I think that’s the best way to describe my immediate reaction to “Detective Comics” #854, where the long-awaited (and even longer rumored) Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III Batwoman series begins. Except, of course, it’s appearing in the pages of one of DC’s oldest titles, “Detective Comics.” In some ways, I’m almost happy to see that the case. But let’s get to the important things first.
Everyone’s going to be focusing on the art, so let me say right now that the script is strong as well. Greg Rucka gets a lot of information across to the reader without ever resorting to exposition dumps, which is nice. If you don’t know who or what the Religion of Crime is, there’s enough in the story that you can figure out the basics, but the story never stops dead in its tracks to get the information across. Likewise, everything you need to know about Kate Kane is there too; her relationship with her father and stepmother, her girlfriend, and Batman, to boot. Rucka keeps the story moving at a brisk pace, but I never felt like we were whipping through it too quickly.
I’m curious to see how the new villain works out in “Detective Comics.” Alice’s gimmick of only speaking in lines of dialogue from “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” could get old quickly, but I give Rucka credit in finding dialogue that fit the scene perfectly here. I also was impressed that Rucka seems to be deliberately steering away from making a big deal about Batman’s identity. It makes sense, if you think about it; since Batwoman wasn’t part of Bruce Wayne’s inner circle, there’s no reason that she should know that there’s a new Batman running around. (After all, half the reason Dick Grayson became the new Batman is so no one knew something happened to Batman.) It also means, presumably, that when people read a collection of “Batwoman” down the line it’ll stand on its own without any additional Bat-knowledge required.
And now, having held off as long as I can: the art. Oh, the art. Williams just gets better with age, and “Detective Comics” is at its most beautiful in a long time. It’s hard to avoid marveling at the beautiful page layouts, which come across as artful but without ever sacrificing readability. I love how the lightning bolt jagged edges of the panels bring to mind the Bat-logo on Batwoman’s costume, but at the same time also have a sense of old art-deco architecture. It just seems like a right fit. Everything here looks beautiful; it’s hard to not marvel at the amount of detail in things like Kate’s loft apartment, or items on the walls at the cafe. There’s so much attention paid to everything here; the construction of rooms, the city skyline, people’s outfits. I never feel like Williams has cut corners with his art. Then again, I’m not sure he would know how to.
Even if that doesn’t wow you, though, Williams’s figure work is outstanding. I love how Kate looks different between the roles of Batwoman, dressing up for brunch, and hanging out and exercising, while still clearly all being the same person. (We don’t all dress the same every moment of the day, after all.) Even little touches like having eyeliner on and perfectly combed hair while out to eat, versus a makeup-free look and slightly straggly hair when back at home, comes across as beautiful. It helps define Kate visually, even while it shows off Williams’ amazing skills.
As for Batwoman not getting her very own title, I’ll admit that at first I was a little disappointed. But then I looked at the increasingly crowded Bat-family of comics currently being published. “Batman,” “Batman & Robin,” “Batman: Streets of Gotham,” “Batman Confidential,” “Gotham City Sirens,” “Red Robin,” and “Superman/Batman.” Plus, there are still brand-new “Batgirl” and “Azrael” series just around the corner. That’s a whole lot of Bat-characters. So you know what? I’m ultimately glad that Batwoman gets to take over “Detective Comics” for a year. It’s a high profile title, and hopefully it will keep the character from getting lost in the shuffle.
Last but not least, having a second feature starring the Question is a great match for the lead story in “Detective Comics.” Not only because the two characters know each other and are connected through the events of “52,” but because Rucka’s brought a strong sensibility to both. It’s nice to see Renee Montoya again and in a less chaotic setting. Free of crossovers and stories of biblical proportions, here we see just how she’s getting on with her life and how she helps people as the new Question. It works for me; both in terms of a slightly gritty non-super-powered story (which brings to mind the old classic “The Question” series by Dennis O’Neil and Denys Cowan) and also adjusting to the smaller page count. Cully Hamner’s art is beautiful, and I love how the blues just pop off the page when Renee goes investigating.
There’s a lot of (well-deserved) talk and hype surrounding Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s work on “Batman & Robin.” I have to say, though, “Detective Comics” #854 has raised the bar significantly for everyone involved. “Detective Comics” #854 is easily one of the best single issue comics published this year, and I don’t say that lightly. Fantastic from start to finish, I cannot wait for the next issue.