The Question Volume 3: Epitaph for a Hero

By Dennis O’Neil, Denys Cowan & Rick Magyar (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-84576-996-3

In the “real” world, some solutions require careful Questions…

An ordinary man pushed to the edge by his obsessions, Vic Sage used his fists and a mask that made him look faceless to get answers (and justice) whenever normal journalistic methods failed – or whenever his own compulsive curiosity gripped him too tightly. After a few minor successes around the DC universe Sage got a TV reporting job in the town where he grew up.

This third collection (reprinting issues #13-18 of the highly regarded 1980s series) brings Sage into a thoroughly modern nightmare as he seeks to discover the foundations of patriotism, honour and glory and the roots of domestic terrorism in ‘Be All that you can Be…’ when a team operating on strict military principles carries out a series of murderous attacks on Army recruiting centres and personnel. The ace reporter tracks down the killers only to be captured and experience a harrowing example of their torturous training and a staggering example of their integrity in the concluding ‘Saving Face’.

The major portion of the Question’s adventures take place within the urban hell of Hub City, a ghastly analogue of blighted, Reagan-era Chicago, run by a merciless political machine and an utterly corrupt police force until Sage and the Question returned. His old girlfriend Myra Connelly had married the drunken puppet who is the Mayor and now as he dissolves into madness she is trying to win a mandate to run the city herself. Another unlikely champion is reformed and conflicted cop Izzy O’Toole, formerly the most corrupt lawman in “the Hub”.

‘Epitaph for a Hero’ further pushes the traditional boundaries and definitions of heroism when racist private detective Loomis McCarthy comes seeking to pool information on a spate of racially motivated murders during a tight fought election struggle between Myra and millionaire “old guard” patrician Royal Dinsmore. This startling mystery is not as cut-and-dried as it appears and presents some very unsettling facets for all concerned…

Izzy O’Toole continues his struggle for redemption in a brutal untitled confrontation with mythic underpinnings as illegal arms-dealers Butch and Sundance attempt to turn Hub into their own Hole-in-the-Wall (that was an impregnable hideout used by bandits in the old West), casting the grizzled old lawdog as a highly unlikely “Sheriff of Dodge City”.

The tale continues in ‘A Dream of Rorschach’ which tacitly acknowledges the debt owed to the groundbreaking Watchmen in the revival of the Question, as Sage reads the book and has a vision of and conversation with the iconic sociopath whilst flying to Seattle and a chilling showdown with Butch and Sundance as well as a highly suspicious and impatient Green Arrow in the concluding ‘Desperate Ground’.

Complex characters, a very mature depiction of the struggle between Good and Evil using Eastern philosophy and very human prowess to challenge crime, corruption, abuse, neglect and complacency would seem to be a recipe for heady but dull reading yet these stories and especially the mythic martial arts action delineated by Denys Cowan are gripping beyond belief and constantly challenge any and all preconceptions.

Combating Western dystopia with Eastern Thought and martial arts action is not a new concept but O’Neil’s focus on cultural and social problems rather than histrionic super-heroics make this series a truly philosophical work, and Cowan’s raw, edgy art imbues this darkly adult, powerfully sophisticated thriller with a maturity that is simply breathtaking.

The Question’s direct sales series was one of DC’s best efforts from a hugely creative period, and with a new hero wearing the faceless mask these days those tales form a perfect snapshot in comics history. Whether it fades to obscurity or becomes a popular, fabled and revered icon depends on you people: to make it the hit it always should have been all you have to do is obtain these superb trade paperback collections, and enjoy the magic…

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