Detective Comics #854
Writer: Greg Rucka
Artists: J.H. Williams III, Cully Hamner (Second Feature)
Colorists: J.H. Williams III, Laura Martin (Second Feature)
Publisher: DC Comics
I think I'm in love.
Obviously, anyone who's read any books with Batwoman knows she wouldn't be interested in a guy like me -- or any guy at all, for that matter -- but it won't stop me from following this title like a heartsick puppy dog.
And why shouldn't I? After all, Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III -- along with Cully Hamner and Laura Martin in this issue's second feature with Renee Montoya, better known as the Question -- craft a fantastic first issue that, while taking years in the making, proves that good things come to those who wait.
The first issue quickly establishes the Batwoman, who she is, and how she came to be. A full origin isn't in the cards for this first issue, but enough is established to keep you excited for more: Batwoman, also known as Kathy Kane, is not only looking to uproot the Thirteen Covens of the Crime Bible, but she's doing it in style. Kathy's charisma is a two-man job, balanced on some clever angles on typical Bat-tropes by Rucka and Williams: "You know what I want, Rush..." she says with a sly grin. "...I want your secrets." And then you're smitten.
This grin plays a big part throughout the first issue, as it's clear that Kathy is only truly free of her inner struggles when they're buried underneath a cape and cowl. But Rucka plays both Good Cop and Bad Cop in a single character: while she interrogates a minor thug named Rush, he sobs, "I can't talk to you. They'll kill me if I tell you anything." And this is where it gets interesting: "They won't," Batwoman says, a swashbuckling smirk on her face as she suddenly -- almost maternally -- holds the surprised Rush's face in her hands. "I won't let them." It's a character defining moment in the first issue, really showing that she may have a Bat on her chest, but she plays things quite differently from Dick Grayson and company. (And that's not even getting into her interaction with the Bat, which gives both characters an interesting and funny dynamic.) Yet Kathy as a civilian is just as interesting, as we see her struggles with romance -- as her girlfriend leaves her, mistaking her prowling as Batwoman as simply playing the field -- as well as dealing with the emotional scarring of being kidnapped and nearly murdered by the followers of Crime Bible during 52.
But credit also needs to go to J.H. Williams III, a modern master if you've ever seen one. Penciller, inker, Williams does it all, and he does it with style and panache to spare. Meanwhile, colorist Dave Stewart takes a page from the Sin City playbook in the first few pages, using just black, white, and red, a nice choice that really lets Kathy pop off the page. And I would remiss if I failed to mention his sense of composition and panel building, which is orthodox but gives this series a gritty, jagged look -- yet allows us to focus on Batwoman's grin, which pops onto pages like an emblem of a new age of Gotham. Yet perhaps the most spectacular element of Williams' work is the fact that he noticeably changes his style depending on Kathy's locale -- water colors, unorthodox panel layouts and thin inks on the Batwoman pages, while he softens the shadows and brings back the colors when Kathy returns to the civilian world. It's fascinating to look at, and brings Rucka's story to new heights.
What could make this comic better? Having a second feature -- and Rucka, along with Blue Beetle alum Cully Hamner -- really makes that shine as well. Surprisingly, the exploits of Renee Montoya aren't quite as dark as Batwoman's, but it's a nice desert for the whopping entree of the first feature. Since we spent a year with Renee during 52, her backstory and motivations aren't as deeply defined, as Rucka smartly works on expanding her supporting cast -- including her lighthouse liar with her amusing sidekick, Tot -- as well as placing Renee into a case right off the bat. Hamner also has some interesting choices, having Renee's eyes noticably concealed in shadow while she's "on the job," as well as some nice combat against a trained guard dog. The weak link in this is colorist Laura Martin, as I'm not quite thrilled with Renee's all-blue look as the Question. But all in all, this is the sort of book that proves why DC is one of the Top Two -- it may have been a long time coming, but Detective Comics is proving that the Batman mythos is being truly reborn, and for the better.