Radio reporter by day, faceless crimefighter by night.
Vic Sage. Charles Victor Szasz.
Created by Steve Ditko in the pages of Blue Beetle #1 (1967), published by Charlton Comics, this backup character was a shadowy vigilante whose approach to crime was ruthless, judgmental and entirely dispassionate. Vic Sage, crusading radio reporter in the hopelessly corrupt urban jungle of Hub City (located somewhere in southern Illinois), erases his features with a mask of "pseudoderm" (a fake skin created by his friend and ally, Dr. Aristotle "Tot" Rodor), which bonds to his skin with a binary gas secreted from his belt buckle. Garbed in a trenchcoat, fedora and retro-looking suit, the Question gets answers Vic Sage could never hope to find.
The Question represented artist/writer Ditko's interest in objectivism, a philosophy popularized by Ayn Rand. His moral judgments were absolute and admitted no gray areas; black was black, white was white, and crime was crime. Criminals received what they deserved, no more and no less.
The character made only a few appearances but retained a loyal, fascinated following. He was revived in 1987 by writer Denny O'Neil and artist Denys Cowan, after Charlton went out of business in 1986 and sold their characters to DC Comics. His blunt, forceful approach in the first issue led to his apparent death; however, he survived and was trained in a more Zen philosophy by Richard Dragon, martial artist extraordinaire. He also learned martial arts, enough to become a skilled hand-to-hand fighter.
Sage's personal life endured several ups and downs, particularly when he learned his true love, Myra, had married the corrupt and alcoholic Hub City Mayor Wesley Fermin. Nevertheless, he sought to uproot the criminal element infesting the city's politics, step by step.
More recently, the Question has appeared in Justice League Unlimited, where he was a featured character in the show's first season. Rather than a political vigilante, The Question here was portrayed as a conspiracy theorist with a dubious reputation among his fellow superheroes. His love interest was The Huntress, with whom he defeated a massive crime boss named Steven Mandragora, and his biggest contribution to the League was discovering the truth behind the Justice Lords--a tyrannical alternate Justice League. He attempted to murder Lex Luthor to head off a looming crisis, but that did not turn out very well; he was captured and tortured for information by Luthor's confederates in Project Cadmus. He had a final appearance in the JLU's series finale, alongside the other Charlton characters brought into the larger DC (animated) Universe.
In 2006, Denny O'Neil wrote "Helltown," a paperback for the DC Universe line. This presented the origin story for Vic Sage, helped along in his quest by the Batman, the assassin Lady Shiva and the aforementioned Richard Dragon.
In 2006-2007, the Question was a featured character in "52," DC Comics' year-long miniseries showing how the world fares without Superman, Batman or Wonder Woman. The Question was one of a handful of heroes to learn about and fight against a pervasive, world-threatening set of menaces; he enlisted former Gotham City detective Renee Montoya in his initial investigations, coming to rely on her more heavily as the series progressed. Together, they exposed Intergang's plot to take over Gotham City, as well as their illegal smuggling of Apokoliptian weapons.
[SPOILER WARNING: Invisotext in use]
As of the conclusion of "52," Vic Sage has died and Renee Montoya has become the new Question.
Okay, so why do I like The Question?
In 1986, I had just graduated from college and gone to work for the Asbury Park Press. By 1987, I was in that post-college daze where you think "what am I doing? is this what I want from life?" And along came The Question. As written by Denny O'Neil, the character took on issues of identity and philosophical exploration, while also trying his best to redeem Hub City from hopeless depths of political corruption. Vic Sage was willing to explore all different possibilities, unlike his original "my way or no way" absolutism. He was a more complex and interesting guy than most superheroes, and his "cases" rarely ended with a clear-cut victory.
It was that kind of moral complexity, search for self-knowledge and willingness to fight authority gone sour that appealed to me. If you can, look for O'Neil's books in the back issue bins at your local comic book store-- the appearances made after his own series don't hold up very well, especially the recent miniseries by Rick Veitch that turned Vic into a sort of "urban shaman" in Metropolis.
The Question. Not the most famous of DC's heroes, but absolutely one of my favorites.
The Question is copyright DC Comics, all rights are reserved. Above artwork is copyright DC Comics and Warner Brothers Animation. The first illustration is The Question #34 by Denys Cowan, the second is The Question from "Justice League Unlimited."