By J.H. Williams III (co-writer & artist), W. Haden Blackman (co-writer), Dave Stewart (colors), Todd Klein (letters)
(Before we get started, for the sake of full disclosure, let me just say:
We now return to your regularly scheduled, completely impartial review.)
The Story: In a continuity seemingly untouched from the vaunted Detective Comics run, Kate Kane is still dealing with the emotional fallout from discovering the super-villain Alice’s true nature. While this is going on, she must also contend with an urban legend come to life, train a new sidekick, and worry about a new relationship with (another) Gotham detective.
What’s Good: I will fully admit to being terrified when I picked up this book. The expectation and hype riding on this has been huge (albiet well-deserved), and, especially given the loss of scribe extraordinaire Greg Rucka, I just wasn’t sure it could live up to that lightning-in-a-bottle Detective Comics run. Williams’ artwork is undoubtedly what made the run famous, but it always felt to me like Kate herself was very much Rucka’s baby–he’s the one with a penchant for writing both about the military, and strong, well-rounded female characters. While the amazing artwork could certainly continue without him, I would have bet my beloved copy of Detective Comics #854 that the character herself could not.
I have never been so happy to have been proven wrong in my life.
While I’m not sure how writing duties are split between the pair, Williams and Blackman make a fantastic tag team, and manage to capture Kate’s voice perfectly. (The highlight of which was easily the “plebe” insult Kate throws at Bette.) None of the character seems to be lost in the transition, which feels like a minor (and completely welcome) miracle. The script itself is extremely solid as well, handling several transitions in both location and mood with skill and aplomb. The new (?) villain is suitably creepy, and we’re given just the right amount of information about her for a first issue–we know enough to be intrigued, but not enough to start guessing at possible plot reveals or twists. Very well done.
The artwork? Bah, I’ve already filled enough review pages singing J.H. Williams III’s praises to fill a hymn book. It’s still brilliant, of course. The panel layouts are ridiculously creative (yet still easy to follow–how does he DO that?), and the pencils provide page after page of jaw-dropping visuals. I especially love the fact that the art style is noticeably different depending on whether our protagonist is in her Batwoman or Kate Kane persona; it makes the separation between Kate and her alter ego clear. (Unlike Batman, I don’t see her being consumed by the Bat-suit. It’s a uniform to her that she wears in order to perform her duty. When that duty is discharged, she has little trouble taking it off. The suit is a means to an end for her, not an end in itself.)
Williams isn’t the only one knocking it out of the park on art, however. Dave Stewart provides a less flashy but equally brilliant service with his color work. He manages to seamlessly marry his color choices to Williams’ artwork, which is a feat in and of itself. His colors do more than work though–they actually elevate the art, which is about the highest praise I can give to someone coloring the work of my artistic hero. I’ve seen some of the original pencils for this book and–while they are skillful and gorgeous–they lack the beautiful sense of mood and contrast that Stewart’s colors give the book. What a wonderful team they make.
What’s Not So Good: The only real nitpick I can find is that people who didn’t read the Batwoman Detective Comics run might be a little lost. There is a beautiful splash page that attempts to bring people up to speed, but I’m not sure it would work terribly well for someone who didn’t know what they were seeing. The story is fresh enough that it stands plenty well on its own, but I do know it can be frustrating when a book tries to provide exposition that doesn’t make sense out of context. (Look at it this way though: if you ARE confused, go buy the Elegy trade. Best $15 you’ll ever spend on a comic.)
I’m also a little unsure about Bette, if she’s going to be a reoccurring character. I’ll withhold judgement for now, but Batwoman having a sidekick just feels wrong to me. We’ll see where it goes.
Conclusion: Yeah. It was worth a year’s wait.
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