Based on the only cover The Question had at Charlton. Artist: Steve Ditko.


Original medium: Comic Books
Published by: Charlton Comics
First Appeared: 1967
Creator: Steve Ditko
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The biggest question about The Question, from the point of view of your not-so-humble Toonopedist, was whether to write one article about him (as was done with most Charlton/DC characters, such as Judomaster) or two, like The Peacemaker/Peacemaker. That is, in making an updated version for the character's new owner to publish, was there enough difference between them to justify calling him a new character, or was he the same one, revived? The conundrum was made less vexing …

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… by the fact that he was killed off in the first DC issue, then brought back in the second (with less-plausible sciency-sounding mumbo jumbo, but even greater facility than the usual superhero death-denial), to explain his radical shift in attitude. It seems he was really dead in his first issue, but was seen in the second not to have quite reached the point of being really, most sincerely dead. Surviving his own death altered his outlook on whatever passes for life among comic book heroes, so sure, he could be seen as the same guy.

The Question was originally created by Steve Ditko, whose earlier creations, Captain Atom, Spider-Man and even Dr. Strange, reflected at best a diluted, corporation-filtered shadow of his libertarian/objectivist philosophy. In coming up with a back-pages feature for his own Blue Beetle lead character, given Charlton's low page rates and its consequent reluctance to rein in its artists' personal idiosyncracies, he felt no pressure to make the character conform to the norm among the more commercially viable funnybook guys. The Question behaved exactly the same as Ditko himself would have, if he were to embark on a crusade against crime and/or evil while concealing his true identity behind a mask. Of all Ditko's creations to date, The Question most purely reflected the cartoonist's own values, ethics and motivations.

He made his first appearance in Charlton's Blue Beetle #1 (June, 1967). (It was the company's second Blue Beetle #1 in only a couple of years.) The 7-page introductory story merely showed him in action, with his friend and mentor, Aristotle "Tot" Rodor, making only a cameo appearance. All we found out about The Question himself was that he maintained an everyday identity as crusading TV journalist Vic Sage, and that as The Question, he looked just like The Spirit, but with only featureless flesh where the mask would be.

It was in the second issue's 7-pager that readers saw that The Question's costume change was done with a gas Tot had invented, which he released from a cannister in his belt buckle. It used chemical means to change the suit Vic wore to The Question's colors, while at the same time adhering a plastic-like mask to his face, which made it look like he had no face at all. Another gas release would change the suit colors back to Vic's, and de-adhere the mask.

The Question continued in Blue Beetle #s 3 and 4, but by that time, word had been passed down that the plug was being pulled on the company's "action hero" line, so #4 (December, 1967) was to be the last. Apparently, that left an unpublished 3-part Question story still in inventory, so Charlton cleared its vaults by putting them all out in the oneshot Mysterious Suspense, dated October, 1968. The Question also appeared in the book-length story published in Blue Beetle #5 (November, 1968), with which Charlton cleared the unpublished inventory on that title. More than a decade later, Charlton sold its superhero properties to DC.

Meanwhile, Ditko didn't quite give up on the character, even in the face of Charlton's disinclination to put him back in print. At the time, Wallace Wood (T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, Cannon) was publishing Witzend as a venue in which cartoonists could own their own creations. Since Charlton owned The Question, Ditko changed a few superficial characteristics and renamed him "Mr. A" (after the first Objectivist postulate, which they call the Law of Identity, "A is A"). In the new guise, his philosophy became, if anything, even more starkly stated, with no concession at all to the stories' supposed raison d'etre, entertainment. Mr. A's "stories" sometimes consisted of nothing more than the villain espousing his reasons for doing what he does, followed by the hero's lecture on why such actions are evil, ending with the bad guy plunging into an abyss of unenlightenment. As Mr. A, he made his first appearance in Witzend #3 (1967),

But his next authorized appearance (unless you count a couple of cheap reprints under Charlton's "Modern Comics" imprint) was, like those of several Charlton characters, in Crisis on Infinite Earths, the 1985-86 12-part limited series intended to eliminate confusion about DC's back-story. Also like several others, he was modified for use in the DC-published series/graphic novel Watchmen. The Question was Rorschach, who was described by one of the other characters as having "a lot of integrity" and by another as "that maggot". As himself, he also made a few guest appearances with The Blue Beetle.

But when a decision was made to publish him in his own monthly comic (for the first time), writer Denny O'Neil (Air Wave, Green Lantern/Green Arrow), observing only Ditko himself could duplicate the character's original characterization, decided the only way the slate could be wiped clean enough for anyone else to make even an attempt, was to start with The Question's death and resurrection.

And so, a new version of him was created by O'Neil and his artist-collaborator, Denys Cowan (Deathlok, Power Man/Iron Fist), similar enough to claim continuity with Ditko's original but different enough to be doable by someone other than Ditko. Early in its run, inker Rick Magyar (The Maze Agency, Vigilante) replaced Cowan on the pencil art, but that was scarcely noticed. It was the Ditko/O'Neil dichotomy that needed to be addressed before The Question could be used as a regular. O'Neil also changed his name from "Vic Sage" to "Charles Victor Szasz", and made the first a professional name he used on the air.

The Question started with a February, 1987 cover date. It ran 36 regular issues and two annuals, ending with the March, 1990 issue. Right after its demise, it was replaced by The Question Quarterly, which ran five issues, dated Summer, 1990 through Spring, 1992, He also had a couple of specials in the late '90s and early 21st century, guest appearances here and there, and a 6-issue limited series in 2005-06. Some of his DC stories were reprinted in graphic novel form.

He's even become part of a superhero group at DC. L.A.W. (for "Living Assault Weapons") was created in 1999 to include him, Nightshade, Captain Atom and other characters who started at Charlton or were spun off from those that did. Also, he carried on a brief romance with The Huntress, a Batman spin-off. He's appeared a couple of times in Justice League animation. He got killed off again and left the "Question" identity to Renee Montoya, another Batman supporting character, but we'll see if that death "takes".

Tho it's been a while since he was published regularly, The Question is, by now, a firmly-established denizen of the DC Universe.


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