The Question: The Deaths of Vic Sage #1
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Denys Cowan, Bill Sienkiewicz and Chris Sotomayor
Lettering by Willie Schubert
Published by DC/Black Label
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
DC’s Black Label takes a stab at something outside the Batman family with The Question: The Deaths of Vic Sage and really starts to show the potential that the line has. Vic Sage is a character that has arguably been overshadowed by his Watchmen analog Rorschach and his successor Renee Montoya, but writer Jeff Lemire and artists Denys Cowan and Bill Sienkiewicz inject some new life into the noir-soaked hero. It’s a deftly handled update for the character whose art lends him a timeless feel, even if the story’s pacing and approach might ring a little hollow for some readers.
Vic Sage is a bit unique in terms of capes characters. Created by noted Objectivist Steve Ditko as a hard-nosed investigative journalist with rigid morals, the Question’s commitment to justice feels in some ways more aggressive and uncompromising than that of Batman or Superman. Lemire leans into that aspect of the character from the get-go, as the Question breaks up a child prostituion ring and takes the opportunity to get some dirt on the corrupt underbelly of Hub City for his TV news show. Lemire does a good job setting up the Question’s world, but the mystery of the titular “deaths” gets lost amongst the foundational elements - by the time that aspect is introduced, the book seems to have begun to turn into something else entirely, ending before giving a compelling reason to come back for more. It’s a propulsive but puzzling narrative, one that introduces a mystery that feels disjointed from the rest of the book.
Cowan and Sienkiewicz are two artists who should need no introduction, but if this is your first time experiencing their work, it’s sure to be an odd beginning. Cowan’s linework in this issue is loose and scratchy, leaning into the grime and grittiness of Hub City. The Question is investigating the lowest rungs of society, and it’s clear from the art that corruption runs to the city’s core. But I don’t think Cowan’s character’s acting is great in this issue. Emotional beats in the script that should show Sage’s passion or anger are met with relatively blank faces. There’s a furrowed brow or some slightly parted lips here and there, but there’s a disconnect between the script and the art on that level.
Meanwhile, Cowan’s impressionist approach to details can sometimes force readers to do a double-take in order to understand just what they’re looking at. Some of that might have to do with Sienkiewicz’ inking, however, who lets Cowan’s lines be a bit looser than we generally see in a lot of superhero comic books. Even shadows that would typically be large swaths of black on the page have a hatching or scribbled-in quality to them. It’s a choice that works much better for the trippier, surrealist aspects later in the book, but something maybe should have been dialed back just a bit in the more straightforward openings.
The Question: The Deaths of Vic Sage is a solid read. Lemire, Cowan, and Sienkiewicz effectively communicate the mood and tone of this story. This is a dark, shadowy story that befits the Black Label name,. It’s the kind of book that you don’t mind seeing exist outside of regular DC continuity. The Question can take on aspects of society that other heroes can’t or won’t, and it’s interesting to see where he operates and how he fits in. It’s rare that we get a character who feels dangerously uncompromising but is essentially on the side of light, and it’ll be interesting to see where this creative team goes next.