A classic Charlton Comics 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 note 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.
Most early stories tended to show the Question mainly as a mouthpiece for Ditko's Objectivist philosophy, similar to his Mr. A stories, but blunted a bit for more commercial appeal. For instance, The Question once knocked some crooks into a fast moving sewer flow and refused to pull them out as they were clinging for dear life, but left to call the police to go and get them out.note 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, deeply respects him enough to rescue him, taking him to train with Richard Dragon, who also provides him with a new Eastern philosophical outlook that gives him a more nuanced morality. 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 mostly been collected into six trade paperbacks.note
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.
In the New 52, the Question was completely reinvented, appearing in the Free Comic Book Day one-shot 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. Funnily enough, being supernaturally driven to uncover conspiracies and questions surrounding his own identity and various other nefarious goings-on actually puts his character in practice closer to the JLU version. Renee also appeared in the New 52, but her tenure as The Question was retconned and she had transferred to the Blüdhaven Police Department. Vic Sage was also introduced as a character apparently unrelated to the unnamed Question, as Amanda Waller's boss in Suicide Squad.
The Vic Sage incarnation of the Question made his post-Rebirth debut in Action Comics #1005, and has appeared several times since. And, as of Lois Lane (2019) #1, so has the Renee Montoya incarnation of the Question (though she made earlier appearances during this era).
The Vic Sage Question also appeared in Justice League Unlimited voiced by Jeffrey Combs 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. He also appeared as minor character in Batman: The Brave and the Bold voiced by Nicholas Guest but had a larger role in the spinoff film, Scooby-Doo! & Batman: The Brave and the Bold, where he was again voiced by Combs.
Renee has appeared in the Injustice: Gods Among Us prequel comic, and was the main character in a Convergence mini series. She also had brief appearances during a few issues of Detective Comics during the New 52 and DC Rebirth eras.
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 issue of the Denny O'Neil run has the Question reading Watchmen and commenting on Rorschach's methods—then trying them and getting his ass kicked, ultimately concluding, "Rorschach sucks."
Renee Montoya made her film debut as a major character in Birds of Prey, played by Rosie Perez, though she doesn't assume the identity of the Question during it.
Which tropes do the Question include? That's a good question:
- Always Someone Better: Zig-zagged between Vic and Batman. Batman has the title of the "World's Greatest Detective", but on several occasions, Vic has been argued as having better deductive and investigative skills than the Caped Crusader. It can be argued that Batman qualifies for have far greater resources at his disposal, thus enabling him to achieve much more, but Vic can hold his own in the sleuthing department without any of that stuff. So, this comes down to Depending on the Writer.
- 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. Averted with the N52 Question, who is Cursed with Awesome.
- 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.
- 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 worshiped 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.
- 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.
- Cool Old Guy: Aristotle "Tot" Rodor.
- Deadpan Snarker: To varying degrees in most incarnations.
- 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.
- An indeterminate amount of time in the torture chambers of an Eldritch Abomination was one for the New 52 Question, leading him to temporarily join her.
- 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.
- Hardboiled Detective: The Question, boiled down to his essence, is one of these—just add a mask and minimal gadgets.
- Heroes Want Redheads: Myra, Vic Sage's love interest, was a redhead, and Renee has a history with the redheaded Kate Kane, the second Batwoman.
- 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."
- 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.
- Nice Hat: Various, but especially the fedora.
- 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 Professor: Professor Aristotle Rodor, although he is noticeably bad at inventing things. A tranquillizer he sold to a drug company upon completion of his PhD put the company out of business with its Thalidomide-like side-effects and his invention Pseudo-derm is entirely useless for its intended purpose as it becomes toxic when applied to open wounds. The only practical application it has is as Question's mask.
- Thou Shalt Not Kill: Zig-zagged at times, and mostly averted for both Questions despite their disgust of murderous criminals. Vic was originally highly against killing, often feeling very conflicted on how far to go in enforcing justice due to his own repeated temptation to kill criminals. His mentor Professor Rodor kept him from crossing that line, until he ended up killing to save the sister of his love interest. At some point it got easier, as Vic kills again in the 1991 Brave and the Bold mini-series and the 2005 Question mini-series, but was implied to have a change of heart when he strongly advocates against murder in Huntress' Cry For Blood mini-series. Montoya is agonized over the issue of killing criminals, even refusing to kill the murderer of her partner in the GCPD, but ends up killing a child suicide bomber later on and has a Despair Event Horizon after the fact.
- Wretched Hive: Hub City; it is worse than Gotham.
- 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.
- 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.
- Bunny-Ears Lawyer
- The Bus Came Back: Finally returns as the Question in Brian Michael Bendis' run on Superman.
- 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.
- Character Filibuster: In the Charlton Era, it wasn't uncommon for Vic to go on Mr.A-like rants that spewed Objectivist morality.If anyones going to stand with me, hes going to have to give me a good reason why! I wont accept the lame reasons about my being the underdog, every misfit can claim that! Or that I need help, Im not a charity case! Ill accept only a reason why you personally want to make the stand and on your behalf, not mine! note
- Cut Himself Shaving: Vic's explanations of why he did not have a face could be downright hilarious."Overdosed on acne medication."
- Da Chief: A non-police version with Vic's tv station manager often butting heads with Vic's more head-on approach.
- Deadly Doctor: The Mikado.
- Depending on the Writer: Sage's characterization depends a lot on the writer. Steve Ditko wrote him as an abrasive Objectivist vigilante. Denny O'Neil had him mellow into a Zen-like investigator. In "The Dark Knight Strikes Again" Frank Miller wrote him as a libertarian anti-government conspiracy theorist, while in "52" he was enigmatic and fatalistic, but not particularly committed to any philosophy.
- Fanservice: Myra in particular has quite a few moments of this—since the very beginning of the O'Neil run.
- For the ladies, Vic has some nice shirtless moments when he's working out.
- Fiery Redhead: Myra has her moments.
- The Friend Nobody Likes: In the Charlton Era, Sage is not popular at his TV station. His coworkers (outside his own incredibly loyal personal production staff) find him insufferable, while audiences find his dismissive feelings towards civil rights horrifying, and his self-righteous preaching grating. However the station's president likes his uncompromising attitude and will not fire him, and none of the sponsors will drop their support.
- 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.
- Honor Before Reason: One Charlton story has the Question observe a well-known respectable businessman colluding with a well-known crook, and is determined to find out whatever dirty business they're conducting. The next day said businessman shows up at the station offering to be the sponsor for Sage's show. Rather than using this as an opportunity for his investigation he refuses the man's sponsorship on the basis that a "source" told him the man was crooked, without offering any definite proof. Reality Ensues that Sage nearly loses his job over such an accusation both because it ruins his credibility as a reporter and could make the station unpopular with other sponsors and advertisers.
- 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).
- Myra was this, herself, before being blackmailed by Reverend Hatch into marrying the puppet mayor.
- Jerkass: In the Charlton era, the Question may have been a hero, but he was extremely self-righteous and abrasive and saw criminals as sub-humans who deserved to die rather than be kept alive to face the courts and justice. And as Vic Sage the idea of everyone having basic civil rights — criminals included appalled him, which he made quite clear on his TV show. This got him into hot water when a coworker was accused of murder and Vic publicly said he believed him to be innocent. More than one viewer was quick to call him out on hypocrisy.
- Life Will Kill You: 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.
- Mad Artist: Ditko did a story about a charlatan modern artist who hated uplifting and beautiful classic art, and dressed up as one of his own ugly, turd-like sculptures to become an art-vandalising costumed villain.
- Manifesto-Making Malcontent: In The Dark Knight Strikes Again, he mentions a manifesto almost immediately after he is introduced. Later on, he is established as a hardcore anti-authoritarian technophobe.
- 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.
- Obfuscating Disability: Richard Dragon. Due to Vic's ego, it would have been impossible for Richard to train him otherwise.
- Orphanage of Fear: As Charles Victor Szasz, Vic grew up in one.
- 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.
- Real Men Wear Pink: In several of the Ditko and early Cowan stories, the gas turns the Question's shirt salmon.
- Schrödinger's Butterfly: Zhuangzi's quote is brought up constantly by Sage, to the point where he uses it as a pick-up line.
- 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 says 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."
- 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. (A determined real-life mechanic can actually do this.)
- Adaptational Sexuality: The comics' character is a lesbian, whereas mentioned below, the Series Bible originally intended to have had a dead husband as part of Montoya's backstory in B: TAS. Though of course, those two facts need not contradict, necessarily.
- Affirmative Action Legacy: 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.
- Boxing Battler: Even before meeting Vic Sage or becoming the Question, Renee was a skilled boxer, able to defeat a larger man while suffering from broken ribs.
- Canon Immigrant: Montoya was created as a side character for Batman: The Animated Series. She has come a long way.
- Cartwright Curse: Montoya's friends and partners tend to have a short lifespan.
- 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.
- 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 52 featured her drinking heavily after the events of Gotham Central, and her narration implies that she is literally trying to drink herself to death.
- Grand Finale: Renee's Convergence arc mostly serves as this, giving her a (mostly) happy ending where she gets to kiss the girl and redeem Two Face.
- 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.
- 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 second 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 slightest connection between Kane and Cain.
- 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.
- The Teetotaler: She's still an alcoholic, but has remained sober ever since 52 ended.
- Token Minority: After some complaints about the complete lack of minorities in the Birds of Prey, author Gail Simone confirmed that she would be use Renee as a guest star in a storyline.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Tot is furious when Renee and Huntress buy off an assassin to give them information they need."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."
- Achievement In Ignorance: Due to the fact that he has no knowledge of his past sins, as well as a need to question everything, The Question is the only member of The Trinity of Sin that does not believe he was judged justly. This allows him to break free of the subconsciously self-inflicted punishments of the Redemption Box.
- Ambiguous Gender and Race: Sort of. Though the readers know he was born a white man, The Question has no clue who he was before he was cursed. He has taken on the identities of multiple genders and races throughout his long lifetime.
- Ambiguously Evil: Right off the bat, we know he did something to earn a part in The Trinity of Sin. Also, during the creation of the trinity, he was the only member to act defiantly, vowing to rise up and take revenge on the wizards. As The Question, he has done some pretty questionable things, mostly involving backstabing the other members of the trinity, but also some unambiguously good things, such as saving a kidnapped child.
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: This version of the character last appeared in "The Trinity of Sin" miniseries and hasn't been seen since.
- Conspiracy Theorist: Just like the JLU version of Vic, although he may be right on a few counts.
- Cursed with Awesome: Though he was cursed to lose his sense of identity, not to mention his actual face, The Question did gain immortality and is strong enough to stand on the same cosmic scale with that of The Phantom Stranger and Pandora.
- Decomposite Character: The New 52 has a Victor Sage and a Question.
- Driving Question: No pun intended, but the New 52 version is cursed to have this constantly as his part in the Trinity of Sin, with various questions he will never be able to answer.
- Evil Redhead: Was a bad dude with light red hair pre-curse. After becoming The Question his hair seems to be a dark red and he is more morally ambiguous.
- Master of Disguise: He has shown the ability to alter his appearance and look like anyone at will. Whether this is a power afforded to him by his curse or a talent he picked up over time is unknown.
- A Riddle Wrapped in a Mystery Inside an Enigma: Had his name, face and past erased, not only from his mind but from all of history for doing...something.
- The Spook: He's cursed to be this, even to himself. No name, no face, no memory. The only clue we have is that he earned the curse by committing an atrocity on the scale of Pandora releasing evil into the world and The Phantom Stranger betraying Jesus to his death.