Matthew Peterson of Earth. RISE!  Stephen Schleicher of Earth. RISE!  I, your Robot Overlord, command you to dance like little puppets, and join forces to review a single comic book for the week.  Those that fail to obey my orders will suffer never ending torment in Robot Hell.  You are hereby ordered to review Detective Comics #859.

detective859COVER.jpgDetective Comics #859
Written by Greg Rucka; Art by JH Williams III
Co-feature art by Cully Hamner
Cover by JH Williams III
Variant cover by Jock

Previously in Detective Comics:  The 52 miniseries was very pointedly designed NOT to focus on the characters in the DC Universe that everybody already knows, instead giving center stage to John Henry Irons, Michael Jon Carter, Ralph Dibny, and Detective Renee Montoya of the Gotham P.D.  In the course of that series, Renee became entangled with Vic Sage, The Question, encountered an old flame who turned out to be the new Batwoman, and eventually was herself transformed into Vic’s own costumed protegee.  As for Batwoman, Kate Kane was constantly under siege by the Religion of Crime, who sought the “Twice-Named Daughter of Cain/Kane” as the figurehead/chief human sacrifice for their religion.  In the wake of Batman, RIP, Batwoman has returned to the streets of Gotham, while The Question has gone global in search of a windmill to tilt.

Stephen: It’s interesting that Rucka decided to use this issue to explore the loves gained and lost, and the impact her sexual orientation has had on her career.  It’s a great look at how relationships are built and destroyed because of secrets, and gives a clearer look at how Kate continues to have relationship issues because of her new secret identity as Batwoman — there’s a bit of irony in all of it.

Matthew: Wait, I’m from EARTH?  I thought I was from Krypton!  I woulda sworn that Superman got here first because my mom had to fly coach!  Aaaanyway, this chapter serves as another bit of Batwoman’s origin, and it comes at a pretty topical time, what with it’s emphasis on the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy for homosexuals in the military.  I was most impressed with the fact that Kate refused to lie about one part of her nature in order to maintain another part of it.  Being a soldier is as intrinsic to her as her orientation, perhaps more so, and I liked how deftly that balance was handled here, and the consequences of what happens when the balance was forever upset.

Stephen: While the issue explores more of Kate’s past and how her relationships with everyone from her father to Renee Montoya begin to fall apart, the best moment of the issue is when Kate discovers her calling in the form of a lending hand from Batman. Those final three panels are awe inspiring, and trigger the moment when Kate finally finds purpose.  If I had the money, I’d drop big money on that page by J.H. Williams III.

Matthew: You’re just happy to see your Batman back in action, even if just for a couple pages.  That was honestly the one part of the book that I found to be kind of trite.  I loved the ‘meet-cute’ between Kate and Renee during a drunken traffic stop much more than Bruce’s cameo.  J.H. Williams’ art is a treat every issue, and I really love the way the coloring shifted when the story went from flashback to current day, going from institutional gray & tan to full bleed lunacy as the Religion of Crime does their “Subway Station of Doctor Moreau” transformations.  Batwoman’s arriva during that sequencel, and the barely controlled fury in her every move is well handled and beatifully rendered.

Stephen: I’ve really gotten a kick out of the art style of Williams III since Detective Comics began featuring Batwoman as the headliner.  And while the wild, flowing layouts, are perfect for the present day moments in the story, I like the “locked in a box” feel of the flashback moments of Kate’s past.  It fits the character and the story.

Matthew: J.H. (Can I call you J.H.?  Or do you prefer just J.?) has been playing with his panel borders since the beginning of this series, but I only really noticed it in this issue.  The flashbacks use of standard, rectangular layouts offsets the unorthodox panel design and the brilliance of the art in an almost tangible way.

Stephen: As far as the Question backup/bonus story, I really liked this one much better than the main story.  Here Renee follows the clues and it leads to a huge international crime organization. And like her predecessor, her questions lead to the acknowledgement that she needs backup.  Of course it isn’t revealed until the final panel, but those who know who uses a arrow as a weapon and wears purple pretty much know what’s going on.  Still, I liked the reveal quite a bit.

Matthew: Here’s where we differ — Renee’s story has felt much more mundane, more like a typical run-of-the-mill Batman story from the beginning.  Yes, it’s well-done typical, but it’s still the tried and true “Criminals come to Gotham, masked hero tracks their source and outsmarts them” stuff, the kind of thing that I associate with years and years of relatively undifferentiated Batman stories from college to about the year 2000, give or take an earthquake or two.

Stephen: I think both of these stories work well written by Rucka, as he’s able to keep everything straight, and if everything converges like I think it will, we might just see Batwoman and The Question reunite in a single issue, before the two split and go their own direction again.  I thought at one point I read that The Question would take the spotlight at some point down the road, and a single issue team-up might make a natural way to switch that spotlight.

Matthew: I am tempted to make a remark about Rucka keeping everything “straight” with two gay leads, but it might come off as condescending, so I believe I shall postpone.  With the appearance of Renee in the lead story, the teasy moments of “caped woman in the shadows” during the co-feature led me to believe the creators wanted me to expect Batwoman in the second story, making the Helena gambit a little bit annoying to me.  The most interesting part of the Question story for me was seeing Renee doing her yoga on the rail of the lighthouse, a character moment that clearly defines the distance she’s come from being the tippling, raging mess of problems we saw in ‘Gotham Central.’  If she’s going to take the lead slot, I’m hoping that she’s bringing her A-game.

Stephen: The one thing that is interesting about Rucka’s continued writing of this series is how the Batwoman story ends up creating a lot of unanswered questions, while The Question story ends up as a fairly traditional story, that readers know the answer to by the issue end…

Matthew: …which is precisely why the Question story is less successful for me.  Batwoman’s story is weird, I’ll grant you that, anything with it’s roots in Grant Morrison collaborations usually is.  But her story is unique, the kind of story that wouldn’t work with Nightwing, Spoiler, Daredevil or Karate Kid in the lead role.  If you take the Question story this issue, and replace Renee with any costumed, non-powered crimefighter, the effect of the tale is the same, whether you rewrite it with Iron Fist, Red Robin, Shadowhawk or The Goon.  Weeeellll, maybe not with the Goon.  The Question tale is much more traditional, and thus, much less fun for me to read.

Stephen: What do you think of the art by Cully Hamner?  I like his style, even if it is a more traditional approach to comic book art.

Matthew: I LOVE IT!  Cully has been a favorite of mine, dating all the way back to Green Lantern: Mosaic, the series that forever makes me picture him as African-American.  The problem you’ll find with a faceless protagonist is that it can limit your range of expression, but Cully’s use of shadows and outlines overcomes that problem easily, and his in-costume Question in this issue is the best since Ditko worked for Charlton.  I am, however, wondering who the fellow in the last panel is, and whether he counts as Renee’s first real villain?

Stephen: I will admit, my interest in this series is beginning to wane.  While it continues to be an interesting story, and the art is phenomenal, I’m finding I’m caring less and less about Batwoman. Of the two stories, I usually end up reading The Question story first, then the Batwoman story.  It’s good to see what makes a character what she is today, but heaping so much drama upon drama, gets to be a bit heavy.  I’m hoping Kate gets to spread her wings a bit more next issue.  Personally, I wouldn’t change anything going on in the The Question story, and it earns higher marks than the lead in, and averaging it out, Detective Comics #859 earns 3 out of 5 Stars from me.


Matthew:  This is where I think you are oh so very wrong, Mr. S.  Batwoman’s story is flirting with madness, but it’s a very pulp-style madness, like a Shadow story written by the guy who created ‘Turbo Teen’ after a night of Goldschlager and Brazilian marching powder.  Clearly we aren’t going to be able to describe Kate’s “who she is and how she came to be” with a quick picture of a flying rodent being defenestrated, and I like that.  Besides, they’re not heaping drama upon her, they’re actually unearthing the drama that she’s always possessed, and even Batwoman knows you gotta dance with the one what brung ya.  The Question’s story is good crime-fiction, but the reason that Renee is the co-feature is that Kate is the bigger draw, The Rock to Renee’s Triple H circa 1998 or so.  Maybe in a couple of years, The Question will be headlining Detective, but right now the real show is in the front of the book.  In a nutshell, Rucka’s Batwoman is a lotus unfolding itself, revealing hidden secrets and stories as yet untold.  Rucka’s Question is a construction site, with a solid foundation in place, slowly rising into the Gotham skyline.  Neither is necessarily better or worse than the other, but Batwoman’s story is more personal, and thus much more engaging for me.  With beautiful art in both halves of the book, and solid writing across the board, Detective Comics #859 is keeping me reading the Batman universe where Batman and Robin failed, earning high-praise — 4 out of 5 Stars overall.  (Diagram THAT sentence, porkchop!)


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  1. Ivdar
    November 30, 2009 at 12:03 pm — Reply

    The little detail that blew me away with this issue : the different art styles for Batman and Kate at the end.

    When she sees him for the first time, she is drawn in the same style as the rest of the flashback (the word “50s” spring to mind, for some reason). But the man in the bat-suit is drawn in the same style as the present story, the same style Batwoman is drawn in. How cool is that ?

  2. BiffordMichael
    December 1, 2009 at 1:26 pm — Reply

    Best book going at DC. This is the stuff of legends. That last sequence was an instant classic. Just stunning. If you had told me BATWOMAN would become one of my favourite characters I’d NEVER have believed you.


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