The Question #26 (March, 1989)
Story – Denny O’Neil
Pencils – Bill Wray
Inks – Malcolm Jones III
Colors – Tatjana Wood
Letters – Willie Schubert
Assistant Editor – Brian Augustyn
Editor – Mike Gold
Special Thanks – Dom Carola
Hey! Happy Valentine’s Day, everybody. We’ve got a great romantic issue to discuss today, featuring a downtrodden Riddler and a lady named Sphinx… get it?
It’s strange, before reading this… I never considered how fitting it is for the Riddler to face off with The Question… cuz, ya know… a riddle is a question (duh!).
Anyhoo… grab a box of chocolates and someone you love, and let’s check in with ol’ No-Face out in Hub City!
We open in a Gotham City jail, where the Riddler is regaling his cellmates with stories of his “legendary” battles with the Batman. A particular story about engaging in “mortal combat” is interrupted by a prison guard who informs Nigma he’s got a visitor. Eddie’s mind immediately goes to the Batman.
Much to his surprise, however, his visitor is Commissioner Gordon. He brings with him… news. The Riddler is free to go because the arresting officer neglected to read him rights. Nigma plays up his “legendary foe of Batman” status, which only puzzles Gordon. We get a pretty good look here at how the Riddler is viewed by the average Gothamite… just a minor-leaguer with a gimmick. Gordon implores him to fly right from this point on… maybe even change his last name back to Nashton.
Elsewhere, the Question is duking it out with a department store Santa… guess this is more a Christmas story than Valentine’s… but we’ll let it slide. I should mention that at this point, Vic is walking with a cane… which he uses to just beat the holy hell out of the phony Saint Nick.
After kayoing the Santa, Vic calls in to Izzy O’Toole who is stuck as acting mayor of Hub City, in place of actual mayor Myra Fermin who is currently in a coma. It’s a pretty neat conversation in which Izzy makes sure to question whether or not Sage “crossed any lines”… that is to say, killed anybody. Vic says he has not… though cannot speak to whether or not he’d broken any laws.
The Question then heads down the street, peeling off his no-face mask, before… much to his amusement, he finds himself the would-be victim of a mugging. This doesn’t go so well for the mugger.
Vic’s next stop is to check in on the comatose Mayor Fermin, who hasn’t shown any signs of improvement. We learn that her husband was killed, so the poor woman would be waking up to find out she’s a widow… if she wakes up at all.
We shift scenes to a bus. On board the Riddler is introducing himself to a former stripper called Sphinx Scromulski. She thinks that’s a “classy” name for a dancer… and the Riddler agrees… because he’s an idiot… and because he just so happens to know a thing or two about the first Sphinx.
We rejoin Vic at home where he is in the middle of a lecture from Tot. Ol’ Tot thinks he’s pushing himself too hard… trying to fill the role of an entire police force. Vic is adamant that he is a-okay, and to prove this… he passes out on the floor.
Back on the bus, Eddie and Sphinx continue their chat. She asks how long he’s “been out”. Having been in the hoosegow a time or two herself, she knows the “look” of a newly freed convict. She continues to ask what he’s got planned… and ya know, he’s got no idea. Lucky (?) for him though, she’s got something in mind. Something having to do with a gnarly looking firearm.
We jump back to the Question, who by now has been loaded into Tot’s Volkswagen Beetle. Tot’s planning on taking him (forcibly) to a cabin in New Hampshire… pretty much anywhere but Hub City. Vic ain’t digging this, and insists that he didn’t faint. He demands Tot turn the car around as he feels responsible for everything that might go down in Hub during his absence. Tot refuses… however, the point is quickly rendered moot. Ya see, ol’ Tot forgot to put gas in the car.
Back on the bus, Sphinx shares her plan. First, they rob everyone… second, they kill them! Sounds crazy enough to work, right? Nigma is a bit (pardon the pun) gun shy, and tries to explain the difference between Part I and Part II offenses. She shares that she’s no stranger to killing people… which doesn’t seem to worry our man. He sits back and considers how he might be able to add a “riddley” element to their… ahem, well thought out… master plan.
Back in the bug Vic and Tot get a hold of the state police, who inform them that a bus would be coming their way within the next handful of minutes… wonder which bus that might be? Well, c’mon… of course it’s the same bus. Anyhoo, they board… and Sphinx becomes bored… so it’s time to start the “game”. She grabs her piece and announces her intent to the other passengers… one of whom, an older woman, tells her to drop the gun… it doesn’t work out so good for her.
Vic’s about seen enough, and attempts to get involved. Tot reminds him that he’s basically a one-legged man, and it would only get him killed. Sphinx orders the driver to make a left, which would lead them to Folger Bridge. Unfortunately for… well, everybody… the Old River Road could do with a good plowing… the bus gets stuck in the snow. Sphinx decides this is as good a place as any to start playing. She offers the passengers an opportunity to get out alive… if they can answer the Riddler’s riddle… they can exit the bus and walk to the nearest town, which is about a half-mile away.
The pair ask for their first contestant. An impatient middle-aged man raises his hand… he’s in a big hurry to visit his sister. The Riddler offers up a riddle… which the man answers incorrectly. Sphinx stands aside and lets the man go… however, riddles (har!) him full of holes as he exits the bus.
At this point the pair continue tormenting the passengers. Vic takes the opportunity to become The Question… and begins his approach toward the lady with the gun. As he draws nearer, he begins offering riddles of his own… however, they are far more metaphysical and existential than anything Nigma’s shared. These aren’t your everyday “word play” riddles… these are real “thinkers”.
Sphinx ain’t got the time for this garbage, and aims her gun at our man. The Riddler insists that she doesn’t shoot him… because they haven’t asked him a riddle yet. The Question doesn’t give them an opportunity to ask… because, dude just won’t shut up. He goes on and on… puzzling the Riddler and causing Sphinx to take her eyes of the prize. Once close enough, Vic bats the gun out of her hand and socks Eddie in the mush.
Sphinx, realizing her goose is cooked, flees the bus and runs across the bridge. Unfortunately for her, the bridge is a tad weak right now. She falls through into the freezing water where she (presumably) drowns.
Back at the bus, the passengers huddle around a hobo fire as they await rescue. Here the Riddler and Vic have a bit of a chat… where Sage suggests if Nigma is able to answer a riddle of his own, he’d let him go free.
Well, I quite enjoyed this issue. It was a lot of fun.
I’m a sucker for “captive audience” type of stories… this kind of reminded me a bit of the Sandman story 24 Hours, which we discussed here (and on the Cosmic Treadmill) a lonnnng time ago.
It’s also pretty neat being able to see a bat-villain outside of the Bat-books. It affords us a unique opportunity to view the Riddler a somewhat different way. Sure, he’s still the same fella… however, here we get to see what other folks think about him. I mean, this is an iconic member of one of the most celebrated rogues galleries in all of comics, and we just saw Commissioner Gordon dismiss him as not being worth Batman’s time. That’s pretty stark… and almost makes you (or me) feel bad for the guy.
Vic’s stubbornness really comes into play here… and I thought that was a cool angle to use. It was an organic way of putting all the pieces in place, regardless of how contrived it might look in hindsight. Of course Vic and Tot will be on the same bus as Riddler and Sphinx… but who cares, it works… and most importantly, it serves the story.
Every time I read a Denny O’Neil story (pre-Azrael), I always walk away wondering why I haven’t read more of his stuff. He really brings it here… from story progression to dialogue. Even with his dipping a toe in Lake Pretentious toward the end, I still really dug what I read.
Then there’s the art. The art… and I’m no real judge… but, I feel it was… inconsistent here. Some pages/panels look incredible… while others look downright ugly. Not sure if that was the intention, but that’s how I’m seeing it. Some of the shots of Sphinx are horribly unpleasant to look at… which again, might be the point. The way the Riddler was portrayed makes it clear why people thought Jim Carrey would fit the role on the big screen. Dude is as rubber-faced as Eel O’Brien here. I know Wray’s pedigree, and it’s obvious he’s a talented dude… but this issue was rather hot and cold for me, art-wise.
This was a great time, and I would definitely recommend it. Hope you enjoyed reading my nonsense… and I wish everyone a wonderful Valentine’s Day.