Friday, September 23, 2011

Batwoman #1 or “The Unbearable Absence of Rucka”

For a brief period of time back in '09-'10, Detective Comics was the most elegantly subversive book on the market. Here we had DC taking one of their flagship titles and instead of featuring a tried and true character like Bruce Wayne or even Dick Grayson, we had Greg Rucka penning the story of Kate Kane- a super heroine who happened to be a lesbian- along with some of the most stylized artwork ever to appear in a mainstream funny book courtesy of J.H. Williams III. Then DC took Action Comics and gave it to Paul Cornell and Lex Luthor, which was also awesome. Damn, there were some really cool ideas to come out of that company in the past few years. Remind me again why the reboot was a good thing?

Of course it was all too good to last. Rucka abruptly left DC, resurfacing recently at The House of Ideas penning The Punisher (writing stories where presumably Frank Castle shoots lots of people). I stopped reading Detective Comics (at the time) because nothing short of the reanimated corpse of Frank Miller's talent could follow that act. What made his departure all the more frustrating was the fact that DC announced they would be giving Batwoman her own title. With Rucka no longer with the company, writing duties would be handled by Williams. There was a synergy between Williams and Rucka the likes of which we very rarely see. There are certain writer/artist teams that mesh together so well that they create something greater than either individual. Lee/Ditko had this with Dr. Strange, Robinson/Harris had this with Starman and Rucka/Williams had this with Batwoman. Williams' pages were pop art stained glass. The synergy between art and story was awe inspiring; he didn't just illustrate Rucka's story, he added to it, advanced it. The layouts were so meticulously designed it was downright humbling.

So we've established that Williams is a hell of an artist. But that doesn't necessarily mean he can write. There's a trend at DC where they think that if you know how to draw a book, it means you know how to write one, but that's not always the case. Just because you're talented when it comes to visuals, it doesn't necessarily mean you know how to get it done on the narrative end of things. Let's not forget than the Barry Sonnenfeld who shot the Coens' Miller's Crossing, is the same guy who directed Wild, Wild West. Or, to be more exact, the same Tony Daniel who drew Morrison's Batman is the same Tony Daniel who wrote Tony Daniel's Batman (I may have stopped making sense).

Not having Rucka on board was a huge buzz kill, but I was still fairly excited for the book. At the very least I knew it would look good. Even if the book was a piece of crap (and it isn't), it would be a gorgeously rendered piece of crap and, hey, aesthetics count for a lot in my world. Then the delays began. An extremely “ok” zero issue was released last November, with the ongoing slated for January. And then April. And then September. Month after month my anticipation and enthusiasm gradually waned to ambivalence and apathy. Opening up the book I was filled with the hope that what Williams delivered would rekindle the fire I once had for the character. But it didn't.

Don't get me wrong: it's not a bad book; it just isn't a great one. The writing is totally decent. W. Haden Blackman co-writes the book, and I know nothing about him (give the man a Wiki page!), so I'm going to Google him right now, because I'm all about going in depth with the articles I write. You would think I'd've (double contraction- watch out, this sentence may be going into labor) looked him up in the past year, but I've been busy with…stuff.

Alright, I'm back. Apparently he's written video games and Star Wars guides. In other words, not somebody who is going to help you hit it out of the park.

This issue does set some fun stuff in motion, though. It's got missing kids, spooky urban legends, superhero training, skull guys in pink ties and Kate staring at a photo of Renee Montoya. Oh yeah, and Kate makes Bette give up her awesome Flamebird costume for a really boring one. As a jumping on point for new readers, I'm not so sure it's all that accessible. Events from past story arcs are referenced fairly heavily. Williams/Blackman try to help this by cramming a ton of exposition into an extremely clunky two page spread that will probably just confuse people more.

As for the art, what do you want me to say? Of course it's incredible, that should go without saying at this stage in Williams' career. His stuff is so good that it's hard to write about without sounding trite. Suffice it to say, if I were an artist, Williams is one of those guys who would make me want to chop off my hands and give up.

Batwoman finally exists and that's better than it not. That's an endorsement right? It's like dating someone who is as attractive as your ex, but not quite as interesting or smart. And much like that scenario, I'm going to stick with it and hope it gets better. We can continue to see each other J.H., but I can't promise I won't make a drunken late night phone call to Greg at some point.

By JoshD with No comments


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