Hank McCoy (Before the Fur)

In Memory
Charles Victor “Charlie” Szasz A.K.A. Vic Sage A.K.A. The Question 1967-2007
Forgive me if today’s post is old news to you. But like I said last week, I’ve been a little too out of touch with DC until just recently. I continue the tradition of commenting on the casualty list- because as you may have noticed, characters have been dropping like flies in the DCU lately. Or maybe you hadn’t noticed- because in the midst of said second-string character carnage, all of these big names from the Silver Age have been coming back guns blazing. Hal Jordan, Barry Allen...all that crew. I hear the Teen Titans are back together. That is, the lineup they had when the book first got popular- Nightwing, Starfire, Cyborg, Beast Boy (or Changeling or whatever Garfield calls himself these days), Donna Troy (I can’t even remember her codenames), Flash-Wally West, and even Red Arrow. Okay, that isn’t a Silver Age lineup. But whatever, you get the point. The old days. But for every old-school hero that has entered the scene, a plethora of underappreciated characters seem to be dropping like flies lately. That is not to say that their deaths are meaningless- I really loved how much everyone underestimated just how close to the truth Ted Kord (A.K.A. Blue Beetle) had gotten to what the hell was going on. But Ted Kord wasn’t Superman or Batman- so hey, what could he really know about the big picture? You all probably know how this sad song ends by now- with a bullet. THEN everyone listens. It was tragic. But in a way, so fitting. The new Blue Beetle is pretty fascinating, by the way. They’ve really gotten into the whole “just-what-the-hell-is-this-scarab thing that Kord was carrying around anyway?” bit quite nicely. I highly recommend it. But yeah, I wouldn’t say these deaths are completely meaningless. I mean, there are the occasional obligatory Superboy Prime or Black Adam fights thirty five characters, twenty of which you’ve never heard of (the comic book equivalent of “red-shirts” on Star Trek...the dork factor of this column has reached an all-time high with that last aside) and kills fifteen of said-twenty heroes. A nice, efficient “clean-up” of dead weight. But DC tends to give characters a real swan song before they shuffle them off the mortal coil. I think Ralph Dibny, Tedd Kord, even Hal Jordan (until lately) are all great examples. But Sage? Now? They kill him NOW? This surprised me. In case you were wondering who that faceless Dick Tracy knock-off in the trench coat and fedora was, that’s the recently deceased I’m discussing. He went by the alias “The Question”- and no, he didn’t actually have no face. It was a mask- but nice touch, right? I mean, you get it right? He’s “the question?” So his face is blank? Because if he had a clear distinct face he’d be called “the answer?” Right?....right. I feel like Sage was one of so many really great underappreciated DC characters that just didn’t get his time to shine. One of the things that I’ve always really loved about the DCU is how much they really pay tribute to the Golden Age of comics. Marvel is always changing, always modernizing. But you ever notice how Gotham City is sort of…perpetually in the 1930s? I mean, a little less these days- but there’s gangsters, big weird looming buildings, Rolls Royces…DC never gives up it’s roots. I hate to sound like an old man, but…”the kids just don’t appreciate it.” Seriously. DC pays tribute to characters and stories that were in print seventy years ago. When your grandfather was a teenager. If you really want a good example of what I’m talking about, I’d highly suggest getting your hands on a copy of Starman in the early nineties. This PAINFULLY-underrated comic book is brilliantly written, but can really be appreciated best if you have Wikipedia open and take the time to access loads of comic book lore. But I digress. It’s only been in the last couple of years that Vic Sage had been making the rounds again, in print. An orphan, Sage grew up in his very own fictionalized DC (or Charlton- the company that originally owned the character) city- Hub City. Hub was a lot like Gotham, only with even more bizarre and not easily recognizable corrupt connections between city officials. Sage spent most of his career trying to bring hidden injustice to light- but when he wasn’t doing that, he was trying to answer questions about his own life: who were his parents, just for starters. Of course, I’m taking all of this from the 1980 series- which I highly recommend. His background has probably changed over the years a bit- too much for me to keep track of. If you ask me, a good Question story reads a little less like Batman and a little bit more like an old-school detective story. In other words, the hero has a little bit less to work with and sometimes has to “get dirty” in order to get the job done. Anything goes, including impersonations, digging through subject’s trash, and just plain sneakiness. On the other hand however, a good Question narrative usually read like a college level philosophy course. Not surprisingly, Sage tended to ask “the big questions” about life, people, and everything else. So philosophical quandaries- like is killing one person for the greater good acceptable?- tended to come up. Actually, I’ve heard from a couple different soruces that Alan Moore originally wanted to write Watchmen with a host of Charlton Comics characters (that is, the independent company that DC acquired and just “rolled” into their main continuity). So if you see parallels between Sage and Rorschach? You aren’t the only one. Ted Kord and Nite Owl have quite a bit in common, while we’re on the subject. Interesting right? Anyway, I remember Sage getting the hell kicked out of him by Lady Shiva maybe the first issue or so once he became a DC character. He went on to train himself into a pretty badass martial artist. But for me, it always seemed like the “slightly in over his head” hard-boiled detective Question tended to win out. Someone told me that later, in a 2005 revamp, Question developed the ability to “talk” to the city, kind of along the lines of the soon to be adapted Spirit. Weird. But kind of an interesting twist. But it wasn’t to last. Yes, Sage is dead- and Renee Montoya, long-time Batman character, is his replacement. It took me a while to really get on board with the idea of Montoya in this role. It isn’t that I don’t like her- in fact, she is among my favorite DCU residents. But tough-as-nails, recovering alcoholic, street-cop Renee didn’t really strike me as the woman for the job. In fact, if anything, Renee seemed more like she didn’t want to ask any questions about her life. Of course, I’ve since seen two moments that have turned the idea around for me. The first was the standard, obligatory “why me?” conversation between Renee and Sage. To which Question just responds “That’s the question, isn’t it?” But see- that’s the legacy speech right there. Any other character would have been all like “Well, Renee, you’re (blank) and (blank), and I needed someone who could (blah blah blah). Always remember (generic standard that hero swore to uphold to the end of their days).” But in this case, the message is just- “You’ll always wonder. And that’s what I want you to keep doing. Ask the big questions. Keep questing. Always wonder. You’ll never know.” Fast forward to Renee tackling a cult of crime-worshiping wacko’s in another miniseries (long story if you haven’t been following along with 52, Countdown, Final Crisis and all that), and her narration is along the lines of: “What was it that drove you Charlie? Was it simply the need to ASK the questions? Was it the satisfaction in finding the answer? Or something else entirely? A way to fight your demons?” And I was sold. Renee Montoya had become the new Question. The legacy lives on. To me, this is the most compelling part of Renee. I do think her relationship with Kate Kane (Batwoman) is very real and at times, moving. Funny story- Batwoman is actually an older character, originally designed as a love interest for Bruce Wayne that would alleviate allegations that the character was homosexual. Like so many smart reclaims, Kane has been reintroduced as a homosexual character herself. For a long time DC has had something of a reputation as the quasi-right-wing-Christian comic book company, and I’m glad to see a little bit more diversity among the cast members they are working with.