The Question was actually created by Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko, who by that point had left Marvel for the more creatively green pastures of Charlton Comics. Inspired by Ditko’s attachment to the rigid philosophy of objectivism, The Question is a hero who sees the world strictly in black and white. By day, Vic Sage is a crusading journalist. By night, he dons his faceless “Pseudoderm” mask and punishes criminals, often employing lethal force to mete out justice (his brand of justice, anyway).
Like fellow Charlton heroes Blue Beetle and Captain Atom and other comic book refugees like Captain Marvel, The Question was eventually rolled into the DC Universe in the wake of 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths. That’s when O’Neil and artist Denys Cowan entered the picture and transformed Vic Sage from ruthless avenger to philosophical crusader.
DC’s The Question Series Revamps a Classic Hero
Rather than completely reboot the character, O’Neil and Cowan’s The Question uses Vic Sage’s history as a violent, morally inflexible vigilante against him. The first issue depicts Sage as a chain-smoking bruiser consumed by anger and way out of his depth when he stumbles into a fight with the peerless warrior known as Lady Shiva. Beaten nearly to death and left to drown, Sage is rescued by Shiva and taken to recover and train under the guidance of legendary martial artist Richard Dragon (another vastly underappreciated O’Neil creation). That sparks The Question’s transformation into a more balanced, philosophical hero who’s traded objectivism for Zen Buddhism.
What follows is a very character-driven series about a hero fighting for the soul of his city along with his own. Though redeemed by his time with Dragon, Sage still fears his darker side will resurface. O’Neil drew extensively from various philosophy texts and novels while writing the series, even including a recommended reading list along with each new issue. This thoughtful approach to the character and his grim world helped establish the series as one of DC’s best ongoing books in the late ’80s. In many ways, O’Neil and Cowan’s The Question may be the truest successor to the character-driven noir approach of Batman: Year One.
These days, The Question has largely been overshadowed by Watchmen’s Rorschach, a brutal vigilante directly modeled on Ditko’s version of Vic Sage. Amusingly enough, one issue of the series seizes on that connection when Sage reads Watchmen and marvels at the similarities between himself and Rorschach. It’s the series’ sly way of acknowledging how far the character has come from his humble roots, while also illustrating the core difference between Rorschach and The Question. The former will never change, “even in the face of Armageddon,” while the latter is defined by change and growth.
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