Sunday, February 15, 2015

Mystical Question, Rorschach's Dad

The Question: Devil's in the Details: written by Rick Veitch; illustrated by Tommy Lee Edwards with Don Cameron (2004-2005): Since the late 1980's, the Question has been much less famous than the character modeled on him, Watchmen's Rorschach. It's sort of a shame, especially since the Question seems perfectly suited to a live-action TV show in a way that a lot of superheroes aren't.

Why? Because other than the blank, flesh-coloured mask that hides his identity, the Question's wardrobe is about as basic as it gets -- suit, trench-coat, gloves, fedora. Created by writer-artist Steve Ditko (Spider-man, Doctor Strange) for Charlton Comics in the 1960's and subsequently purchased by DC Comics in the 1980's along with the rest of the Charlton superhero line, The Question has mostly survived on the fringes of the superhero universe. 

A grim and gritty DC version by writer Denny O'Neil and artist Denys Cowan ran for several years in the late 1980's, but other than that the Question has been a creature of miniseries and guest appearances in the comics. His most-seen version, by far, was as a conspiracy-obsessed hero voiced deliciously by Jeffrey Coombs on the Justice League Unlimited cartoon of the early oughts.

Ditko's original version allowed the writer-artist to espouse some of his libertarian beliefs in the guise of a super-hero book. Shock-jock radio host Vic Sage rails against various things on his show; then, with the donning of the mask and a quick spritz of chemicals that change the colour of his clothing and hair, Sage becomes the Question so as to put his beliefs in action.

This version, by Rick Veitch and artist Tommy Lee Edwards, is a much-different bird. The Question now has a mystical, shamanistic connection to cities. Indeed, cities can talk to him. And Chicago warns him that something bad is up in Metropolis -- something aimed at Superman. So the Question goes to Metropolis.

Various shenanigans ensue. Tommy Lee Edwards does some interesting, somewhat avant-garde (for superhero comics) things with the art, using 3-D models and playing with dual-narrative streams and hallucinogenic visions. Veitch offers a number of clever bits and bursts of stream-of-consciousness internal narration, though turning the Question into a vision-guided urban mystic takes a bit of getting used to. The whole plot revolves around a Metropolis-sized plan by Lex Luthor involving the application of Feng Shui to urban planning. How weird is that?

The whole thing is an enjoyable enterprise, and certainly better than an awful lot of superhero comics that get collected into trade paperbacks. This one seems to have never been collected, which is a shame: Veitch is always interesting, even when he's not working at the height of his own powers, or drawing his own stuff. Recommended.

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