Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Comic Roundup: Detective Comics #854

  • I'm bringing the Comic Roundup out of the bullpen because I just had to talk about this comic. Last Wednesday saw the release of a book I've been waiting quite a while for: Detective Comics #854 by Greg Rucka and J H Williams III. I've followed Rucka's work on Queen & Country and Gotham Central, so I was looking forward to what he would do here. In short, I was...

  • Wait. Before I start gushing about the story, I want to give JH Williams his credit. This book looks incredible. Along with colorist Dave Stewart, the visual style of each section of the comic is striking. During the Batwoman sequences, the colors wash out to black and white with only the bold red of her hair, lipstick, and costume coming through. The action is sharp and stylish. Panels are laid out to move the action forward while also evoking the form of the bat. Then when the mask comes off, natural colors and traditional panel layouts emerge. Kate Kane's world is mundane where Batwoman's is fantastical and the art styles match this dichotomy. There is one final art transition that occurs late in the issue. When the villain finally arrives, she becomes a beacon of soft lines and pastels that stands out from the darkness surrounding our main character.

  • Greg Rucka's handling of Kate Kane is wonderfully deft. When I first saw the design for Batwoman, I wondered if DC was emphasizing her feminine aspects to the detriment of her character. Instead, Rucka portrays Kate as a woman who has chosen that bold hair and lipstick for tactical reasons. She is a soldier, like her father (who plays the sidekick role here), but her battlefield is the streets of Gotham. We see that her personal relationships are effected by this war, though we're given only the briefest glimpse of what those effects are. Rucka has a lot to establish in these 24 pages and uses every writerly trick to squeeze as much character possible into the action without overpowering the story. Each image and each word tells us something about who Batwoman is, right down to the very last, completely bad-ass panel of the book.

  • The plot (as I inevitably must come to) involves the Religion of Crime rousing itself in Gotham. A new leader has been appointed and Batwoman is eager to discover who this might be. The opening pages show her chasing down a man who knows this name, only to be confronted by Batman (who, due to circumstances outside of this comic, may or may not be Bruce Wayne). When the night is through, Batwoman becomes Kate Kane, a woman who is having a difficult love life because of her masked activities. After a discussion with her father and revelation about why this hunt is personal for her, it is time to head back into the search for Alice, the afore mentioned villain.

  • If some of that seemed confusing or just odd, you're not mistaken. Batwoman has a bit of history already in the DC Universe. However the comic uses that to tease you forward into the story, instead of forcing to hunt down a wiki or fan forum to figure out what the heck is going on. And Rucka's choice to not even acknowledge who is really behind Batman's cowl avoids much unnecessary confusion for potential new readers. Nothing here makes you feel like you missed the first chapter. Instead we arrive in media res and trust the story to tell us what we need to know when we need to know.

  • When I come to the part of the review where I make some little nitpick to prove my critical credentials, I find myself unequal to the challenge. There are no faults to the book. I have been mesmerized by Batwoman and I am eager to partake in Rucka and Williams' story again. A coming month is too long.

© 2009 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.
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  1. Wow, I'll have to check that out. I mainly read graphic novels these days, but that's a pretty ringing endorsement.

  2. @ Yeebo - I stick with graphic novels for the most part too. I only buy single issues like this when I can't wait for the collection to get my fix.