The Big Ask


Question 01

Conventional wisdom holds that Rorschach is better known and more compelling than the character that provided the template for Alan Moore’s uncompromising vigilante: The Question.

I definitely won’t argue the issue of popularity. Rorschach plays a prominent role in one of the most famous and widely acclaimed graphic novels of all time and even made it to the silver screen, albeit in a Watchmen adaptation that failed to set the world on fire.

The Question has appeared on cartoons from time to time, but has nowhere near the same level of recognition among casual comic-book fans.

The issue of which character is more “compelling,” however, is another matter entirely. Rorschach – as is the case with each of Watchmen’s protagonists – is a skillfully drawn archetype that serves as a commentary on and parody of the obsessed vigilante™ trope that has gained so much popularity in recent years.

(A trend spurred in part, ironically enough, by Alan Moore’s Watchmen.)

The Question, on the other hand, has fallen victim to endless “bold new directions” and reboots over the years.  Steve Ditko’s uniquely Objectivist take on the character died as soon as Charlton’s “Action Heroes” disappeared from newsstands in the late ‘60s.

Denny O’Neil remade the Question in the image of his own personal philosophies and ultimately created a character that was as challenging, and idiosyncratic, as Ditko’s version. Sadly, later revamps turned the hero into a conventional comic-book character sans the troublesome political and spiritual philosophies.

After an attempt to turn Vic Sage into an “urban shaman” went up in smoke, DC killed the character off and handed the mantle over to former Gotham City detective Rene Montoya, who was considerably more interesting as a non-powered policewoman than a masked vigilante who secretly bore the Mark Of Cain.

(Don’t ask …)

Following the recent DC reboot, I have no idea who The Question is and what he or she actually represents. Given such uncertainty, however, DC could do worse than turn to Steve Ditko’s original version. A character espousing Objectivist values would certainly be timely and inject a bit of controversy that has nothing to do with overt gore or T&A stereotypes.

Yeah right, like that will happen.

From Blue Beetle #4 (Charlton Comics, December 1967), here’s “Kill Vic Sage.” The plot and art are by Steve Ditko; the script is by Steve Skeates under the pseudonym of “Warren Savin.”

Question 02

Question 03

Question 04

Question 05

Question 06

Question 07

Question 08

Question 09

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One thought on “The Big Ask

  1. When characters who have not apparently been tasked to represent any sort of philosophy within some field (ethics, epistemology, &c) are appropriated to do so, as when O’Neil did this with the Green Lantern and with the Green Arrow, the natural interpretation is that the purpose of the appropriation was to present those ideas. But when a character who has clearly been used to present one sort of philosophy is expropriated to present another, contrary philosophy, as when O’Neil did this with the Question, it can be hard to escape the conclusion that a purpose of the expropriation was to take-away the opportunity for the original set of ideas to be heard. The latter conclusion is even less escapable when the philosophy in question is afforded few other opportunities to be expressed to an audience.

    From the perspective of story-telling, the primary purpose of the Question was to present Ditko’s philosophy (plainly derived from that of Ayn Rand, but different in some interesting ways). What O’Neil was doing wasn’t so much story-telling as story-silencing, and it was then almost certainly doomed as story-telling.

    The Question is a perfectly salvageable character, but to make that character again work one pretty much has to return to the original story. Of course, the original story will never work for many who loathe the philosophy of Steve Ditko but, likewise, the stories and characters whom they most appreciate will never work for many who loathe the philosophies that these other stories and characters represent.

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