What DC has done to Batman is beyond ridiculous. I resent that I'm still on a high from THE DARK KNIGHT
but can't read about the real Batman in a comic book. And even though I've read some incredibly good writing since all this “Batman Reborn” stuff began, I'd trade it all in to have top talent like Paul Dini (STREETS OF GOTHAM, GOTHAM CITY SIRENS
) and the new DETECTIVE scribe, Greg Rucka, writing stories about Bruce Wayne doing what Bruce Wayne does.
But that's just not going to happen for a while, and as I've said before, these are the kinds of guys who can make gourmet omelets out of rotten eggs.
On that note, DETECTIVE COMICS #854 -- starring Batwoman -- is a whole lot sexy, a little bit scary, and totally, utterly bad-ass. Emphasis on sexy and bad-ass.
Though Rucka is the "new" writer NOW, he's certainly no stranger to the pages of DETECTIVE COMICS and wrote some absolutely awesome stories in these pages back in the 700s (after all the “No Man’s Land” stuff).
And the heart, thought, romance, and action he put into his run on the late, great ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN practically made it a handbook for why the Man of Steel is my second favorite comics character after Batman. (Try to find the "Ruin" issues -- it was a great storyline that got cut short and interrupted by yet another DC "event," INFINITE CRISIS.)
Rucka rocks, and he's bringing his "A" game here. I've never read a single comic book featuring Batwoman, and though I'll do research AFTER I write this review, I wanted to come into this as cold as possible and present the viewpoint of someone who's new to the character. I like her. A lot.
First of all, I have a thing for redheads with pale, perfect skin, and artist JH Williams III and colorist Dave Stewart make this girl a dame to die for. Porcelain complexion, ruby red lips that match her fiery locks, red Bat-symbol, boots, and inner cape lining, and tight black leather everywhere else? Yeah. I'm in.
Her shakedown of an unwilling informant in the opening pages is deliciously seductive. Remember that moment when Trinity puts her lips so, so close to Neo's ear and whispers, "What is the Matrix?" Cross that moment with someone who looks like a vampire asking you for information in a dark alley, and you're somewhere in the ballpark. Hot stuff. Great dialogue, too. You can tell that Batwoman really digs the gig.
DC likes to make a huge publicity deal out of Batwoman's alter ego, Kate Kane, being a lesbian. Rucka writes only one scene that deals with it, but he never sensationalizes it. It's just part of the natural flow. (It's kind of a Peter Parker moment that we've seen in a million superhero comics, but it's a good introduction to how Kate's life as an all-night hero affects her personal relationships outside of the cape and cowl. Answer: same as almost all the others.) The really interesting stuff begins when we meet Kate's "Alfred." While Mr. Pennyworth is Bruce Wayne's father in a figurative sense, Kate's partner-in-crimefighting is literally her dear old military dad. He's a colonel who apparently helps set her up with state-of-the-art equipment. I like the way Rucka writes the relationship between these two.
And so Kate suits up again and gets back to the case at hand in a powerful, spooky sequence where she's going after more information. It seems a "coven of crime" has returned to Gotham City, and Batwoman wants to take down their leader, Alice. And when Alice shows up, she's drawn just as breathtakingly as Kate. In fact, her first appearance is so strong that you immediately feel this villain will be Kate's Joker and Ra's Al Ghul rolled into one. The fact that she looks like she just stepped out of kinky fairy tale doesn't hurt, and I love the switch of having the villain in frilly white (with guns, garters and thigh-highs) and the hero in leathery black.
In many ways, this reminds me of the earliest issues of DETECTIVE featuring Batman in 1939 -- creepy and cool, with a hero every bit as dangerous and macabre as the villains.
Had I been DC, I'd have kept DETECTIVE on hiatus until Bruce Wayne's return out of a sense of historical respect. On a level of pure principal, I just don't like reading about another character in pages Batman has dominated for seven decades.
But that's nothing any of us can control, and I can only judge this issue on its own merits -- which are many. The dialogue really captures Kate's theatricality and commanding presence, making her a formidable detective and fighter. And I just can't say enough about the artwork of JH Williams III. Every page featuring Batwoman is a museum piece, and this storyline is going to make a beautiful hardcover collection someday. It's gorgeous, sexy stuff from start to finish.
Not counting ads, the main story is a generous 24 pages of story (up from the usual 22). And to soften the blow of the $3.99 price tag, there's a Question backup written by Rucka and drawn by Cully Hamner, who did wonderful work on BATMAN: TENSES and makes these pages look like a million bucks with the help of colorist Laura Martin. I couldn't really get into the backup's storyline, but a at least it reads like a detective tale.
Though the Batman purist in me wants to scold DC for putting somebody else in the book that gave us Batman 70 years ago, I loved this issue. I'm ready to get to know Kate Kane's Batwoman, and Alice looks to be one hell of a challenge. Excellent tone, unbearably beautiful art, and dialogue that honors the DETECTIVE COMICS tradition. I definitely recommend giving this a shot.
And before I go, let's talk about one SPOILER, so stop reading RIGHT NOW if you want to go into this issue as cold as I did.
Turn around now…
I WARNED YOU!
Batwoman gets a visit from Batman. But he's got three fins on his glove, and his belt looks like Bruce Wayne's belt. Dick Grayson's Batman has only two glove-fins and a distinctive buckle. And since there's no mention of Batman ever being missing, is this supposed to occur when Bruce was still Batman? It's possible that Williams simply didn't get the memo and drew Dick in Bruce's costume. (After all, look at all the unforgivable artwork inconsistencies in “The Resurrection of Ra’s Al Ghul,” which often had multiple artists within the same issue who drew things entirely differently from the others.) But I really think this is Bruce's Batman, and I'm going to try to get an answer for us. - John Bierly