Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Batwoman #1

DC Comics, 22 pages, $ 2.99

Writers: J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman
Artist: J.H. Williams III
Colorist: Dave Stewart
Letterer: Todd Klein

Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you were probably expecting this to be a great-looking comic. The question, with regard to Batwoman, was if the writing was going to hold up, now that J.H. Williams’ collaborator Greg Rucka, who wrote the “Batwoman” strip that ran in Detective Comics in 2009 and 2010, has moved on.

As it turns out, there was no reason to worry. Batwoman is, in fact, one of the most well-written books to come out of the relaunch. The story’s a pretty straightforward crime/mystery/superhero genre hybrid. With all the half-baked nonsense DC has been throwing at people, it’s a refreshing change of pace to just kick back and enjoy a solid, well-crafted piece of writing by people who know what they are doing.

There’s a lot going on here, but Williams and Blackman get the plot—involving a mysterious woman that abducts and drowns little children, evidently—underway and introduce a well-rounded and diverse supporting cast that promises some intriguing conflicts down the road. The characters and the ways they talk and act seem authentic every step of the way, which is doubly impressive if you consider that the protagonist was infamously labeled a “lipstick lesbian” by the press when she was first introduced five years ago.

That said, the real selling point here is the artwork, of course. Is there a better artist working in superhero comics than J.H. Williams III right now?

Okay, maybe you could find someone whose page-to-page storytelling is as good. Maybe somebody who’s as good at drawing actual, living and breathing characters and authentic-looking settings, too. And maybe there are a bunch of artists who are as stylistically variable or as inventive when it comes to page layout. But is someone out there working in the genre right now who’s even half as good as Williams in all of those disciplines? I seriously doubt it.

Williams’ character work and backgrounds are impressive, and for all his flashy layouts, he knows when to tone it down and draw a simple grid, too. His play with light and shadows is nothing short of spectacular, and there are no fewer than seven double-page panoramas that don’t just look breathtakingly beautiful, but actually serve the story.

Another big part of the book’s visual appeal is down to colorist Dave Stewart and letterer Todd Klein. Two masters of their trades themselves, Stewart and Klein always keep up with Williams’ playful stylistic and tonal shifts.

As a story, this doesn’t reinvent the wheel—it’s solid genre entertainment populated with credible, intriguing characters and coming with the expected thrills. In terms of the artwork, though, Batwoman #1 is as beautiful and stunning as anything you’re likely to find in a comic.

Grade: B+

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