As far as my comic-shop file is concerned, 2009 was a good year overall — and it really didn’t have that much to do with lantern rings and cape-baiting zombies. DC’s “Blackest Night” and many of the tie-ins have been perfectly enjoyable, but the books that stuck with me this year were more about individual characters than cataclysmic events. From the brilliant-while-it-lasted pairing of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely on “Batman and Robin,” to the nifty surprises of “Wednesday Comics” and “Superman: Secret Origin,” to the thank-God-it’s-still-good re-launch of Brian Michael Bendis’ “Ultimate Comics Spider-Man,” my pull list generally gave me a lot to look forward to on Wednesdays.
But no title rocked my world in 2009 quite like “Detective Comics” as conceived by writer Greg Rucka and artist J.H. Williams III. I expected Rucka’s writing to shine, but Williams’ visual storytelling has been extraordinary. In each of the seven issues (#854-860) this team has produced so far, Williams has executed pages that are unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a mainstream comic book. Brought to life by Dave Stewart’s expert coloring, Batwoman is frankly terrifying the first time she appears in issue #854, all pale skin, flame-red wig and shiny black bodysuit. Even her crimson lipstick is intimidating. (Dear M.A.C.: Consider making Batwoman the face of your next Viva Glam campaign.) If you’re up to no good, you do not want to meet this woman in an alley, period. That’s how it should be when someone wears the bat symbol.
Fortunately, the artwork serves a mighty good origin story. [Spoilers ahead] What motivates a privileged person, one who isn’t named Bruce Wayne, to put on a costume and stalk criminals at night? After the brutal loss of her mother and identical twin sister, Kate Kane follows in her military father’s footsteps rises through the U.S. Army ranks. But when she’s outed as a lesbian and refuses to lie about being gay, Kate is forced out of the service and becomes a woman adrift — at least, until a chance encounter with Batman inspires her to start taking a bite out of crime herself. Their wordless first meeting is one of my favorite visuals in this series, and though Kate is clearly in awe of Gotham’s dark knight, she didn’t need his help to whip her would-be attacker’s ass.
In Rucka’s hands, Kate has emerged as a truly interesting, complicated figure. I particularly like her kindred-spirit relationship with her dad, who uses his high-level military connections to support her crime-fighting. There’s tension between Kate and her wealthy stepmother, and it’s clear that she’s not entirely over Renee Montoya, aka The Question. A recent discovery about her twin sister, Beth, is a doozie. And of course, there’s that lingering issue of having been stabbed through the heart by a Religion of Crime crackhead.
Word is that Rucka and Williams will reunite in 2010 to continue Batwoman’s adventures in her own title. I’m going to file that under “Please, Please Be True.” After all, Gotham City needs all the help it can get, and I’m pretty well hooked now.