The Question

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The Question is a superhero created by Steve Ditko originally for Charlton Comics and now is owned by DC Comics. The character had limited exposure, first appearing as a guest character in the Blue Beetle, a few back-up stories, and an acclaimed solo story in a one shot title, Mysterious Suspense, and was an exponent of Ditko's objectivism, much like his later creation Mr A. The Question appears in an episodes of the animated television series Justice League Unlimited, in which he is portrayed as a conspiracy theorist who, like his comic book counterpart, uses a special mask (bonded to his face by a gaseous chemical) to conceal his identity.

Contents

Character Overview and History

Charles Victor Szasz, or "Vic" Sage, is a crusading television journalist who is determined to root out corruption where he finds it. To that end, when he encounters stories he can't investigate by normal or legal means, he dons a special mask, kept in a special compartment in his belt buckle, that makes it appear that he has no face (much like the Dick Tracy villain "The Blank"). The belt buckle then releases a special gas that seals the mask to his face and changes the colour of his clothes and hair. Thus disguised, The Question investigates corruption in the face of all danger. He may leave a "calling card," which initially appears blank, but when touched, emits smoke that leaves behind the ghostly impression of a question mark.

Origins

Based in Hub City, Sage made his mark as a highly outspoken and aggressive reporter with a reputation for obnoxiousness. Not long after starting his TV appearances, he began to investigate a Dr. Arby Twain; Sage was approached by a scientist named Aristotle Rodor, who had previously been Sage's professor, and Rodor told Sage about an artificial skin called Pseudoderm he co-developed with Dr. Twain. Pseudoderm was intended to work as an applied skin-like bandage with the help of a bonding gas, but had an unforseen toxicity which was fatal when applied to open wounds. Rodor and Twain agreed to abandon the project and parted ways, but Professor Rodor discovered that Dr. Twain had decided to proceed with an illegal sale of the invention to Third World nations, regardless of the risk to human health.

Sage resolved to stop him but had no way of going after Dr. Twain without exposing himself, and Rodor suggested that Sage use a mask made of Psuedoderm to cover his famous features. Armed with information, and more importantly a disguise, Sage eventually caught up with Dr. Twain, stopping the transaction and extracting a confession, and then leaving Twain bound in Pseudoderm in an ironic twist. On television, Sage reported on Dr. Twain's illegal activities.

His first venture a success, Sage decided that this new identity, partially inspired by The Spirit, would be useful for future investigations, and partnered with Professor Rodor, who supplied the Pseudoderm and eventually modified the bonding gas to change the color of Sage's hair and clothing. The two men became good friends, with Sage affectionately referring to Rodor as "Tot".

Appearances

When the Charlton characters were acquired by DC Comics in the mid 1980s, The Question was the focus of an acclaimed solo series written by Dennis O'Neil and primarily drawn by Denys Cowan. In that series' first issue, The Question was defeated in personal combat first by the martial arts mercenary, Lady Shiva, beaten near to death by the hiring villain's thugs, shot in the head with a pellet gun, and thrown into the river to drown. Lady Shiva then rescued him for reasons of her own and gave him directions to meet Richard Dragon as soon as he recovered enough to get out of bed. Once there, Sage learned both martial arts, and eastern philosophy that changed his perspective into a more sophisticated one that accepted the world's moral ambiguities. When he returned to the city, he resumed his journalist and superhero careers with adventures that tended to illustrate various philosophic points. To further illustrate those ideas, Dennis O'Neil had a reading recommendation in the letters page of each issue.

The Question Annual #2, revealed that Victor Sage was originally Charles Victor Szasz, an orphan who had a reputation as a troublemaker. This extended to priding himself in defiantly enduring the physical abuse of the Catholic orphanage where he was housed. He eventually managed to get into college where he studied journalism. However, his higher learning did not mellow his violent tendencies, such as when he beat up his pusher for giving him LSD which caused the frightening experience of doubting his own senses under its influence.

A recent mini-series suggests that that might not be his only experience with hallucinogens, as he has gained new powers from apparently taking shamanistic drugs. These drugs give him an empathic ability to "talk to the city" which might be derived from an ability to sense chi, or life force. He is now able to "walk in two worlds" for an increased awareness of his surroundings and of any disturbances in a city's natural order.

The Question was briefly shown in flashbacks in Alex Ross and Mark Waid's comic Kingdom Come as a member of Magog's Justice Battalion, along with the rest of the Charlton 'Action Heroes'.

He was featured more prominently in Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Strikes Again as a right-wing, anti-government conspirator. This version of Sage -- a nod to Ditko and Alan Moore (see below) -- is Randian and preachy, at one point going on television for a series of humorous "Crossfire"-style exchanges with the liberal archer Green Arrow.

The Question also appears in the animated television series Justice League Unlimited, in which he is portrayed as a conspiracy theorist who, like his comic book counterpart, uses a special mask (bonded to his face by a gaseous chemical) to conceal his identity. He is voiced by Jeffrey Combs. This version of the character is an effective marriage of Rorschach (see below) and Fox Mulder from the highly-popular "X-Files" sci-fi series -- a little obsessive-compulsive, a little creepy, darkly comic and completely paranoid. He's been shown humming pop songs while breaking into a building, thinks the motives of the little plastic thingies at the end of shoelaces are "sinister" and believes in ominous links between boy bands and global warming, the Girl Scouts and the crop circle phenomenon, and toothpaste and spy satellites. This incarnation of the Question has been referred to as "a nutjob" by Wildcat, and even Batman declared that "he's wound a bit too tightly." The Question is one of the most popular characters in JLU, having been featured prominently in three episodes over the first two seasons, most often paired with Green Arrow or Huntress, the latter of which he is dating after the episode "Double Date," in which he helped track down her parents' killer. In the episode "Question Authority," the Question discovers Lex Luthor's plot to instigate a full-scale war between the government and the Justice League. He also learns of an alternative universe (seen in the Justice League story "A Better World") in which Luthor has the Flash killed, becomes president and is executed in the Oval Office by Superman. Convinced that the history in the alternative universe is destined to repeat itself in his, the Question decides the only way to derail the train is to kill Luthor himself before he can become president.

Inspiration of other works

Furthermore, the character was also used in disguised form as the rogue vigilante Rorschach in the classic comic book series Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. The Question #17 (1988) had Vic Sage read Watchmen; upon comparing his own rising, uncontrollable anger to Rorschach's psychosis, he declared, "Rorschach sucks." [1] (http://www.livejournal.com/community/scans_daily/456514.html)

Interestingly, The Question's specialized belt-buckle is similar to that of the Spider-Man villian The Chameleon. In his initial appearances, which were drawn by Ditko, The Chameleon had used a device in a belt buckle which emitted a transformation-enhancing gas. It is possible that Ditko used that as inspiration for The Question.

Bibliography

  • Blue Beetle #1 (June 1967) to #5 (November 1968)
  • Mysterious Suspense #1 (October 1968): "What Makes a Hero?"
  • Charlton Bullseye Vol. 1 #5 (July-September 1976)
  • Charlton Bullseye Vol. 2 #1 (June 1981)
  • Americomics Special #1 (August 1983)
  • Crisis on Infinite Earths #6 (September 1985)
  • Crisis on Infinite Earths #7 (October 1985)
  • Blue Beetle Vol. 2 #4 (September 1986) to #7 (December 1986)
  • Question #1 (February 1987) - Question #36 (March 1990)
  • Question Annual #1 (1988)
  • Question Annual #2 (1989)
  • Question Quarterly #1 (Autumn 1990) - Question Quarterly #4 (Winter 1991)
  • The Dark Knight Strikes Again (2002)
  • The Question #1 (January 2005) - #6 (June 2005)

Web Site

The Question info. (http://www.internationalhero.co.uk/q/question.htm)

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