The QUESTION & Answers with Greg Rucka & Denny O'Neil

Somebody at DC came up with the idea: Why not bring canceled series back from the dead for an issue and tie their stories in to Blackest Night during January?

But the editors and creators at DC took it one step further, not only bringing back the series for an issue, but bringing back several of the writers and artists who made their names on those comics.

Last week, we talked to Gail Simone and John Ostrander about their Suicide Squad #67 issue in January, bringing Ostrander back to the title he helped define during his run.

Now we turn to another legendary creator from DC Comics, Denny O'Neill, who will be co-writing The Question #37 with Greg Rucka. Not only will the issue bring O'Neill back to the comic series he began back in 1987, but the artist on that run, Denys Cowan, will also return to draw the issue.

O'Neill, well known as the former Batman editor at DC, recently returned for a two-issue story in Detective Comics #851 and Batman #684, where he examined Gotham City without Batman.

In January, the writer returns to DC to add a resurrected Blackest Night tie-in issue to his 36-issue run on The Question, a body of work that Rucka has often cited as an influence on his own writing style.

Newsarama talked to Rucka and O'Neill about the upcoming collaboration, what was so special about that run of The Question, and what readers can expect from January's resurrection.

Newsarama: Denny, how did you find out about this revival of The Question with the new spin on it, and what did you think of the idea?

Denny O'Neill: The editor, Mike [Siglain], called me and asked me if I was interested in revisiting The Question and co-writing a story with Greg, and there was nothing wrong with either part of that proposition, so I said sure! And then he sent me what I needed to know to catch up on the changes in continuity, and Renee Montoya and the Black Lantern thing.

Nrama: Greg, how did you find out about the project, and what did you think of the idea?

Rucka: Well, they came to me wanting a Question-Blackest Night tie-in. Then the idea was floated to do them as sort of resurrections of series. And the second they said they were going to list it as The Question #37, I said, well, I think Denny should be writing it, and Denys should be drawing it. And Siglain jumped at that. So that was how it came about. It seems to me the perfectly logical thing to do was to use what Denny and Dennis had created. If it was going to be #37, it needed to have them in it! Or else it wasn't going to look like #37.

I mean, never mind the fact that on a personal level... there are many comics I have run throughout my life, and many great runs I have read throughout my life. And Denny's run on The Question is probably the most influential and informative of who I am now as a writer than any of them. And I say that as a guy who's been reading comics for a really long time now.

And on top of that, it's a dream come true! [laughs] I get to write with Denny. I didn't get to do that when Denny was my editor. So it's kid in a candy store time.

The biggest problem I'm having is that so much stuff that this opens up that I would love to do just won't fit in the Blackest Night tie-in.

Nrama: Could you use it later?

O'Neill: Aren't you still doing the back-up stories in Detective?

Rucka: Yeah, the Question back-ups that Cully and I are doing will continue for awhile. And I'm hoping to use the stuff that comes out of this in there.

O'Neill: Yeah, I was going to say you might get some story material out of this.

Rucka: I didn't want to ignore it.

And that's the other thing, Vaneta. The instinct when you do something like this, and quite frankly the way it looks, is that it's a gimmick. I mean, that's the way it looks. I think it's a very clever idea, but when you say you're going to do The Question #37, it sounds like it's a gimmick. But Denny and I are invested in actually making it a relevant story to the characters involved as well.

Nrama: I've heard you talk before about how influential The Question was to you as a writer, and I've heard other writers refer to it as well -- John Ridley once cited it as a major influence as well. What do you think it was about that run that was so influential to you and that made it stand out?

Rucka: There had been, in the '80s certainly, this move to, for lack of a better phrase, more "serious" storytelling. But that serious storytelling hadn't crossed what I think was the last literary content line. There were serious stories dealing with serious topics regularly, rather than what had happened the previous 20 years, which was somewhat haphazardly. You know, we had some very relevant stories about the world around us, but we would default. And I think we had moved into a place in the '80s where we were treating our characters more sincerely, and there was an expectation that we were, even while writing fantastic situations, writing honest emotions. So character had reached that point, but -- and this is the English major in me talking -- but as a literary form, in the mainstream, we hadn't really crossed that bridge.

And then Denny and Denys come along, and they write this series that looks like it's really kind of a martial arts series, and they're taking this Randian character, and now they're really altering it to a sort of zen philosophy on life. But there is an inherent and constant thematic Question throughout the entire run. It's in all 36 issues. And actually, I was thinking about this this morning, and it's not in #37, but I suppose now that I think of it, I should get off the phone and call Denny and see if we can thread this in. But there was a big question being asked about the nature of sanity, about the nature of belief. And that thematically holds throughout the run. It is there from the first issue to the last. We have talked about it, but we've never really talked about it at length. I think on a level, and Denny will correct me if I'm wrong, but it was some active -- I mean, you knew what you were playing with. You don't name a guy Szasz unless you know what you're playing with. But at the same time, I think it also did that thing that literature does, which is that the author begins to invest the story on a subconscious level that the author isn't perhaps even aware of at the start.

O'Neill: It's interesting, when people tell you that stuff years later. You look at it and say, you know, "Absolutely! But I didn't see it at the time. It was in the subtext."

Rucka: To me, that's exceptional writing.

I also think, frankly, the original run that Denny and Denys did, it really took every cliché and broke its nose. You think the story's going to go here? Crack. We're taking it somewhere else. I mean, nothing in that story actually happens as to expectation. I mean the biggest thing is Charlie and Myra never get together! And there's an expectation and tension throughout those 36 issues that they're going to.

So I could.... look, Vaneta, it's a different interview. [laughs] I can go on for hours and hours. But I really do think, for me, and I'm not saying this was the first time every; it was the first time I encountered it.

Nrama: Denny, we talked a little recently about your thoughts on the Batman books, since you were writing a story for the line. Now that you're returning to write The Question, what do you think of all the changes that character has gone through?

Rucka: Now why would you ask him that? [laughs]

Nrama: [laughs] You can get off the line, if you want.

O'Neill: Actually, it's a question I expected.

I think it's fine. One of my mantras is that the characters have to evolve. And this is a logical place for that character to go. I mean, I'm glad nobody has tried to freeze what Denys and I did. That's always a mistake. I read the graphic novel that Mike sent me, and I gave it to my wife to read. I have no problems with these changes at all. Greg has taken it to an interesting and logical place.

Nrama: See, Greg! Aren't you glad I asked?

Rucka: No! And here's why. I think that we get into a dangerous place in comicdom when we want to play compare and contrast. No offense to Denny, and I believe your sincerity here, but what's he really going to say in the interview? Is he going to say, well, I hate it? [laughs] I hate everything he's doing? It wounds my soul? I mean, you put him on the spot.

O'Neill: I'm kind of a pro at giving interviews, and I could say... uh... a lot less than I said.

Rucka: [laughs] Well, that's fair.

Nrama: Or like Keith Giffen always says: "Well, it's not what I would have written."

O'Neill: And quite often, that's the correct answer. It's really not a good idea to be too judgmental about this stuff, because you're wrong half the time. It's always honest to say, "It's not what I would have done."

Nrama: In The Question #37, what story are we going to see?

Rucka: The best way to put it is that what's going on in the Detective back-ups that Cully and I are doing have a very different feel than the run we're talking about it. The common denominator between the two worlds is Tot. So it is, in large part, Tot's story more than anybody else's. Renee's relationship with Charlie, it's resolved. That doesn't mean that, should he rise in a zombified form, she would say "Yeah, big deal." But most of her baggage that she was carrying with regards to him, she was able to pack and send down to the lobby when Charlie left. And that is absolutely not the case for Tot.

And one of the ideas that I've had running through my head since 52, and I put in front of Denny. I'm not sure if he's attached to this idea yet, but it goes to that idea we were talking about earlier, where as a writer, you put things in on a subconscious level. There had been something in the original run that I sort of focused on, and that's one of things we're playing with.

And Lady Shiva!

O'Neill: That's my favorite homicidal martial artist.

Rucka: Oh, I don't know if she's homicidal. She's just entirely amoral and committed to her path.

O'Neill: And she's always a lot of fun to write.

Rucka: She is because there's no social governor on this character at all. The nice thing about Shiva is she doesn't care what you think, ever.

Nrama: Denny, what do you think of the whole idea of dredging up these emotions in current characters by having them encounter these characters back from the dead?

O'Neill: There's only one test that you apply to this kind of thing, and that's: "Am I going to get a good story out of it?" It is never, in my opinion, to dig up a moldering corpse for the sake of digging it up. And I've been guilty of that any number of times. But if you dig it up and get a great story out of it, that's always a reason for doing something. So like any of these mega-series, when it's all over and done with, everybody will know or have an idea of the success or failure. It's a place for stories to start, and that can be anywhere. I mean, I did a whole lot of mega-series when I was an editor. The only caveat I have about them is make sure there is enough story to fill the number of pages you've allotted, and make sure there is a story. I don't see any reason this wouldn't work.

Nrama: Any final word you want to give people on this issue?

Rucka: It's Denny writing The Question. It's Denny writing it, and it's Denys drawing it. If nothing else, it's the blast-from-the-past experience that that is. I can't endorse it any higher than that.

O'Neill: And it's been a nice experience for me to revisit these characters.

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