Review by Frank Plowright
By Epitaph for a Hero Dennis O’Neil had hit his stride on The Question, and this is six excellent chapters if it’s ignored that considerable effort was made during the 1980s to ensure The Question looked contemporary. Decades on, mullets and fashions cement the era, and diminish how much of what O’Neil addresses remains contemporary, as he uses Hub City as the USA in microcosm, potential stunted by human failings, problems the USA still struggles with today.
However, the opening chapters step away from Hub City to the broader picture of what constitutes military viability. Should there be public-friendly shows of skill or should everything be covert? An allied topic is the question of how much we really want to know about what the military does on our behalf. A disagreement about that leads into a thriller that has the Question completely powerless with several maniacs around him. O’Neil concocts a fantastic story from this, an impossible escape amid a discussion of what constitutes honour. It’s followed by Vic Sage having to work with an overt racist, a deliberately skin-crawling piece that probably wouldn’t have seen the light of day in later years as O’Neil has the racist use racist language and crack racist ‘jokes’. It’ll be interesting to see how much of that survives in the planned 2022 publication of The Question Omnibus.
Artist Denys Cowan has now also settled into his stride. The storytelling is disciplined, with less reliance on innovative page design, and Cowan’s characters are notably lived-in. While there’s a glamour to Myra Fermin, who announced her candidacy for Mayor in Poisoned Ground, The Question is otherwise a home for the homely. The Question’s alter-ego Vic Sage is given a scowling intensity, but there’s no suggestion of him as a pretty boy, and with Watchmen referenced, it seems there’s a slight move to having him resemble Rorschach without his mask, who of course was based on the Question in the first place.
O’Neil makes a few funny observational comments about Rorschach’s methods, while introducing similarly showy villains. In one respect assassins obsessed with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid mess the with the cultivated downbeat realism of the series, but their type is needed to give the Question viable opposition. Epitaph for a Hero ends with an offbeat teaming with Green Arrow, meeting the Question for the first time and very wary of a stranger, a tale again kept as realistic as possible, and making good use of 1980s technology.
The series continues with Welcome to Oz.