What Was the Question Again?
(Soundtrack: The Fastbacks — The Question is No)

Oh Vic Sage–what have they done to you? Well, if you believe Tim O’Neil and friends (and their friends are legion, it seems, if the blogosphere is at all indicative of comicdom as a whole), they’ve done a terrible thing indeed–they’ve “violated your sanctity” as a character…or maudlin words to that effect (if you want some more ammo of this kind, go hunt down the TCJ writer who composed that magazine’s ten millionth piece about the “rape” of Jack Kirby’s corpse). It’s almost as if Rick Veitch broke out the ol’ “b-mod machine” or something… A=B? Obscene! We know what A equals, right Ditko fans? (remember now–I am a Ditko fan!) Right now the formula dropping from many commentators lips is “Veitch=asshole”. The guy didn’t even have the decency to wait for the Sturdy One to croak before embarking upon this sacriligious spree.

Chris Butcher, whom I don’t often agree with, seems to have summed up the current problems with the reception of the book, in this brief aside, from Previews Review:

Been enjoying this quite a bit. I have to admit to being somewhat surprised too, as the reaction to The Question’s dialogue patterns was pretty extreme and made me a little skeptical before I even picked it up. Still, I should’ve been tipped off to the validity of the criticism by comments like “They’ve turned The Question into Rorschach, and that’s not the way it’s supposed to be!” which is a subtle variation on “Nothing is as good as it used to be when I loved it most”.

Well no–they’re upset because the Question is no longer Rorschach, but the rest of that paragraph makes a lot of sense.

And here again, I think it’s time to reiterate my plea for the historiographic interpretation of continuing characters. So, you know, I wasn’t angry about Meltzer’s use of Jean Loring in Identity Crisis because he changed her–I was angry because of the way in which I interpreted the particular changes he made… When you take a perfectly self-possessed career woman and turn her into a “jealous bitch”; and you take one of the most successfully, and sensitively, resolved divorces in the history of the DC universe and turn the whole thing into an elaborate ploy on the woman’s part to regain the male protagonist’s full attention–well, there ought to be some questions about what you have done… The use of continuing characters amps up the resonance of the story–ie. there are tons of “movies of the week” with characters like Meltzer’s Jean–but none of those characters have a 40 year backstory that helps to foreground the importance of the choices that the author of the current piece makes… And that, my friends, is why continuity is a goddamned fascinating adjunct to the storyteller’s (and the reader’s) art…

Now, getting back to The Question (which I, too, am enjoying quite a bit–Tommy Lee Edwards’ art is almost Colanesque in its oddly focused haziness, and Veitch’s beatnik antics amuse me…if there’s one thing comics as a whole can use more of, it’s verbal experimentation–and no, I’m not saying that Veitch is the new Ginsberg…although, if you’ve read Walker Percy’s brilliant The Moviegoer, you may have noticed a certain similarity between the Question’s new relationship to places and Binx Bolling’s, who even has a kind of conversation of his own with Chicago, late in the novel), which I don’t want to go into in too much detail, because we’re only a third of the way through the series, I think it’s at least fair to say that the author must have had a point in transforming the Objectivist into a mystic. Why not think about what it might have been (i.e. is he saying that Objectivism is an–unselfconscious–brand of mysticism? that’s my guess, right now), instead of longing for Ditko’s characterization? Unless you are a dedicated Objectivist yourself, and are reading this as a (fictional) comrade’s renunciation of “the true faith”, why not give it a rest, hunh?

I’ll have more to say about this series in three months…

Good Day Friends!




  1. I don’t know much about the Question, but are you saying that you’d have no problem if, say, Superman were treated as a murderous thug? I don’t much care for continuity, picking up the occasional superhero story arc because it’s written by a few people whom I enjoy, but if the creator is going to just treat the character any old way he or she feels, why not just create a new character? There’s some limit to reinterpretation if the superhero narrative is to have any grounding. To me, Morrison and Moore always stays within certain confines, thinking through what’s come before, not simply dismissing it. If Veitch, who probably has the same hippie, drug-influence “spiritual” view of the world that seems to inflict so many superhero writers (particularly those from across the pond), is simply dismissing the philosophical ground for the Question, then one need not be a fanboy to object. But one would have to be a fanboy to continue reading …


  2. “…but if the creator is going to just treat the character any old way he or she feels, why not just create a new character? “

    but Charles–the whole point of my little post here is that there are very good reasons to use the old characters to make new points…maybe you don’t agree, but I’d have to see more of an argument from you on this score before I would know how to reply…and of course I wouldn’t mind seeing Superman as a murderer (it’s been done, by the way…Byrne pulled the trigger, and Stern picked up the pieces quite well, as Matt Rossi has noted) as long as I found the story interesting!


  3. Yeah, but if there was any significance to Supes killing someone, it was because of how he’s been portrayed for so many years. What it sounds like from the descriptions that everyone’s given of the Question is that he’s an entirely different character, which isn’t exactly a re-interpretation. A more interesting take, which is more in line with what Moore and Morrison might do (or have done), is to put the Question’s philosophy into a context where it becomes questionable (give him an opponent, The Fact, or Antithesis or something, to see what’s made of his answers). Merely turning him into a mystic seems sort of wrongheaded, given how many mystical heroes exist in the DC universe. At least, set him on a journey of sorts where his fundamental belief in rational intuition is shown to be a matter of faith or gnosis. It’s impossible to have (small o) objectivists and atheists in the DC world, anyway. But again, I’m just going off what’s been said about the comic, not the comic itself.

  4. absolutely Charles–we agree… and I think that, before the series is done, we might see exactly what you are calling for! There’s no question in my mind that there is more than caprice behind Veitch’s decisions…it’s a well-done book…


  5. Aren’t we ignoring the Question’s last series here a lot? He went a long way from Ditko in that one. Even if that series and this series aren’t considered to be sequentially in continuity, there’s a continuum between them.

    – Matt Rossi

  6. exactly matt–a truly sophisticated appraisal of the Veitch series would have to take O’Neil’s contribution into account! (and if I like the series enough, I’ll certain try to provide something like that–once I review the eighties Question series, which I haven’t read since the eighties…) This is exactly the kind of question, however, that the origin-obsessed faction of superhero fandom is unwilling to deal with…instead of looking at the development of the characters, all we get is “how does O’Neil compare with Ditko”, “how does Veitch compare with Ditko”, “how does–everyone–compare with Jack Kirby”, etc… the reduction of these relationships to only two terms (“heroic creator” and latter-day “desecrator”, “knock-off artist’, or “reverent acolyte”) is really counterproductive!


  7. Oh well, you are obviously willing to extend Veitch far more creidt than I am. This goes back to the whole copyright debate: not everyone is so willing to kick their proverbial children out the doorstep as you are. I’m willing to bet money the series passes without any of the significant retroactive gnosis you’re predicting: this will be just another book that totally ignores everything that has gone before in an effort to make a saleable book out of an old and abused concept. The problem rests with editorial was much as anything.

    Its only a matter of time before Hawk & Dove are “reimagined” as giant space cats fighting martians.

  8. First time poster, here, so hopefully I won’t embarass myself overmuch…

    Since I haven’t read either the Ditko or Veitch Question (and since I’m a huge fan of O’Neill’s run on the book), I’m coming at this from a heavily biased perspective, but it strikes me as a little strange to be overly concerned with Ditko’s version of the character. Based on a quick web search, I can’t seem to find much more than half a dozen issues where Ditko handled the Question.

    Surely O’Neill has written the “definitive” take on the Question, whether or not you like the definition. We don’t look at all Superman comics through the lens of Seigel and Shuster…we look at him through the lens of Mort Weisinger, or Alan Moore, or whoever our favorite happens to be. With serial work-for-hire characters, does the original creator’s vision matter that much? Isn’t the point of serial work-for-hire characters (artistically, if not commercially) that different authors can use them for different expressions of whatever they find interesting?

    And while, yes, one can argue that it’s disrespectful to previous authors to essentially rewrite a character from scratch…that doesn’t impact the merit of the work, nor does it give a special place to the original creator.

    Uh. I like O’Neill’s Question a lot.

    — Unlogged Alex

  9. I agree very much with what Matt and Alex have said. I’m also a big fan of the O’Neil version of this character, having been unable to find any of the Ditko issues.

    At this point, I would say that the defining characteristic of the Question is not Ditko’s Objectivism, or O’Neil’s zen, or Veitch’s mysticism, or even the JLU’s conspiracy nut, (never read Rucka’s take on him either), but that he’s a man who tries on different philosophies as they suit his needs. (This open minded experimentation seems to be O’Neils’s defining contribution to the Question mythos, imo.) I’m hoping that Veitch will show what event triggered Sage’s new take on life, but it’s really not necessary. It’s enough for me to see what happens as a result of this new slant w/o having to see what triggered it.

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