Review: The Question: The Deaths of Vic Sage hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)


Jeff Lemire teams with the late Dennis O’Neil’s Question collaborators Denys Cowan and Bill Sienkiewicz for the DC Black Label collection The Question: The Deaths of Vic Sage. In this time of uncomfortable Alan Moore sequels, what we have here — with a truly company-owned character and original members of the band directly involved — clearly falls more within the realm of tribute or homage. And it’s fantastic.

I gauge this book as someone sadly without direct experience of O’Neil’s Question, having mainly come to the character through Greg Rucka’s dedicated work. O’Neil’s full Question is collected, though not Question Quarterly or the other ancillary materials, and it’s all sadly out of print and the collections aren’t even available digitally. Were it to come around again — even a set that goes straight from O’Neil to Rucka, c’mon DC — I’d snap it up. But even just knowing the bare bits — Question Vic Sage is a TV reporter, his “Alfred” is named Tot and Richard Dragon hangs around the edges — I was still utterly taken from the start (some familiarity with Rorschach probably doesn’t hurt, either).

Lemire’s alternative-lives tale reminds a little of Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne, if not, way back, Armageddon: The Alien Agenda — take our somewhat “normal man” protagonist and stick his street-level superheroics in a couple of historical settings; this kind of detective hero like the Question or Batman (or a de-powered Nathanial Adam) works better for that, I think, than a Superman. There’s a nostalgic joy in that kind of plot, which both of those other two books evoked and which this does, too. Some of Lemire’s travels in time are more effective than others, but as a whole package, again, this is great, and another great entry into the DC Black Label line, too.

[Review contains spoilers]

The Deaths of Vic Sage takes place not exactly along O’Neil’s Question timeline — if I understand correctly, some of the character relationships have shifted — which is fine especially for a reader who didn’t know better anyway. The central tension is between Sage wanting to solve Hub City’s problems with his fists as the Question — corrupt government, police violence and racial tension — versus Tot’s exhortion that he do so with his words as broadcaster Vic Sage. Ultimately, wonderfully, Sage appears to make the wrong choice, jettisoning his Sage identity and embracing the Question fully, a Pyrrhic victory that begs very much for a sequel (especially now that Sage and Question Renee Montoya seem to coexist as of Event Leviathan, even inasmuch as Deaths may be outside continuity).

I don’t have enough experience with O’Neil’s original Question to know whether the element of science-fiction and supernatural in Lemire’s book is per normal or not. My guess is that it is; the immortal-devil-as-corrupt-politician seems appropriate for likeminded contemporaneous series like Mike Grell’s Green Arrow (and even Benjamin Percy’s later Grell-esque run that was heavy on the supernatural). And Lemire leaves open the “question” of what Sage is fighting at all; Tot can never see the demon that Sage believes he’s battling, and the concluding point is that Sage’s quest is in vain — evil is in all of us, as police beat back a riot around Sage and Tot, and can’t ever be fully vanquished.

Between the first and fourth present-day framing books, Sage hallucinates himself first back to the Old West, then to 1940. Both of these are harrowing — Sage facing racism and mob justice in the first, political corruption and cultists in the second. But of this, I thought the first was better because it involved an Old West man with no face — a cowboy Question — whereas the second was a more straightforward detective story (though Lemire does a fine Dashiell Hammett impression). I’m torn whether Deaths could have been longer, a la Return of Bruce Wayne, or if that would have ventured into parody — caveman Question, knight Question, hippie Question, and so on.

I’ve read a couple other DC Black Label books lately — Batman: Three Jokers, and I had the privilege of an advance look at Wonder Woman: Dead Earth — and I’m more enamored with this line with each book and hope it continues. With the Batman and Wonder Woman titles, the “mature readers” element was mostly in bloody violence; even for Black Label, DC’s not about to put the major curse words in the mouths of their Big Three superheroes. The Question needs no such hand-holding, and so the language I believe is more salty and prevalent even possibly than O’Neil’s original Question. But O’Neil’s Question was a “mature readers” title and so it’s fabulous that there’s a realm now where a Question story can be told in the fashion of its 1980s roots without having to navigate the line between DC superheroes and Vertigo. It’s the same with Three Jokers; once upon a time, a “mature readers” Batman special wasn’t such an anomaly, and I’m please to see a venue for it not to be such an anomaly again.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase The Question: The Deaths of Vic Sage



I recommend Jeff Lemire’s The Question: The Deaths of Vic Sage unequivocally, and I want more. Having Denys Cowan and Bill Sienkiewicz here is great. If I’m not misremembering, the only time Cowan has drawn Question Renee Montoya is in the Question #37 “Blackest Night” tie-in, but still — especially in the opening sequence — Cowan’s question looks so familiar (perhaps because Montoya artist Cully Hamner is doing a great Cowan impression) that all the various Question revisits over the past twenty years seem of a piece. Again, I’d take that omnibus any time. There’s a nice sketchbook section included here, though Lemire and company wrote tributes to Dennis O’Neil that were not reprinted and probably should have been.

[Includes original and variant covers, pencils and other artwork]

Comments ( 4 )

  1. Having read all the Question books a few years ago, I don't remember any sci-fi elements, although there was always a bit of a supernatural twinge based on Sage's "resurrection" as a crime fighter. But my memory is blurred. What I do remember is that overall, that was a fine damn comic and DC needs to either do an omnibus, perhaps including Ditko's version as well, or just reprint the previous trades/publish a compendium or whatever. These were great comics. Some parts a bit dated, but still really good stuff that represented how cutting edge DC was in the 80s.

  2. I have the 5 of the 6 O’Neill/Cowan trades that were released in the mid-2000’s. The prices are insane now, to the point I can’t possibly justify paying the money the 6th ones goes for. An Omnibus would be the correct way to collect this again.

    1. Paul, I have five of the six as well. The first volume was about $150 so I got the single issues for that book and read them that way.

      One nice thing about reading them in floppy form was the letter columns. Alan Gold was the editor and he did the LCs. Turns out, both O'Neill and Cowan had studied martial arts, which really helps give this run an authentic feel. Cowan's art was still a bit rough back then IMO, but he did a fantastic job with the martial arms poses.

      I don't remember the Richard Dragon series being as good, maybe because that was in the 70s, but looking forward to the upcoming collection to see how O'Neill initially wrote the character. Been too long.

    2. Really, prices are that high? I'm not thinking about selling mine, but that's nuts!


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