12.22.2009

My 13 Favorite Things of 2009 (Part 8 of 17)

Detective Comics (DC):
…starring Kate Kane as Batwoman, by Greg Rucka and JH Williams III. The year is 1992 and the place is a tiny local con in an old VFW hall in our hometown. It’s the first time I see JH Williams III tabling as a professional, having completed a run on Demonic Toys from Eternity Comics. I bought them all, along with a print of Rogue that he drew. This guy’s good, I like his style, I’ll keep my eye on him I remember thinking to myself. Next up, he did a great DC book called Chase, with D. Curtis Johnson. I bought everything he did as he finally broke out with Alan Moore’s Promethea. Flash forward to 1999 and the place is San Jose State University. Going back to my alma mater, I find myself handing out thousands of free downloadable copies of Greg Rucka’s Whiteout from Oni Press. It was my first exposure to his well-researched, procedural style writing, and I quickly followed him to Queen & Country, up through DC work like Checkmate. Somehow, miraculously, their career tracks intersect with my own personal childhood affinity for the Bat Family in 2009’s Detective Comics. Their run-in has proven to be the perfect marriage of Rucka’s strengths with industrial lingo and strong female leads, Williams’ self-evident brilliance and formal structuring of a page, and a combined mastery of what makes the Bat Mythos function properly. This melding of paradigms literally manifests itself in issue #859 as Kate meets her destiny and Williams’ own array of artistic styles collide during her origin story. Rucka has assembled an interesting cast to deal with and nobody working today is producing more imaginative page layouts, panel designs, or intriguing covers than Jim Williams. He’s been reinvigorating the art of superhero page layouts and design with a conscious, deliberate pastiche of stylistic emulations. Though the adventures of Kate Kane really spun out of the 52 crossover malaise, this run of Detective Comics is not at all convoluted, and it’s somewhat self-contained. It is must see comics, and when's the last time that Detective Comics (the longest continuously running title in the US) has been so relevant? It’s become an anchor in a universe that is largely unintelligible to me now, due in unharmonious part to the very crossover madness that spawned it. It’s the one bright spot that I don’t dismiss; it forces me to stop, slow down, and appreciate the way a page is constructed, to admire the art, and how it functions in unison with the tone of a script, emphasizing meaning, direction, and intent. It’s like enjoying a fine meal, never wanting it to end, savoring each bite or panel. Generally speaking, I’m not into collecting runs of a series in individual issues. It’s not my mentality; I like having trades and graphic novels on the shelf. It saves space, is often a better deal, looks nice, and I sort of like how it implicitly thumbs its nose at the collector mentality. This run of ‘Tec has been an exception. I like having the single issues, those covers are ones I want to own and pore over. I guess I’ll have to eat my words if Batwoman is ultimately collected independently of The Question. I ignore that strip, and would probably squeal with delight the same way I did when Doctor 13 was collected independently of The Spectre story in Tales of the Unexpected. If you’re simply after the pinnacle of Greg Rucka’s superhero work, or if you'd like to see some meaningful and metaphoric pencils, or even if you want something more than the sum of those wonderful parts, an astounding project that can withstand the critical scrutiny of these guys, which I consider some of the toughest and most insightful of the lot, then this run of Detective Comics is the business. This is mainstream superhero comics at its finest.

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