Detective Comics #856

Just to raise a point only to dismiss it: "The Question" co-feature is lesser Greg Rucka, lesser Cully Hamner, and not worth your time. It's existence in this issue doesn't affect the way I rated "Detective Comics" #856, so as far as I'm concerned, this is a $3.99 comic starring Batwoman, written by Greg Rucka and drawn by J. H. Williams III.

And it's very good.

It's the art, of course, that makes this comic special. In another, less-amazing, artist's hands, "Detective Comics" #856 would probably be a good little costumed action/drama comic. It might be even less, if Rucka's previous work with the Kate Kane Batwoman ("52," "Five Books of Blood") is any indication. Here, though, Williams III has imbued such life into the character -- such life into her world -- that Rucka's pulpish plot seems even more sophisticated than it probably is.

What happens in this issue is quite simple: the sinister Alice (a femme fatale with goth/literary stylings) and her minions have Batwoman at gunpoint. With the help of her dad and a bunch of sideshow freaks, she escapes, then she goes to a charity ball. But a message from Alice ruins her night.

Rucka's dialogue is good, but the plot outline I've (probably oversimplified) above doesn't give you any indication as to why this comic is not only worth reading, but one of the best superhero comics on the shelf. That's because the plot is not what matters here. Sure, it matters in the long term, and a gorgeously-illustrated comic book series can only hold our attention for so long before it becomes just sickening, insubstantial eye candy, but on every page of this comic, J. H. Williams III astonishes. And that's what it's about. That's what matters.

Williams III has been using two decidedly different styles in his run on this series so far. He has the ultra-dynamic, painterly Batwoman sequences, and the rigid, technical-pen bravado of the Kate Kane sequences. Sometimes there's a bit of overlap, and when Kate is at the charity ball, dancing with one Maggie Sawyer, the formal structure of the page opens up to let the music in. But both looks are impressive, and the contrast between them serves the story amazingly well. This is the tale of Kate Kane and Batwoman, and though they are the same person, their lives could not be more different.

This incarnation of Batwoman hasn't been around very long, but J. H. Williams III has reinvented her here. He has given her substance. He has given us a reason to read about her. And "Detective Comics" has rarely looked this good. And that "rarely" is pretty darn close to never.

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