Review: The Question: Five Books of Blood hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, August 24, 2009

[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]

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19 comments:

  1. I thought this was a great miniseries, but I couldn't stand those cheesy CG covers

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  2. I´m pretty tired of "Renee Montoya" being such an important piece of DC Universe.

    That´s the kind of characters that people like acording to Didio?

    No wonder Marvel destroys DC. Always. And I´m a DC guy.

    kinda sad.

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  3. Thanks for chiming in, Lucho. Personally I'm digging Renee Montoya as the Question; can't wait for Final Crisis: Revelations and the next Question collection.

    Tell me more about what you don't like about the Renee Montoya character or what DiDio's done at DC.

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  4. Thank you for asking for feedback. It´s always nice to discuss about these things.

    I liked Montoya when Alan Grant and Norm "definitive Batman" Breyfogle created her. she was a nice character and Moench, Dixon and Rucka developed her more.

    Montoya suddenly, one day, was a lesbian. And a heck of a lesbian. Rucka enjoys writing those characters. I can´t understand it, I never really cared about homosexual heroes, I don´t think making them gay or straight is interesting.

    Are there any exceptions? Of course: Maggie Sawyer on Byrne´s Superman (it was quite interesting because Byrne handled it wonderfully) and look at bisexual Daken on Dark Wolverine. Still it´s not his sexual orientation what makes him interesting it´s his manipulation powers.

    But I´m missing my point, sorry (too bad you gave the freedom to express myself =P).

    Why does a character like Montoya suddenly is a somehow so important in DC? C´mon!

    There´s something very wrong with DC.

    About Didio´s DC.

    Didio never delivered what he promised.

    (I like Dan Didio, I think his job must be quite hard, but you know, look at Quesada...).

    Didio said that after Infinity Crisis the DC Universe would be defined for years to come.
    And I liked more al the build up to IC than the damn story itself.

    Gosh, they reaaally messed up and Didio himself said so. Multiverse? Again? So far, It only served for Geoff Johns purposes and for a very drug-induced Morrison´s Final Crisis.

    Quote: " We knew we went through a rough spot over a year ago. And we all made a major commitment to improve the way we work and improve the quality of what we do. And when you see from where we were and to where we are now and to where we're going to be, that's probably where I get the most excited". this Didio quote was taken from this week´s 20 answers 1 question on Newsarama.

    DC is not thinking. When finally (FINALLY!) someone gets Batman right on the big screen they put Morrison on the scripts and for someone who has seen the more realistic Batman of the Nolanverse, and wants to start reading comics Morrison´s drugged stories are a punch to the jaw.

    Bat-mite????

    Ok, I´ll stop now. I´m sounding like Simpsons´Comic Book guy.

    The thing is Marvel is better, they have embraced their characters on a more interesting way than DC and the worst thing of all for me is that the characters I love are DC´s not Marvel´s.

    I could go on but I don´t want to bore you!

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  5. Well, Morrison's "drug-induced" writing didn't stop Batman and Final Crisis from being DC's top-selling books last year, and Batman and Robin is the industry's best-selling ongoing series right now.

    I'm not saying sales equal quality, but the numbers just don't reflect this idea that comics are supposed to become more like movies in order to appeal to a wider audience. It's movies that are supposed to catch up with comics' innovations, not the other way around.

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  6. shagamu: Comics and movies are different ways of telling stories. It has been demonstrated that what works on paper sometimes does not work on a movie.

    I don´t think movies have to catch up with comics´innovations. Comics are comics and movies movies.

    I´m not sure that a new reader would like Morrison´s stories. I bought each number of Morrison´s Final Crisis and found it quite strange. Maybe he is ahead of us all? Maybe I´m shallow and I don´t understand al the "wonderful things Morrison wanted to show? Maybe.

    Still, Marvel outsells DC. And the Green Lantern series does borrow a lot from movies. Very cinematic.

    No wonder it´s also one of DC top titles.

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  7. I think a part of it is that Morrison tends to works ahead of us all in his stories and we as readers are left trying to catch up with his imagination. For some of us, that's exhilarating and can be fun. For others - especially the ones who like their stories to be straightforward without the pieces hidden in nuance - that can be understandably frustrating. It really depends on the type of reader you are.

    Personally? I think Morrison is ahead of us all and it makes his stories a joy to read. I can also understand why others might not like his approach, however. His writing tends to be dense to the point where it lends itself best to re-reads; some people just don't like to do that and hate feeling like they haven't gotten all the pieces the first time through.

    That some vocal people hate Morrison doesn't bother me. I love his Batman work and just his work in general. Considering it sells well and that assures more is to come makes me feel better about it, because it means the ride won't end.

    The great thing about Batman? There's a book starring him for everyone. Literally. And in regards to Final Crisis? Say what you want about the quality - it sure as hell isn't for everyone - but if someone wanted to skip it they had the option. I think a lot of people make it out like Morrison is forced on them when that tends to be far from the case.

    On Green Lantern, I don't think that it's successful because of a notion that it takes from films. Far from it. Epic space opera's are rising in popularity lately and Green Lanterns great writing has helped it ride said wave. Green Lantern, the books starring the Space Team, Adam Strange stuff for DC; Annihilation, War of Kings, Nova and other things for Marvel. All popular and all epic space works.

    I really think too much is placed on movies when they don't bring about that many readers. Not even when comic companies go out of their way to cater to an incoming movie viewer.

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  8. Green Lantern is succesful beacuse of johns superb writing, but i can´t help while reading it to "watch the movie" in my mind.

    GL has a lot of film potential. It works as a movie (like John´s Secret Origin).

    Persoanlly, I love Morrison. I started buying comics again because of his work in Batman. And I liked it.

    What I meant is this: a lot of new people are coming to DC after watching The Dark Knight and they are going to find Morrison and his crazy stories that are not for everyone.
    Or Dick Grayson for that matter.

    That´s what happenned to me when I started reading DC Comics in english (I´m from Argentina) and bought Batman 445 whith Batman fighting the KGBeast. I was totally influenced by Burton´s movie and I found Aparo´s colorful work.

    Understand my point? There are always NEW READERS! And new readers donñt want to get inside a multiverse.

    Try it. explain multiverse to someone who wants to start. They are going to say "screw it! I´´m gonna read a book".

    Marvel outselling DC does not mean it´s better. How many records has Britney Spears sold? you´d call that good music?

    But Marvel is a lot more atractive for new readers than DC now. And that´s sad for DC Fans, like me.

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  9. You must be going to different places than I am. The sad reality is that films don't bring in as many new readers as people like to think they do. Do they? Oh sure. Do they really bring in that many? No. And give the ones who do come in some credit; they're not stupid.

    You're also placing too much stock into certain things. When is the multiverse ever mentioned in ongoings? Almost never. If it's ever brought up, it's in events or if a miniseries takes place on another Earth. I hate to tell you, but Marvel has a multiverse as well and they've centered ongoings on theirs before. So what's the issue here? There's no reason NOT to have the multiverse; the only people who know and care whether it's around are DC fanatics who each have their own opinion on it's effect on readers who don't encounter it in the many stories of DC and probably don't care.

    Marvel constantly outsells DC for different reasons, but to say it's because of the multiverse is kind of ridiculous. We didn't even HAVE a damn multiverse for twenty years and Marvel still outsold DC pretty much every month. Come on man, let's be real here.

    I will, however, agree that Marvel outselling DC does not mean they're better. Marvel has fantastic quality books - Amazing Spider-Man, Moon Knight, Immortal Iron Fist, Incredible Hercules, Ghost Rider, Captain America - but I find they're the ones that tend to be on the fringe of things. The ones that do their own thing. With Marvel, especially in the last couple years, it's been one overblown event after another that force tie-in's on the entire line. Despite the whining, people still buy those tie-ins, so there you go.

    Marvel is arguably even more impenetrable than DC at times, thanks to overlarge events and things like Dark Reign.

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  10. Well, we must be going to different places!!!

    I´m from Argentina, so that´s gotta count fer something.

    And I know about Marvel´s multiverse but they almost never make a reference about it, right?

    I did not said that "because of multiverse Marvel outsells DC". I meant that Marvel is (today. I hated Marvel in the 90´s except for David´s Incredible Hulk)more atractive to new readers. A new reader could read Secret Invasion. Is quite simple (and stupid, but also fun).

    I doubt a new reader could start with Final Crisis.

    Maybe you think I´m bashing Morrison. I´m not. I think the guy is a brilliant writer. Sometimes with a lot of drugs but brilliant.

    I just think DC has serious trouble with the re-definition of their characters.

    And the are new readers coming in, thank God. Movies generate that.

    I still remeber back in 1990 when I got myy first Batman comic in english (I had to read mexican and they were pretty old at that time. 1970´s stories reprints most of them) and I was hoping for something with the feel of Burton´s movie. I was surprised Batman was still blue and gray. Not good colours for the night.

    I think Quesada has done a great job with Marvel. sure they ´re not perfect, but somehow they are better than DC now.

    In the 90´s they sucked hard and DC had the best stories. Not now.

    Oh. And I agree with you 100% about tie ins. At least, Final Crisis was quite modest with that.

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  11. No, I don't think you're bashing Morrison. Not at all. I don't think you're even bashing DC. I just think you might be a little off in a few areas.

    I'm from the States, myself, so yeah; we definitely come from different places.

    I dunno. I'm finding DC's output to be better of late. Marvel is so obscured by it's events while DC has been leaving it's ongoings mostly to their own devices lately. The result has been stronger stuff on the whole.

    I guess we'll agree to disagree.

    I am loving DC's model for events of late though, hands down. It seems they've been slowly refining it over the years and Blackest Night is really the bottom line results of that. I hope they keep up their tendency to keep events relatively contained tie-in wise. It helps keep the quality cohesive while allowing most ongoings to continue doing their own thing.

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  12. Actually, I think Blackest Night had the best first issue in a main event since COIE. And the second issue rocked.

    I just hope DC gets better and better.

    I really don´t care about Montoya, Mon-El, and some of the Titans.

    Johns stuff on Booster Gold rocked though.

    And I don´t dissagree that much with you. Points of view, that´s what make life, (and comics!) rich!

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  13. I think Montoya is interesting, but for me personally she's best in small doses. I don't think she's ongoing material, really. But she can at least hold my attention.

    Batwoman, on the other hand, I'm quickly losing the little interest I had. The Detective Comics run going on right now. The first issue wowed me. But with each new one, the luster wears off more and more. You start realizing more and more than the book is really Williams show; the scripting is solid, but I've found that it fails to be as spectacular as the art. I think a lot of people are just focusing on the art with their praise; that's most of what anyone talks about.

    I'm not invested in Mon-El either way at the moment though; I'm tradewaiting the Superman stuff.

    I'm a big Titans fan, so the first issue of that tie-in won me over despite the fact that I'm annoyed that Beast Boy had temporarily regressed to "Terra needed a chance" mode. It's looking like he and Raven are moving to the Teen team, so that's probably where I'll be after this; the Deathstroke led Titans is going to be a wait and see for me.

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  14. Great conversation, and I think it identifies a central problem, the accomodating new readers versus rewarding old readers problem. "What came before" pages at the beginning of comics? One-shot titles like Superman Classified? In a shared universe, with ongoing storylines, there will always been continuity, and always something that "came before" -- but also every issue is someone's first issue.

    I started reading Superman in the midst of storyline, and slowly I bought back issues until I was completely caught up. Then I followed Superman to a DC crossover, and that interested me in Titans and other DC titles. I didn't need the comics to hold my hand and walk me through what was going on -- but that was another time, expectations for comics I think were different, and comics were *much* cheaper.

    Final Crisis was a weird animal in that I think it might be read by a new reader and still make sense -- far moreso let's say than Infinite Crisis, which took its cues from a dozen comics that came before -- but still was terribly, terribly complex. Batman RIP also likely could have been understood by a new reader, at least in terms of the mystery, but aspects like the Bat-costume that Professor Hurt wore would be completely inscrutable. (Setting aside that both of these were written by Grant Morrison.)

    But these were both great stories, and as a comics fan I felt very rewarded in reading them, so I couldn't say they're "not right." There's a fine balance, and I don't think either Marvel or DC have quite found it yet. When they can make comics simultaneously accessible to new fans and rewarding for the long-time readers, then issues like taking advantage of movie press might solve itself.

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  15. I want to add that I loved Batman R.I.P.

    Still, when you read it, the end feels very rushed. There´s that rumor that Didio forced Batman´s end into Final Crisis.
    There´s after all an alternate ending, as you could see in Tony Daniel´s blog.

    So what happenned really? No way to know now, but many people felt that R.I.P. cheated because Batman did not die in the story...

    But he got buried alive, and all of his enemies (´cept Joker), even some his readers thought he was done.

    The result is a lasting (sometimes crazy) story where you learn why Batman is Batman and why only Bruce Wayne could be Batman-

    The superior man prepares for the evil to come, right.

    Fun, fun read.

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  16. Got a link for the Batman RIP alternate ending post? I'd like to see that.

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  17. I'd link you to it, but Tony Daniel took his blog down months ago. He accidentally spoiled that Dick was going to be Batman without outright saying anything - as if we didn't know it was going to be Dick anyways - and two days later the whole blog was gone. Which is a shame; I liked seeing him post his pencils and since I've been watching his work since his early days on Teen Titans it was nice to watch him grow as an artist.

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  18. Give me an email and I´ll send the image to you.

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  19. Hey, thanks. Please use the Yahoo address mentioned in About Me at the top of the sidebar.

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