And so, some – what – three years or so after first making a media-hyped debut, Kate “OMG She’s Batwoman And Also A Lesbian” Kane gets an origin story. I’m tempted to wonder why it’s taken so long (then again, it’s taken long enough for her to actually start properly appearing, following those vaguely mysterious but not altogether interesting cameo introductions in 52), but on the other hand, it’s hard to say whether I’d have been that bothered had the story been told back then; as opposed to now, when it’s in the pages of a title that I’m buying and enjoying every month.
The reason for that latter fact, of course, is the thing it’s hard to avoid spending all one’s time discussing when reviewing Detective Comics (strange, though, that we reviewers never seem to agonise over disproportionately covering writing in comparison to art – perhaps because we’re usually frustrated writers rather than frustrated artists). But since Rucka usually gets short shrift on this title, let’s look at the story first – hopping as it does back to Kate’s childhood for the first chapter of her Who She Is And How She Came To Be in largely effective fashion. That there’s a shared trauma in the lives of Kate and her father that set them on their present path is hardly a surprise – what is, though, is that there’s not one, but two significant figures waiting to be lost. The existence of a perfect mother and wife – not to mention a downright nice relationship between the parents even among the difficulties of continual absence – isn’t exactly unpredictable, but it’s a genuine shock to see that Kate has essentially lost the umbilical cord of a desperately close twin. Throwing such a tragedy – especially one so senseless at the same time as feeling almost painfully inevitable – into a character’s backstory is a cheap way of eliciting sympathy, but an effective one – and I’m interested enough to see the dots joined between that childhood trauma and the woman that Kate becomes.
Really, though, as solid and engaging as Rucka’s stories have generally been, there’s no denying that what makes this series worth $3.99 a month is the art of JH Williams III. Clearly recognising that enough’s been said about his work in the preceding issues as to make the discussion boring and predictable, he quite deliberately employs a specific and wildly different style for the flashback scenes that make up the bulk of the issue. It’s evocative of David Mazzuchelli – thus immediately appropriate for a Bat-family “origin” story, naturally – while at the same time, in its simpler lines and colour tones, reflecting the more innocent time of Kate’s childhood. Yet he also finds the time to draw two pages of war story flashback in a more detailed, “realistic” action comic style; and of course, we’re given a few pages of present-day framing narrative (although they’re actually at the centre of the comic) in the book’s usual, effortlessly and breathtakingly magnificent style. It just sort of feels like he’s showing off, now.
Backed up by a Question story that – while it hasn’t gripped me as much as some – comes to a nice conclusion here and features the visual stylings of Cully Hamner (no great slouch himself), Detective Comics stands at the moment as an effective and very modern comics package. The Batwoman stories still feel slightly more like mood pieces than the most exciting and layered story I’ve ever read – but hey, I’m actually interested in following the character, and that’s no mean feat in itself.