Courtesy DC Comics
An image of The Question by artists Denys Cowan and Bill Sienkiewicz from an upcoming collected edition of the series.
There are still some people out there who believe comic books are nothing more than, well, comic books. But the true cognoscenti know graphic novels are — at their best — an amazing blend of art literature and the theater of the mind.
When people talk about the Platinum Age of the new comic book era, they look back fondly on a period from the mid-1980s to the early '90s. It was in that time frame when the likes of Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns and Marvels were bestowed upon us. The temptation for those who are new to the genre is to go find themselves a trade paperback or back issues — or these days, an Absolute Edition — of those series and get themselves acclimated.
I say, if you really want to discover comics at their best, go find copies of the 1987-1990 DC Comics series of The Question. It's the ongoing saga of Victor Sage, a crusading reporter in Hub City who moonlights as The Question — a sort of Batman-lite who wears a mask that obliterates all the features of his face.
What makes the series so great is not the super-heroics — The Question has no powers — but the stark grayness of the storytelling. Heroes weren't always heroic, nor were bad guys always bad. And doing good did not always result in good things happening. It wasn't always as uplifting as a Superman story, and in many ways it built on the Marvel paradigm. However, writer Dennis O'Neil's stories of moral ambiguity matched with Denys Cowan's fluid visual style made for a complex series that was, at that point, very much new to the DC universe. At 36 issues, you ought to be able to get the whole series from your local comic book shop. Considering the quality of the work, it's worth checking out.