Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Question #26

The Question #26, March 1989, DC Comics
writer: Dennis O'Neil
penciller: Bill Wray
inker: Malcolm Jones III
letterer: Willie Schubert
colorist: Tatjana Wood
editor: Mike Gold

When it comes to Cupid's arrow, no one is safe. Even Superman suffers from a case of the smittens, what with his undying devotion to Lois Lane . . . so the Riddler is by no means an exception to this puzzling rule, even if Mr. Nigma is a self-styled master of the mysterious. Still, the cover of The Question #26 is peculiar, if not blatantly chuckle-worthy, as the sight of a lovestruck supervillain isn't common fodder for such iconic imagery.

I've always assumed that Denny O'Neil would be one of my favorite writers if I actually pursued his work more; instead, as a Batman fan with a casual collector's compulsion in comparison to the volumes of material available about the Dark Knight, I've only encountered O'Neil's work a handful of times, most notably in reprints featuring the few appearance of Ra's Al Ghul, and the villain's beautifully painted (bu Norm Breyfogle), long overdue origin story Birth of the Demon. I fondly remember Denny's editorial diatribes at the end of the lettercols in Batman's monthly books during the '90s; his briefs snippets of wisdom varied from whimsical to weighty, but always significant. Translate such stoicism into a comic book, and you're reading something special. Enter The Question #26.

Obviously starring the Riddler, who longs for Batman to confront him in another exaggerated, perilous adventure (shades of Hush, perhaps?), Nigma is released from police custody on a technicality, but, in a scene that I'm surprised hasn't appeared more frequently in the modern "real world" take of the superhero, Commissioner Gordon first befriends the "minor-leaguer with a gimmick" and beseeches him to give up crime. The sequence is one of many underrated moments that boasts the complexities of Jim Gordon's character; for all intents and purposes, this scene is a supervillain intervention, a demonstration of tough love from a crimefighter that has every reason to hate the Riddler, sans the fact that the guy really is just some desperate, puny fellow human being, whose mind happens to rival that of the World's Greatest Detective, if only in the beginnings of each caper. This first act sets up the dynamics for the rest of the issue and, in my opinion, is must see for any Batman fan, albeit its place now buried in the back issues of another series.

So, the Riddler actually seems to consider the Commish's advice and hops a train out of town -- the same train the Question and his mentor take on their way out of town for a weekend of respite -- where he meets Sphinx Scromulski, a machine gun carrying psycho chick that drags Eddie into a hostage situation not unlike Speed. The "master plan": Eddie asks a passenger a riddle, and if he doesn't get it right, Sphinx blows him away. It's a simple plan made unexpectedly complex when the Question ironically asks the Sphinx (whose name is purely, metaphorically intentional, a transparent literary element almost indicative of O'Neil's canon) a bombastic bombardment of potentially unanswerable inquiries:

What a fitting climax, and frankly, a long overdue confrontation.

As a superhero fan, I thoroughly enjoyed this issue. I've never read The Question before, and am only familiar with the character via his pedestrian roles in other stories, but if Mr. Sage is as deep as Denny makes him out to be, I'd be interested in more. For a guy without a face, the Question is obscenely detail-oriented, specifically in his quest to find the sheer order of the universe. Who would've thought that a confrontation with an arguably B-list baddie (I rank the Riddler a bit higher in Batman's rogues hierarchy) on the verge of reform would've offered such cosmic insight? The Question #26 is the reason why I love comics in the first place. It's like a little Valentine . . . to me.

Alternate last line: It's like, for Valentine's Day, comics actually took me aside for a few memorable moments to pop The Question. I never expected it.

1 comment:

Aaron said...

Oh where to begin... First, you are right on with your love of Denny O'Neil... He is one of my favorite all-time writers...

He is the reason why people love Batman in this modern era. Without Denny, there is a good chance many a comic book character would not have "grown up". (Although I am certain there are those who would also chastise Denny for his contribution). I remember reading his "From the Den" with much glee. (Something I believe Dan Didio is trying to copy with limited success)... The now famous Batman arc "Officer Down" was written as a swan song to Denny's retirement from DC as THE Batman editor...

As for The Question... His character was more prevalent in the 1980s... He was part of the Carleton Comics buy-out and was intended to be in The Watchmen (along with Blue Beetle)... However, Denny saw the potential in the character and kept him from being tossed aside. (And, we comic fans were given Rorschach in The Watchmen).

The Question was the character in DC that could tackle dirty stories... If Green Arrow was too busy. :)

There was a FANTASTIC Question mini-series co-starring the Huntress in the late 90s, you should check it out.

Alas... I think Sage's days might be numbered... In 52, he is all but dead from cancer... Although there are hints that he is merely going to change roles and pass the faceless mask to Renee Montoya. (A character who has risen from a b-rate cop in Detective Comics to a stunning 3 dimensional person)...

And yes, I will talk like this to darn near anyone! :)