Word is quickly leaking out in regards to DC Comics parent company, Warner Brothers and its new direction when it comes to mining their stable of comic book characters and turning them into films.
Green Lantern has a finished script and is on a fast track to production. Nihilist cowboy, Jonah Hex, is not far behind and Preacher will see the big screen with Sam Mendes at the helm. Superman will get a reboot and a third Batman is sure to be made.
But what other film-primed characters does DC have, beyond the mainstays? This 5-part column will look at the next potential crop of comic book films, hopefully appearing at your local theatre in the not-to-distant future.
Who better to lead the DC celluloid charge than a man with no face?
Although created in the late 1960’s by the legendary Steve Ditko, it was his 36-issue run, in the late 1980’s under visionary writer Denny O’Neil and kinetic artist Denys Cowan that the character of The Question really came into his own. The complex stories were based on eastern philosophy and the nature of transformation, the relationship between crime and punishment, the discovery of answers and, more importantly, the illumination of truth.
The Question, in his true persona of Victor Sage, was an offensive investigative reporter, always seeking answers. It was in his faceless alter ego that Sage, through his indelible curiosity, was able to ask more important questions than he ever could as Sage, instead seeking out human truth.
In a city rife with corruption – from the top echelons of the once hallowed city hall to the police department where justice is indeed blind to the spoiled Catholic Church, dishonesty oozes its way right down to Hub City’s dirty streets where organized crime and petty thugs run the show. The backdrop of The Question begs for a crime-drama film in the vein of The Departed and Heat.
Call me crazy, but mix that with the philosophic take of such films as The Thin Red Line and Enter the Dragon and you have something that hasn’t been seen before in cinema. And, of course, there’s the protagonist – the trench coat and fedora-wearing, smoke-screened no-face of The Question, adding a sense of apprehensive mystery to the proceedings. What an image he would make on IMAX screens!
The first four issues of O’Neil’s run could easily be adapted for the big screen. And what a first act it would be! In what other film would you get the death of the main character within the first twenty minutes? I still remember reading that first issue from 1987 and being astounded that such a thing could happen to the hero: beaten mercilessly, shot in the head and dumped into a frigid lake. I remember that final panel as if it were yesterday: the husk of Vic Sage’s body at the sandy bottom of the wintry lake, his mask – his very identity – floating away from him. I knew from that moment on that The Question promised to be different from anything else I had read before and the series consistently lived up to that promise. (For those interested, DC has just begun collecting all 36 issues in trade paperback form and, if you hadn’t figured it out by now, I highly recommend the books.)
The comic also has a large cast of supporting characters that add interest and gravitas to the story. There’s Izzy O’Toole, the corrupt cop whose attempts to make himself a better man endure him to readers. There’s scientist, Aristotle Rodor, Vic Sage’s best friend and moral compass as well as Lady Shiva, a hired assassin who has within her being an aspect of truth that The Question must seek. We also get love interest Myra Fermin, the beautiful but trapped wife of a rotten Mayor, who is, perhaps, Hub City’s only hope for salvation. And, of course, there is Reverend Jeremiah Hatch, a true evil in the heart of the city.
The film version of The Question would need a visionary director, one who understands character and action as well as the nature of identity; a director who has a strong grasp of imagery and how those images relate intrinsically to story. Of course, eastern philosophy would also be a necessity.
One director, whom I believe would make a classic film of this character, is Alex Proyas, director of The Crow, Dark City and I, Robot. He inherently has an affinity for crime noir which would serve The Question and its setting very well indeed.
All of the most successful comic book-to-film adaptations have, in some form or another, adapted key visuals – pencil and pen on paper – into real life. In Superman Returns, director Bryan Singer took artist Alex Ross’ iconic image of Superman in space, listening to the noise of the world and made the audience believers in both Brandon Routh and that particular moment. Zack Snyder took this idea to the literal extreme, using Frank Miller’s illustrated work in the 300 comic and adapting it into his movie. Christopher Nolan, too, has done this with Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, albeit figuratively; adapting the representative significance of Batman while creating a new visual mythology. This decision shows that the director has reverence for the source material, which, of course appeals to fans. More importantly, it is the source material, both written and illustrated, which popularized a character to begin with and adhering to it, historically for Hollywood, has always been a wise decision. In those other cases, you get Batman Forever, the first Punisher and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
In each of his works, Proyas has highlighted his ability to illustrate story through iconic images. Consider, for instance, the scene where Rufus Sewell carefully places the goldfish back into the tub of water or the final, startling image of Shell Beach in Dark City. These provocative images, metaphors for the inherent story, are exactly what The Question requires. In the comics, we have the iconic scene of The Question discharging the face putty from the hidden compartment in his belt buckle, applying it to his face, all the while enveloped in the smoky-gas that will bond it to his skin. There are also the lasting images of out protagonist, with a broken arm and leg, in grueling training with Sensei Richard Dragon. We get these fantastic images in the comics and Proyas has the perfect resume to give us the belief that he will bring them to the silver screen.
Proyas has also shown a propensity for action. He can exquisitely detail a fight or combat sequence. Both The Crow and I, Robot have demonstrated this. Action, close-up and personal, will be a prerequisite for any Question film, as martial arts play such a central role in any storyline.
Perhaps the greatest strength that Alex Proyas brings to the table, however, is his propensity for the investigation of identity. He has studied this idea to various degrees in each of his films and it is this aspect that the character of The Question has always revolved.
Still, with all that said, there’s truly only one question that remains: when? When will The Question film get made?
To be honest, the character has never been on Hollywood’s radar – never publicly anyway. As fans of comics and film, we can only hope that the answer to that most important question is: soon.