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Real Name:  Charles Victor Szasz / Vic Sage

Voiced by Jeffery Combs

When the Justice League approached the Question and asked him to join their organization, he said yes without a thought.  After all, he mused, they would have been suspicious of him had he said no.  A muckraking conspiracy theorist seen as paranoid and crazy by his peers, this faceless man has nonetheless excelled as the League's resident private investigator, possessing detective skills and computer expertise roughly on par with Batman.

Originally a television reporter for Hub City's KBEL network, Sage grew frustrated as the corrupt political officials he investigated remained seemingly untouchable.  His Sisyphean crusade, however, took a turn thanks to his friend, Dr. Aristotle Rodor, the inventor of a skin-like substance called pseudoderm that, when used in concert with another of the doctor's inventions—a saffron gas capable of changing the color of one's hair and clothing—created a featureless mask that affixes tightly over the wearer's real face.  Now able to take a more direct approach to his investigations while preserving his anonymity, Sage disappeared into the viscous smoke, leaving only the Question behind.

Relentlessly pursuing his targets—be they politician, industrialist, or common thug—the mystery man continued his research into those he saw as corrupt, which eventually drew him into the tinfoil hat-wearing, wingnut realm of conspiracy theory.  Growing increasingly obsessive, he devoured reports about UFOs, cryptozoology, and secret societies (among other things); finding threads that linked these topics to others, eventually forming a tapestry of corruption that could all be traced back to the Illuminati, an ancient cabal that has altered the course of human history for their own benefit.  Finally attaching a name to his unseen enemy, the Question's campaign became more focused, as he now seeks to both expose and overthrow this organization...although it remains to be seen if this fabled society exists or not.

Today he is dismissed as a crackpot by most, and even his closest friends see him as a man on a mission that is, for all intents and purposes, quixotic in both scope and execution.  They do, however, respect his dedication, and gladly fight alongside him to bring about their shared goals.

Rick Veitch on the Question (circa 2004):  “The Question was created by Steve Ditko for Charlton Comics back in the 60's.  His story was pretty basic:  crusading TV journalist Vic Sage decides to become a street vigilante by donning a mask and battling corruption in Hub City (or Chicago, depending on which year we're talking).  Like all the Charlton characters, the Question was batted out for abysmal page rates, but since it was batted out by Ditko it had a lovely subterranean charm to it.  Vic Sage would press his belt buckle, viscous Ditko gas would envelope him, and out would step the faceless and unstoppable crimefighter.  [However], what affected the Question in an odd way was what Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons did with Watchmen, which was originally conceived as starring the Charlton characters.  DC changed their mind and had Alan and Dave create knock-offs of the Charlton gang, and the knock-off they did of the Question ended up becoming one of the most unforgettable characters in modern comics, Rorschach.  So the Question then seemed to exist in the shadow of Rorschach and kind of laid fallow for a decade or more.

“[The Question’s] original appeal lay in the fact that he was so relentless and over the top in terms of a 1960's comic book crimefighter.  Ditko went on to explore that aspect even further with his Mr. A character and I think Alan and Dave used both in creating Rorschach.  This made perfect sense in the late '80s because no one had really explored what would prompt someone to become a vigilante.  The impact of Rorschach [and Batman:  The Dark Knight Returns] opened the floodgates for nut job heroes in the early '90s and now everyone's pretty sick and tired of grim and gritty [characters].  [However], what makes the Question different—both as a series and as a character—is how the reader is put into his particular intuitive mind set and slowly begins to amass clues in the same manner the Question does.  But you never quite know if he's nuts or not (courtesy of Comic Book Resources).”

Bruce Timm on the Question #1:  “When we recorded the episode with him we got Jeffrey Combs, from the Re-Animator movies, to play the Question.  And he's so creepy, he's like the creepiest hero character we've ever had in any of the shows.  We were all totally jazzed when we recorded that show.  He was awesome (courtesy of [website name removed]).”

Bruce Timm on the Question #2:  “When we heard Jeff Combs doing his voice for that first episode (‘Fearful Symmetry’), we wanted to make him the star of the entire series from then on (courtesy of DrawingBoard.org)!”

Dwayne McDuffie on the Question #1:  "Question seemed special from the first script.  About halfway through the first recording with Jeffrey Combs, I looked over at producers Bruce Timm and James Tucker and said, 'Let's just do The Question Show from now on, okay?'  They both felt this was a bit radical, but agreed that we should do more with Question.  He's a great character, and his mindset made him perfect for our Cadmus storyline.  [Also], since Huntress was involved with Question and was a pretty cool character in her own right, she got extra play too (courtesy of Comic Buyers Guide Magazine)."

Bruce Timm on the Question #3:  “Just because the Question believes there’s a vast shadowy world-controlling cabal ‘going back to ancient Egypt’ doesn’t mean that there actually is such a thing in the ‘real’ world, or in the JLU’s universe.  We’re playing him as someone so obsessively paranoid as to be almost borderline delusional.  Take everything he says with a huge grain of salt (courtesy of Toon Zone).”

Dwayne McDuffie on the Question #2:  “The Question's intro [in 'Fearful Symmetry'] was lost in editing, which was a mistake.  […] The Question will be back several times.  He's a favorite of the staff's (courtesy of DwayneMcDuffie.com).”

Dwayne McDuffie on comparisons to The X-Files:  “I think Fox [Mulder] is a little more sane than our version of the Question (courtesy of Silver Bullet Comic Books).”

 

Images

The Question Image #1 (Unused STAS Design) | The Question Image #2

The Question Image #3

 

Commentary

"Does everything have a sinister motive in your world?"

"Yours too.  You just don't know it."

An exchange between Green Arrow and the Question from "Fearful Symmetry"

Arguably the breakout character of Justice League Unlimited, the X-Files-esque conspiracy theorist is notably different from his comic book-derived counterpart, who himself has gone through at least three major revisions since his Silver Age debut.  Created by Steve Ditko (the artist best known for co-creating Marvel Comics’ Spider-Man) and introduced as a back-up feature in Charlton Comics’ Blue Beetle Vol. 3, #1 (June 1967), the Question was initially conceived as a hardboiled journalist who took up the mask to investigate the criminal element without exposing himself (as a television reporter, he was a well-known personality in Hub City).  In terms of his personality, he tended to see the world in terms of absolutes, as Ditko was a devotee of author and philosopher Ayn Rand and often used the Question as a mouthpiece for his Objectivist beliefs.  Appearing in only a handful of stories (six backups published throughout 1968), he largely disappeared from the public eye until 1986, when Charlton sold the character (along with Blue Beetle, Captain Atom, and the rest of their stable of heroes) to DC Comics.  To facilitate their introduction to a new generation, they retroactively introduced the Charlton universe as Earth-4 in Crisis on Infinite Earths, and used the continuity-merging event to add their new acquisitions to the DC Universe melting pot.

In terms of his post-Crisis, DC Comics adventures, the character took a complete 180° turn with the debut of The Question #1 (February 1987), as series creators Denny O’Neil and Denys Cowan moved the Question away from his Objectivist roots, infusing the character instead with Zen philosophy (as well as martial arts training to bolster his comparatively weak fighting skills).  Now able to see the moral ambiguity that exists in the world, the Question continued his crusade for thirty-six issues until its cancellation forced him into a series of quarterlies, miniseries, and cameos in other titles.  Finally, in his most recent appearance in The Question Vol. 2, #1 (January 2005), storyteller Rich Veitch adjusted the character again—transforming him into a sort of urban shaman, capable of empathically “talking" to a city thanks to his now-psychedelic chemical smoke.  Through all these changes, however, it should be noted that a few things have remained constant, such as the character’s ongoing search for The Truth (be it crime-related or existential), his quirky-yet-intuitive mind, and his unusual methods of deduction.

(In the interest of providing the Question’s complete history, some space must be dedicated to looking at Rorschach, the Alan Moore-created ectype that was used in the 1986 miniseries Watchmen.  Comic book history recalls how Moore initially wanted to use the Charlton heroes themselves for this story, which looked at how the presence of superheroes would affect the global politics of a more realistic world, but DC Comics eventually decided against it, as they did not want to complicate the background of these characters, who they wished to keep in usable, marketable condition [post-Crisis DC attempted to relaunch many of their newly-acquired heroes as mainstream franchises, from Blue Beetle to Captain Marvel, with mixed results].  As a result, Moore created characters closely based upon the Charlton heroes, with Rorschach standing in for the Question.  Notable in the series for his ultra-right-wing views and complete lack of empathy for the any wrongdoer that he faced, Rorschach has been considered by some to be the original Objectivist Question taken to a fascist nth degree.)

For Unlimited, the creative team took the Question's constants and added the conspiracy theory angle, no doubt drawing influence from characters such as Fox Mulder, the protagonist from the hit television series The X-Files, and Carl Kolchak, the freelance paranormal investigator from the short-lived Night Stalker series.  Strangely enough, the combination works, as the subject matter meshes extremely well with his “is-he-crazy-or-isn’t-he” persona, as both viewers and teammates warily eye the character who confidently asserts that the Girl Scouts are responsible for the crop circle phenomena.  In addition, the creative team has also returned the character to his roots somewhat, limiting his fighting ability (relying more on intimidation and some hand-to-hand skills, as the Charlton incarnation did) and reintroducing some of his Objectivist beliefs (the Question’s statement that “A is A” is a well-known tenet of Rand’s philosophy).  Finally, a bit of Rorschach’s characterization has been filtered into the archetypical character, with the Question speaking in terse sentence fragments, sometimes with the pronouns dropped completely (for example, in “Fearful Symmetry,” the Question mutters, “Need some time to process this," rather than, “I need some time to process this”).  Overall, this incarnation of the Question is a new twist on the old mold, but faithful to it in all the right ways.

As a personality, the Question is difficult to pin down, considering his inherent eccentricity and the wildly different takes on his characterization, but a large portion of this ambiguity can be traced back to his mask—a flesh-colored camouflage that resembles a face devoid of all potential features; a smooth patch of skin.  Even among other superheroes this type of mask is distinctivethe only other character with this sort of visual gimmick was the Blank, a Dick Tracy villain whose features were destroyed by a gunshot to the face (seen here as he appeared in the 1990 film Dick Tracy)—and it carries a haunting quality that the standard cowl, helmet, or domino cannot replicate.  The identity that this mask creates says "mystery man" in a way that a facially distinctive mask cannot, and it evokes the realm of shadowy agents and men in black, characters that are traditionally part of conspiracy lore (filmmaker and political muckraker Michael Moore paid homage to this in the intro to his 1994 series TV Nation, which featured a government spook with a blank, featureless face; click here to watch the clip).  Although his Unlimited background is as-yet unrevealed by the creative team, one can speculate as to his motivations for adopting such an identity.  His rationale would mirror that of his comic book counterpart—to conceal his identity in order to escape reprisal—but here it produces a different effect, as one of the tenets of conspiracy theory is how “they” constantly monitor their enemies, and often resort to murder to silence those who are on to them.  With features hidden by pseudoderm and armed with chemicals that can change the color of his hair and clothing, he is able to conduct his activities with the freedom of an unidentifiable phantom, much like government spooks are able to.  This tactic works for the Question, and it can be best summed up using a line from Grant Morrison’s mega-conspiracy Vertigo title The Invisibles:  “Big Brother is watching you.  Learn to become invisible.”

In addition to his disguise, another way that the Question can potentially cover his tracks is by making others doubt his sanity, which plays into the hallmark of the character as being inscrutable; you can't be sure what he’s thinking.  Again, “they” will eliminate any whom they consider to be a threat, but by making "them" underestimate you by feigning insanity is another way to throw them off your trail; this tactic has been used by people such as mob boss Vincente Gigante who, in an attempt to beat a criminal conviction, wandered the streets of Greenwich Village wearing a bathrobe and muttering to himself in an attempt to pass himself off as being too mentally unstable to be the brains of a criminal syndicate.  This could arguably be the Question’s tactic here—does he really believe that aglets have sinister purposes, or is that just misinformation that he flaunts in order to make people dismiss him as a nut so that he can pursue his true agendas unmolested?  It is possible, especially considering that the Question blithely accepts this label and, in “Question Authority,” he casually mentions to Luthor (whom he's preparing to kill) that, because he is a “well-known crackpot,” his actions will cause less damage to the Justice League's reputation than if Superman were to do it.  However, just as he is in the comics that spawned him, we don’t know for sure whether he’s crazy like a fox or just crazy.  That is the ongoing question, and it is this uncertainty that generates the character's appeal; as he once said to the Huntress:  "You're drawn to my eccentric charm."

While he has not been confirmed for Season Five, it is a likely probability that he will make a return appearance on Unlimited; as Dwayne McDuffie mentions above, he is a favorite among the creative team.  As for his ongoing struggle against the Illuminati, it is worth mentioning that, in the mainstream DC Universe, this organization not only exists, but it was founded by Vandal Savage, the immortal conqueror that has already made frequent appearances on Justice League.  Should Savage appear again, it is possible that the Question may get his chance to reveal this organization's dealings to the world...unless "they" get to him first.

 

Images courtesy of Toon Zone, DC Comics, the Grand Comic Book Database, Wizard Magazine, Touchstone Pictures, Dog Eat Dog Films, and Who's Whose in the DC Universe?  The Blank courtesy of Chicago Tribute Syndicate and Touchstone Pictures.

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