Review: The Question: The Deaths of Vic Sage #3
After a five-month hiatus, The Question: The Deaths of Vic Sage #3 returns the series with an issue that would make the late Denny O’Neil proud. Jeff Lemire, Denys Cowan, Bill Sienkiewicz, and Chris Sotomayor expertly combine a 1940s film noir story with the not-so-zen cycle of death and regeneration that Charles Szasz/Vic Sage/The Question has been on over the previous three issues. The genre story with an O’Neil-esque social conscience plus growing conspiracy and mysterious ending is a winning formula to go with Cowan, Sienkiewicz, and Sotomayor’s scratchy, impressionistic visuals. Even though these scripts and maybe even pages were banked long before the current conflict between activists and the police over their murder of Black people and general abuse of power, The Question #3 fits into the zeitgeist with a sequence of corrupt Hub City cops beating striking factory workers and protecting the easy, exploitative lives of Hub’s one percenters. In the past, I may have said that Hub City symbolizes the American id, but it’s a mirror to American reality with period piece trappings like Dashiell Hammett narration, panels of old newspapers whispering about another world war and featuring Golden Age crime fighters, and lots of close-ups of alcoholic beverages. The sleazy Howard Chaykin-esque (He draws this issue’s variant cover) supporting figures add to this feeling of dirtiness and depravity.
Denys Cowan, Bill Sienkiewicz, and Chris Sotomayor have done the 1980s urban vigilante (Watchmen, Dark Knight, the O’Neil/Cowan Question run) and Western genres in the previous two issues of The Question and dig into the noir detective story in The Question #3. It’s evident that all three artists are having fun with lots of spot blacks, eye-catching visual flourishes like the red hair of Sage’s client, Maggie Fuller, and the all-important chiarascuro lighting from desk lamps and cigarettes. The Question is stylish and filled with verbal/visual irony like when Sage monologues about getting close to solving the case while some union-busting toughs are sneaking up on him to beat him up. And though the story is set decades before The Question’s creation, the page is crammed full with signatures of the character, like smoke rings and investigation boards with string between them even if Sage is mostly unmasked for the comic’s duration.
The cherry on top is Jeff Lemire’s approach to dialogue and captions. One of things that I like about Lemire (And why Marvel, DC, Valiant etc. keep bringing him in to refresh their various intellectual properties.) is that he never gets in his own way and adapts his style to the genre or type or story that he’s writing in. This is why Black Hammer is so clever and superhero genre tour de force/world tour, and he transfers this over to The Question #3 bringing the 1940s to 2020 with the help of Willie Schubert’s typewriter lettering. His dialogue is tommy gun fast with Sage cutting to the quick of the situation until he gets knocked upside the head. But then Cowan and Sienkiewicz are there with the reminder that Sage’s mentor-in-the-shadows Richard Dragon is a martial arts master, and the tone shifts from Maltese Falcon to Enter the Dragon. They use the whole page to show Sage’s fluid fighting moves, which aren’t like your average “put up your dukes” private eye and are a good transition to get a glimpse at one of Vic Sage’s other lives/deaths.
But The Question #3 isn’t merely an interesting genre exercise or visual masterclass. (The Denys Cowan/Bill Sienkiewicz pencil/ink process pages at the end make the extra money spent on this issue worth it and will look glorious in the magazine-size Black Label format.) It’s an ode to the violently socially conscious and anti-establishment of the late 1930s and early 1940s without the racial stereotypes of those Golden Age books. The plot of The Question #3 is Sage taking on basically a pro-bono missing person case, and that missing person just happens to be both a union organizer and the brother of another union organizer. Like he usually does, Sage thinks he connect everything to one big conspiracy, but with the shifting timelines and eternal corruption of the police force of Hub City, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Lemire and Cowan’s use of flashbacks isn’t confusing, but shows that there’s no simple answer to the problems that Vic Sage is facing. Because we’re still getting fucked over by corporations in 2020 like we are in the early 1940s. (If not more so thanks to a steady string of Republican and “centrist” Democrat heads of state.)
Like that infinitely memeable Alan Moore quote about conspiracies, Vic Sage’s faith that “everything is connected” as Jeff Lemire so aptly puts is a child’s blanket (Or prayer) in the face of a hurricane because, as Moore states, “the world is rudderless”. Lemire, Denys Cowan, Bill Sienkiewicz, and Chris Sotomayor show the loose and futile nature of Sage’s faith in underlying order through non-linear storytelling and a series of catastrophes to match the impressionist, scratchy art and muted palette. The Question: The Deaths of Vic Sage #3 is the best issue of the series yet, and I’m excited to see how they put all the threads, timelines, Vic Sages, Questions, and questions in The Question: The Deaths of Vic Sage‘s finale
Story: Jeff Lemire Pencils: Denys Cowan Inks: Bill Sienkiewicz
Colors: Chris Sotomayor Letters: Willie Schubert
Story: 8.5 Art: 9.3 Overall: 8.9 Recommendation: Buy
DC Comics/Black Label provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review