Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Comic Review Wednesdays - Detective Comics #856

Detective Comics #856


Written by Greg Rucka

Art by J. H. Williams III 

The Question: 

Written by Greg Rucka

Art by Cully Hamner 

The thirteen cults of Gotham get ever stranger in Batwoman, as monsters step out into the shadows and complicate the standoff between Kate and Alice. Later, Kate's love life starts to heat up as more supporting characters are introduced into the series. In the Question, Renee fights for her life as the search for Louisa Soliz unfolds into something much worse. 

One of the significant ways in which super-hero comics are unique from other media is that the characters exist in an open-ended universe. Their stories aren't finite. At the same time writers are expected to make stories approachable for readers. With Greg Rucka's Batwoman run on Detective, I've tried to be patient, and I've chaulked a lot up to Kate Kane being a new character, and that her origin-- soon to be explored fully in upcoming issues-- would unfold at its own pace. I assumed that any backstory would at least be covered enough to fill readers in. Three issues in, I'm still pretty clueless as to what is going on. 

To be fair, the title isn't necessarily bad, but when approaching any Bat-title there is a reasonable expectation that it's going to be grounded in reality. Guns, knives, mob bosses and psychopaths as opposed to capes, monsters and alternate dimensions. With this issue there is a shift in tone from the bat-world to something more along the lines of Alan Moore's Swamp Thing, or any other title related to the supernatural. As a reader unfamiliar with the character's history before her usurpation of Detective Comics, the shift came as a bit of a shock. When you say "cult" in a Batman comic it still generally means "crazy people." In addition to the unexpected change in tone-- which is an assumption in itself because of this next reason-- I have no idea of how these elements actually play into the characters story. Omissions forgivable at the title's inception are not becoming annoying. On the other side of the coin, I absolutely LOVE that he's continuing to pull characters and events from his run on Gotham Central. 

These problems aside, there's little to criticize the comic for. Rucka delivers a solid plot, and writes his dialog well. I do take issue that he puts both of the lesbian characters in tuxedos-- while certainly a realistic enough choice, it just feels too butch. Perhaps gender roles are simply too firmly ingrained in me, but I don't think so. 

J.H. Williams III panel design continues to be outstanding (though I feel he occasionally over does it), and the work is generally fantastic. Still, something has been bothering me about this run since it began and I believe it's in colorist Dave Stewart. When Kate is featured as Batwoman, the pages are generally very blue/cool palette, except Kate herself, of course, who is stands out with stunning blacks and reds. When Kate is depicted in her everyday life, she's often depicted as very pale-- seemly an attempt to single her out in the everyday, at which point in the comic Stewart uses more of a warm palette. The problem is that Kate looks like a corpse during the day, and the pages never feel right when buttressed up against the stunning Batwoman pages. The only image of Kate out of costume I had ever seen prior to reading the book was a picture of her from 52 in a red dress, and looking like an absolute bomb-shell. My idea of the character from that image turned out to be very different from what the character is actually like-- tuxedos and tattoos-- but I truly believe one of the major things standing in the way of my liking her is that its awful hard to relate to the walking dead. 

The Question continues to play out like a 40s serial-- due in large to the fact that Rucka has begun and ended each segment, more or less, with the character's life in danger. I've made my piece with this, but I've still yet to come to terms with the artwork. As readers will know I hardly ever comment on art, I really feel as though I'm unqualified, but the work of Cully Hamner and colorist Laura Martin feels so distinctly feminine I can't help but feel it's completely out of place in The Question. Renee, of course, is a very different character than Vic Sage, but the style in the 80s Question series was so effectively moody and noir that it's difficult not to compare the two to the female duo's disadvantage.  Hamner and Martin together create a comic that seems far too cartoony for the character. Hamner's figures are also very stiff--at the very least they are during fight scenes, and this certainly doesn't help the over-all effect. 

RATING: 6 out of 10.

Rucka is an entertaining writer, even if the story is a bit confusing for new readers, and the art is a mixed bag. Rucka's run began three issues ago for those looking to start reading but if you're at it you might as well pick up his Gotham Central run and the Crime Bible to help yourself out. 

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