by Greg Rucka (writer), J.H. Williams III (art), Dave Stewart (colors), and Todd Klein (letters)

The Story: Batwoman (Kate Kane) seeks out the new leader of the Religion of Crime.  Meanwhile, in the back-up story, the Question receives a cry for help from a man whose sister has been enslaved by a Mexican cartel.

The Good: This is clearly a comic and a character that Rucka was born to write.  Everything just works and Rucka truly manages to make Kate Kane a well-defined character.  Rucka’s take on Batwoman is fascinating and almost hypnotic; undeniably terrifying and lethal, she also carries an uncomfortable sense of eroticism unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a comic character.  That said, she is far from the cliched “femme fatale.”  Rather, Batwoman feels almost inhuman, making the strange grain of allure and eros all the more unsettling yet all the more undeniable.  The best way I can describe it is “imagine Batman from Frank Miller’s Year One, everything he says about making himself inhuman and horrifying, but now, imagine if that Batman’s every word dripped with sex.”  I’ve never seen a hero quite like this.

Meanwhile, on the Kate Kane side of things, Rucka manages to keep the character lovable while steering her clear of the gimmicks that she could so easily fall into.  Kate’s relationship to her father, an bizarre concoction of military ethic and familial tenderness, is oddly endearing.  Then, of course, there is the elephant in the room of Kate’s lesbianism.  Rucka plays this definitely by focusing on the human instead of the risque; I felt that Kate’s sexual orientation and same-sex relationship was treated with a great deal of honesty without the slightest hint of sensationalism.  Kate’s relationship carries the same difficulties of commitment as any other superhero’s love life, while also nonetheless being haunted by the spectre of fidelity that is often associated, rightly or wrongly, with homosexual romance.

As for the art…  My God, the art…  This is bar-none the best looking book being put out by DC right now.  To open this book is to immediately purchase it.  Williams’ art is unlike anyone else’s and is absolutely gorgeous.   I also enjoyed his endlessly creative abstract panel layouts.  His work compliments Rucka’s writing: Batwoman looks ghostly and inhuman and Kate herself looks like someone who just doesn’t quite fit in with humanity.  Meanwhile, new villain Alice is legitimately terrifying to look at.  Dave Stewart’s colors are also a godsend, with his focus on reds being absolutely gorgeous.

The Back-up story is also incredibly solid.  Cully Hamner’s art is up to its usual standard, and the tale looks to appropriately provide a straight-forward detective story in “Detective Comics.”  Hats off to the disturbing and gritty elements in the tale, which are pretty bold for a comic as mainstream as Detective.  This story definitely isn’t a tack-on.

What’s Not-So-Good: Towards the latter half of the issue, it started to feel like a bit of a quick read. Honestly though, it’s so good that when I finished, I immediately wanted to re-read it.

Grade: A

Conclusion: Right now, this is the best bat-book to come out of Battle for the Cowl.  Yes, I did just say that it’s better than Morrison’s book.

-Alex Evans