The Comic Book Club: Batwoman, Detective and Superman Vs. Muhammad Ali

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This is what happens when Techland goes to the comic book store: we end up discussing what we picked up. This week, Graeme McMillan, Evan Narcisse and Douglas Wolk talk about Detective Comics #871, Batwoman #0 and the Superman Vs. Muhammad Ali reprint.

GRAEME: Now, more than ever, Batwoman is an artists’ comic. With Greg Rucka out of the picture for the foreseeable future, what’s left is a solidly-written (by artist J.H. Williams and partner W. Haden Blackman) comic that is nonetheless stunning, based purely on its visuals. Williams’ art continues the style established by his previous Detective work – and maybe more so by the hardcover collection of the same? – but takes it further, somehow, and Amy Reeder comes up with pages that look just as good. I might actually prefer Reeder’s work here, actually – there’s something about the crispness in her line (or, more properly, inker Richard Friend’s line) that really works for me – but the double-page spread where the two crossover with Batwoman and Kate kicking is just lovely to look at.

(More on Techland: J.H. Williams III on Batwoman and More)

Storywise, it’s… eh. It’s okay for a preview issue, I guess? I don’t know, there didn’t seem to be much there, to be honest, and I was left feeling pretty disappointed from that standpoint. It felt very short, and left me wanting more in the sense of “Is that IT?” instead of “That was so great, I can’t wait for the next issue!”

EVAN: I was worried about Batwoman #0 from the writing perspective. I’ve known Haden Blackman mostly as a video game creative during his time at LucasArts. He’s written comics and prose before, but this is probably the highest stake, highest profile writing he’s done. The worry comes from watching too many people from outside comics get things wrong, but I think Blackman performs pretty well here.

He nails the particular economy of verbiage that comics requires. Lots of newcomers overwrite when they come to sequential writing, but the double narrative flows smoothly and the action’s well-paced. Most importantly, he shows that he understands the characters without seeming overly fannish. I liked how he and Williams quickly delineated a trait that makes her stand apart from Batman, too. I hope that gets to play out in the regular book. They also had a tricky dance to do here, in terms of staying away from the Rucka/Williams stuff. But you get a sense of the backstory and the character dynamics pretty well without spelling everything out.

DOUGLAS: That’s true. One of the things I really liked about the Rucka run was what we saw of Kate as a character–that she’s attracted to both military discipline and being totally out of control, and that being Batwoman lets her do that–and even though we never see her speak as Kate here (the only words we see in the entire issue are Bruce’s!), we still get that sense of that weird contradiction within her, which makes her very different from the rest of the Bat-family.

EVAN: Now, I know that the way I’m framing the division of labor may not be entirely fair, because Williams actually gets the lead writing credit. He’s got other things to do, obviously, and he does them well. I was actually dreading the contrast between Reeder and Williams, because I figured it’d be really jarring. The two artists’ work is really complementary: Williams’ sharp, angular designs are more architectural where Reeder’s palette and linework is softer and more spare. The combo makes me look forward to the ongoing run.

DOUGLAS: When I interviewed Williams a while back, he mentioned that each arc of the series is going to have its own look-and-feel–that’s the sort of thing you’re more likely to see with a writer/artist at the helm. I’m excited to see the forthcoming run–I love Williams’ stuff, and Reeder’s worth watching too. Still, this did feel very slim to me. Sixteen pages plus a little b/w preview of art from the forthcoming issue? That’s not $2.99 worth.

(More on Techland: The Comic Book Club: “Batwoman: Elegy” and “Werewolves of Montpellier”)

But yes, the side-by-side Reeder/Williams layouts are a nice idea to demonstrate how this series is going to go. Interesting that Reeder’s going for a much more straightforward look than Williams’ bat-form pages. It’s also interesting to see how this connects with the other Batman Inc. books–the extensive detective work Bruce is putting into figuring out Batwoman’s identity here, vs. his offhandedly mentioning that he worked out Mr. Unknown’s identity over in Inc. (And what’s up with the missing-hand motif? It’s like we’re in the second season of Arrested Development or something.) Nice to see Bruce as a master of disguise again, too…

Still, a lot of this plot could have been gotten around if Bruce had talked to Dick about the stuff that went on in Batman & Robin–Col. Kane showing up as Batwoman’s “military liaison” pretty much seals the deal. (Except where would that story have happened in Kate’s history, if she and her father are still on the outs following the Detective run? Oy. Continuity.)

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