Or – “Six Degrees Of Walter Kovacs…”

With all the recent talk about a Watchmen prequel, I started thinking about the days before Watchmen was an untouchable institution, before it was a movie, even before it was a million-selling trade paperback.  I started thinking about the days when Watchmen had an official DC Role-Playing Game supplement, when talk of action figures had us all in a rage, when DC actually DID an in-continuity sequel to Watchmen and–

Oh, wait.  You hadn’t heard about that last one?  Well, looks like we have something to talk about, don’t we?

THE QUESTION #17
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Denys Cowan
Inker: Rick Magyar
Colorist: Tatjana Wood
Letterer: Willie Schubert
Editor: Mike Gold
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Price: $1.75
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $3.00

Previously, in The Question:  Victor Sage began his career in the pages of Charlton Comics ‘Mysterious Suspense’ back in the late ’60s.  When Charlton went under, their character library was eventually sold to DC Comics, making their debut around the time of the original Crisis on Infinite Earths.  Vic, as The Question, got his own title soon after, giving up the Objectivist philosophies of his early incarnation (and of his creator, Steve Ditko) to take on a more Zen take on things in order to fight corruption and government duplicity in his home town of Hub City.  As an investigative reporter, Vic often finds himself interacting with the police, which is where we kick off the events of this issue…

Sage’s world is one of double-crosses, intrigue and graft (in a very interesting 1980’s night-time television kind of way) and the recent attempt to assassinate the easily-manipulated mayor has left things in flux.  Vic and the police are shocked to hear gunshots emanating from the room where the would-be assassin (who calls himself “Sundance”) is being held, followed by criminal and “lawyer” fleeing the building.  But instead of heading for the streets, the two desperadoes take the stairs upwards to the roof…

As an aside here, comics in the late 1980s were a very different beast from what we read today.  The stories were embracing as much realism as they could, but usually that meant adopting the tropes of violence, sexuality (at least as much as one could in the Edwin Meese era) and bathos.  This issue actually begins a page before Victor’s entrance to the Hub City PD with an old man standing on a rooftop, insisting to his nurse that this is the day that the angel of death will drop out of the sky.  “Y t’ink I’m gonna miss that, Nursey, you’re crazy!”  That self-same old man is the reason why Victor Sage doesn’t die when he falls from the helicopter, landing on elderly Mr. Hilkey and surviving by sheer force of melodrama.  Vic’s friend Aristotle “Tot” Rodor tries to talk him out of his existential quandary, but Victor is having none of it…

Vic’s detective work (buoyed by his oh-so-1988 parachute pants) leads him towards Seattle to find the criminals, now intent on punishing them for the murder of an old man wherein he was the murder weapon.  I find it fascinating that, in order to avoid the old cliches of comics storytelling, they’ve set up a coincidence/convergence so odd and inexplicable that it’s actually an even worse transgression.  Of course, there were those who heralded Rambo for its realism in those days, so things were, as we often say, different then.  Tot and Vic don’t have a bat-plane or Quinjet, so The Question makes his way to Seattle as the common man does: commercial transport.

Here’s the neatest part of the story for me:  Even in ’88, Watchmen could not have taken place in the DCU, and since the primary point of CoIE only a few months before was to eliminate the multiverse, having an alternate Earth crossover was out of the question for at least the next two decades.  How, then, to have Rorschach and The Question interface?  By making one fiction a fiction within the other fiction, creating a meta-fiction hat trick and winning Denny O’Neil the Stanley Cup of Comics Awesome…  Reading Watchmen, Vic finds, unsurprisingly, an admiration and kinship for the lost Walter Kovacs.

You have to love the question marks embedded in the composite Ques-schach (because Rortion sounds like a jet engine) mask there.  Sage finds a local bar, where a colleague told him he could find leads, but ends up getting free drinks from a local who recognizes him from “th’ Tee-Vee!”  The whole thing turns out to be a trap, as the roughneck not only doesn’t help him find his quarry, he sneak-attacks Vic with a blackjack in the parking lot.  Only Sage’s legendary hard-headedness saves him, though the beating and the cheap whiskey leave him worse for wear…

Stopping only to put on his face, The Question sets out for “Parker’s” house, psyching himself up by channeling Rorschach’s badass demeanor.  Breaking into the home, he finds only a minor thug with a plastic gun (much like the one that allowed the fake lawyer to get through Hub City metal detectors), and proceeds to interrogate the jerk, Rorschach-style.  It does not go as well as it might…

HA!  Gotta love the ‘hurm’ there…  And you have to feel back for The Question’s poor damaged skull.  This series actually started with Sage being shot in the head, so I think his ability to take damage is a running gag by this point.  On the orders of their boss, the two capos drag The Question out into the mountains, prepared to leave him to freeze to death, but Sage awakens and rolls out of their (moving) car.  Shaken and probably concussed, The Question escapes into the mountains of Washington State, probably cursing the name of Walter Kovacs in his head as he stumbles away…

The Question collapses in the snow, and lies looking up at pine trees in the darkness.  “Pine trees bending with the wind,” he thinks.  “A feeling that nature is trying to tell me something.”  That’s a pretty cool image, honestly, and the ending of the book is a cool one as well.  The goons find Vic lying in the snow, bleeding, and prepare to kill him, asking if he has any last words.  “Yeah,” The Question replies, “Rorschach sucks.”  Heh.  Then, seconds before they ventilate his face, the criminals are suddenly impaled by broadhead arrows.  One of them looks up and wonders who it is that has shot them, and the response puts the end to Vic’s internal debate about whether there are really heroes and villains in the world…

Hey, you remember who else lived in Seattle circa 1988?  He starred in ‘The Longbow Hunters’ and had ridiculous facial hair and a cute blonde lady-friend?  No, not Christopher Walken, that was ‘The Deer Hunter.’  Aaaaaanyway, this issue ends with a cliff-hanger, and the question (see what I did there?) of Vic’s reading habits doesn’t come up again that I recall.  Even so, it’s nice to see the comics version of the circle of life in play.  What is even more entertaining is that, when revamping the Question for Justice League Unlimited, the creators chose to go back to the character’s roots with his Objectivism, but also more-than-a-little of Rorschach in the portrayal of the Question, bringing the characters back full circle.  The Question inspired Rorscach who inspired The Question who inspired Rorschach who inspired The Question.  And so it goes…  As long as he’s voiced by Jeffrey Coombs, I wouldn’t complain if he was drawn and inspired by Doink The Clown.  (Although, now that I mention it, there may be a Vertigo comic in that.)  The Question #17 isn’t quite a full-fledged sequel or a crossover, but it is an early example of a meta-story element, and is well-written and drawn for 3 out of 5 star overall.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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5 Comments

  1. Rocket Rooster
    February 19, 2012 at 9:49 pm — Reply

    I lost count how many times I’ve said that the Question should have been done either as animation or live action TV series. Heck, Ditko’s version, O’Neil’s version and even the JLA Unlimited version could have been done as an evolution of the same character (if I were doing the TV show). But what does DC do (especially after almost stealing the show on the cartoon)? Kill him and give his identity away. Un-freakin-buh-lievable!

  2. zebsdead
    February 20, 2012 at 6:14 am — Reply

    loved the review. what is your favorite Eddie Izzard “set”?

  3. Frank
    February 20, 2012 at 9:28 am — Reply

    Thinking of The Question and Jeffrey Coombs. I would love to see segments in the new DC Nation with The Question pursuing his conspiracy theories, like the one about Girl Scout Cookies.

  4. February 20, 2012 at 4:34 pm — Reply

    Great review. I tried to read some of the trades a friend lent me of the series a few months ago, and was taken aback by the mullet the Question was wearing back in the day.

    • February 20, 2012 at 6:22 pm — Reply

      I had that hair in 1990.

      Hell, I have that hair NOW.

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