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SHE HAS NO HEAD! – The Superhero Comic I’ve Been Waiting For

I’ve been wanting to talk about Batwoman/Detective Comics since I first started writing this column and I’d Batwoman Coverbeen resisting because I’d already written about Greg Rucka’s Stumptown.  However, I realized this week that it’s silly to punish Greg Rucka for doing TWO great things.  He should be rewarded, not punished.

I L-O-V-E Detective Comics.  If I could buy only one monthly book, Detective Comics would be it.  If I was buying two books I think it would be Detective Comics and Stumptown.

Hmmm.  Greg Rucka: 2.  The rest of comics: 0?

I was one of many skeptical people when Batwoman “debuted” in Detective Comics #854.  I’m not sure why I was skeptical other than the fact that I felt like all eyes were on the book (and the character) waiting for it to fail and for a marquee mainstream lesbian superhero to have to go back to the drawing board to be ret conned or reworked for some other day.

While I immediately liked what I saw in the book, my skepticism remained.  I, like others, was primed to pick it apart at the slightest mistake.

As someone completely new to the Batwoman character (I knew about 52, and the mini with Montoya, but I didn’t read them) Rucka did an unbelievable job of introducing a newbie to the always complicated world of a Bat.  I found Alice interesting as a villain, though a bit frustrating (as the crazy ones are wont to be) and there were enough details about the Religion of Crime and The Crime Bible to let me follow what I needed of the plot without getting lost.

Batwoman 8Solid writing, plotting, and art aside though, I still wasn’t falling in love.  There was nothing to pick apart and complain about (well, nothing significant) but I couldn’t quite commit.  Until issue number 858 that is.  In issue #858 we got a significant chunk of Kate’s back-story, and a huge reveal about her nemesis Alice that raised the stakes on everything.  And what #858 started, #859 nailed down into cold hard fact by doing three amazing things and still managing to tell a hell of a story at the same time.  [SPOILERS]

1. Rucka’s deft handling of Kate and Renee’s loving but tumultuous relationship blew me away.  Kate and Renee had a realism and intimacy that we rarely see in mainstream comics, and far more importantly, it is the first time I’ve seen that realism for a lesbian couple in mainstream superhero comics.  It was beautiful and yet also completely matter-of-fact, as it should be.  THIS is a complex and satisfying superhero book.  A superhero book I’ve been waiting for A LONG TIME.

2.  Rucka established the incredible bond that Kate has with her father, in a heartbreaking scene in which she comes out to her father after being kicked out of the army for being gay.  The scene is perfectly handled.  Kate Batwoman 9never actually says she’s gay, but rather she and her father speak in a way that seems authentic to me for a military family that likes to keep things low on the drama.  Kate just takes her sunglasses off, looks her father in the eye and confirms his mostly unasked question.  There’s a beautiful silent panel of acceptance for her father, and then they move on.  It’s a page that speaks volumes about both the characters and their relationship to one another.  And I was moved.

3.  As if the frank portrayal of Kate and Renee’s relationship and that of Kate and her father’s wasn’t enough to send me over the moon, we also saw in #859 Kate’s first encounter with Batman, the encounter that inspires her to take up the mantle.  I was impressed by its simplicity.  I know a lot of people thought it was insignificant, but I found it organic and natural.  Not every origin story has to be all flash and lights.  Sometimes it can just be someone talented and driven and lost that suddenly finds purpose in one perfect moment.  And something that I feel like people are ignoring is that Kate’s brush with Batman is particularly significant because he didn’t actually have to save her.  She saved herself.  There’s something really important in that I think. Kate saving herself allows Kate to be inspired by Batman and yet also see herself on his level.  That moment inspires the kind of confidence and belief in yourself that you have to have in order to think you can strap on a costume and do what he can do.  In the end it totally worked for me and Williams’ powerful pages were certainly a huge part of why it worked.

Batwoman DPS

And we do have to talk about Williams’ art, because it is certainly the strong right arm of Rucka’s story.  While Williams work was maybe the best I’ve ever read in a superhero comic from his first Batwoman pages in #854, it was in issue #858 when he started switching between Kate’s past and present that he started blowing me away.

Williams is using radically different, though equally beautiful styles to convey Kate’s past and present.  For Kate’s past he’s using a more John Paul Leon meets David Mazzucchelli style, with a muted color palette and very traditional panel layouts.  For Kate’s present it’s all hard and dark and super saturated with wild groundbreaking graphic design inspired panel layouts.

The two styles working in such perfect harmony together really adds a whole other layer to this comic that I feel is terribly rare in mainstream comics.

If I am completely honest, I will admit that the present tense style with the crazy panel layouts is not as effective for me.  From a graphic design and artistic point of view I find it stunning and perhaps even important in the larger scope of comics, but from simply a readability standpoint, it does sometimes hurt the story for me more than help.  That said, it’s hands down the most beautiful and effective book I’m buying right now, so I’m certainly not advocating that Williams make any changes.

So, I’ve raved about this book…does it really matter if it’s female positive if it’s just a damn good book?  No, not really, but in this book’s case it is female positive and so it’s worth talking about the other reasons why it’s so good in that regard.  So what else makes this book so powerful an entry in the positive women in comics arena?

1. How Kate is written. Kate feels real to me.  She feels emotional and flawed but determined and clear in purpose.  She feels like she comes with baggage, both emotional and physical, and that it’s the kind of baggage that makes her both good at what she does, and also potentially vulnerable.  I can see the struggle in the character and I know that given the chance (cough >the best writers< cough) she will continue to evolve.

Kate doesn’t feel perfect like Bruce, which is good, but she does feel older and wiser and more considered than much of the younger cast (Batgirl, Robin, Red Robin, etc.).  Kate feels to me, in a way that I didn’t really Batwoman 5think another character could, the most like Bruce.  And by that I don’t mean that she seems like a female Bruce, but rather that she is more her own woman, she’s powerful and independent in the same way that Bruce is.  The fact that Kate is wearing Bruce’s symbol seems more like an homage to him than anything else…a sign of respect for something he built and that she acknowledges as her inspiration for finding purpose in her life.  The line from her father in issue #860 about putting the bat symbol on her costume so “everyone will know whose side you’re on”…I thought was an incredibly simple explanation for how you end up out on the street with a bat symbol on your chest without ever having spoken to the man who created it.  Kate also has her own support network in the form of her father acting as her lone confidante in the same way Bruce has Alfred and she seems single minded and uninterested in the drama that comes with being a bat in the same way that Bruce is.  Yet she retains a sense of self that is wholly different (not better or worse) but different than the way Bruce feels to me.

I think the fact that Kate struggles with her romantic life, trying and failing at relationships is lovely, and like much of her arc thus far it feels wonderfully relatable. Though Kate struggles it’s obvious that she’s still in love with and forever looking for Renee both literally and metaphorically…which I also think is, sadly, pretty relatable.  Her feeling for Renee only helps to humanize her, to make her real and a little bit tragic inside that suit.

Kate doesn’t have a lot of standard issue “badass dialogue” which I think is fitting, and is quite frankly a relief as I’m about tapped out on “badass dialogue”.  In her Kate Kane life she speaks like I imagine any rebellious young woman with a disciplined military background might.  Pushing on boundaries, but staying close to the line, maintaining a certain level of respect.  In her Batwoman persona she’s more nuance than dramatic proclamations.  She’s somehow almost subtle in her Batwoman persona…all visuals to the contrary.

2.  Kate’s back-story. Over the last few issues we’ve been fed Kate’s back-story and it could have been a train wreck if not written and illustrated so beautifully.  In Rucka’s hands, a story that on the surface is rife with clichés became enjoyable and emotionally resonant.  Williams’ art only reinforced the unspoken connection between twins Kate and Beth, severed far too early in both their lives.  And Rucka has done such a fine job in crafting a well fleshed out character in Kate, that even as a child it was easy to tell her apart from Beth on personality alone.

I love twin stories.  I don’t care that they’re cliché…everything is a cliché by now…the important thing is doing something interesting with it.  And I think Rucka has put in motion a story that has unlimited emotional potential.  I mean, we all know Beth’s not dead.  Part of me wishes she would stay dead, because I like it when character deaths have true importance, but we all know there’s no way she’s dead after that reveal…especially since there’s no body.

3.  The way Kate is drawn. This of course has a lot to do with J.H. Williams III’s superior talent as an artist, and is unfortunately subject to change as other artists take on Batwoman, but I for one, hope they can take a cue from what Williams has done here and build upon it (hell, I hope other artists can see what he’s doing here and bring it to their own books and characters).  I like variety in my comic figures (for both men and women, but since we’re talking about women in this column, let’s stay focused) and Williams does a good job of giving his characters a variety of distinctive body types.  Kate does not look the same as her cousin Bette, or her stepmother, and while she does look similar to Alice, that obviously makes sense in retrospect.

Batwoman 4

And you know what Kate looks like?  She looks like a superhero.  She doesn’t look like a model or a porn star.  She looks like someone that if well trained could kick your ass in a dark alley.  Someone that could hold her own against Batman for a few minutes without breaking a nail, or a heel.  In fact, I find myself mistaking Batwoman sometimes for Batman…in a good way.  In a way that says she is commanding the page in the way that generally only Batman can in the bat books.

Also, while Kate is attractive, she has a variety of expressions that are not so attractive. I think it’s rare to see women in comics that are supposed to be heroes not looking sexy in everything they do, yet few people look super sexy while lifting weights.  And Kate?  Well, Kate looks like a normal person while lifting weights…not like some come hither sex kitten.

Batwoman 3

I know this seems simple, and maybe like it shouldn’t be a big deal, but look at your other comic books…it’s exceptionally rare.  And I for one am freaking delighted to see it.  This is a book and a writer and an artist that are willing to let Kate be both beautiful and less than beautiful…as we all are from time to time.

Kate’s clothing is totally appropriate.  When she’s in her uniform it’s completely functional – I’m still not wild about the hairpiece/facemask thing but I get why it’s cool.  I don’t love the red and black from a ‘running around in the dark unseen’ perspective, although according to issue #860 apparently red is not a “color that pops during night ops”.  Having never been in the military I have no idea if that is actually true, but I’m willing to trust that Rucka knows what he’s talking about…and quite frankly I’m glad he dealt with it, because in Kate’s emerging origin, it seems, particularly with her dad’s involvement, very well planned and considered, not unlike the way Bruce runs his own show, and so I feel like it’s good that Rucka clarified such a distracting color. He did the same thing on Kate’s boots, which in stories prior to #854 I understand were not the practical combat flats Batwoman has here, but heels.  Rucka deals with it in one line, and I think it’s smart.  When you spend so much time making a character’s training and experience realistic and part of the origin, why would you not deal with the fact that she would never be so silly as to actually wear heels while fighting crime?  It works.  It shows not only foresight to address these issues, but a real concern for ‘getting it right’.

I know some people don’t love the pointy breasts aspect of the costume, but it doesn’t really bother me.  It kind of fits Kate’s alternative meets retro style and Williams seems to have toned it down a bit in the last few issues anyway.

Batwoman 11Kate’s costume awesomeness carries on well beyond her actual Batwoman costume.  When Kate is working out, she’s wearing sweats and not a revealing spandex thong bikini thing.  When Kate is going out to breakfast with her date she wears something a little sexy and alternative, high on impact, low on revealing.  When Kate is working in the field pre-costume she’s wearing fully covered tactical military gear.  When Kate is at a fancy benefit she’s wearing a sweet looking tux, possibly just to piss off her stepmother.  When she’s in bed with her lover she’s wearing something sexy and fun.  When she’s undercover she’s wearing something silly and low cut but we know she’s using it as one of many tools in her arsenal, and it’s even addressed within the comic by ex-girlfriend Renee’s reaction to the outfit.  And there’s even a two panel “shower scene” in issue #860 that I should mention, because it’s well done.  It’s just straightforward the way a shower scene in which you’re washing off toxic tear gas should be.  Kate doesn’t reach coyly for her towel, or cock her hips suggestively as she washes.  She’s just IN THE SHOWER.  And it’s great.  Everything Rucka and Williams have done here is all incredibly appropriate and considered, but it doesn’t feel overly telegraphed, and they’re managing to tell a hell of a story while they’re doing it.

To me it feels…right.  It feels like all comics should feel when they deal with women.

And it shouldn’t be a big deal, except for it is.  It’s a big deal because I almost never get to see a mainstream superhero book so well considered and getting it so right when it comes to women.  And the result is that I end up feeling that both Rucka and Williams (and DC to a lesser degree) have incredible respect for Kate Kane and want to do right by her.  They seem to want to get it right for HER even more than for any fans or critics.  And I’ll be damned if that doesn’t come across to me in reading the book.  I can feel that love and dedication, the care paid to every detail.

Detective Comics #860 marked the end of an arc, and also, sadly, the end of the powerful Rucka/Williams team up on Detective Comics (though it looks like #861 will have Jock penciling, which isn’t exactly bad news) and all I can say at the end of this first arc, this first piece of the ongoing Kate Kane story is “Thank you, can I please have some more?”

Oh, and “Don’t F it up.”

SIDENOTE 1:  I also wanted to talk about Renee Montoya/The Question back up feature here, because my only real complaint about that story is that it doesn’t have its own book.  However, I think Renee is deserving of her own post, so I’m going to hold off for now.  For the record DC – I’d happily add another book to my monthly pull if it was The Question starring Renee Montoya.

SIDENOTE 2:  According to Williams’ blog there is some development afoot on the Batwoman front regarding Rucka and Williams.  C’mon MONTHLY BATWOMAN BOOK!  C’MON!!!!

44 Comments

[…] Has No Head! – a review of the Detective Comics/Batwoman arc this far.  The post is called, “The Superhero Comic I’ve Been Waiting For”…you think maybe I like it?  […]

Well-written, Kelly. I completely agree, and I’ve been talking this title up to everyone (especially to some queer friends and women who are not true comics readers but not averse to the medium). I look forward to a Batwoman monthly … although I wonder how much lead time Williams needs to make his presence monthly for a good stretch? I’d also be fine with it coming out bimonthly or whatever. (The schedule with Promethea never bothered me; I was always elated to get such a quality comic, whenever it appeared.)

Well, it looks like you’re Greg Rucka’s number one fan. Don’t go all “misery” on him, eh? ;-)

Quite a thorough indepth and examinative column you’ve written here (they ALL are).

I may even pick the new monthly title up (if I can afford it) in 2010 and only if J.H. Williams is drawing it.

Have a happy new year, Ms. Thompson!

i really dig Batwoman, too; i wasn’t sure about it at first since it seemed kind of like another hero vs. dark-version-of-hero thing but then all the origin stuff really cemented things for me. it’s really great stuff.

i liked the brief explanations for Kate’s costume, too, although i was hoping, after they revealed that her dad created the first outfit, that they’d have some kind of acknowledgment of the pointy boobs/nipples on the suit. the first suit doesn’t look like it’s got the nipples, but it’s drawn in the “flashback” style so maybe they’re just not apparent, but i guess i want it confirmed that Kate was responsible for the boobs and not her DAD which would be kinda gross, haha. XD.

i guess it’s also possible it’s just a visual stylistic thing and the nipples aren’t “actually” part of the costume in the world of the comic, rather just the way the character is drawn in the more metaphorical, surreal art style (which is simultaneously more realistic, though, with all the rendering and stuff, hmm) when Kate puts on the costume, but yeah, they’ve been so good about the realism of it that i’m reluctant to chalk it to up to stylization.

am i thinking too much about Batwoman’s boobs?

Sounds excellent. I’ll have to pick up the collections when they arrive. (Sadly, the first isn’t due until June, and in hardcover. Sounds worth the extra money though, from your review.)

Detective Comics – with Batwoman – is a book I have been WAITING for. Ever since I heard they were re-introducing Batwoman, really.

I first learned about the original Batwoman in that encyclopedia of superheroes and supervillains back in 1994, when I was in sixth grade, and I immediately went to work on finding as much as I could about her, having been a huge fan of Batgirl and Black Canary growing up. I’d found some old issues, and while I thought she was kind of hokey, I also thought she was pretty damn awesome. It was love, it really was. [It was also how I found Flamebird, who…I really wish DC/Rucka would do SOMETHING with her, because she’s RIFE with possibility. You could REALLY build her up to be the Elle Woods of the DCU, and I’d LOVE to see that, but that’s a story for another time.]

I will say that the book isn’t anything that I expected it to be, and I’m glad about that. Rucka wrote my FAVORITE Wonder Woman run ever [though Jiminez, Simone, and Perez’s runs come damn close to that] and while I expected a lot out of him, I didn’t expect this much. This run is going on my shelf – along with Peter David’s Supergirl and Simone’s Birds of Prey runs – as one of my favourite comic book runs in history.

I hope that we see an ongoing Batwoman title by this group, and I hope that it lasts a good, long while.

I’m really glad that the story being told by both Rucka and Williams is getting more vocal support as their run continues…I’ve gotten into a few tete-a-tetes (including at least one on this very blog) with folks who want to throw all of the credit JH Williams III’s way for the greatness of Detective Comics. And he is doing amazing, revolutionary work here, but he’s not doing it alone. I couldn’t agree more with your aside about everything being a cliche. This is especially true in genre fiction, and superhero comics are most certainly that. But there’s an honesty and naturalism to Kate’s story that is refreshing – I feel like I know her more than I do some characters I have been reading about for decades. And that is as much a credit to Rucka’s characterization and dialogue as it is to details in Williams’ style choices, layouts and backgrounds (seriously, I related immediately and intensely to Kate based on the specifics of her condo in one of the first issues of this run).

Anyway, another well-written piece Kelly. Interesting that you don’t delve too deeply in Kate’s use of her sexuality when in costume (excellently addressed in an essay on Comic Alliance by John Parker). But there are a ton of topics that you could go on and on about with this book, which is a testament to its worth.

Also, as Amit! says above, Rucka’s Wonder Woman run is phenomenal. I love Diana as an icon, but his work on the book made her human at the same time that he made her understandable as a head of state and a god/superhero. Here’s hoping Batwoman draws more attention to the work he did there.

I have to admit, the first four issue made me think the book was only going to be about JH Williams art (which certainly isn’t a bad thing), but the recent three issues detailing Batwoman’s origin were amazing. While I’ll miss JH Williams art, Rucka’s writing has won me over to the point I’ll continue to pick up Detective as long as he’s writing it and Batwoman is starring in it.

What a nice review, I am definitely checking this book out.

I would definitely put it in my Top 10 Superhero Comics of 2009.

Perhaps in my Top 5, even (Off the top of my head, I would have Batman and Robin, Invincible Iron Man, Echo and maybe Incognito ahead of it – but this is just off the top of my head).

Great review. You made some really interesting points about the art that I had not considered.

I wish I could read those Batwoman comics. If only my guy would dig them out of his pile for me. ;-)

And I agree, Kelly. I’d be one happy fangirl if they gave Renee her own Question book.

I met Greg Rucka at a con just over 9 weeks ago (The day after my daughter was born) I told him that Detective is the best comic on the market at the moment and that Kate is one of the most interesting, strong female characters introduced recently.

He asked me my name and signed my copy of Detective #854 “Dan – She kicks ALL the ASS!”.

So glad her origin isn’t a blatant copy of Batman’s but yet similar enough.

This is about the third review I’ve read that applauds Batwoman for switching to flat shoes and explaining it in one line, but nobody says what the line is. Can someone tell me please?

This really is a team book. I’m really not looking forward to Detective once Williams leaves, and I think I may end up dropping it and waiting till the two team back up for this Batwoman ongoing.

@The Mutt: I think the line that they’re talking about is when Kate asks her father if the boots have heels on them, and her dad tells her that those were the only boots he could find in red.

While I’ve not saying I have a problem with the character actually being a lesbian, it still strikes me that it’s kind of a shame that when we finally get the strong female character some are looking for, she’s a lesbian. It’s almost as if the only way to not have a woman character defined by the guy she’s dating is to remove all guys from the picture…

Well done, Kelly.

The writing by Rucka is very good, the art by Williams is outstanding, making this one of the best books on the market. Those who aren’t buying it are losing out on a great experience.

I’m hearing lots of good things about this book. I look forward to the trade.

Light on the comments today…I guess if I’m not stirring crap up we all have less to say!

I’m glad to see such great support for this book…and it’s always an extra bonus when people agree with me. :)

@Tom Fitzpatrick: I admit it, I’m a fan. And Happy New Year to you as well!

@s1rude: I think this arc of DC with Rucka and Williams is one of the best examples I’ve seen of marrying art and story/words into a flawless piece. So many comics have a real disconnect between the artist and writer – it’s one of the reasons I tend to gravitate towards more independent books which often have a single creator/writer/artist. But I feel this book is a nearly perfect marriage in which they’re each pulling their own weight…and pulling it to the tune of awesome. I would just freak out with delight if we got a monthly Batwoman title with these two at the helm.

And I really should add that Dave Stewart’s colors are an important part of this package as well. I should have mentioned him in the review.

As for Kate using her sexuality while in the Batwoman costume. I thought of talking about that, as it was something that I didn’t totally love in the first issue…but in re-reading the issues it didn’t stand out to me as much this time – perhaps because I don’t really feel Kate does it much beyond issue number one (er 854). But it’s true that I wasn’t wild about that aspect in #854 and am glad they pulled back on it in subsequent issues.

@The Mutt: The line occurs in issue #860 which takes place ‘four years ago’ and has Kate returning from her training, to find that her father has fully set up her “batcave” and put together a uniform for her. Kate has a line “pop…are those heels?” in reference to a heel on her new costume’s boot. And her father replies “They were the only boots I could find in red.”

As I understand it, in previous (recent) Batwoman stories (52 and the mini with Montoya?) Kate wore a silly heeled shoe (like many female superheroes) and Williams and Rucka corrected that with the Detective Comics Batwoman ‘relaunch’, putting her in sensible (awesome) red combat boots and this line was their way of acknowledging that part of the history and explaining it away. It works for me. Especially if she’s never in a high heeled boot again. :)

@Ethan Shuster: I know what you mean. But I guess my hope is that DC (and Marvel?) can see Rucka and Williams getting it so right here and people really responding to it, and perhaps they can figure out a way to translate the same basic ideas to strong straight female characters. Which is not to say I don’t think there are already some great ones out there…but I’d be hard pressed to find one (now or ever) that’s working for me as well as Batwoman is right now. Maybe they can use this as a template for future greatness.

Thanks, y’all.

you summed it all up and then some. i like how you pointed out the panel where kate was lifting weights. at this point, there’s no doubt rucka has good intentions w writing about women and/or gay women, but it’s the subtleties that shows he also knows what he’s doing (854’s lame flannel joke notwithstanding hahah).

About the use of red on the suit, red really does become near-invisible in the dark. I found this out as a kid doing “night ops” at summer camp wearing a red windbreaker. Much like the deep blue that a traditional ninja outfit is dyes (not black like the movies would lead you to believe), red clothing reduces or completely removes the outline of the body at night, while straight black tends to leave a more visible outline of a body.

Kind of like how, in black and white movies, darker colors tend to give off a deeper black than black itself.

I still didn’t read the book, but seeing how Greg Rucka is my favorite Bat-writer (yes, I even like him more than Morrison, at least when writting the Bat people), I eventually will. I like how he writes Montoya.

And writing a homosexual character, particularly in superhero comics, is such a minefield. You get attacked from all sides. Conservatives will latch on any imperfect detail to claim the character is gratuituous and there just to serve an agenda. Liberals will latch on any imperfect detail to say the character is stereotypical and offensive to real life gays.

You can’t win.

But I hope the genre is finally mature enough to deal with it in a natural way, and Rucka seems like a good guy to do it. I’ll definetely try the comic.

Oh, and just wanted to say that I agree with Amit and s1rude. Rucka’s Wonder Woman was amazing. Using the embassy as a focus for her stories allowed Rucka to get political in an effortless way. Plus, I love his “modern, darker fantasy” take on Greek myth.

I usually love Gail Simone, but I was quite disappointed in her more traditional, whacko, superhero-y Wonder Woman.

I have been waiting for you to review this book…it has made me give it a second look. Not that I did not like it, I just didn’t give it as thorough and existed a review. You have refreshed my thinking.

So glad you pointed out Williams taking on a John Paul Leon meets David Mazzucchelli style. You did read Promethea , right? I think this book owes a lot to Williams work with Moore on Promethea. While I have become more insistent on clarity, over the years, I am totally happy with Williams approach. Williams work is a little like Chris Ware’s…it get easier to read over time…and it is worth the effort. Williams is one of those FEW artists who can take risks like Neal Adams (who broke the panel border first and most effectively) and in the end make it work for the story…again it is like reading a new visual dialect and takes time to read the depth he is putting into it.

The Question is actually why I gave this book such low marks. I simply think it is a waste of an intriguing character.

And on the Mazzucchelli point – I imagined that Williamsdid that on purpose to evoke Batman: Year One. Anyone else get that impression?

I was at a convention once were Rucka did a panel on writing and someone asked how he writes such well-formed female characters. He gave a nice talk about being very close to his sister, mother and wife. He apparently observes them and then uses their personalities to extrapolate what women would actually do and think in certain situations. Isn’t that revolutionary? Instead of just writing everyone with one voice he attempts empathy and insight. I feel like more writers could do this if they really wanted to but they just don’t bother. Also, Rucka has never written anything that isn’t awesome (that I’ve found, at least). Whiteout, Queen and Country, Wonder Woman, his Superman work and my dearly departed Checkmate…what a track record!

@ Ben Cohen:

When I first heard about the “lipstick lesbian Batwoman”, I cringed. It seemed to be a bit of stunt, or gimmick on the surface. I sampled the Rucka-Williams ‘Tec largely because I was already reading the title. It was immediately astoundingly good and it has gotten very consistently better. Based on the strong sales numbers, I am guessing that is sentiment that a lot of readers share.

It was a marketing gimmick that worked, which stands in sharp contrast to the similar gimmicks DC attempted on the Superman titles. Amazingly, THE QUESTION back-up in very same title (and scripted by the same person) is a pretty good example of example of exactly what I was dreading with BATWOMAN.

Let me take a step back.

My theory is that a good superhero has two components. First, they need an origin story that provides a relatable moment of transformation. Either a the regular person becomes one of these demi-gods for an understandable reason, or someone who is already a demi-god chooses to walk amongst us for a reason with which we can emotionally connect. Second, the superhero needs a modus operandi that externalizes some aspect of their inner psychology. The second aspect is ideally inter-related to the first.

In both regards, Batman is nearly perfect. That is why the most successful expansions of the Bat Family have almost uniformly experienced “second origins”, or moments of transformation from one type of hero to another (i.e. Dick Grayson, Barbara Gordon). Straight brand extensions tend to have a difficult time without the pointy-eared guy around. He is the engine that drives their motivations. The idea that a character without a direct, personal connection could expand the franchise seemed unlikely and most likely routes to creating a connection for a character that seemed destined to be defined by her sexual identity did not seem promising.

That makes what Rucka and Williams have done in the front of the book a small miracle. Kate Kane feels like a real person. Her story is her own and her modus operandi (while derivative) feels organic. Amazing.

Conversely, THE QUESTION has none of that. Her origin story is not even really her own story. It is all about Vic Sage and passing along the legacy of his work. Montoya could literally have been any established DC cop character. Nor does her modus operandi really tells us anything about Montoya. The blank face and generic male clothing do not speak to her attitudes and beliefs, but those of her predecessor. She could be wearing a feminized version of nearly any street-level male superhero and the effect would be exactly the same. As a result, the stories are pretty well devoid of any of the content that makes the superhero genre compelling. The superhero trappings are, at best, a distraction for what seems like the semi-decent private eye story that Rucka really wants to tell.

It is a shame, because the creation of the new Question burned up two good supporting DCU players. Both The Question 1.0 and Montoya as a cop were more compelling than what Rucka and Cully Hammer are pumping out. However, I do not think that it detracts from excellent main feature beyond providing an unfortunate contrast.

@ Ben Cohen:

Neal Adams was not the first person to break panel border. An argument can be made that he did it the best (as you say in your comment), but he did not do it first. I don’t know who did it first, but there are plenty of examples in the early issues of Mad.

realizing it’s a minor point, but red is very difficult to see at night. it’s got the longest wavelength and lowest energy of the visible spectrum, and doesn’t travel as far as other colours before being absorbed/refracted/etc. in some ways, it’s harder to see than black (as a solid black will show better against a background of any other colour).

Imma have to pick this title up clearly. I dropped it after two issues, not for any particular reason, just being distracted and unsure if it would satisfy me as a queer reader. I was also peeved, as a femme, with what seemed like the entire internet calling Kate a femme based solely on her choice of clothing. Your enthusiasm is very enjoyable and makes me want to read the book.

It is a shame, because the creation of the new Question burned up two good supporting DCU players. Both The Question 1.0 and Montoya as a cop were more compelling than what Rucka and Cully Hammer are pumping out.

You had me totally with your comment until this section. Greg Rucka’s Montoya was always an annoying pet character under Rucka’s pen even before she was turned into the Question. It could be argued that Rucka Montoya was better than Rucka Montoya Question but both still suck.

@ Dean

Your take is again pretty solid. I would say that when done right, this is why I loved Marvel characters like the x-men. The transitional point in most mutants is so relative, because it is during adolescence. And then there is a stigma, or even a real burden that comes with the “gift.” I always enjoyed Batman for the same reasons.

There is no question…they really did everything wrong in recreating the Question (sorry that was horrid).

@ Adam

Thanks for the correction…will have to pass that on to the Sequential Art department @ SCAD…they provided me with that nugget. So was it Jack Davis?

I have loved this entire run but I admit that for the first part, it was all about Williams, not Rucka. The story felt a little weak to me, while the visuals continued to be stunning.

The flashback stuff, however, has turned me right round.

I love this book.

[…] did a fine job the other day of explaining why Detective is such a terrific book, but I'd add that Streets of Gotham is a good solid read too, both the lead feature and the backup […]

I’ve not read the entre article yet, as I still have yet to pick up the latest issue (I only get to visit my LCS monthly), so I skimmed from the point where you announced SPOILERS! (thanks for that, by the way! ;-) )

I’ve enjoyed the Batwoman character since her debut in 52, and after reading the Books of Blood mini, I would have picked up Batwoman in any title, so it was fortuitous that she took over a title I was already getting.

I love the character because she IS so plausible, so grounded, so realistic.

I love the fact that she hasn’t got Kara’s pneumatic breasts, or a Diana-style two-piece/one-piece swimsuit (which my son so recently highlighted from the cover of his JLU digest – “Dad? Why is Wonder Woman almost naked, when everyone else is dressed properly?” – he’s four-and-a-half…)

Sure, JH Williams’ art is a HUGE selling point, but with character-work like this from Rucka, as long as the art is good (and I have complete faith that Jock will deliver the goods) I WILL keep getting it and putting it at the top of my read pile every month!

I also look forward to coming back and re-readng the article once I’ve read #860…

“Dad? Why is Wonder Woman almost naked, when everyone else is dressed properly?” (he’s four-and-a-half…)

From the mouths of babes my friend, the mouths of babes.

Definitely come back and let me know what you think after you’ve read #860.

Kelly,

As promised, I have returned. I have read #860 and now read your post completely (rather than skimming like I did previously).

I really don’t know what to add. You’ve mentioned all the points that I can think of. This book is ALWAYS in my first batch of books that I read once I’ve brought my monthly haul home, because, quite simply, it is one of the BEST BOOKS DC HAS OUT THERE!

I understand a lot of people mourning the loss of Vic Sage, but personally, I am really enjoying Montoya as The Question. I have followed her character arc through 52, the Books of Blood and am currently really enjoying the “second feature” in Detective Comics. I look forward to your take on Renee in a future post (and Kate Spencer, who is going great guns in Streets of Gotham at the moment).

I love how JH Williams’ art style varies, depending on the era he’s portraying. The older the story, the less rendered it is (a comment on the fuzziness of memory perhaps?) and the way he connects a double-page spread in such a way that you KNOW that it’s a double-page spread – usually through a character breaking across the panels, leading us to read it that way.

This is something that Bendis needs to pick up on. I’ve seen enough comments and heard enough podcasts to know that I’m not the only one who gets thrown off by the Bendis 2-page spread method, where you don’t often realise the flow until you get to the second page and realise that you’ve read the story in a 1-3-5-7-9-2-4-6-8 sequence…

I am sad that JH Williams is not going to be doing this book every month, but I think Jock is going to be a great alternative, as he knows how to play with page layout and design as well.

Oh, I remember, the wig/mask thing: I think that is a BRILLIANT touch!
A) because it covers the whole “Grab the hair” problem (also known as the Watchmen-Dollar Bill-Cape problem)
and; B) It assists with her “Secret Identity”… People will be looking for someone with LONG red hair, not a punky/gothy short crop…

I also enjoyed the whole thing where her dad sends her on a trip to train with his friends/acquaintances. This in particular actually strikes me as truer to real life than the “Bruce Wayne traiing in a hidden Tibetan Monastery”…

It wasn’t until you mentioned it that I realised that Batwoman is NOT looking up to Batman, but rather ACKNOWLEDGING HIM AS AN EQUAL, and that is what makes her stand out in comparison to Batgirl, Robin and all the rest. She doesn’t need or want his approval. She is her own woman. The closest comparison I can come up with is the early Nineties’ version of Huntress – Helena Bertinelli always struck me as having the attitude of “Who are you to tell me how I should be doing this? I’m not trying to be like you.”

As for the Wonder Woman comment from my son… He (and I find myself agreeing with his analysis) just doesn’t understand why Black Canary, for example, has a jacket and leggings, but Diana is running around bare-shouldered and bare-legged (“like she was at the beach”)… and this is in a Kids’ cartoon!

He does actually prefer Batman: The Brave and the Bold to JLU, though. Huntress and Black Canary are two of his favourites, so I asked why Huntress’ costume in particular seemed more acceptable to him and he replied “well, she has a cape and gloves and doesn’t look naked, she just looks cool!”

I think it’s also that Huntress and Black Canary both come across as equally strong characters, and how the younger characters like Blue Beetle look up to them…

I don’t know, really, as I’m not all that good at subtext until things like that get pointed out to me…

Enough waffling. Good post, Kelly. I look forward to reading more and REALLY can’t wait for your take on Montoya (Get both Books of Blood and Final Crisis: Revelations for more Renee/Kate interaction, by the way!)

Best wishes,

Tim

Blackjack:

Glad you came back! The only time I don’t read Detective first in my stack is when I’m in my ‘save the best for last’ mentality…which rarely works and I cave and read it.

I agree with you that Bendis (primarily in his work with Oeming on Powers) the double page spreads can be confusing/frustrating. None of that trouble here with JH Williams.

I think perhaps you should write a book full of your sons observations – they seems like pure unfiltered truth to me “like she was at the beach” – how refreshing to hear acknowledged! I also think that the Huntress costume issue, some of the uproar over that is about her stomach injury, and how after a stomach injury you would be more likely to cover that area and protect it, rather than blatantly exposing it. So while I find the bare midriff silly and lame, I do think your son is right that she is more covered technically than many others. But it’s the background that makes that costume particularly egregious.

Thanks for the tips on the Montoya and Kate Kane interactions – there will definitely be more on those two here in the future.

Kelly, don’t get me wrong. It’s the Pre-Bare-Midriff Huntress Costume that is popular in our household!

As for Zach’s observations? You’ve inspired me. I think I will start noting them down. I actually feel that he’s revealing things to me that either I’ve been conditioned into ignoring, or my expectations over the years have changed…

[…] can’t say it any clearer than I already did on She Has No Head! but this is the superhero comic that I have been waiting my whole life for.  It is nearly […]

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