|Date(s):||December 1, 1986 to December 31, 1986|
|Location(s):||New York City|
|Tag(s):||Hub City, 1980s, Crime, Corruption, the question, Comic Books|
|Course:||“ENG 492H Honors Seminar in English,” Rollins College|
In 1986, DC Comics announced Dennis O’Neil as the writer for the revitalization of the investigative reporter and vigilante hero, The Question. Originally created by Steve Ditko for Charlton Comics in 1967, The Question, aka Vic Sage, represented a move away from the wholesome, all-powerful superhero and toward a grittier, more human hero. O’Neil described The Question as an emblem of “human perfectibility,” as much more realistic and flawed than the superheroes of the late 1950s and 1960s. The Question was to be a vigilante antihero, combatting growing crime and corruption in the nation’s inner cities. Because of “direct-market distribution” (Wright 277), the comic book industry no longer had to follow the Comics Code Authority in order to sell their characters, so The Question and other comics were able to show the darker and more violent side of American cities. Distrust in government following the Vietnam War and the perception of rapidly growing crime in inner cities in 1980s America informed the updating of DC’s antihero detective The Question.
The dishonesty and ineffectiveness of the local government in the revamped The Question comic books reflected the views about government in America following the Vietnam War. Richard Young asserts that “the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal encouraged enormous public distrust in official state institutions” (566) and that comics in the 1980s “often endorsed an uncompromising anti?establishment ideology that opposed all government, big or small” (563). People felt as though the war was orchestrated by selfish and inept politicians who cared more about reinforcing an outdated ideology than about the actual citizens. Vic Sage operated in Hub City, which O’Neil describes as a “cesspool” of crime and corruption. The mayor, Wesley Fermin, was an inept leader being influenced by Reverend Doctor Jeremiah Hatch, who used the city’s resources for his own personal benefit. Fermin and Hatch represented government officials who failed in their duty to serve the people, lying to and stealing from city dwellers whenever it was deemed necessary. The Question’s resistance to this narrative of government corruption gave comic book readers the ability to express their anger and frustration toward their leaders. DC’s newly revived character reflected the public’s lack of trust in government, not only to use power honestly, but also to protect them from violent crime in the inner cities.
The growing fear of crime in urban areas during the 1980s led to the introduction of vigilante antiheroes in comic books, which include The Question. Decades of white flight to the suburbs and the moving of American industry overseas left many poor people of color out of work. Unable to find well paying jobs, some people turned to crime in order to make money. The distribution of crack cocaine contributed to a massive growth in the crime rate and overwhelmed law enforcement agencies. White Americans lived in terror that criminals from the city would travel to their quiet streets and so began a crusade against inner city lawlessness. Tyler Scully and Kenneth Moorman argue that “A new fear gripped the nation, one that was quite foreign to generations past: a fear of crime, particularly violent, street crime” (635). Already unhappy with the government after years of fruitless war, the public turned to vigilantes to make themselves feel safer. The comic book industry created characters such as The Question in response to the popularity of real-life vigilante heroes. Inspired by urban detectives from the early 1900s, Vic Sage did for the people of Hub City what Fermin and Hatch could not. He operated outside of the law and worked to clean up the crime-ridden streets of Hub City. Dennis O’Neil’s reimagining of The Question demonstrated the public’s anxiety about inner city crime and support for vigilante antiheroes.
The revitalization of The Question by Dennis O’Neil in 1986 reflected the anti-government feelings of the public during the decade. The failure of the Vietnam War and the rapidly growing fear of inner cities caused many people lose trust in their leaders. Vigilantes, both real and imagined, captured the attention of many Americans. DC’s revival of The Question and development of Hub City addressed the concerns of comic book readers during the 1980s.