Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Question #37

DC Comics, 22 pages, $ 2.99

Writers: Dennis O'Neil, Greg Rucka
Penciler: Denys Cowan
Inkers: Bill Sienkiewicz, John Stanisci
Colorist: David Baron
Letterer: John J. Hill
Cover artists: Cully Hamner, Dave McCaig

This one-shot had three major strikes against it in my book before I ever cracked the cover.

One, its motivation—both in plot terms and in marketing terms—is that it spins out of (and back into) DC's "Blackest Night" crossover, which I'm not following. Two, as its numbering suggests, it's a belated epilogue of sorts to Dennis O'Neil and Denys Cowan's The Question, a series which ran for 36 issues from 1986 through 1990 and which I haven't read. And three, even apart from those two points, a big part of why the comic (and the seven others like it that DC released in January) exists at all comes down to nostalgia, which, for its own sake, isn't something I'm terribly interested in.

Then again, I do tend to like Greg Rucka's comics, and I've been following Mr. Rucka and artist Cully Hamner's current "The Question" strip in Detective Comics, so I thought I might enjoy this, anyway.

I didn't, and I don't think it's a good comic, either.

It's a mechanically sound one, certainly. Mr. Cowan knows how to tell a story with his art, even though his martial arts scenes aren't as convincing as the rest of the book. The rough, scratchy pencil style adequately conveys the mood of a morbid struggle set in and around a lighthouse on the coast, in the dark, in the rain. The inks look more consistent than you'd expect from the fact that they're by two different people one of whom is Bill Sienkiewicz, but he and John Stanisci manage to give the story a consistent look, anyway. I imagine coloring this type of book is not the most enviable job in the world, but David Baron pulls it off solidly, given what he's got to work with—until those moments when the plot forces him to start playing with the color spectrum, that is.

Which brings us to the problematic part: the story.

A couple of years ago, during Marvel's "Secret Invasion" crossover, there were all kinds of miniseries in which Marvel characters fought the Skrulls. It was a terribly repetitive mess, and the fact that none of those comics were in any way essential to the plot of "Secret Invasion" didn't improve matters.

This is the DC version of that, only instead of shape-shifting space aliens, the characters have to fight zombie versions of DC Universe characters who died at one point or other. In this case, it's the current Question, Renée Montoya, fighting the old Question, with help from a supporting cast member she inherited from him and another one that returns from the old series.

The story gets on my bad side right away, because someone thought it was a good idea to front-load the first three pages with information that, as it turns out, is not of particular interest to anything else that happens in it. Says the narration on page two: "Until the night you died. The first time." That's the part when the story stops working for anyone who isn't in awe of what's being recounted for no other reason than because the information refers back to a stack of comics they read, mostly 20 years ago. I can follow the bulk of what's going on, mind you. It's just not something I'm particularly interested in, and that three-page flashback serves as an anesthetic.

From there, it's an uphill struggle, and the story never wins me back.

At one point, there's a faint glimmer of interest when one character suggests they want to quiz their old zombie friend about the secrets of life and death, but as far as I can tell, it comes out of nowhere, and either way, that's where it ends up going, because the plot requires the returning deceased to be unequivocally evil and a hundred percent intent on biting people's heads off or something, because that evidently makes things more interesting—if by "more interesting" you mean it provides the motivation for the characters to punch each other. (Not that they hadn't been punching each other before, for similarly plausible and convincing reasons.)

All of which is to say, this is an awful mess of a story. It's a pointless flashback and two pointless extended fights, strung together by a nonsensical plot and starring a bunch of unconvincing, uninteresting, unlikeable characters who do idiotic or implausible things.

And that, again, is even before you get to the (unexplained) color-coded panels with the inverted, lantern-shaped balloons that say things like "Avarice" or "Fear" or "Compassion" and supply the characters with a ready-made motivation to either start punching each other or to stop doing so.

It's an odd misfire. The point it seems to have in mind is that not much good can ever come from digging up dead old things, while at the same time it fails to realize that it's a product of nostalgia itself, in the worst way imaginable.

If this is the kind of thing we're going to see less of from Mr. Rucka now that he's done with DC, I won't complain.

Grade: D

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