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Friday, July 22, 2005

THE QUESTION by O'Neil/Cowan #16 - #19

Continuing ever onward, rather slower than I was planning on, with one of the consistently best ongoing DC books of the 1980s. #16 - #19 form a kind of loose story about plastic guns, a topic that as I recall raised some small controversy in the letter columns (I haven't been re-reading the letter columns this go-round, but they were fun).

#16 is untitled, so let's just call it "Butch and Sundance" since that's what the villains take their inspiration from. The main focus of this story is Izzy O'Toole, and various attempts on his life as he takes the unusual position as one of the most respected public officials in Hub City. This brings arms dealers Butch and Sundance into town with an improbable assassination attempt involving using an armed helicopter to take down Izzy's apartment. Vic emerges victorious in the end, of course, but the best scenes in this issue clearly belong to Izzy.

#17 is "A Dream of Rorschach", and as the title suggests, this features the quasi-crossover with Dave Gibbons and Alan Moore's then recently completed WATCHMEN series and the character Rorschach, who was the Question in an earlier proposal of the story. In this issue, Butch uses some plastic guns to spring Sundance from custody, sending Vic up to the northwest in pursuit. For reading on the plane he picks up a copy of WATCHMEN, leading to a dream of the murder of Loomis from a few issues back, only with Vic wearing a Rorschach mask. Vic pulls some amateur moves in Seattle and gets captured by confederates of Butch and Sundance, and as he's about to be dumped in the snow along comes Green Arrow....

#18 "Desperate Ground" is the big team-up with Green Arrow, which is just wonderful stuff. A few others have done a credible job, but O'Neil's version of GA works best when written by O'Neil. The verbal sparring between GA and Vic as they decide whether to trust each other is just golden, and one of my favourite scenes in the series, and this issue one of the top three or four. Some very clever twists and turns (I loved the stuff about the passwords), great action scenes (some of the best of the Cowan/Magyar run) and an interesting end (although I still don't get the reference to the story of Herod on the last page).

The reading list entry for this issue is Sun Tzu's "The Art of War", and (along with the previous issue) it's one of the rare issues where the reading list is explicitly referred to in the story.

#19 "The Plastic Dilemma" brings us back to Hub City and some loose ends, namely who was behind the hit attempt on Izzy and the plastic guns. Odd story, some kind of gross scenes involving a plastic sex doll, but funny in a quirky way. Myra's race for Mayor also returns to center stage this issue, which has some smart writing about modern politics, with a weird mix of cynicism and optimism.

Next time around guest art from the inker and the "Fables" crossover with Green Arrow and Batman.

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