doublearticulation

Zen Bones

In The Question on March 7, 2010 at 3:13 pm

One of the many pleasant character pieces to come out of Blackest Night is Denny O’Neil & Greg Rucka’s The Question #37, a revisiting of O’Neil’s Zen-themed The Question series from the late ’80s.  Like that eariler series, this issue is drawn by Denys Cowan, whose wonderfully scratchy pencils are inked by The Question‘s old cover artist, Bill Sienkiewicz.

Although nominally part of the longer Blackest Night tapestry, this story is a genuine bookend to both the original series and Rucka’s sections of 52, while at the same time reading smoothly as a stand-alone issue.  It is one of my favourite single issues of the past few years.  I’ve read and reread it several times over the past couple of weeks, and I will read it many more times I’m sure.

At its core, it is a marvelously simple idea, deftly executed. The story unfolds on a dark and stormy night.  (Don’t be put off by the cliche; in a move that can only be called elegant, O’Neil and Rucka refashion the compulsory “Blackest Night” framework into a metaphor for the “long dark night of the soul” that follows for at least one of the main characters.)  Charlie’s old friend ‘Tot awaits the Question’s resurrection as a Black Lantern, hoping that an undead Charlie will help him unlock the mysteries of death.  Meanwhile, Lady Shiva appears at ‘Tot’s lighthouse to test new Question, Renee Montoya, in a martial arts throwdown on the beach.  As expected, Charlie returns as a puppet of the Black ring to attack his successor and Lady Shiva.  The crux of the battle [spoilers ahead] is that since Black Lanterns can only “see” auras comprised of their objects’ emotions, the solution to evading them (though perhaps not to beating them) is simply to “feel nothing,” Zen-master-style.

Thus does Lady Shiva will herself to “disappear.”  And so, too, Renee Montoya.  But the real disappearing act–the one that matters here–is ‘Tot’s.  For it is ‘Tot who has–so the narrative might be taken to imply–garrisoned himself against the pain of mourning by reducing the emotional significance of Charlie’s “resurrection” to a scientific opportuinity.  “Say goodbye to him,” Montoya councels ‘Tot, as she disappears into meditative invisibility and the Black-ringed Question turns on his former partner.  The story is thus primarily about the necessity of mourning, of overcoming the fear of facing loss (‘Tot’s aura is yellow as he fades and says “…goodbye…”).  It is a moving scene in a comic whose visual tonality is, so to speak, pitch-perfect.

Needless to say, I have started rereading the original series, which I haven’t picked up for many years.  Too long.

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