O’Neil is a long-time comic writer and editor, and this novel is set in the DC Comic Universe, re-telling the origin of The Question, a character O’Neil wrote to considerable acclaim in the 1980s.
Vic Sage, alias the Question, isn’t a standard superhero character – he’s essentially a man in a trenchcoat and fedora whose face is rendered blank by a mask. Quite a creepy image, and in making the character an orphan, the character truly is a blank slate, and his driving motivation in the comics (under O’Neil, at least) is that of curiosity, as well as a wish to see justice done, though that’s often almost incidental.
I was a huge fan of the Question comics (even writing letters of comment , some of which, to my adolescent fanboy glee, were published in issues’ letter columns), so I was keen to see what O’Neil did in the prose medium.The results are … let’s say mixed.
In the novel, starting from scratch and set in in the present day, a lot of the ideas underpinning the comic series are lost, and the need to reintroduce the characters – and even other DC Comics characters like Batman – takes a fair amount of time, leaving certain elements overplayed and others rather truncated. It starts rather uncertainly, too, and it’s not entirely clear who or what of the various elements described is going to prove relevant, and what’s just scenery.
The original Question, created by Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko, was a single-minded and pretty harsh character, and in order to start afresh, the 1980s comic series as good as killed him off, but this novel doesn’t quite have the same approach, and to my mind that was a bit of a pity. The reduced role of Myra, the love interest, is a shame as well, and indeed she’s reduced to little more than a love interest, and a rather token one at that – there’s no real reason why Vic should be so keen on her after so few interactions.
That said, the book hangs together pretty well, and some of the action sequences are quite tautly written, even if characters do have some frankly unlikely names (Emiline Grandyfan, Thaddeus Crate, and Eustis McFeely, for example), which rather disrupts the flow when reading. A pity, especially as some of the dialogue is quite snappy.
A cautious recommendation to fans of the original comic series, I guess, but in all honesty you’d be better off hunting down back issues (especially the first 12-15 issues), or even checking out the character’s appearances in the Justice League Unlimited cartoon series over the past few years.