[Contains spoilers for The Question: Five Books of Blood]
Five which are three which are one -- sounds like a case for the Question. And such is the case of Greg Rucka's The Question: The Five Books of Blood, which in five nearly self-contained chapters tells a story that works on three levels (the Question's hunt for the Religion of Crime, the Question's growing seduction by the Religion of Crime, and the origin and status quo of the new Question), combining to form one incredible tale. Five Books of Blood is a perfect fusion of superheroics and hard-boiled crime novel, and the last page left me hungry for the next time out.
Rucka sends the new Question, Renee Montoya, on a globe-spanning search for the Religion of Crime in Five Books of Blood, and in that way quickly demonstrates the new Question under a number of different circumstances. We see Renee both undercover and interacting as herself with her old life, and we see the Question solo, as part of the larger superhero community, and interacting with the first Question Vic Sage's life.
Most importantly, the new Question fails to prevent at least three people from dying in this story, demonstrating the character's inexperience and imperfection. Much like Daniel Craig's new James Bond, there's a certain attraction in following a Question without Vic Sage's skill, but rather one still finding her way.
There's an aspect of Five Books of Blood that's not unlike Heart of Darkness, where the deeper the Question searches, the more she's affected by the evil around her. Rucka weaves this quite subtly in the second chapter, where the Question's affair with one of the Religion's prostitutes can be written off as the cost of an investigation -- but by the third chapter, we see the Question has almost an addict's need for one of the Relgion's artifacts, and perhaps for the Religion itself. The Question's descent becomes all the clearer on the book's last page when we find her now the head of the Religion of Crime; Rucka charts the Question's journey in Five Books of Blood so carefully it almost bears reading the story a second time with the whole book in mind once one finishes.
Perhaps my favorite chapters of the book were the third and fourth, where the Question visits Gotham and Hub cities respectively. Even as Rucka builds Renee's new life as the Question, he remains expertly aware of where she's come from, including not just Gotham Central's Captain Sawyer in the book, but also recognizing how long it's been since Renee has seen Commissioner Gordon and -- best of all -- addressing Renee's tarnished partnership with Harvey Bullock. I'm not as familiar with Vic Sage's old supporting cast, but the fact that Rucka includes them (as writers have done in the new Blue Beetle, Manhunter, and other series) enhances the legacy element of the character.
The Question's interaction with Batwoman in this volume make me eager to see her with the rest of the DC Universe. As an urban detective, the Question straddles the line of just not quite fitting in with the superhero pantheon, but Renee Montoya's spent so long as a civilian that I'd be interested to see her grasp the full implications of her costumed identity in an adventure with, say, the Justice League. She's hardly membership material, of course, but for so long Renee was not a "cape" that I'd be interested to see how she deals with the recognition that she is a "cape" now.
As described on Vic Sage.com and elsewhere, articles from Renee Montoya's journal made their way from the DC Universe to the real world. In an end of the book section, Rucka describes the considerable difficulty to which he, his wife Jen Van Meter, and constant co-writer Eric Trautmann went in order to prepare these documents; if the story alone doesn't convince you that Five Books of Blood was a labor of love, a look at the journal will. I only wish Rucka had the space to describe a bit more how the journal fit in to the Five Books story overall; we learn about the suspicious death of the lead singer of a band called Darkseid's Bitch, for instance, but not what role the Religion of Crime played or why they killed him.
Indeed in speaking of extras and production value, while there are plenty of collections for which I'm content to wait for the paperback instead of the hardcover, The Question: Five Books of Blood is worth the hardcover cost. DC stamped the faux leather binding with faded red lettering, and this combined with the Crime Bible pages that introduce each chapter evoke a tome from the Religion of Crime itself. It's these kinds of moody extras that suggest to me a collected edition done right.
[Contains full covers, "Montoya's Journal" section by Greg Rucka]
Starting Thursday, a two-part look at fan-favorite Peter Milligan's Infinity Inc. series. Don't miss it!