"I will gather EVIDENCE -- DOCUMENT every foul LIE. I will FORGE my MANIFESTO. My CHALLENGE to any FREE MIND that may find it. Like a NOTE in a BOTTLE. Cast into the OCEAN. [...] The mind of man must be RECLAIMED -- if not by THIS generation or by the NEXT, then SOME day. Some DECADE. It is not in MY power to EFFECT the change. I haven't the MIGHT. I am not the ANSWER."
"I am only the QUESTION."—The Question I (Victor Sage), The Dark Knight Strikes Again
"You're going to find, like Sage did, that some questions can only be answered by wearing a mask. Just as there are some that can only be asked when you remove one."—Richard Dragon to Renee Montoya (The Question II), 52
A classic Charlton character created by Steve Ditko who later migrated over to DC. The Question first appeared in the backpages of Blue Beetle vol. 5 #1 (June, 1967). Vic Sage was a television reporter for Hub City when he was visited by his friend and former professor Aristotle "Tot" Rodor, who had invented an artificial skin he called "pseudoderm." Unfortunately, Tot had discovered that pseudoderm occasionally became toxic when exposed to open wounds and he decided not to produce or distribute the material. His partner decided to continue to manufacture pseudoderm anyway and, to stop him, Tot provided a "mask" of pseudoderm to Vic to use in his investigations. Thus the Question was born.
However, most early stories tended to show the Question mainly as a mouthpiece for Ditko's Objectivist philosophy, similar to his Mr. A stories. Like most Charlton comics it folded when the company went under and was bought by DC. When DC decided to reboot some of the characters it had acquired from Charlton it was decided that the Question was to get a whole new image for his next series, which debuted in 1987.
In the beginning of Dennis O'Neil's series the Question is viciously beaten by Lady Shiva, then shot in the head with a pellet gun and Left for Dead. Shiva, however, rescues him and takes him to train with Richard Dragon, who also provides him with a new Eastern philosophical outlook. When he returns to Hub City he finds his old flame Myra is now married to the drunken mayor and the crime is worse than ever. O'Neil's series has partly been collected into six trade paperbacks.
Eventually, after a few years he decides to leave Hub City. He reappeared in 52 as the mentor to Renee Montoya before revealing that he was dying of lung cancer. He died in issue #38 (March, 2007). Renee assumed the mantle of the Question in issue #48 (June, 2007), with the help of Tot and Richard Dragon. She continued the mission he had been working on before his death: Investigating the Religion of Crime and Intergang. She appeared in two limited series, The Question: Five Books of Blood and Final Crisis: Revelations, and eventually became the second feature in Greg Rucka's Detective Comics. While combating Vandal Savage in the Detective Comics feature Renee was forced to take from him the "Mark of Cain," supposedly the mark placed by God on Cain to forever label him as a murderer and an eternal subject of ridicule and scorn. The 2010 Detective Comics annual edition revealed that she had indeed been marked. She now bears a scarred cross on her face and is viewed with shock and distrust by all she meets, but she has refused the offered means of removing the Mark, either giving it to another or committing suicide, as her tenure as the Question has given her maturity, outlook and philosophy to handle the Mark.
As of the New 52, the Question seems to have been completely reinvented, appearing in the Free Comic Book Day oneshot as one of the beings on the Rock of Eternity, punished along with The Phantom Stranger and Pandora for undisclosed sins. His punishment is that his name and face will forever be forgotten; that's not a mask any more.
The Vic Sage Question also appeared in Justice League Unlimited, in which he was a fan favorite. Indeed, while Question had been around for decades before JLU, it was his appearances there that skyrocketed his popularity amongst comics fans.
Also, the character of Rorschach in Watchmen started out simply being The Question, until DC vetoed the use of existing characters and Alan Moore was forced to create an original Objectivist conspiracy theorist instead. As a Shout-Out, one canonical comic, written by Moore, has the Question reading Watchmen and commenting on Rorschach's methods—then trying them and getting his ass kicked, ultimately concluding, "Rorschach sucks."
- Adaptation Distillation / Adaptation Displacement: Even though JLU's Question is far different from the regular DC Question, fans still love him. However, the flip side is some fans expect the comic Question to be identical to his animated appearance and are confused by his different personality points.
- Affirmative Action Legacy: Renee Montoya, who is a Hispanic lesbian.
- The Alcoholic: 52 opens, and occasionally goes back to, Renee as a heavy drinker trying to forget what happened in Gotham Central. Creator commentary reveals that the intention was for Renee to be an actual alcoholic at this point, and not simply on a brief or minor bender. It was only with the help of Vic Sage that she was able to pull herself together.
- Author Appeal: Greg Rucka, the predominant writer for the Question storyline in 52 and the author for her three subsequent appearances (The Question: Five Books of Blood, Final Crisis: Revelations and the second-feature in Detective Comics) was the author to originally develop the Montoya character in Gotham Central and has a history of writing strong female characters.
- Author Tract: The Ur Example in comics. Steve Ditko often used the comic as a soapbox for Objectivism during its Charlton run, though to a lesser degree than the similar character Mr. A.
- Awesomeness By Analysis
- Badass Longcoat: With his trenchcoat and fedora, he is pretty awesome.
- Badass Normal: Neither Vic Sage nor Renee Montoya have any superhuman powers or even gadgets, their sole technological gimmick being their mask. Still, they manage to face off against monsters, mutants and aliens with advanced technology on a semi-regular basis.
- Bad Cop, Incompetent Cop: Hub City is a Wretched Hive unmatched in the DC Universe, and that includes the ever-hated Gotham City. The FBI yearly analysis lists Hub City's police department as the most corrupt department in the country, and even the honest cops currently trying to improve the department have bad history; the current straight-arrow chief only became a crusader for integrity because of what he encountered when he was out shaking down local criminals and businesses for the bribes they owed him.
- The Blank: Practically the Trope Codifier.
- Bunny Ears Lawyer
- Butterfly of Death and Rebirth: Not a real butterfly, but rather Vic's last words are telling Montoya how she has to change "...like butterflies."
- Cain and Abel: In Final Crisis: Revelations, a limited series written by Greg Rucka that takes place within the larger Final Crisis story, the Question and Huntress combat, amongst others, Vandal Savage. Here it is revealed that Savage is the Biblical Cain, who committed the first murder and is worshipped by the Religion of Crime as a messianic figure and the bringer of all crime, and he is now using the Spear of Destiny to enslave The Spectre and conquer the world.
- Canon Immigrant: Montoya was created as a side character for Batman: The Animated Series. She has come a long way.
- Canon Invasion: The Question was originally owned by Charlton Comics before said company was bought out by DC. The character was introduced to the main DC Universe Post-Crisis.
- Cartwright Curse: Montoya's friends and partners tend to have a short lifespan.
- Catch Phrase: 'Obvious, in hindsight'. At least, for the Justice League Unlimited version of the character.
- Characterization Marches On: Her sexuality is a defining character trait for her under Greg Rucka, but when Renee Montoya was originally created for Batman: The Animated Series the plan (According to background info in the series bible) was that she was originally intended to be driven in her own fight on crime by the memory of her dead husband. The same source also says that she butts heads with Batman over his methods, whereas in-series she admires him and understands why he acts outside the law.
- Coat, Hat, Mask: Montoya usually does not even have the coat; she just wears the mask and hat over whatever she was wearing that day. Covers and such usually depict her in the blue suit, though. In the Denny O'Neil series Vic Sage had a tendency to do that, too; in one particular issue he sported a leather jacket and a cap.
- Conspiracy Theorist: JLU Question. The full extent of his theories have not been revealed, but he believes in a single, all-encompassing cabal of powerful individuals who have ruled the earth since Ancient Egypt, currently connected to such diverse phenomena as crop circles and boy bands. He hasn't figured out how it all ties together, but he's convinced that it does. There is also a hidden background to the plastic tip on the end of shoelaces, aglets, whose true purpose is sinister.
- Costumed Nonsuper Hero
- Cut Himself Shaving: Vic's explanations of why he did not have a face could be downright hilarious.
"Overdosed on acne medication."
- Deadpan Snarker: To varying degrees in most incarnations. Especially so in his DC comic book appearances.
- Despair Event Horizon: This is what prompted Charlie to leave Hub City in the finale of his solo series and to wander until he became a regular in 52. In the latter series, Vic Sage dies of cancer in a truly godawful manner, groaning in a haunting fashion, and leaves Renee alone just outside the gates of Nanda Parbat. She seems okay, but without Charlie she is so lost and alone that she does not even know who she is.
- Driven to Suicide: The 2010 Detective Comics annual edition reveals that, as a child, Renee once tried to kill herself when she began to question her sexuality and confronted the religious implications. Her introduction in Fifty Two featured her drinking heavily after the events of Gotham Central, and her narration implies that she is literally trying to drink herself to death.
- Dying to Be Replaced: Renee Montoya and Vic Sage were added to the cast of 52 with the specific intention of killing Vic and replacing him with Renee. The series was a smash critical and financial success, as were subsequent stories to star Renee as the Question, but the decision did generate some controversy for the seemingly unnecessary killing of a well-established character just to give his replacement motivation and a title to bear.
- Heroes Want Redheads: Myra, Vic Sage's love interest, was a redhead, and even Montoya has a history with the new redheaded Batwoman.
- Heroic Bastard: He does not make a big deal of it, but Sage is well aware that, since he was raised in an orphanage, it is extremely likely that he is a literal bastard.
- Hot Chick in a Badass Suit: Renee's preferred attire.
- How Dare You Die on Me!: Happens in the finale of 52, after Renee's girlfriend Kate is kidnapped and stabbed through the heart. Luckily, she makes it.
- Ice Cream Koan: Averted, especially during the O'Neil run, as he was quite well schooled in philosophy and would often include a recommended reading list at the end of issues.
- Insult Backfire:
Renee Montoya: "You really are a bastard."
The Question (Vic Sage): "Well, I was raised in an orphanage, so you're probably right."
- Intrepid Reporter: Sage's day job; his beating at the hands of Lady Shiva came when the subjects of his investigation were trying to lure Sage himself into a trap, and were surprised when the Question came instead. Of course, that raises serious doubts about their intelligence, since they were unable to make the logical assumption that Sage was the Question, not even when Sage disappears the same day Question does after this attack. When the Big Bad, Reverend Hatch, figured it out, everyone else was just convinced he was nuts because he also thought Sage was a ghost returned to haunt him (or a messenger sent by either God or the Devil).
- Law Enforcement, Inc.: At one stage Myra was considering sacking Hub City's notoriously corrupt police force and hiring biker gangs to enforce the law.
- Legacy Character: Why he started is a mystery known only to him, but Vic Sage helped bring Renee Montoya back from alcoholism and despair and trained her in his ways of combat and thought. When he succumbed to lung cancer, she assumed the mantle of the Question and has returned to Hub City to continue his fight.
- Mark of Shame: After her last encounter with Vandal Savage, where she was forced to take from the him the "Mark of Cain," Renee now bears a cross scarred into her face that causes everybody to view her with shock and disgust.
- Name of Cain: The new Batwoman, Katherine "Kate" Kane, was introduced in the Renee Montoya/Question storyline of 52, and it took several weeks for anybody (Even Renee) to make even the slighest connection between Kane and Cain.
- Nice Hat: His fedora.
- No Communities Were Harmed: Inverted; "Hub City" is a long-standing nickname for New Brunswick, NJ (home of Rutgers University), but the Question's Hub City is clearly not the same place.
- Obfuscating Disability: Richard Dragon.
- Orphanage of Fear: As Charles Victor Szasz, Vic grew up in one.
- Palette Swap: Rare non videogame example. Both versions are able to slip into their disguise at a moment's notice by simply activating the gas, which changes the color of their clothing and hair, as well as bonding the mask to their face.
- Platonic Life Partners: Both Renee and Vic, and later on Renee and Huntress have this dynamic.
- The Power of Trust: One JLU comic book had a story where the paranoid Question tries to find which member of the League had planted a bomb. He refuses help from the other heroes since he distrusts all of them. It turned out to have been done by himself, under a villain's mind control. Obviously An Aesop about the fact that sometimes you just have to trust others. Extra points for having The Question rescued by Martian Manhunter, his prime suspect.
- The Professor: Professor Aristotle Rodor, although he is less about making inventions and more about helping out Vic.
- The Rashomon: The Question Quarterly #5 is one of these. It starts with the Question punching the mayor in the face, then several characters speculate on why he did it, with each version drawn by a different artist. Izzy O'Toole tells a standard Film Noir story, a pair of crackheads claim that the Question was a disfigured psychopath, and the Mayor herself finally explains that he knocked her out to prevent a desperate deal with a group of gunrunners to bring in some money to the city. The Question finally shows up and tells them they are all wrong. It turns out he went against his uncompromising nature and made the deal himself. He just did not want Myra to meet the criminals face to face for fear they would double cross her.
- Reality Ensues: Vic Sage was a heavy smoker and, even though he ditches the habit early in O'Neil's run, when he appears in 52 he has developed advanced lung cancer. There is no miracle cure, there is no alien healing technology, he just slowly wastes away physically and mentally before dying in the snow outside Nanda Parbat. *sob*
- Real Men Wear Pink: In some adaptations, Vic shows an unusual fondness for pop music, specifically the type favored by middle-school girls. He starts singing it to himself while breaking into a building. In several of the Ditko and early Cowan stories, the gas turns the Question's shirt salmon.
- Redheaded Hero: Vic, although the gas that bonds the pseudoderm also changes his hair color to black and his clothes to blue.
- Religion of Evil: Montoya's main bad guys generally come from the Religion of Crime (which they prefer to call the Dark Faith or the Way of Sin), who have an obsession with an old girlfriend and who Sage had been following for months before they met.
- Sex for Solace: Renee admits that she has a well-established pattern of dealing with emotional trauma, namely getting drunk and then hopping into the first bed she can find. Charlie helps her confront this part of herself and a significant part of her character arc comes when she is able to deal with loss emotionally instead of falling back into old habits.
- Smoking Is Cool: No. No it is not.
- Sword Over Head: In one memorable scene, the Question warns a hoodlum about to drop an innocent off of a very tall building. "Drop her and you're going straight after her." The unfortunate innocent is dropped: the Question rushes the thug and leaves him hanging by his finger-tips over certain death. Question: "I told you what would happen if you dropped her, didn't I? (waves)...Bye." He then walks away, only to turn back seconds later and pull the thug to safety. However, he then delivers a Crowning Moment of Awesome as he pummels the tar out of the now tearfully-grateful thug: "Just one thing: don't THANK me. Don't EVER thank me." He then walks off, musing to himself, "I'll never be played by Chuck Norris. Or Charles Bronson."
- Token Minority: After some complaints about the complete lack of minorities in the Birds of Prey, author Gail Simone has confirmed that she will be using Renee as a guest star in an upcoming storyline. And of course, this news went over very well with fans.
- Vigilante Man: The Mikado
- Villainous Rescue: Lady Shiva saved Vic's life, after she had viciously beaten him, because she said he had a "warrior's passion".
- What a Piece of Junk!: Vic Sage used to drive a beat-up VW Bug. That had a Porsche racing engine in it. Awesomely enough, this is completely doable in real life.
- What the Heck Is An Aglet?: The famous line from Justice League Unlimited: "The tips at the end of shoelaces are called aglets. Their true purpose is sinister."
- What the Hell, Hero?: "You have purchased that with blood money. You've let a killer go free in exchange. You should both be ashamed of yourselves. And if he were here right now... Charlie would be, too."
- What You Are in the Dark: Literally. After Vic's death Renee becomes listless and undriven, and undergoes a ritual in the darkness of a cave, trying to figure out who she is. It is only after days spent in pitch black that she is able to figure that out. What does she see? "Good question."
- Who Shot JFK?: "There was a magic bullet. It was forged by Illuminati mystics to prevent us from learning the truth!"
- Wretched Hive: Hub City; it is worse than Gotham.
- Left:The Question I (Charles Victor Szasz/Vic Sage) Right:The Question II (Renee Montoya)