by Greg Rucka (writer), J.H. Williams III (art), Cully Hamner (back-up art), Dave Stewart (colors), Laura Martin (back-up colors), Todd Klein (letters), and Jared K. Fletcher (back-up letters)

The Story: Batwoman narrowly escapes the clutches of the Religion of Crime, thanks to some unlikely allies. Meanwhile,  the Question gets away, only to return to deliver a beat-down.

What’s Good: The best thing about this issue is that it gives us a chance to get to know Kate Kane without the cowl.  A flamboyant yet oddly lonely character,  Rucka places her in a formal gathering at which she feels mightily uncomfortable.  It makes her all the more likable while also tastefully approaching her sexuality.  Stuck with a sense of otherness and the never-ending duties of being Batwoman. It’s clear that she feels that she doesn’t belong, but rather than try her best to  mingle, she goes the opposite direction, purposefully making herself stand out.  It’s nuances like this that make for a great, lively character.

We also get a look at Kate’s other familial relationships.  From the stepmother who doesn’t understand her to the tragically ignored cousin, it’s all fairly bittersweet stuff.  It’s hard not to read Kate’s cousin Bette, desperate for Kate’s friendship, and not feel bad for her.

On art, JH Williams continues to put out some of the best work in mainstream comics today.  The fantastic, dynamic, and endlessly creative panel layouts continue, with Williams doing some cool work with the gutters between the panels.  The really impressive thing about Williams’ work this month, however, is his versatility.  With monsters and hallucinogens abounding in the first Batwoman scene, JH Williams takes on angular, pulpy, horror-styled panels and a more blurred/painted feel.  Juxtaposed to this is the Kate Kane formal party scene, where the paneling suddenly becomes less abstract and the painted feel disappears for a more clean, defined, and “graphic” style.  Both sides are clearly and distinctly Williams, but he’s really showing two completely different modes here.

What’s Not So Good: I’m just not really digging the newly introduced characters of Abbott and his fellow “hybrids.”  Somehow, having a gang of Were-animals in a Bat comic just feels a bit too weird.  I feel like Batwoman just melded with an IDW horror comic.  It’s funny, since in human form, Abbott really is a great character and an effective foil to Kate.  But the whole idea of werewolf characters just seems silly and out of place.  The fact that Abbott in wolf form is written terribly doesn’t help.  Does he really have to say “rrrrr” and “grrrr” after every third word?

Rucka’s story also made me feel a bit out of the loop this month with all of Abbott’s references to past storyarcs regarding the Religion of Crime.  Surely I’m not alone.

The back-up story is also suffering a bit due to how good the main feature is.  Cully Hamner puts out his best work yet on the series, but it still feels like a drop after Williams’ work.  Meanwhile, the story is beginning to feel just a little overly straightforward.  It’s just another 8 pages of the Question fighting, proving herself to be a badass, and getting another location.  Again.  Entirely composed of action scenes. It’s also a lightning quick, barely there read.

Conclusion: Still a fantastic book, this time focusing more on charaterization,  making me  love Kate Kane even more.

Grade: B+

-Alex Evans