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Charles Victor Szasz (New Earth)

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Origin

When Vic Sage, a television investigative journalist, encountered stories he couldn't investigate by normal, legal means, he donned a special mask (kept in his belt buckle) that made it appear that he had no face. As the Question, Sage investigated corruption in the face of all danger, leaving a blank "calling card," which, when touched, emitted a smoky question mark.[1]

Childhood and Early Career

Victor Sage was born Charles Victor Szasz, and grew up an orphan who had a reputation as a troublemaker.[2] Szasz prided himself in defiantly enduring the physical abuse of the Catholic orphanage where he was housed. Though he managed to get into college, higher learning did not mellow his violent tendencies. Some time during college, he brutally beat a drug dealer for giving him LSD, which had caused Sage to doubt his own senses under its influence.

After graduating from college (where he nursed an unrequited crush on fellow student Lois Lane),[3] Sage made his mark as a highly outspoken and aggressive reporter with a reputation for obnoxiousness in Hub City. He then moved to television journalism, which eventually led him to investigate Dr. Arby Twain. This particular story would alter the course of Sage's life permanently.

Birth of the Question

Sage was approached by his former professor, a scientist named Aristotle ("Tot") Rodor, who told Sage about an artificial skin called Pseudoderm, which Rodor had co-developed with Dr. Twain based on the notes of Gotham criminal Bart Magan and research into Gingold, the chemical responsible for the Elongated Man's powers.

Pseudoderm was intended to work as an applied skin-like bandage with the help of a bonding gas, but had an unforeseen toxicity which was fatal when applied to open wounds. Though Rodor and Twain agreed to abandon the project and parted ways, Professor Rodor later discovered that Dr. Twain planned to proceed with an illegal sale of the invention to Third World nations, despite the risk to human health.

Sage resolved to stop him but had no way of going after Dr. Twain without exposing himself. Rodor suggested that Sage use a mask made of Pseudoderm to cover his famous features. Disguised by the Pseudoderm mask and armed with information, Sage eventually caught up with Dr. Twain, stopped the transaction, and extracted a confession from him. He then left Twain bound in Pseudoderm in an ironic twist. On television, Vic Sage reported on Dr. Twain's illegal activities.

With his first venture a success, Sage decided that this new identity would be useful for future investigations. He continued to work with Professor Rodor, who supplied the Pseudoderm and eventually modified the bonding gas, giving it the ability to alter the color of Sage's hair and clothing, as well. Vic became good friends with "Tot," who became a mentor to him in both of his identities.

Shortly after debuting in Hub City, Vic Sage relocated to Chicago, IL in order to join the staff of WWB-TV as a crusading journalist. He would continue to operate as The Question there, and would make an ally of Chicago's other resident hero, the Blue Beetle (Ted Kord).[4] He would also travel to other cities in the course of his investigations, and eventually teamed up with Batman [5] and briefly participated in the Crisis.

The Question's early crime fighting career was somewhat successful, but his black-and-white moral viewpoint and lack of commitment would soon lead to a turning point for both Sage and his alter ego.

Near-Death Experience and Further Training

After his time in Chicago, Vic Sage returned to Hub City and KBEL television, where he worked alongside news anchor and occasional love-interest Myra Connelly. During a mission as The Question, he was badly beaten in personal combat by the mercenary and martial artist, Lady Shiva, and then nearly fatally beaten by her employer's thugs and shot in the head with a pellet gun.[6] Though he was thrown in a river to drown, Shiva rescued him for reasons of her own and gave him directions to meet Richard Dragon as soon as he was recovered enough to get out of bed.

Following a vision of Batman (during which the Caped Crusader called Sage an "incompetent dilettante") while in his sickbed, Sage sought out the master martial artist, who retained all of his skill even while confined to a wheelchair. Sage spent a year learning martial arts and Eastern philosophy from Dragon. The training changed and deepened The Question's moral perspective, and the crimefighter became more understanding of the moral ambiguity of his chosen work.

Vic Sage returned to Hub City and resumed his career as The Question with a new, broader worldview, and a belief that crime had to be fought at more than one level.

The New Question

Though The Question had originally established himself as a crime fighter by stopping street crime, his post-Dragon career found him attacking the systematic corruption of Hub City at its highest levels. Hub City was noted as being "synonymous with venality, corruption, and violence," and perhaps even outranked Gotham City as the most dismal city in the the United States.

The Question's work in defending the city extended beyond street crime and into the realm of politics and social justice. He re-enlisted as an ally his former girlfriend, Myra, who had married the corrupt, alcoholic mayor of Hub City, Wesley Fermin, in his absence. He also met Batman again and have the first of what would be many encounters with the Green Arrow.

After spending months running Hub City while her husband descended into mental illness, Myra Fermin announced her intention to run for mayor herself, and received Sage/The Question's full support. Though Myra's marriage to the mayor was loveless, she resisted the temptation to reunite with Sage, but she eventually gave into her temptation and had affairs with both Sage and The Question, whom she did not realize were the same man. When Myra lost the election by one vote (partly due to Sage's being too preoccupied to cast a vote on election day), she was elected to the position anyway, as her challenger had died as a result of what was called "the worst tornado in history." However, during her victory speech, her husband, Wesley Fermin, shot her in the stomach for supporting what he called "Communist beliefs." Wesley was subsequently killed during a police stand-off, but Myra entered a coma, and Hub City was plunged further into chaos. For some time, the Question, became the city's only guarantor of justice, though Myra eventually awoke from her coma and assumed her role as mayor.

The gang warfare in the weeks following the election led Sage to a reunion with Lady Shiva, who at first resumed her adversarial relationship with The Question and then became an ally to him. Through Shiva, The Question was able to meet with the gang-leaders who were creating chaos in the city.

Although he had the support of Myra and his mentor, Tot Rodor, Sage/The Question often felt troubled about his role as the city's protector and as a fighter of crime. Reconciling his original, stark, mindset with the enlightenment he had received from Richard Dragon continued to be a source of conflict for The Question, who struggled to determine how far he should go in his pursuit of justice. With the help of his allies, The Question realized that a perverse part of him wanted to know what it felt like to take another person's life, and he managed to successfully (if temporarily) defeat his temptation to kill.

Leaving Hub City

Though The Question did his best to contain the chaos around Hub City, he felt himself growing increasingly dark as time wore on. A hallucinogenic trip caused his subconscious, in the form of his mother, to tell him that he would never be able to lead a happy life unless he left Hub City. Richard Dragon echoed this viewpoint during a visit to Vic Sage, when he sensed that Sage was on the verge of a major turning point in his life. Lady Shiva soon after arrived by helicopter to spirit The Question, Rodor, and Myra Fermin away from the city, though she herself decided to embrace the Hub's chaos and remain there. Sage nearly convinced Myra (who had only recently learned that Vic Sage and the Question were the same man) to leave the city with him, but her sense of duty convinced her to remain. Before Sage left, Myra gave to him her only daughter, Jackie, and wandered back to the city alone to meet her duties as Mayor and do her best to stand for what she believed in.

Sage took Jackie with him to South America, hoping to rid himself of his "No Face" alter ego and find a land free of the clutter and corruption that filled Hub City. However, this sense of serenity did not last long. Sage was quickly drawn into a drug war which ultimately forced him to kill a man in order to save Jackie's life. The Question's philosophy from that point changed once again, as he realized that he had no guilt over the killing and would do it again if necessary. He would kill again.

Unfortunately, Jackie would die anyway, en route to her mother in Hub City.

Career after Hub City

After leaving Hub City, Victor Sage held a series of journalistic positions in various cities, while reviving his Question persona when necessary. Previous experiences teaming up with such heroes as Green Arrow and Batman had established the Question in the superheroic community, and he would participate in major events such as the Alien Invasion and Brainiac's attack on Metropolis. Following his abandonment of Hub City, The Question helped protect an Indian reservation alongside Green Arrow and John Butcher. He traveled the United States and would meet Steel and Azrael.[7] He even very briefly became a member of a team, when he joined the L.A.W. (Living Assault Weapons) alongside his old comrade Blue Beetle and Nightshade, Sarge Steel, Captain Atom, and Judomaster during a disappearance of the Justice League of America, in order to stop Judomaster's former sidekick, Tiger, from conquering the world. On that mission, the Question would also first learn of the mysterious land of Nanda Parbat. He would also return to Hub City several times, and eventually got a bittersweet shock when he learned that Myra had finally moved on.

Following the near-destruction of Gotham City after a major earthquake, the Question relocated to Gotham and teamed with the Huntress, with whom he had a short-lived affair.

After years of dabbling with hallucinogens, meditation, and his mask-activating gas, The Question developed a shamanic awareness, in which he was able to interpret coincidences and thus "talk to the city".[8] In this state, he was also able to sense chi, or life force. He became able to "walk in two worlds" for an increased awareness of his surroundings and of any disturbances in a city's natural order. This ability came in handy when Sage relocated to Metropolis and teamed up with Superman against Lex Luthor and the Psychopomp.

Infinite Crisis

During the events of the Infinite Crisis the Secret Society of Super-Villains coordinate a planet wide breakout of super-villains from every major prison. With the JLA otherwise occupied Oracle with the help of the telepathy of the Martian Manhunter is able to organize a group of second string vigilantes to oppose the escapees at each prison. The Question joins up with these heroes and when they make their way to Metropolis he is transported with the other heroes to fight in what would become the Battle of Metropolis.[9]

52

Following the events of the Infinite Crisis and Batman's disappearance, The Question returned to Gotham City to assume the role of its protector.[10]

His first act was removing the bat symbol sticker from the Bat-Signal and spray-painting a giant question mark in its place. This was not strictly an act of ego, however- he shone the light on Renee Montoya's apartment building in order to get her attention. Three days later, he entered Montoya's apartment and left her an address: 520 Kane Street. When Montoya visited the location, he hired her to watch an abandoned building located there for "two hundred dollars a day, plus expenses," and implied that it would be used by a third party. This mysterious behavior would lead to a partnership that would last nearly a year.

Two weeks and one night later, the two teamed up against a strange creature who entered that building. The course of their investigations then led them to Kahndaq, where they investigated Intergang dealings and prevented a suicide bombing during Black Adam and Isis's wedding, an action that earned The Question the Order of the Crescent.[11]

After returning to Gotham City, the Question learned that he was suffering from lung cancer. Though Montoya immediately had Sage hospitalized and later took it upon herself to transport him to the Himalayan city of Nanda Parbat in the hope of using its mystical properties to save him, she was too late. After suffering through great discomfort and hardship, Victor Sage, The Question, passed away.[12]

Blackest Night

During the Blackest Night crossover, Vic Sage is reanimated as a Black Lantern. He goes after Renee, Tot and Lady Shiva, who manage to elude him by suppressing their emotions, making them invisible to him.[13]

The Question's legacy lives on, however: Renee Montoya has been seen wearing the mask and garb of the Question in Gotham City, and, on an alternate version of Earth, a version of Vic Sage lives on.


Abilities

  • Acrobatics: Although not quite on par with people like Nightwing, he has shown to be a proficient acrobat, and has used this skill to survive a fatal fall by rebounding off building sides and somersaulting to create more drag. He, like many other non-powered vigilantes, can get around by jumping from rooftop to rooftop.
  • Disguise: The Question has and can assume many aliases and has, as he describes, "many different faces" such as the one he used to spy on Renee Montoya.[14]
  • Genius Level Intellect: The Question possesses genius intelligence and has an extremely unpredictable way of thinking. He can make a weapon out of common objects and often uses his mind to win fights.
  • Hand-to-Hand Combat (Advanced): Easily capable of incapacitating large groups of criminals and has knocked out trained policemen and soldiers with minimal effort. Vic has shown enough skill to take down two vicious attack-dogs and their highly-trained owner spontaneously, one after the other.
  • Indomitable Will: His training and lifestyle demanded much determination, and he was rarely known to give up or surrender especially in physical confrontations.
  • Interrogation: His opponents often fear him due to the (arguably true) rumors of his insanity and ruthless tactics.
  • Intimidation: He has on many occasions frightened criminals into giving him information he wants, and sometimes resorts to methods that many heroes shy from, like threatening a killer with a chainsaw.
  • Investigation: Said to be the second greatest detective after Batman. One of many, he has a superior inquisitive mind and has years of experience as an investigative reporter as well as his life as The Question.
  • Journalism: Victor, before becoming the Question, was a TV investigative journalist. He had his own show and appeared on local news which sought out conspiracy theories, local crime rings and other violent or mysterious news. His Journalistic techniques were what drove him to become the Question.
  • Dragon Style Kung-Fu: He was trained by Richard Dragon in Kung-Fu and had exceptional martial arts skills.
  • Philosophy: A self-proclaimed philosopher, Vic Sage has spent years surviving and understanding in the modern to postmodern world of big city life. He understands the functions of the people within the city and even the city itself on a deeper level.
  • Shamanism: During a particularly tough time in Hub City, the Question sought out to learn shamanistic techniques which applied to his city. He used these skills and techniques to "feel" the city and better understand it.

Equipment

Continuity Notes and Alternate Portrayals

  • The Question, as created by Steve Ditko in Charlton Comics's Blue Beetle series, was a very different character than the one described above. Though his origin was the same, The Question was consciously created in order to represent Ayn Rand's views of Objectivism, which Ditko had come to embrace. Accordingly, the original Question had a stark sense of morality and was somewhat right-wing. Dennis O'Neill's later interpretation of The Question in his own comic leaves room for the Ditko stories in continuity despite the complete change in his personality, as his near-death experience was meant to be a break from the pre-Crisis version of the character. It is currently unclear how many, if any, of the Charlton stories are considered canon in the Post-Crisis universe.
  • The events of the Infinite Crisis have made some of the DC Comics Question stories unclear in terms of continuity. Lex Luthor, for example, is no longer portrayed as he was in volume two of The Question. It is also unclear whether the Brave and the Bold series that teamed the Question with Green Arrow and Butcher fits into current continuity, as Butcher is a creator-owned character who is neither published nor referred to in DC Comics publications any longer.
  • A version of The Question was featured in Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again, where he was portrayed as a right-wing, anti-government conspirator. This version of Sage - a nod both to Ditko's original conception of the character and Alan Moore's Rorschach, is Objectivist and preachy, at one point going on television for a series of humorous "Crossfire"-style exchanges with the liberal archer Green Arrow. Additionally, he is shown as a technophobe monitoring the dark conspiracy Batman and his allies must face. The Frank Miller "Dark Knight" books exist in their own continuity and do not affect the character as he is known in the mainstream DCU.

Homages/Influences

  • While Charlton's version of The Question lay dormant for more than a decade, it helped inspire one of the most unforgettable anti-heroes in comic book history.

    In the mid 1980s, renowned writer Alan Moore intended to devote a mini-series to the Charlton characters recently purchased by DC Comics, thrusting them into actual Cold War history - Hiroshima, Cuba, Vietnam, Nixon, etc. - and the geo-political and social context of a world where costumed heroes had actually existed in real life since the Depression.

    DC liked the idea, but realized that Moore's story would prevent the company from ever using the characters again. So, Moore created new protagonists that were patterned after the Charlton "Action Heroes" of the 1960s, but not explicitly linked to them. The Question became the basis for Rorschach, a merciless trenchcoat-and-fedora-clad vigilante who wears a blank mask of shifting "ink-blot" patterns and takes moral absolutism to its most violent extreme. Rorschach was widely regarded as a standout character in the classic comic book series Watchmen, created by Moore and artist Dave Gibbons.

    Later, an homage to the homage would appear in The Question (Volume 1) #17, during which Vic Sage reads Watchmen; Though Vic Sage is initially fascinated with the character, he gets beaten up after trying to emulate his brutal style of justice. He concludes that "Rorschach sucks." [15]
  • Interestingly, the Question's specialized belt-buckle is similar to that of the Spider-Man villain Chameleon. In his initial appearances, which were drawn by Ditko, the Chameleon used a device in a belt buckle which emitted a transformation-enhancing gas. It is possible that Ditko used that as inspiration for the Question.
  • The Question is not the first comics character whose disguise included a faceless mask. Notably, The Question was a revised and adapted version of Mr. A, a character Steve Ditko had created months before with a similar modus operandi and philosophy. Years before that, in 1937, Chester Gould introduced a villain to his popular Dick Tracy comic strip known as "The Blank." Like The Question, The Blank (aka Frank Redrum) used a mask (made of cheesecloth) to hide his facial features The Blank also dressed similarly to The Question - he, too, had a penchant for trenchcoats and fedoras. Gould's character was later revived in the 1990 film Dick Tracy, where he was memorably revealed to be Breathless Mahoney, played by Madonna.

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Footnotes



The Question
Characters The Question (Vic SageRenée Montoya) | Aristotle Rodor | Myra Fermin | Izzy O'Toole
Supporting Lady Shiva | Richard Dragon | Batwoman | Black Adam | Intergang | L.A.W. | Huntress
Comics The Question (Volume 1) | The Question (Volume 2) | The Question Quarterly | Living Assault Weapons | 52 | Crime Bible: Five Lessons of Blood | Final Crisis: Revelations
Creators Steve Ditko | Dennis O'Neil | Denys Cowan | Paul Dini
See Also Hub City | The Question's Mask | Rorschach | Charlton Comics
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