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Saturday 10 October 2009

Can the all-new Batwoman defend Gotham?

Posted in: Books
By Josh Preston - 28th June 2009

Review: Detective Comics 854

Written by Greg Rucka, art by J.H.Williams III & Cully Hammer

DC Comics, August 2009

In 2007 newspapers around the world were ablaze with the news that DC Comics had announced that they were introducing a new version of the character Batwoman aka Kathy Kane into the pages of their new weekly comics event '52'. What made headlines at the time was the fact that she was to be a lesbian.

But after her somewhat brief but crucial appearances in '52' Kathy Kane largely disappeared without trace... until now!


In January 2009 at the climax of DC's event comic Final Crisis Batman aka Bruce Wayne was killed by uber-villain Darkseid, and for several months the key Bat titles Detective Comics and Batman were put on hiatus as the protectors of Gotham City decided who would take on Wayne's mantle. With this question resolved in May the DC Bat-titles underwent a shakeup and relaunch. Detective Comics would now go on without Batman as the lead character for the foreseeable future, and into his place stepped Kathy Kane, the lesbian Batwoman.

Kathy Kane, but you can call her batwoman
What makes this story odd is the marketing spin placed on the 2007 coverage of the character and the total lack of media coverage now that she is the feature character in one of DC's flagship titles.

This follows in the wake of ridiculous media hype from Marvel comics covering some of its event comics; Obama appearing in Spiderman and the rebirth of Captain America (dead for two years but coming back soon to a comic store near you). DC's main publicity in this intervening period include its censorship of Superman (a bottle of beer was removed from a cover image portraying Supes' final sitdown with the late Pa Kent), its failure to fully censor obscene language in Frank Miller (Sin City, 300) and Jim Lee's All Star Batman and Robin and the wave of 'family values' complaints after a nude wresting Batgirl and Batwoman featured in a two page spread. So it would seem that rather than publicise the reappearance of lesbian Batwoman - and potentially cop more negative publicity - DC comics marketing department are playing their cards close to their chest.

Detective Comics #854 hit newsstands around the world this week, written by Greg Rucka (Whiteout, Heroes) and the phenomenal artwork talent of J.H. Williams III (who drew the phenomenal Alan Moore series Promethea). I had a look as I was curious to see how things went down...

From the first page it's clear that this is an ambitious high quality book. Rucka's writing a character who is quite literally kick ass, and Williams art work is gorgeous, with the vivid red of the characters costume and flaming hair stamping itself across the retina.

Williams expertly maintains a gorgeous painted tone for the opening sequence which shifts to crisp pen and ink artwork as we retreat to Kanes' secret hideout. Williams' superb art and longtime collaborator Dave Stewarts' use of colour and tone set this comic ahead of the pack by miles. The two page spreads are gorgeous and meticulously detailed with the perfectionism Williams is renowned for.

The story drops us into the midst of an investigation into 13 covens known as 'The Religion of Crime' that are converging in Gotham City. Kathy Kane is hot on the case and with a brief cameo from the new Batman (Dick Grayson, the original Robin and former Nightwing) she is soon embroiled in occult intrigue. The brief glimpses of her personal life show us a little family and relationship interaction, her current girlfriend dumps her 10 pages into the comic! It's handled very matter of factly and with strong characterisation. This introductory chapter serves to adequately whet the appetite and bodes very well for the series to come.

The book has a back up story concerning The Shadow, aka Renee Montoya the first female to take the mantle of the 1940's era hard boiled detective. Two strong female characters leading one of DC Comics' flagship titles is impressive, equally so the dark and foreboding tone of both stories. Batwoman's tale feels like an occult mystery a la Hellblazer with a layer of deep strong characterisation, while The Shadow steps from 40's pulp origins into an episode of The Wire. Both tales are intriguing enough to make me keen to grab this title as it comes out; this comic raises the bar and I can't wait for the next issue.

This comic is out now; available from your local comic book store; ie Heroes For Sale, next door to Rainbow Youth on K Rd, Comics Compulsion in Cuba Mall, and Gotham Comics in Onehunga. If it's not on the shelf they can reorder it in for you.

Josh Preston - 28th June 2009

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