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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Week That Was: Classical Composers, Canadian Americana, Lipstick Lesbians, Crime-Scene Cleanups and Naff Holocaust Films. (Part 1)

Here, basically, are some of my favourite comics, movies, DVDs and albums of the week of Monday 22 June 2009. Also, a bit of a rant for a very undeserving multi-Oscar nominated Holocaust-related film.

I'm going to break this down into seperate posts in order to ensure that this comes out before mid-August. Starting off with:

Comic of the week: Batwoman in Detective Comics #854.

A few years back, there was something of a fuhrer whipped up by the mainstream press in America about the debut of an all-new all-"lipstick lesbian" Batwoman. Presumably it was a slow news day as she was hardly the first gay mainstream comic book character but, for some unknown reason, a very big deal was made out of this.

Brilliantly, DC Comics responded by totally downplaying her character by limiting her to various small supporting appearances. Now, with this non-news story far behind them DC have finally turned the spotlight onto this mysterious character with an (at least year long) starring role in DC's longest running title, Detective Comics. Detective Comics has primarily been home to Batman himself but after a long series of events that I really don't feel like getting into right now, Batman is missing/ presumed dead and Bruce Wayne's large supporting cast have been thrust into the spotlight, each taking up one or two of the 6,823 Batman comics that traditionally come out every month. All I can say is that if these comics maintain the levels of (from what I've read) these re-tooled Bat-books so far, I'm all for the "real" Batman being out of commission for quite some time.

We may only be one issue in but Batwoman in Detective Comics has quickly jumped to the top of my must-read pile. On the writing front, the book was given to Greg Rucka and considering his greatest strengths lie in crime comics, street-level superheroics and strong female characters, I can't think of a better guy for the job. And, man, does his first issue not disappoint.

To be sure, there's nothing wildly groundbreaking about his first script and there aren't any of the kind of explosive, surprising moments that first issues so often like to use to hook new readers. What we have instead is simply a master scripter doing what he does best: a beautifully controlled story with intriguing characters and note-perfect dialogue that has you eagerly awaiting to read what happens next. There's a great balance between quiet character moments and the more story-driven noir/ superhero elements and, best of all, Rucka steadfastly refuses to give into the exposition-heavy pratfalls that plague so many opening issues. Kate Kane, our titular protagonist is still something of an enigma but already it's easy to see that she is far more than her sexual persuasion and even if we don't really know her yet, it's pretty clear that Greg Rucka does. He could have started off with an origin story, instead he's apparently saving that for later instead offering us a glimpse of the character in action - both in her shambolic personal life and her more assured role as Batwoman.

Simply put, Rucka delivers a thoroughly satisfying start to what promises to be an extraordinarily well-written comic for however long it lasts. Astonishingly though, brilliant a job as Rucka clearly did here, his writing isn't even the main attraction of the comic. No, that honour belongs to artist extraordinaire, JH Williams III. He has long been one of my favourite artists but his artwork here defies even the highest of expectations. This is, in no uncertain terms, the best looking comic I've read this year. It's the kind of art that you would expect to find limited to hugely hyped, special once-off comic products, not on the 854th issue of a monthly series.

I barely even know where to start with his artwork here so I'll start with the part that has nothing to do with JH Williams himself. The first thing that you would probably notice as you crack open this issue is Dave Stewart's vibrant colours be it in the grittier, darker "action" pages or the softer character pages. Colourists are often overlooked when it comes to evaluating the quality of the art in a comic but without Stewart's superb work here, William's art wouldn't be anywhere near as striking - and that's really saying something when you consider just how great a job Williams has done here.

Williams is a guy who is known for his experimental page layouts but this issue takes it to a whole other level. While the quieter moments are laid out in a fairly conventional manner, the pages that feature Batwoman in action forgo conventions grid-layouts entirely, as you can see in these sample pages I've included. Most importantly, however unconventional these pages look, they're never hard to follow and his storytelling is pretty much impecable. His fairly realistic figure work is also faultless, as are his highly detailed backgrounds with each pannel being "directed" with a world-class cinematographer's eye. As if all this wasn't enough to set him apart from his contemporaries, he also does something which is very unusual for a superhero comic: he changes his style dramatically between the pages featuring Kate in her civillian guise and those featuring her as Batwoman. It's such a seemingly obvious and yet highly effective choice that it's hard to believe it isn't a tecnique that's used more often. Perhaps after this, it will be.

As if all this wasn't enough there's a whole other story that's part of DC's new/ resurrected co-feature program featuring a character who has been constantly linked with this new Batwoman: Renne Montoya, The Question. Again written by Greg Rucka and with art by Cully Hamner, this co-feature is a great addition to the comic though it was too short to really form an opinion on yet. Rucka's writing seems to be hardly any less impressive than it was on the main feature and while Humner's art isn't as strikingly brilliant as Williams', the fact that he isn't completely overshadowed speaks volumes about just how impressive his art is in it's own right.

This was really everything that superhero comic books should be.

(All Images taken from the preview of this issue on

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