Just One More Issue, Please!

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The Question #37 came out this week–the first issue of that series to be published in twenty years. It’s the last of the one-off revivals DC’s been publishing over the past month as tie-ins with their Blackest Night event. This one, though, is special: it actually is effectively a new issue of the odd, intense little series whose numbering it continues, with its original writer and artist revisiting its thematic territory two decades on.

In 1967, just as he was settling into his fascination with Ayn Rand and Objectivism, Steve Ditko created the Question: Vic Sage, a hardass, two-fisted crimefighter in a suit, tie and hat, with a blank expanse of skin rather than a face. (The Question was also the first of Ditko’s long string of characters who demonstrate that there is good and there is evil and there is no middle ground do you hear me.)

Dennis O’Neil and Denys Cowan’s Question series, the one that resurfaced this week, was also separated from its source by twenty years, running for 36 issues between 1987 and 1990. (It was followed by five issues of The Question Quarterly from 1990 to 1992, plus an O’Neil-written one-shot in 1997; there was a not-really-related Question miniseries in 2005, too.) O’Neil and Cowan’s version of Vic Sage–they renamed him Charles “Charlie” Victor Szasz–flipped the moral certainty of Ditko’s inside out. Their series was all about ethical ambiguity, the unknowability of truth, questions too deep to have answers.

It had a huge impact on Greg Rucka, who killed off Charlie in 52 and has been writing comics about the new Question ever since. So the new issue, co-written by Rucka and O’Neil and drawn by Cowan, feels like a little blessing from a previous generation. It’s not a particularly great story on its own: the Blackest Night stuff throws off its pacing, and it nearly falls apart when the reanimated Charlie shows up. Still, it has something like the feel of the late-’80s series, one more taste of that sweet recipe. It even touches on an unresolved bit of business from the original series–who is Charlie’s father?–and, maybe uniquely appropriately to this series, leaves it unresolved.

Comics readers are used to getting a fix of something we know we like on a regular basis: a great creative team, or a series firing on all cylinders, becomes a monthly habit with us. After something good has ended, even long after it’s ended, we naturally want just a little bit more of it, and publishers are happy to indulge that impulse. That’s why first-rate series are subjected to spin-offs and homages and revivals until it’s hard to remember what was meaningful about them in the first place.

Hence, perhaps, the recent rumor that there might soon be sequels and prequels to Watchmen–a horrible idea on its face, especially since the odds of Alan Moore having anything to do with it are somewhere south of Time Warner naming Dr. Manhattan himself as DC’s new publisher. (Back in the ’80s, Moore mentioned that he thought it might be possible to follow up Watchmen with a Minutemen miniseries; that doesn’t mean it’d be a good idea now, especially without Moore involved.)

In fact, creative reunions often turn out to be a bad idea. Chris Claremont and John Byrne were an unstoppable team for five or six years (on X-Men and elsewhere) before their partnership fell apart in 1981 at the peak of its power. When they finally worked together again on a six-issue run of JLA a few years back, the result was an embarrassment on the order of Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Grand Duke, all the friction of their old collaboration without its heat. Stan Lee’s recent stabs at writing the characters he created and defined have been victory laps at best, sad specters of his former power at worst.

Not all revivals are disappointments; some are good, or better than good. But they can never be quite the same as they were the first time around. (The best sequels-long-after-the-original that comics have produced are deliberately, radically different from the original versions–Jack Kirby’s mid-’70s return to Captain America, for instance, or Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Strikes Again.) This week also saw the first issue of Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan’s revival of their creative breakthrough, Demo. It’s perfectly solid, and very much of a piece with the miniseries they created in 2003. The really special thing about the original Demo, though, was that it was stories about young people discovering what they were capable of, written and drawn by Wood and Cloonan when they were doing the same.

And even knowing all that, I can revisit comics I loved when they were coming out and find myself longing for a little bit more: just one more issue of Fleming and Von Eeden’s Thriller, just one more issue of Journey, just one more issue of Alias. So here’s a question for commenters: if you could have any series or creative team return for one more issue, what would it be and why?