Detective Comics #855
Written by Greg Rucka
Art by J.H. Williams III and Cully Hamner
Colors by Dave Stewart and Laura Martin
Letters by Todd Klein and Jared K. Fletcher
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
Last month I raved about the opening issue of the all-new, all-different, all-awesome Detective Comics, and I'm happy to say that this sophomore issue isn't half-bad, either. While it doesn't have quite the same blow-you-out-of-the-water effect of the first issue, it still helps raise the bar for DC's overhaul of the Batman franchise, with a story that stretches itself as far as it can go to produce a value not often seen in today's industry.
The best way to split this up is to look at the writing and the art separately. Greg Rucka, having wrapped up much of Kate's current status quo in the last issue, goes full throttle with Batwoman's war on the Cult of Crime. If you haven't read the first issue yet, get that one first, as Rucka puts the pedal to the metal in Round One of Batwoman versus Alice. Looking at it from a script perspective, Rucka really is upping the ante nicely here, with a nice scene reminiscent of the Dark Knight where Batwoman begins removing weapon after hidden weapon from Alice's costume. He also establishes a weird sense of menace for the villainous Alice: "How do you know I'm mad?" she asks. "Maybe because you speak fluent crazy," Batwoman shoots back. It's moments like these that really add a zing to the story: "I will get my answer," Kate vows, "And I will shut you and your freakshow down!"
Yet the highlight of this story is getting into Kate's storied past, as she begins hallucinating due to a poisoned blade. As our hero struggles valiantly to survive, we see Kate's history of torture that goes far beyond the followers of the Crime Bible, and yet we also get a nice tease of who she sees as her salvation -- not herself, not her father, but of the strongest woman she ever met -- Renee Montoya. Even two issues in, it looks like Rucka is setting up the seeds for these two lovers to get back together (or at least to have one epic, swashbuckling team-up), but it really says volumes about what this character can strive to become. But it's the last page that really turns the story on its ear, and makes you really wonder what'll happen next.
Now, for the art. J.H. Williams III, while not knocking it out of the park as repeatedly as he did last issue, still stands head and shoulders above many of his contemporaries. One sequence that really had a Frank Quitely style of visceral imagination was suddenly taking the "camera" into Alice's mouth, as she slowly tongues a razor blade to her lips, slashing Batwoman across the face with it. "Okay," Batwoman says, after a look of disbelief washes across her face. "That was just nasty." As a reader, I definitely agree. While sometimes Williams' double-page splashes don't quite hit the mark with their composition, it's really in the second half of the book that he kicks things into high gear, with a spectacular-looking shot of Batwoman leaping from a castle parapet, gliding across a sky sliced in half with a lightning bolt.
While Williams' art is still top-notch, the color work felt occasionally muddy to me. In the first issue, Dave Stewart really made Kate pop off the page with her bright red hair and porcelain skin. In this issue, Batwoman seemed to match her surroundings more, but that realism sometimes kept the character from really getting her hooks into the reader. That said, because of the way this book suddenly energizes itself two-thirds from the end, part of me wouldn't be surprised if this wasn't some sort of printing error -- because when Stewart puts his mind to it, his colors sing.
But what about the backstory? Rucka makes The Question primarily an action story, which is fine by me. Renee Montoya has a nice bit of bravado, as slave trafficker Vargas says he's going to have to teach the Faceless Warrior a lesson. "Great," Renee says. "I love school." Hamner has a nicely choreographed fight scene, with a great panel of Renee looking at us as she tosses a scattergun behind her. That said, I'm still not sold on an all-blue costume for the Question, and in this case, the decision to drench the fight sequence in shades of brown -- from the house to the sky to the fence to even bits of Vargas' bloody nose -- didn't thrill me. Yet Hamner and Martin really sell me on this feature when they team up for a nice page of Renee infiltrating Chandless' office, giving some great facial expressions to the page. It certainly ends abruptly, but I'm excited to see where Rucka and company take us next with this feature.
All in all, while Rucka, Williams, and Stewart aren't firing on all cylinders like they did last issue, this is definitely a story that I'm going to be in for the long haul. With 35 pages of story -- counting Rucka's main feature, the Question second feature, as well as a compelling five-page preview of Geoff Johns and Francis Manapul's Adventure Comics -- you're certainly getting a lot of bang for your buck with Detective Comics #855, and with Rucka masterfully leading a set of artists that really shoot for the moon, you can't ask for much more in a comic.