Monday, March 01, 2010

Some parables are silent, if you shut up about them.

Re-read the Question yesterday: thirty-seven issues (counting the recent Blackest Night crossover #37, and I'm only missing #21) (EDIT: Note to self, I found #21!) and some specials, like the Question Quarterly. I should make a note to look for the Quarterly #5 and the Question Returns #1; I don't have them, and the latter's cover has the Question in his more traditional suit and hat look.

But, we're looking at a different one today, wherein Vic is rocking a Patrick Swayze-like head of hair and short sleeves: The Question Annual #1, "The Silent Parable" Written by Denny O'Neil, art by Denys Cowan and Rick Magyar. This issue is part three of "Fables," a crossover with Detective Comics Annual #1 and Green Arrow Annual #1: I haven't read the former, but in the latter, the aged master O-Sensei and the enigmatic Lady Shiva help Ollie work through a crisis of faith. (A crisis that seems awfully similar to Ollie's other crisises; he breaks his bow, loses his mojo, etc.) Now, the pair are on their way to see the Question.

The issue opens with a flashback for the O-Sensei: in 1900, his wife begs him to return home, but O-Sensei's honor would not permit it. His troops killed a monk after he promised fair combat, and O promised the dying monk that he would take over for him, possibly for his lifetime. The Sensei's family disagrees, and tries to force him to return, but are no match for his skills. Distraught, his wife leaves him for the last time, but extracts a final promise:

Shiva tells that story to Batman, and explains that he, Green Arrow, and one other owe the O-Sensei a debt. More after the break, and you might have to click the pictures this time to get all of them.

Meanwhile, in Hub City, mid-level thug Jake (from the Question's first storyline) has some questions about what happened to his employers. Or at least, their money. And for answers, Jake decides to pay a visit to "no-face," whom his boss figured out was Victor Sage.

Vic is having a little conversation with his mentor Professor Aristotle Rodor, 'Tot.' The hospital with the records of his birth burned down years ago, so Vic's reached an impasse in finding his birth mother: "I dream I look into a mirror and there's nobody there and...yeah, it bugs me."

Tot tries to cheer him up with new-and-improved Question gear, so Vic is conveniently masked up when Jake and his thugs bust in. Jake says he spent the last year getting meaner, but the Question spent most of the last year (or year before?) training with Richard Dragon...Jake's out of his league, and the Question tells him so. Still, they take Tot hostage, and Vic is forced to take his medicine, then try to lead Jake to the missing money, still in the burned-out mansion.

After the money is recovered (and the body of Reverend Hatch is found) Jake gleefully plans to shoot Tot then torture Vic, when Shiva arrives. Back in the day, Shiva had worked for Hatch as well; citing the "opportunities to exercise my skill" that he provided. Shiva dispatches with one of Jake's thugs, giving the Question the chance to escape with Tot.

Shiva reminds Jake how he tried to make a move on her, and offers him another shot:

Not caring about the money, Shiva torches it, leaving it and the bodies behind. She then accompanies Tot home to treat his injuries, and Vic struggles to reconcile Shiva's conflicting tendencies: cheerful killer, healer, student. Shiva advises him not to try. She takes Vic camping, with O-Sensei, Green Arrow, and Batman.

O-Sensei is ready to die, but needs help to find his wife's grave: her family never forgave him for not returning to Japan, and over the years had tried to force him back several times, usually resulting in blood. Now terrified of the Sensei, the family packed up and moved, lock, stock, barrel, and graves. No one knows where the family went. Except Batman.

Four percent of Batman's activity is hitting people? I imagine Bats has charts and graphs supporting this. It does sound like much, and I don't know if Bruce Wayne-time figures into that; but that would mean Bats spends 2.4 minutes of every hour punching someone.

Batman has a jet ready to take them to the family's island; but Vic talks him out of coming: Bats has already done the detective work, and fronted the money, all that's left is muscle. Vic is feeling useless, and we have a little flashback to him in college:

In O'Neil's Question stories, whenever we see the younger Vic Sage, he was living the unexamined life of an orphan-turned-bully: this isn't the last time we see him beat the crap outta somebody. Think Nelson Muntz without the joyous "Haw-haw!" It's pretty far afield of the objectivist of Ditko's stories, but it fits here: as the Question, Vic is becoming what he's supposed to be.

On the plane ride, Shiva asks the Sensei what lesson they are supposed to be teaching Vic. Batman and Green Arrow both got parables that helped them, but here the Sensei remains silent. Ollie wonders why the Sensei even needs them, since Shiva alone could handle anything. Shiva dismisses that, saying the Sensei alone could handle anything, he merely chooses not to, for reasons of his own. Although he's like a hundred and fifty years old, presumably the reason isn't senility...

The group arrives at their boat as a storm sets in, and even after an attack, the Sensei will not be deterred from his goal. The weather started getting rough...and I'm thinking of something else, yes: Shiva tells Vic to put his mask on:

Soon after, the boat capsizes, and the Question tries to get to the O-Sensei before he goes under. The boat catches Vic in the back of the head, and Ollie has to pull him out, with Vic lamenting his failure and his need to be saved yet again. Vic still wants to find the wife's grave, though; to succeed at something.

At the house, only a lone servant remains: the family, still fearing the O-Sensei, fled. In a crypt, cabinets hold remains of generations of the family...but with an empty space where the O-Sensei's wife should be. Feeling just as empty, Vic returns home, considering what may or may not have been the O-Sensei's last words:

Discouraged and exhausted, Vic wonders if he imagined the Sensei's words. Tot remembers then that Vic received a letter, fed-exed from Gotham. Unsigned, Batman explains that on further investigation, the wife's remains were lost during transport to the island, swept overboard, to rest at the bottom of the sea.

It's hard to imagine Ditko being able to pull this one off with the strictly Objectivist version of the Question; but O'Neil nails it. And he may be the only one that should write Shiva: she appears occasionally in Batman comics, but there she's usually a one-dimensional kung-fu she-bitch. Although, that may be because to Batman, martial arts are really just a means to an end, fighting crime. To Shiva, the art is the means in and of itself. (You could argue Vic's training is more to satisfy his curiousity than anything.) But in the Question, while Shiva's main goal seems to be to train fighters in the hopes that they will one day be a challenge for her; she has a lot more going on. I particularly enjoyed an issue where she leaves for breakfast with a dumpy demolition worker, because she enjoyed and appreciated his honest enthusiasum for his work.

The scans for this one disappeared, and I had to reload them, but still worth it: I love it when one of these long posts makes the comic even more enjoyable for me, like taking your time on a good meal. Most of the Question has been reprinted, but not the annuals or Quarterly issues yet. Highly recommended.

1 comment:

chiasaur11 said...

I've only got one issue at the moment, the second annual.

And, yeah. Good series. Got to get more at some point.

(And, crunching more numbers: Batman spends 14 days a year on hitting people. Rather notable amount of time.)