THIS REVIEW OF ‘THE QUESTION: THE DEATHS OF VIC SAGE’ #1 CONTAINS SPOILERS.
by Clyde Hall. How to combat urban ills and pacify street violence in a place like Hub City? That’s the question Vic Sage has tackled since his first adventures, decades past and another comic book company ago. His answer has ever been the Question. The faceless vigilante confronts criminals in their element and gathers evidence. In turn, the evidence allows Vic Sage, crusading television journalist, to expose those in power who ignore or profit from crime.
The Comics Code-palatable version of Steve Ditko’s creator-owned Mr. A has remained a viable character who embodies much of his creator’s views on moral absolutes. Mr. A begat the Question, the Question begat Rorschach (without the journalist angle). Each have stamped their violent vendettas against lawbreakers with a philosophical bent. Right is right, wrong is punchable, and never the twain shall meet.
Later writers for the Question added elements of Zen philosophy and elevated detective skills. A new Question took Sage’s place in the person of former GCPD detective Renee Montoya. (In Event Leviathan we learned that Montoya and Sage are currently both continuing to bear the mantle.) Now Jeff Lemire carries on the adventures of Sage’s Question for a run in DC’s Black Label imprint. His tour of duty accurately reflects the vigilante’s methods and mindset, until the Question’s orderly black-and-white world melts into something less rigid.
If Hub City has a hub from which the spokes of corruption emanate, it’s Mayor Wesley Fermin. Vic Sage the journalist strives to prove it, and the story opens with the Question shutting down an underage prostitution operation which services one of the Mayor’s political allies. There’s a cover-up, and Sage uses his vigilante-acquired ammunition to waylay another of Fermin’s political associates on-air: His sister, Myra Fermin.
In a break from past continuity (where Myra was Wes’s wife), she claims that she’s trying to change city politics from inside the system. Naturally, this isn’t received positively by the morally inflexible Sage. A city attorney gathers Myra up and threatens Sage with litigation.
But Vic notices the attorney has a strange ring matching one the mayor’s man wore during his brothel bust. Its symbol is a 1920s Hub City group of shady movers and shakers. As the Question probes the mystery of this throwback clue, two things happen simultaneously. A police-involved shooting death infuriates Hub citizens, igniting looting and protests. Myra stumbles into a sketchy moment of Mayoral business that proves Sage’s allegations aren’t baseless.
A journalistic voice speaking for the people might help calm the first situation. Sage could publicly take Wes to task for increasing police powers and presence to counter civil unrest. But Vic’s caught up finding the long-abandoned headquarters of the ring-wearers. (Also, human skeletal remains and an antique faceless mask.) The logical investigator is plagued with horrifying visions and can only watch as Hub City burns. Reaching out to a past associate for help, Sage gets an answer regarding his debilitating phantasms. One beyond his morality. One put forth by followers of Pythagoras, explored by Nietzsche. One written about by Poe, de Maupassant, Melville, and Joyce.
Lemire’s Question is faithful to the established character. He’s no-nonsense, relentless when on the trail of a mystery, and severe with those trifling in shadows—deepest dye or sooty off-gray. The writer also portrays Sage with matching skill when his towers crumble. Sage afflicted by a force outside his narrow ethos is panicky, haunted. Philosophies undreamt are equally unsettling.
This also bridges into something of a current comic book trope, which may derail readers expecting a purely street-level story. But it certainly intrigues with an expanded legacy for the character and may be a gateway to the Sage of Event Leviathan, one seemingly resurrected and more human. The hero’s wit tends toward the crass and simplistic. But Lemire inserts a few lighter touches regarding internet impacts on investigative work and Rorschach moments.
Denys Cowan’s style is the ideal amount of lurid and streetwise, the inks by Bill Sienkiewicz making it pop. Their fusion harmonizes with the practiced precision and passion of a Hub busker. Chris Sotomayor uses long noir shadows only as needed. Hub’s not bleak and his colors give it several faces. The letters of Willie Schubert come in standard, flowing lines. Never too formal, just what you’d hope for a detective story. The effects fonts are uniform in style and color; what crashes and jars in some books are just another Hub City day, loud but not unexpected.
This team is proven, and Lemire commands my confidence. The turning point of #1 is Vic Sage leaving his usual element, his consciousness expanded. It’s no trifle, setting him spiritually adrift. The rest of the series either dies on that hill or evolves the Question.
DC Black Label / DC / $6.99
Written by Jeff Lemire.
Pencils by Denys Cowan.
Inks by Bill Sienkiewicz.
Colors by Chris Sotomayor.
Letters by Willie Schubert.
8 out of 10
Check out this 7-page preview of ‘The Question: The Deaths of Vic Sage’ #1, including a varaint by Jeff Lemire, courtesy of DC!