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SYFY WIRE Interviews

Bill Sienkiewicz and Denys Cowan resurrect The Question for DC Black Label

By Jeff Spry
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DC Comics' faceless vigilante known as The Question is back on the shelves after an extended absence in the DCU with a gritty new miniseries in Black Label imprint's prestige format.

To herald The Question's return to his shadowy battle against political and social injustice in the grimy streets of Hub City, DC recruited an all-star creative team in the form of writer Jeff Lemire (Black Hammer, Family Tree) and artists Denys Cowan (Black Panther, Deathlok) and Bill Sienkiewicz (New Mutants, Elektra). Chris Sotomayor provides the colors.

Question Cover

The Question: The Deaths of Vic Sage #1 is also a coming home party of sorts for Cowan, who served as the penciller on the classic three-year run of The Question starting back in the late '80s with writer Denny O'Neil. Here he's joined by the solid storytelling skills of Lemire and expert inks of Eisner Award-winning illustrator Sienkiewicz.

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The time-shifting storyline finds Vic Sage and his strict moral compass still fighting the good fight in the cesspool of crime in Hub City. When he's lured into a conspiracy reaching from the heights of Hub City power to the pits of its underground tunnels, The Question meets his own end in a secret cave hidden deep under the corrupt metropolis and a shocking revelation that cuts him to the core.

SYFY WIRE spoke to Cowan and Sienkiewicz and asked the prolific pair of artists what it was like rebooting Vic Sage for a new generation, and teaming up with Jeff Lemire and Chris Sotomayor to revive an iconic DC character by staying true to his noirish roots.

After the chat, check out our exclusive preview of DC Comics' The Question: The Deaths of Vic Sage #1 (November 20) in the gallery below.

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How does it feel to return to The Question after nearly thirty years?

Denys Cowan: I'm trying not to think about the thirty years ago part. [Laughs.] It's great to revisit The Question. Bill and I pointed out in a different interview that we've done The Question before, in the last incarnation a few years ago as part of Blackest Night: The Question #37 which was the last official issue of The Question. So we did visit the character very briefly, but it was like the dark Question in a whole Blackest Night kind of scenario, so it wasn't really the dude.

What associations did you have with The Question and why did this project attract your creative energies?

Bill Sienkiewicz: Well it's a really simple answer. I love the book but mostly I don't usually turn down jobs where I can work with Denys. So when DC asked me, I wanted to make sure that Denys was going to be doing it. It's kind of a special thing. We just had to think of the characters and moving on to other things. This book was important to a lot of fans and the opportunity to work with colleagues we've worked with before, it's nice to seize on that opportunity. Things change, we move, we grow. It's nice especially these days to go back and ride a little pocket of history.

What did you do to try the trench coat back on and get the scent back for The Question?

Cowan: It didn't take a lot. When I accepted the gig I thought, yeah I know The Question, I've drawn The Question my whole life. I know Vic Sage, I know the hat, I know the coat, I know the smoke, I'm good. Then I sat there in the car and realized I didn't remember how to draw it! Any of it! It didn't come naturally. So I had to go back and look at the stuff we had done years ago and kind of recalibrate.

It's thirty years later. He's not wearing the same thing. He certainly doesn't have the kind of hairstyle he had or a baseball cap. It's a different era and he's a different guy, in a way. So I made some adjustments there. Also, thirty years ago you had a lot more energy than you have right now. A lot of the things I did looked like sheer adrenaline storytelling, where now I'm not quite sure I'd do it this way. You're not going to get the same. Hopefully, you're going to get a wiser, smarter, better storytelling since we have thirty years of experience to absorb.

Sienkiewicz: I was looking back at the covers that occasionally pop up online. The stuff was very much of that time period. I don't think The Question is buying his clothes at Chess King anymore. He's got a little bit more of a fashion sense. Somebody just posted something of me back in the day on MTV being interviewed with my mullet and dangling earring. I'm lucky I don't have kids who will abuse me and mock me. [laughs]

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How did the team up with Jeff Lemire evolve, and how did his old-fashioned detective story allow you to connect to the material?

Cowan: I think Jeff had proposed doing The Question to DC. They asked who he'd like to do it with and he kindly mentioned me. Jeff and I got on the phone and started kicking around story ideas. He already had some excellent starting off points in what he wanted to do. He and I went back and forth and embellished those initial things and came up with the story we have now. Jeff went off and wrote four issues in about a month. Four issues of 48 pages each! Brilliant!

He worked straight through with no interruptions. So he handed it in, stepped back, and waited for the pages to come in. That's when I took over, finished the first issue, and pretty much through the second issue and sent them to Bill. Then Bill works his magic.

What was the most rewarding part of this reboot and how did you bring your A-game to the creative crew?

Sienkiewicz: My default is to try to bring the best I can bring to it. It's just the way I'm wired. I tend to hate everything I do and feels like it always falls short. Then getting these great pages from Denys and working with Jeff, and I've done covers with Jeff on Black Hammer. When you're working with terrific pros and dealing with stuff that's a fan favorite, we tried to do something special above and beyond, and that's something you can't control. You're running with it and it takes on a life of its own.

I just got the copies today and it's a beautiful package, the quality of the covers and cover stock, and the printing is absolutely amazing. The Question that we worked on before, that was the classic newsprint. So that's the one big change in terms of the 30-year difference... the technology. Some of the stuff we did back then in that rougher era is still pretty magical to me. A lot of times with digital things can get a little too perfect, a little too cute, a little too antiseptic. I'm glad we're still doing this stuff in a sort of analog way, in terms of creating the pages.

How does the DC Black Label imprint allow you to take Vic Sage into places he's never ventured?

Cowan: Actually there hasn't been that much difference. The original Question dealt with some pretty adult themes, some esoteric themes, it wasn't like a kiddie book. So his whole world translates very easily in the Black Label world where you can curse and other things. We were already dealing with those themes. There hasn't been any kind of notable changes. We always had the freedom, we're just transferring it to a different format, and we hope fans will still dig it.

Sienkiewicz: When I was growing up, comics were always viewed as not for adults or having mature subject matter. "Adult" usually meant they could swear and you could show naked breasts. That was the default definition. Now with all the writers that have some "in" and are pushing things in a really mature direction, the medium has certainly gotten a lot more respect. And not just because they're making TV shows and movies out of them, but because of the diversity and the subject matter and how you're treating the pages cinematically and the idea of respecting the audience.

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Why does this noir-ish character endure and why is this the perfect time for The Question's black-and-white world to be rebooted for a new audience?

Cowan: I'm not sure why. We were fortunate that he was a hit in the way he was back in the '80s. It's interesting to note that The Question stopped living in a black-and-white world after that very first issue. And then started living in a morally changing, questioning, really living up to his name world. The first issue we killed off the original Ditko version and went to the Denny O'Neil version, and that was a whole different cat.

It was really the Denny O'Neil incarnation of the character that has held such a fascination for people. I guess it's that presence that The Question brings and that no-bulls*** attitude that he has in all his iterations. Rather than trying to understand his enduring success, I think I just appreciate it.