what to do with his life anymore. Junior doesn’t want to seem useless to his long-dead father’s legacy. They are each in the shadow of someone greater. Vic’s own celebrity, Junior’s father, and then, of course, the powerful Order. If they could get out of this shadow and take a breath, they might be able to do something useful.

I like that Vic and Azrael don’t really meet in the proper sense of the term. This isn’t really a superhero team up. They happen to be in the same place and get wrapped up in the same conflict. However, they go their own separate ways and say no more than a few words to each other. They even make the agreement not to show each other their faces. The point is that Jean-Paul is having a crisis of faith while Vic doesn’t want to be a hero. Right now they both are just people trying to do the right thing and don’t really matter in the large scheme of anything.

The Question Returns #1: “…Because Some Still Remain Unanswered”

In this issue, it is established that Vic left Hub City three years ago. He admits he ran away because he was afraid of getting too close to Myra. He was trying so hard to keep the balance between Vic and The Question that he couldn’t take it anymore. Vic knows it was a jerk move but he did it anyway. He also hasn’t been The Question in quite some time, merely traveling.

I like that O’Neil takes the time to examine the course of the main series through the concept of escalation. Ignorance and apathy caused Hub City to get as bad as it was. If someone had stood up sooner, perhaps they could have save a once good place from becoming so corrupted. As it stands, Myra has restored some order to Hub City but not much. It’s not saveable and she knows it. But she will keep trying until it kills her.

I love the ending of this issue. It’s the perfect send-off by O’Neil to the character. The “will they won’t they” of Vic and Myra’s relationship finally comes to a head. Vic was a jerk and left, so she moved on. She is happy with someone else now, she didn’t wait for him. This is why Myra is my favorite superhero love interest, as she is her own person with her own wants. The hero doesn’t always get the girl and that is the perfect note to end on for this comic. This is also used to complete Vic’s transformation to finally becoming The Question full time. All that was Vic Sage is dead, from Myra, Hub City, and even Jackie. He has nothing left and all he can feel is guilt.

Questioning The Final Artist Of The Run

On a quick side note, I want to point out that Eduardo Barreto’s art is beautifully detailed. His style is the perfect successor to Denys Cowan’s, with just enough grit and detail in there to make everything come off the page. However, the way he draws The Question’s mask is odd. Denys had a habit of shading the eye area differently in order to show Vic’s expression, something that stylistically worked quite well. Eduardo singles this out, almost making the mask seem like it has eye holes, complete with its own separate colors. This is not how the mask works and is just bizarre.

Question The Question

This is the end of my retrospective on my favorite comic book series of all time. The Question by Dennis O’Neil and Denys Cowan remains one of the best works to come out of DC in the 80s. Many people believe after #36 the series is over as the Quarterlies never felt right in the context of everything. I absolutely agree. You can read #1-36 straight through and get a wonderfully depressing story of a flawed man trying his hardest to become a good person. It’s a tale so powerful it never ceases to make me tear up at the end.

Eventually, O’Neil would stop writing the character in guest appearances. Starting in 1998, one of O’Neil’s fans, the famous Greg Rucka, would attempt to revive the character. While it never took hold, he would still use the character from time to time. He even took a character from Batman: The Animated Series, Renee Montoya, and gave her an arc that paralleled Vic’s. Inevitably, this would lead to the death of Vic in 52 and Renee becoming The Question. It was the perfect end to Vic’s story and couldn’t have been handled better. But Renee’s story is worthy of its own retrospective someday. So, until then I will leave you with this: Just who is The Question?

Kyle Scher
Kyle Scher is a graduate from the University of Winchester and he was the Chair of the university's Comic Book Society for two years.

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