Shiny Shelf

Detective Comics

By Mark Clapham on 06 November 2009

Remember Greg Rucka? Novelist turned crime comic writer, creator of ‘Whiteout’ and ‘Queen and Country’, then writer of an acclaimed run on ‘Detective Comics’ and the co-creation of the cultish ‘Gotham Central’? Then, as time went on, a general mainstream comic writer who followed runs on ‘Wolverine’ and the like with a stint as a DC exclusive creator, churning out largely indistinguishable superhero comics alongside DC’s other mainstays like Judd Winick and Geoff Johns?

Yeah, that Greg Rucka.

Well, a while back Rucka let his DC exclusive status lapse, and has been doing other stuff – co-writing a ‘Daredevil’ arc with Ed Brubaker, and returning to his creator-owned roots with ‘Stumptown’, a comic that sadly hasn’t yet reached the distant outpost I now reside in. By all accounts he’s seeing a return to form. Rucka hasn’t given up on DC work though, and over the last few months we’ve seen one major bit of unfinished business addressed – Rucka’s creation of the new Batwoman, Kate Kane, in the pages of ‘52′ a couple of years back.

Kate is back, with Rucka writing and the amazing JH Williams III providing art, as the lead character in ‘Detective Comics’ (with ‘The Question’ as a second feature). At last, Batwoman is getting her proper debut, in a story that deepens her background, introduces her family and fleshes out her motivations. Now, while I enjoyed bits of ‘Checkmate’ and what have you, this is by far the most assured scripting on a superhero comic I’ve seen from Rucka in years. It’s got a solid premise, a creepy villain, and a tone that goes some way to justifying another Bat spin-off.

Rucka has said that he’s writing this as a story that will be reprinted for as long as Kate is considered a viable character, and there’s a nicely timeless feel to the story, with wider DC continuity issues skipped blithely over – who is that in the Batman costume? Whoever you think it is, really. We get a full-throttle action story, but one which leads Kate to gradually think through her own background. Good stuff.

It’s the art that pushes it into truly gawp-worthy territory, and nudges this incarnation of ‘Detective’ over the line from ‘good’ into ‘unmissable’. Williams work is beautiful, and quite unique for comics art – a lot of very detailed, painted comics art feels static, and I tend to prefer the fluid sense of motion you get from good pencil-and-ink comics art. What Williams does isn’t static, but it doesn’t convey motion either – instead it seems to break time across the page with the vivid quality of time lapse photography, bravado compositions cutting-up action scenes into intense snapshots.

Quite unique. It’s like watching an amazing bit of nature photography in vivid high def – but instead of watching a tree frog jumping, we’re seeing a red-booted lesbian vigilante kicking some goon in the chops. Which has to be better – suck on that Attenborough.

Compared to this, the back-up (or Second Feature, as DC insist) was always going to be a bit of a sorbet after the main course. ‘The Question’, written again by Rucka with art by Cully Hamner, is a straight down-the-line crime comic with a sweaty, noirish feel to it. Hamner is a good fit for the material, and it’s a fluid and punchy read. It provides a good contrast to the main strip.

Nonetheless, it’s ‘Batwoman’ that people will be reading this version of ‘Detective Comics’ for, and the work of a writer/artist team at the top of their game. There’s a lingering question over whether Kate Kane will last longer than any other of the post-Barbara Gordon bat-lasses, and how she’ll work when given to a less stellar creative team, but those are question for another day.

For now we’re at the beginning, and the signs are very good.

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By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named

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