Not About the Answers

In the early ’80s, Alan Moore was in a band that actually had a song about Steve Ditko and Mr. A, set to the tune of The Velvet Underground’s “Sister Ray”. Here he recounts the story during an interview with the BBC in ‘07, even sings a verse.

He had one room above a thrift store.
He had a trunk of books by Ayn Rand.
He was short-sighted and reclusive,
resisting pleas to take his photograph.

He drew a superhero comic.
He saw the world in terms of black and white.
He said, “A day’s work for a day’s pay,
that is our one and only right.”

He takes a card and shades one half of it in dark
so he can demonstrate to you just what he means.
He says, “There’s black and there is white, and there is wrong, and there is right, and there is nothing, nothing in between.”

That’s what Mr. A said.

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The scenes have slight differences, but are definitely alike enough to stand out. Small redheaded boy (one an orphan, one soon to be an orphan), cornered and teased by bullies, expresses repressed anger in brutal ways. Maybe Denny put more Rory into Vic than he thought.

[Watchmen #6]

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Here, lemme give you a refresher.

[Watchmen #6]

So, the Question/Rorschach connection. Let’s talk about it.

The thing that really fascinates me is the timing, and what effect internal politics might have had on it.

If you know about Watchmen, perhaps you’re already savvy to the fact that each character was based off of an equivalent from the Charlton Action Heroes line that DC had recently acquired at the time. Well, in fact, the original proposal intended to use the actual Charlton characters, but Dick Giordano was a little apprehensive of that part. Given Giordano was the Charlton EIC at the time the Action Heroes line first rolled, they were practically his babies, it’s understandable he wouldn’t want to see them put in a position they couldn’t really be used anymore. You can read more about that and the Charlton connection to Watchmen (as well as some discussion of Ditko’s Question) here, in an interview Alan Moore did for Comic Book Artist #9 back in 2000 (an issue i should prolly track down, as it’s apparently centered on the history of Charlton Comics)

Anyway, long story short, Rorschach was Moore’s take on The Question. That’s isn’t to say that’s all he was, since much like Dr. Manhattan, while being an expy of Captain Atom, also provided a wealth of commentary on Superman, or like the Silk Spectres were more Phantom Lady and the Black Canaries than they were Nightshade, I’ve always felt Nite Owl and Rorscach were almost like two different sides of Batman. But at his foundation, Walter was Vic. And again, the timing of this fascinates me, because while Moore looked at Ditko’s Question and thought “This is interesting, let’s take this further” Denny O’Neil looked at it and thought “Let’s…not do that.” But what was Denny looking at? Was it the same Ditko stories Moore was examining, or was it, perhaps, that he was looking at Rorschach?

As Moore puts it in that interview, Giordano was still shopping around for ideas about the Charltons when Watchmen first started coming together. Denny and Giordano had quite a working relationship by that point, Denny having gotten his start writing for Giordano’s Charlton, then jumping ship to DC together. Giordano inked Neal Adams art on Denny’s landmark Green Lantern/Green Arrow run. Not to mention that Denny was the group editor on the Bat-books at the time. It isn’t at all inconceivable that Giordano had given him a peek at what was going on with Watchmen after he’d expressed interest in handling The Question.

But that isn’t the only funny thing about timing with Vic-related things and Watchmen. During the same months that the first four issues of Watchmen, the new Blue Beetle series had a special guest-star.

As a friend reminded me a while back, Len Wein, the writer on Blue Beetle, was also the editor on Watchmen. So it’s less likely that this is just a coincidence, and they might have had this team-up because of the friendship between Roschach and Nite Owl, to lend the homage more canonical weight. Still a great few issues, though.

But then, a few months later, you have these two comics coming out in the same month.

If you’ll recall, Watchmen #6, “The Abyss Gazes Also”, centers on Walter’s sessions with Dr. Malcolm Long and presents his backstory, where we find out he’s an orphan. Before Question #1 is even halfway through, we find out the same thing about Vic. Coincidence, or foreknowledge?

The question becomes not “was Rorschach inspired by The Question?”, the fact of that is a foregone conclusion, but the more interesting “was The Question inspired by Rorschach?” Was Vic’s ultimate outcome effected by the mere act of Moore’s observation?

These are only the earlier, more ambiguous parallels. As Q?v1 went on, other more deliberate ones arose. We’ll get into those tomorrow, we’ve raised enough questions for one night.

Unless you have others regarding the subject I might’ve missed?

The thing about The Question is that it’s hard to be a typical comic book “fanboy” about the character since so many versions exist. But each writer has built the character around a basic framework while taking him in new directions. Ditko created him as a Randian crusader. O’Neil made him a curious Zen warrior. Moore made him, via Rorschach, a living moral compass pointing to a dark pole. Rucka made him a bemused sleuth and Good Samaritan. Veitch made him a vicious but enlightened urban shaman. Timm made him into a conspiracy theorist and master detective.

From J.B. Shoup’s Amazon.com review of Helltown. One of the reasons the question of identity is so apt when discussing Vic is how many identities have been thrust upon him.

Not only cross-continuity as evidenced by this quote, but think of how many different names he’s accrued. Vic Sage, The Question, Charles Victor Szasz, Butterfly, No-Face, etc. I think what any particular person calls Vic says a lot about their relationship to him.

I’ve made no secret that “bemused sleuth and Good Samaritan” is my favorite.