DETECTIVE COMICS #861
What did the
Art by Jock
Co-feature Art by Cully Hamner
Cover by JH Williams III
I guess this issue is sort of like what Gotham Central (which I’ve never read) was like? If so, then I can totally see the appeal of that series. This reads very much like some crime drama on tv that millions of regular people would like to watch in primetime. For me, personally, I don’t really see anything too groundbreaking or interesting about any of that stuff, but this example of it is pretty good. (I won’t do the passive-aggressive, near-backhanded compliment thing of saying that it’s “pretty good for what it is. No, it’s “pretty good”, straight up.) The whole project is well-done. Along with the better-than-average “second feature” Question story, Detective Comics continues to feel like DC Comics’ “deluxe package”: you get the impression that even though a title like Green Lantern outsells it, in some way this series is nonetheless in some way the top-end model of the line: the production that justifies its $4 price tag best.
Throughout the whole issue, the mood is dark, grim and spooky–yet gritty and realistic. As alluded to above, this is how all the best mass-produced cop shows are: the terrors shown are realistic, they happen to real people, the violence is real and in-your-face but not to a sensationalized or “shock value” degree. And in this issue there’s also the inclusion of a more lighthearted, more innocent scene–the scene with Kate out of costume, with her cousin–which only serves to make the rest of the narrative seem even more serious, more dire, more life-and-death by contrast.
This great mood stuff is a credit to both Rucka and Jock. Jock renders it all quite well, but as with the preceding JH Williams issues…I don’t think adequate credit has been given to Rucka for, basically, being the guy who gives his Detective Comics artists such great subject matter and settings. Jock, of course, isn’t the artist JH Williams is, but he’s a serviceable replacement. Do I think he lives up to the hype that some people have given him, as if he were “the only” guy who could possibly follow-up JH? No. The art is definitely a marked downgrade. But it’s still good.
I’ve had issues with Rucka’s dialogue in the past, but here there’s only one real boner: the inclusion of the term “epic fail”. Rucka may not be too busy not to use Twitter a lot, but Kate Kane–given her dour persona, night activities, training and individualism–seems like one of the least likely people ever to use a trendy Internet-derived phrase. I don’t think she would even say it as a mock-ironic joke or whatever. She definitely wouldn’t say it out loud. It’s a minor point, but it took me out of the issue somewhat. “Oh no,” I thought, when I saw out of the corner of my vision that the term “epic fail” was coming up, as a scanned the page–”You were doing so well up to this point.” It’s minor, though.
The only halfway significant problem I have with this issue is something about the plotting. When you show your hero finding the villain and kicking his ass in the first issue–why should I care too much about what happens next as far as the villain goes? We know Kate can kick his ass, so why should I care to learn about WHO the guy is via elaborate flashback sequences? There’s a reason why fisticuffs between protagonist and antagonist, in which the protagonist proves superior in the fighting department, almost always come at the END of storylines: because that provides for satisfying resolution. First we slowly learn all the details about who a mystery villain is–learn how twisted, vengeful the guy is–and AFTER we learn what a monster we’re dealing with, THEN we bring this monster to bear on the hero. Not before.
The thing with Detective Comics so far…is that it’s like Rucka keeps putting his protagonists through the same basic plot: someone is in trouble/gets kidnapped, then someone comes to the rescue. First Kate got in trouble and her dad rescued her. Then the Question rescued kidnapped women. Then Kate’s dad got kidnapped and Kate rescued him. Then Huntress came to the aid of the Question when a group got the drop on her. And now we’ve got a story where a(nother) group of kidnapped women are going to be rescued/avenged by a hero, by Kate this time around. We don’t know exactly who the bad guy is, but we already know that Kate can locate him and kick his ass so bad that he has to run away. Where’s the tension? Same with the backup story: the bad guy gets the drop on the Question and Huntress, and says he has studied everything about their fighting styles…but then in just two pages Rucka writes them as kicking his ass…and then (?!) they pay him off. (If they can kick his ass, they don’t need to pay him not to fight them.) The thing is, in this series I never feel any tension. Of course, in most comics the good guys win…but in Rucka’s Detective Comics the female heroes win in almost ridiculously short order. Why show your protagonist (who’s a relatively new, inexperienced hero) beat up the “mysterious” villain halfway through the very first issue of a three-issue arc? Damn, build some tension! No one will think you’re sexist if you show Kate coming off as a less than perfect fighter the first time she faces a new male antagonist! Gawd!
The above criticism is just due to a habitual problem that’s beginning to nag me a bit; I did like the issue overall, definitely. Taken on its own, in the Batwoman story the inclusion of flashbacks works well, as does their structure. Aside from the dramatic drawbacks of how Kate’s first fight with “Cutter” went, I AM interested in learning the character’s backstory, especially if it’s told along with appearances by a Rucka-penned Batman (he writes a great Bruce Wayne). Both features of this series are compelling in this issue. I’m not even a Question fan, but I’m very much looking forward to seeing her try to get out of the predicaments she’s gotten herself into.
Overall, despite the art clearly not being as innovative and masterfully unique as that of JH Williams, and despite the plot being undercut by a now-familiar process of events in this series, this is still a damn solid issue. As someone who started reading this series on a regular basis almost entirely because of JH Williams’ art…at this point I’d be on board almost forever, because I know I can count on a product that’s been given a lot of attention and thought by the various creative people involved. (We only got two Rucka issues left?! The first issue of that Batwoman title better get solicited soon…)
As someone who basically dislikes television, and keeps track of what tv tropes I don’t care for, I can recognize this issue as being very nearly “just another gory catch-the-serial-perv cop story–again.” But it’s still a damn solid, satisfying production. Definitely “(3) Good”, all around.
Art: 3 - Good