Detective Comics #865

This issue gives us the conclusion of the David Hine/Jeremy Haun two-parter about Jeremiah Arkham (aka the new Black Mask, aka crazy, crazy, crazy pants), and it also gives us the conclusion of the Greg Rucka/Cully Hamner "Question" co-feature. David Hine's coming back in a couple of issues, but Rucka and Hamner and the Question are not. This is the end of the ballad of Renee Montoya, at least for now.

I didn't give the Question story enough credit when it first began. I foolishly denigrated the Cully Hamner artwork and failed to appreciate the Greg Rucka scripting, mostly because the Question co-feature shared the book with the extraordinary J. H. Williams III "Batwoman" serial. Next to that, almost anything would have fallen short. But once Williams left, the Question story became the main draw in "Detective Comics," even when seasoned pros like Jock and Scott Kolins showed up to draw Batwoman for a few issues. And as skilled as Jeremy Haun is, he's no match for Cully Hamner's depiction of Renee Montoya and the Huntress and Vandal Savage and anyone else who feels like showing up to join the party. Hamner is a top-notch stylist, and colorist Dave McCaig boldly brings out the best in him. Haun has a glimmer of a Sean Phillips style in the main story, and even with David Baron's appropriately institutional color scheme, it just doesn't look as sharp as Hamner and McCaig.

It's not a competition, but when you have two stories side-by-side in the same issue, the comparisons become inevitable. The tales do not exist in isolation, even if the plots have nothing to do with one another.

And the plots? Well, Hine gives us the tormented Jeremiah Arkham, who hallucinates about murder and has a fearsome presence that's more brutal and threatening than his physical presence would indicate. All of Batman's enemies are maniacs, but Hine gives us an Arkham who is more maniacal than most, not in a cackling-evil kind of way, but in a this-guy-is-scary-crazy kind of way. The unpredictable kind of evil. The kind that leads the neighbors to say, "he seemed like such a nice young man" after the police show up and find dismembered corpses in the basement. So we get that sense from the issue, as Batman and Arkham match wits inside the asylum and neither of them really win. It's a vicious little story.

The Question co-feature wraps up some bits of the Vandal Savage/Mark of Cain/Books of Blood plot that Rucka has been tracing since the introduction of the new Batwoman and Question debuted in the weekly "52." Savage loses the Mark of Cain, and, in the final panel, Renee Montoya doesn't remove her mask to show whether or not she found herself branded with the Mark herself. Rucka gives us a "The End?" ending. But it's appropriately ambiguous for a serial called "The Question."

I'm sorry to see "The Question" come to an end here, and I hope Rucka and Hamner get to continue the series in another way sometime. But even if they don't, they have done a nice job making the Renee Montoya Question seem like a character who could sustain a series. They have made her seem to matter in the DCU, finally.

David Hine will be back with more Batman two issues from now. I'm curious to see what he does with the world of Gotham City next.

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