Sunday, July 05, 2009

The Question's Answer

I decided to keep the Question trip going. What the hell, it's only 17 more issues. We have all our players established and our plot running at full steam. We even have an ending of sorts with issue 36. After many years of trying to get the book out monthly, DC gave up and let it end at 36, which was where the story was reaching a finishing point, and re-start it a year plus later as The Question Quarterly. I'm not going to touch on that series right now, but it didn't last very long, so obviously the plan didn't work out so well, even though it was still Denny O'Neil, Dennys Cowan and Rick Magyar doing the writing and art.

But, back to our main show. The overall line was that the election between Myra Fermin and Royal Dinsmore was held, after much Hub City stress, not the least of which was Dinsmore using a motorcycle gang to suppress voter turnout for Myra. Dinsmore wins the election but winds up dead shortly thereafter. By Hub City rules, Myra is then the winner, but she's shot by her drunken husband, Wesley, who's the incumbent. He goes out in a blaze of glory a short time later. Not a great place to be running for office, obviously. Eventually Myra recovers, Lady Shiva comes back to town to exercise her martial skills, and Hub City continues to deteriorate.

At the end of the day, with no police force, fire department or any other remotely functioning aspect of city government, Richard Dragon, who trained Vic Sage after he was nearly killed in the first issue, comes to Hub City. Sage, in a concussion induced revelation, realizes he needs to leave Hub City if he's to move forward in his journey as a person. He convinces Myra to do so, too, and to take her disabled daughter with them. Lady Shiva is staying in Hub City to continue her own martial journey, and Myra, at the last, decides to stay to continue her work as mayor, but to send her daughter away with Vic and Richard.

That's the broad sum of it. It's the finer points that both elucidate and frustrate. Among the latter, there are story errors like Tot being beaten to a pulp and taken to a hospital, only to be hale and hearty and greeting Vic at home within a day's time. The motorcycle gangs in the story are one dimensional and not realistic, even in those times. The idea that two of them might be employed by the city to replace the largely AWOL police force initially seems rather silly, too, though in some respects reminiscent of US Special Forces co-opting Afghan warlords to fight the Taliban in the months following the 9/11 attacks, redeeming it to some extent.

On the positive side, there were stories of good hearted freaks and the weaknesses of mob mentality. There was resolution to our scarred, pater approval obsessed youth story, and a couple of very different stories involving Vietnam vets. One story involved a vet exacting revenge on a gang member for an attack on his sister. His tools from the military were a factor in this somewhat detective story, but he wasn't damaged by his time in the conflict, whereas the other story involving a Vietnam vet was the story of a guy who wouldn't engage in violence, or even hold a weapon, because of his war experience, but in the end picked up a gun, only shoot an innocent by mistake. His story was entirely tailored around how he was affected by his service. The stories weren't consecutive, but were close enough that a reader should have easily noted the varied depiction of Vietnam vets, but still a letter writer complained about the monolithic liberal media portrayal of vets as damaged goods. What's really become monolithic since that time is the constant bitching about the liberal media monopoly, as though such thing ever existed, let alone now in the decentralized, information overload era we now inhabit. It's a shibboleth. A canard. A red herring. A damn lie. But there's always someone willing to buy it. Funny to see how, no matter how things change, people, as a whole, remain the same.

But I digress. One of the better stories in this final 17 issue run was number 26. It featured the Riddler. He's a sad, pathetic lower level nemesis to Batman, and who is released from Gotham Jail after Commissioner Gordon figures out the latest Riddler heist without even involving Batman, because the arresting officer neglected to read Riddler his rights and the DA says it's not worth the effort to prosecute. Not a real world couple of reasons to stop a prosecution, but hey, it works for comics. Riddler takes a bus out of town to Hub City and meets a fellow passenger named Sphinx. She's a homicidal kind of crazy and a native of Hub City. That doesn't develop until Vic and Tot are on the bus after their car breaks down. The interplay between The Question and The Riddler, neither of whom is in costume, is an examination of the interplay between questions and riddles. As is often the case with the series, it's fun and thought provoking. The art was a bit distracting, though, with guest artist Bill Wray filling in for the usual Cowan and Magyar.

Perhaps what's best about the Question is that the lead character is not static. Many a series has started with major changes to a character, but we never really knew the character before those changes. We didn't here, either. But in other series, once the character makes his life altering changes, often as the result of a near death experience or the death of a loved one or innocent bystander, the character remains static. Here Vic Sage becomes a touch Zen in his pursuit of self development and awareness after being trained by Richard Dragon, but he digresses. He stops meditating and spends considerable amounts of time "romping and stomping" various criminal elements. He's going back to his pre-near death experience rage motivation and moving away from his goal of seeking answers.

The Question has moments where he returns to that seeking state, as when he doesn't turn in or pummel the Vietnam vet who killed a gang leader, but instead leaves the vet to wrestle with his own guilt. He also realizes how he's falling from what he had achieved as a seeker when Lady Shiva again easily kicks his ass. It's not until the final two issues that Sage really sees how he's gone off course and realizes that he can't continue his quest while still in Hub City because the city is so far gone it's pulling him away from what he should be doing.

The question, then, is who is the hero of this 36 issue story? Is it Vic Sage, who ends up leaving to save himself? Is it Myra Fermin, who soldiers on in the face of daunting odds? Is it Izzy O'Toole, one time king of the corrupt cops who's teetering on returning to those corrupt days after a mistaken conclusion that The Question has crossed over to crime? These would seem to be our 3 leading candidates, and Myra the obvious choice of hero. Nonetheless, the three also depict how doing what's "right" is different for different people. Yes, it's that right wing bugaboo, moral relativism. As though recognizing that everyone is different from everyone else and that one size doesn't fit all is somehow "wrong". Funny how that only holds true of lower income "scum". There's never been a cry from the right about the moral relativism that saw Rush Limbaugh serve no jail time for his illegal durg use. It's only wrong when it's "the other", not our own. Just look at how OJ Simpson's acquittal on murder charges was so right to some segments of the population, no matter that nearly everyone other than the 12 in the box concluded that he'd committed the crime. His victims were "others" to those who celebrated the acquittal and fair compensation for the wrongs done to them and theirs over the centuries.

Ah, The Question. I do love it so. Few comics inspire that kind of thinking. Or seem so unforced in inspiring it, as opposed to the Norman Osborne statement that Jim objected to awhile back. And I've never seen another letters column that had so much thinking going on with the writers. Some of them were totally off, but they were trying to think, in a reactionary sort of way. Like I said last week, if you can, get the single issues to get the whole experience. Trades will get you the stories, but not the discussions. Why, it's almost like a book club, just preserved in print for all time (or until the paper degrades).

1 comment:

  1. I have 3/4 of the series in floppies but I don't think I ever read a single one of the letters pages. I shall have to check it out. BUT, I have loved the trades.