The Question: The Deaths of Vic Sage #2 – Jeff Lemire, Writer; Denys Cowan, Penciller; Bill Sienkiewicz, Inker; Chris Sotomayor, Colorist
Ray – 8.5/10
Corrina: Disturbing But Not In the Best Way
Ray: The first issue of this Black Label title impressed me with its gritty storytelling and its dense, noir-influenced main character, but it got some knocks for its Frank Miller-inspired storytelling and its portrayal of female characters. (Like from Corrina.) If you liked the first issue’s tone, expect to be very satisfied with The Question: The Deaths of Vic Sage #2 – but if those elements took away from your enjoyment, the problem is doubled in this issue.
This story primarily takes place in the old west, as a time-tossed Vic Sage finds himself living out a life as a disgraced ex-cavalryman who committed war crimes in the past. This actually feels a lot more like Jonah Hex than it does like The Question, but Lemire has played with these elements – alternate versions of characters, twisted timelines, and cosmic horror skipping across realities – in his hit indie work Gideon Falls. This issue just pulls you into the story and lets you figure it out along the way.
The problem is, The Question: The Deaths of Vic Sage #2 is an old-fashioned western noir and all the problematic tropes you’d associate with the franchise are there in full force. This is a comic with graphic depictions of racism, anti-Native violence, and lynchings. The main character is shown to have graphically murdered and scalped Natives in his past work as a soldier. The secondary character in this issue is a Black man, who is portrayed as a strong second-in-command to the hero. His wife is given more agency than most of the women last issue, but it’s not hard to see that a terrible fate may await them given the brutality of the issue. Another character, a white medicine woman who helps the Question realize his true identity and purpose, is an interesting addition but has some awkward elements to her characterization as well. How much these elements bother you will vary, especially as it’s not clear how much of this is even real and how much is Vic’s mind screwing with him.
That ambiguity goes a long way towards selling this issue, as it seems like Vic is going to keep wandering through these realities as he searches for the truth. The next issue promises more answers in a WWII-era Hub City, and the craft in this series remains strong. Lemire is excellent at noir writing, but it feels like he’s trying to evoke a raw and often troubled writing style that’s very different from his past work. It’s not going to be for everyone, and in some ways feels more unsettling than the pitch-black horror of Joker: Killer Smile. The classic art team of Cowan and Sienkiewicz doesn’t miss a beat, and several of the wild west action scenes are brilliant. But this is a book that earns its Black Label title in many ways and feels like it should have an additional content warning for disturbing content. It’s not a blot on Lemire’s record of near-universal quality, to my eye, but it’s very different from his usual work in some stark and disturbing ways.
Corrina: Vic may go wandering through time again but after two issues, I’ve had enough of traveling with him.
The strength of Question: Deaths of Vic Sage #2 is Cowyn’s art. The grittiness of the setting practically tossed dirt and dust in the reader’s lap, and the dark inking represents all the shadows and dark deeds haunting Vic in this Western scenario. However, I could have done without the graphic segment of a Black woman having her brains blown out. Let’s just say this second issue doesn’t do any better with female characters than the first.
I know the Black Label is supposed to be adult for violence and presumably for sex but, so far, it seems to specialize in a particular kind of sexualized violence that is problematic in tone. See Harleen. But, more specific to this story, there’s nothing Vic has said or done that makes me interested in what happens to him or any version of him. He’s traveling through time doing or seeing horrible things, without any sign of where the story is going.
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Disclaimer: GeekDad received this comic for review purposes.