Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Review: Detective Comics #859

Detective Comics #859

Writer: Greg Rucka
Artist: J.H. Williams III
Released: November 25, 2009

It may not carry the over-used label, but make no mistake, this current story line in Detective Comics is a "Year One". The curious question, the question that intrigues the most, is exactly which character this is the origin of: Kate Kane or Batwoman? They may be one in the same, one may play the other in costume, assume the role of military brat or caped crusader, but, as with the original patriarch of the Batman family, one role dominates, and one role subjugates. This issue gives us the origin of a little girl lost and shows us the moment of that transition.

The main character in this issue, as well as in issue #858, is Kate Kane. This arc is hers and hers alone, despite the minor intrusions of her alter-ego, Batwoman, in a few pages scattered throughout. The comic is told through alternating flashbacks, the past and present being represented by two very different art styles, both breathtaking in their display of Mr. Williams's brilliant artistic range. The flashbacks are rendered in a pulpy, slightly loose style, with flatter colors and brushed inks. The pages are laid-out in a more traditional grid format, cleanly moving left to right. The present day pages, the intruding Batwoman pages, are drawn with far greater detail in a much more painterly illustrated style, and the layouts follow no conventional grid, flowing from one misshapen and jagged panel to the next. It is this structure that lends to the ironic tension of the issue, again, that this is Kate's story, and Batwoman is busting in with loud colors and complete disorder. Kate's flashbacks, the memories of years long gone, become the clearly defined spaces of story, the easily fixed path that the reader may follow. It is Kate's present, as Batwoman, that is a seeming jumbled confusion.

The story of Kate Kane in this issue concerns her discharge from West Point due to allegations of personal misconduct, namely of practicing homosexual behavior. Given the opportunity to deny these allegations and proffer them up as the misguided actions of youthful experimentation so that she may save her military career, Kate instead honors the true meaning of ethics and announces that, indeed, she is gay. Her honor and integrity may stand without reproach, but her separation from military service sends her into a confusion as to what she is to do with her life now that the only thing she ever wanted to do is so unfairly torn away from her. Without the discipline of the academy, or perhaps to spite all the years spent under the yoke of military discipline, Kate delves into a listless life as a party-girl socialite, partying hard, getting inked, vacantly attending classes in obvious states of impairment, and driving under the influence, all of this beautifully rendered in one large panel, showcasing the ability of great art to efficiently tell a story. And while the art grabs the reader, and J.H. Williams III has the power to dwarf a writer and mask the shortcomings of any script, it can not be forgotten that there is indeed a story being told here, and it is a exceedingly good story, too.

Greg Rucka has crafted a comic that feels substantive, full of blood and humanity. Kate's story is grounded and recognizable, regardless of the specifics, because her emotions are complete, her character is warm on the page; the dialogue is natural, never contrite nor forced to fit the situation. Rucka's script is full of subtle moments, of characters who say more with their facial expressions, a slump of the shoulder, a turn of the cheek; and so, ultimately, his is a script tailor-made for an artist of the caliber of Mr. Williams. This book speaks to the unified whole that may be achieved between writer and artist, and that should be a benchmark for all comics. Together, these two creators have crafted a book that feels mature, a book truly for mature readers; not because of salacious, oversexed, or blood-spattered content, the puerile likes of which are often graced with the "mature readers" disclaimer. This is a mature comic because it is a comic that feels grown-up. This is a book that shows the power of comics to portray the beauty of humanity, whether it be dressed in military whites or superhero blacks.

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