Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Comic Review Wednesdays - Detective Comics #854

Detective Comics #854
Batwoman (24-page feature):
Writer: Greg Rucka
Artist: J.H. Williams III

The Question (8-Page co-feature):
Writer: Greg Rucka
Artist: Cully Hamner

In Detective Comic's feature, Batwoman, A new leader is about to assume power in the shady crime religion that has caused Kate problems in the past (52). With Batman's blessing Kate takes up the investigation, desperate to cut off the organization's head before it has the chance to strike again. At the same time, she struggles with her own personal history and relationship problems. In The Question, Renee gets contacted by a man looking to find his missing teenage sister. 

One of the biggest challenges for a writer can be taking a character who has been in continuity for a long time, and placing them in a new series. Pre-series fans don't want back story repeated, and new fans don't want to be in the dark, and so the balance can be hard to strike. Fortunately Rucka has managed to strike a solid median point. Coming into Batwoman/Question was a nervous venture; Batwoman I knew had background dating back to 52, none of which I was aware of, and all I knew from Rucka's now long period writing Renee was the first nine issues of Gotham Central (believe me, Jokers and Madmen is already on my amazon wishlist!), and that at some point in 52 she assumed the identity of The Question. In short, despite that I've been clamoring for this title for some time, I didn't know much more than a perfect layman. However, Rucka eases the reader into Kate's current love life effortlessly, and leaves the reader with all they need to know in that arena. The plot line is fresh, and doesn't require specific expository detail, which leaves Rucka with a fair amount of space to give new readers just a hint of background, enough so that they're not totally lost and not too much as to bore. As for The Question, the premise comes off as very straight forward, and the plot is again, free of pre-existing complication. 

The first adversary that Rucka has lined up for Batwoman is something of an eye-brow raiser. A new character, she bares a certain thematic similarity to a somewhat notable Batman villain, and while an encounter with said Batman villain might seem expected, it also almost seems like it would be a missed opportunity not to pursue that particular avenue. Rucka seems to be pursuing his own subjects so far (the characters and plots are almost all entirely his, including the backstory), but it's not at all out of the realm of possibility that a chance encounter is in the future. Frankly, it wouldn't hurt either. One of the most notable aspects of the Batman franchise is the deranged lot that make up his rouges gallery. For the little panel time this new villain has, she is at least visually interesting, and potentially the kind of villain you keep around for the future-- hopefully she's just as crazy as the Bat-villains to come before her. 

One of the other major challenges facings a writer coming to a new series is that he quickly needs to make his reader care about a character they might have never come across before, and thankfully Rucka knows the routine. He allows his characters as much personal page space that can be allowed in a comic, while still setting up a plot line to keep people coming back. While it's difficult to judge correct characterization and smart plotting with so little so go on, it seems that Batwoman is going to excel, and if Gotham Central is any indication of Rucka's ability to write meaningful characters, I expect Kate will a personal favorite soon enough. 

J.H. Williams is an outstanding artist, and the book's colorist, Dave Stuart, seems to be doing wonders for the book as well. There are a number of pages, particularly the two-page spreads, that are simply breathtaking. The panel layout, while at first jarring, is a welcome deviation from the normal that isn't ever difficult to follow. Curiously, one of the scenes in the comic is much less striking than all the others, notably on the often artist hated "talking head" scenes. The proportions seem the slightest bit off in places, and Kate never quite looks right. It's a small blip in an otherwise visually stunning comic.

A note on co-features: It may be remembered that a short while ago, I was voicing my support for the DC co-feature, as it prevented characters from falling into obscurity, justified DC raising their prices to match Marvel's, and provided a bit more precious work in the comic industry. Seeing the co-feature in action is an odd thing. Because it's only a short eight pages, the story has to move quickly. This means, almost certainly, that readers are unlikely to see very many touching character scenes, but for what things are it seems a small price to pay. The co-features read like well-written Sunday comics of more appropriate length. They give more than a taste, but less than a meal-- the result is something that will take getting used to. 

As for the Question, the story is only just taking off the ground, but as of now has more of a real-world kind of super-heroics to it. So far the story only promises a gang leader for a villain, and it's going to prove challenging for Rucka to keep audience interest up. There are dozens of generic crime lord/bosses that have graced comic pages, each of them around for usually one story in which they're violent temperamental pushovers. Rucka is going to have to work for readers to care, but at least it gives a slight throw back to the fact that Renee was only a cop not too long ago, and her villains maybe shouldn't be too grandiose. 

RATING: 7 out of 10

The series seems to be on the right track, and should be an entertaining read. As promised, Rucka doesn't overblow his character's sexuality, and seems to be working hard to make them mean something to readers. Not a stunning first round, but more than adequate. I suggest you jump on this title now if you're going to read it. 

Does this format work for books with co-features? Do you think there is a better approach to reviewing them I could take up? 

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