“Meanwhile…” by Dick Giordano
To be or not to be…that is the Question.
All right, so I needed a classy opening to trick you into reading this, which is going to turn out to be a lot of reminiscing about what I was doing twenty years ago today. Everybody else seems to be looking back, pondering where they came from. Why shouldn’t I do the same?
As for me, I was working on The Question.
You doubtless already know that The Question was in the Charlton stable of characters way back when. This is going back to around 1967 or ’68. As an editor there, the big thing I had going for me was an almost totally free hand in publishing whatever comics I wanted to publish.
That freedom was coupled with my own conviction that in order to get anywhere with Charlton’s books I would have to be daring. The other companies were using formula stories that I would never use, or if I could use them they wouldn’t feel right for me. We’d done a lot of things different at Charlton; in fact, nearly everything in our approach was different. I mentioned our competitors by name, for example. While the other companies were throwing rocks at each other, calling each other “Brand Ecch” and things like that, I talked about DC and Marvel as wonderful places to work, which they were and still are. I called our characters “action heroes” as opposed to “super heroes” to set them apart. In our house ads, we would say things like “Buy The Question — We need the money.” In the face of a lot of hype coming from both companies, I tried to be honest about what I was doing and why. It made us seem different right off the bat.
The Question was different, too. Steve Ditko created him, and looking back, the strip seemd a prototypical version of his Mr. A, pretty hard-edged stuff. While The Question was never quite as hard-edged, we still managed to shake things up a great deal with the character. In one issue, we showed The Question letting a group of thugs drown. He didn’t cause it. He just didn’t do anything to prevent it, just walked away from it. In those days, comic book heroes didn’t do that. We got a lot of mail on it, probably more than I’d ever recieved on anything else.
My instincts towards the character’s success were proven right. Blue Beetle and The Question were our top two books at Charlton.
We’d put forth an anti-hero of sorts, in an age when anti-heroes held the stage, The Question was different — that word again — from anything else both philosophically and physically. That was something else that had always appealed to me. The Question had no face. Somehow, the character also fit my personal view of heroic fantasy. I often had trouble with costumed characters. Batman’s costume sered a purpose — it was there to strike fear in the heats of evildoers. But if a hero didn’t need a costume, why should he wear one? The Question filled a desire I had to publish a character who had his adventures in street clothes. Sort of like the Lone Ranger: a mask, but otherwise not a lot to separate him from you and me. It’s more real to me somehow.
That’s what I like about the new incarnation of The Question. Denny O’Neil’s scripts are as gritty and realistic and frightening for their time as the original was for its time. Denny deals with a lot of tough — ahem — questions head-on. The violence is also depicted realistically, not coreographed. This greater realism, for my money, engages your emotions in a much stronger way. It’s not hero meets villain in a fantasy setting where dollops of surrealism get in the way of tapping your sympathies.
I think Denny’s done a magnificent job of character development on The Question. I also think you’re better served by hearing Denny talk about it. So I asked him a little about his approach.
“A lot of it is not too obvious,” he says. “The Question is one of the few heroes in comics who’s not driven by vengeance, or some abstract notion of justice. His engine is curiosity, with a psychological basis.
“Vic Sage starts off as a disagreeable man with a lot of anger and violence in him. He subscribes to the tough-guy ethic. ‘I’m the baddest cat in the valley, but I’m using my toughness for the purposes of good.’ That works until you find someone who’s tougher. But Sage is a tough guy with aspirations. He works on bettering himself, changing himself. He’s aware of his faults. Not free of them necessarily, but he’s working on it. There’s a subtext to the stories: how will Sage deal with his problems this month. In a lot of ways, The Question will react to things differently than he would have a year ago. I even changed a line of dialogue in the strip just recently because it reminded me too much of how the ‘old’ Sage would react, as against the more recent one.”
Denny was with me back in those old days at Charlton, and I get a kick out of thinking how the brash newcomer of auld lang syne has become one of the elder statesmen of the business.
But lest you think The Question is strictly old-timers’ day, let me introduce you to one of the hottest talents around: Denys Cowan, penciller on The Question.
Denys credits Denny with giving him a great deal of enthusiasm for the job, which in turn steers the strip to success. “It’s great working with such a talented writer,” he tells me. “Denny also gives me a hand in the plotting. Before Denny writes a story, he, editor Mike Gold, and I will sit over lunch and talk over the next four issues or so. We throw things around, suggest ideas. The story in issue #3, about the school bus; that came from one of those plotting sessions. The story for issue #15, about the Klan, was a plot suggestion from me.”
Denys also approaches drawing The Question differently. “I’m getting away from representational art. I’m more into shapes and form. It’s like geometry for me now. I don’t sit there saying, “This ear has to look just like an ear, and it has to go right here.'” Denys also credits Rick Magyar’s contribution to the book’s distinctive look. “Rick’s one of the most talented inkers currently working. He’s phenomenal.”
I agree. The whole product is phenomenal. A lot of times, I side with the fans when it comes to the “revitalization” of certain characters. I appreciate their reactions because, as an old comics fan myself, I welcome these revitalizations with mixed emotions. But here, I truly feel the execution is brilliant. The book is better.
Thank you and good afternoon,