Detective Comics (#854-863, 864 – 865, The Question Back-up) – Greg Rucka, David Hine

Overall: 3 out of 5

(Elegy (#854 – 857): 3 out of 5, Go (#858 – 860): 3 out of 5, Cutter (#861 – 863): 2 out of 5, Beneath the Mask (#864 – 865): 3 out of 5, The Question Back-up, Chapter 1 (#854 – 858): 4 out of 5, The Question Back-up, Chapter 2 (#859 – 865)

Would this book have blown our socks off it J.H.Williams III wasn’t such an amazing draftsman?  Is there a reason that the story becomes infinitely less interesting once Jock takes over?  It’s tough to say.  It might go hand-in-hand – it does seem like Rucka structured each story to each artist’s strength – giving J.H. wider scenes to play with layout, giving Jock a less refined baddie and more action to toy with – but there’s still a definite slope to the story – first a buildup where Rucka and J.H. figure each other out and Rucka sets some strands up for fleshing out our (at the point of the book) new Batwoman’s background, which had then been pretty much undiscussed – then an amazing three-issue arc that really works well with all of Rucka’s strengths – strong female characters, a military background, more of a thriller than a comic book – and then back to comic book stuff with Jock for our final three issues.  Really rounding everything out, and making it feel like you get bang for your buck, is a Cully Hamner drawn Question / Huntress backup that runs for all of Rucka’s main issues plus a couple extra once he’d left the title.

On one hand I feel like I should be rating this book higher – it really washes the palate of the over-wrought stuff Rucka’d gotten caught up in with all his 52-related books.  Even Checkmate, which played at being a fun political thriller, got dragged down in comic book nonsense, which is sort of what happened with Wonder Woman also.  Greg, to me, does best when he can stay linked to reality.  Whether it’s history as a fanboy or publisher pressure to bring in outside pizazz I dunno, but it’s occurred on almost all of his “big 2” books – a great start, a wandering middle, and an end that, from afar is interesting, but is a definite change in tone from what came before.

I don’t know the history on his assignment to Detective.  I know that Rucka has been/was identified as a strong writer for females, and lo, Detective was meant to feature the 52-introduced Batwoman – Kate Kane – who, natch, is now a lesbian, so Greg is your go-to guy for sassy lesbian characters.  Did he make her gay? (chuckle)  No clue.  Doesn’t matter.  But where I’m going with this is that his flow on Detective doesn’t seem like a full run, more like he was just gearing up and then they told him he had three issues left, hence the quickie with Jock, and then he was off to other pastures.  Maybe he knew ahead of time, maybe not.  If the series had been allowed more room to breathe for a while, that initial arc – which features a trussed up villain named “Alice” who has all sorts of creepy ties to the Religion of Crime, and Batwoman herself – may have settled better overall, but it feels like a lot of forced information presented up front so that “Go,” Kate’s ‘origin’ story, makes more sense.  Doing the stories in reverse order would’ve been cheaper, it is a nice setup, but you get the feeling that Greg would’ve wanted to work more with Kate and Alice and he just didn’t get the chance, whatever the reason.  “Go” is also where things shine, Williams and Rucka in full sync, and since it details a life before tights, it allows Rucka to diddle with reality.  (Which I prefer.)  Thus it’s a little jarring to be tossed right into “Cutter” with Jock, which is probably more fitting for Detective, as it’s essentially a one-off tale about a hunt for a serial killer.  It’s not bad, it’s just pretty straight-forward stuff, with a really unconvincing threat for either Batman or Batwoman.

The “Pipeline” back-up features wonderfully cramped art from Hamner (I say that in a flattering fashion… his style has developed into a sort of “squished” look for all of his characters, but he enlivens the page with an intense amount of action and with an understanding of where to layer his details) and again, sits more in a realistic thriller setting, thanks to using The Question (Renee Montoya), Rucka’s little homegrown project.  But admittedly as much fun as the story is, issue to issue, it seems to build-up to nothing, a lot of threads that are resolved, but again, we’re left with a wonder if this wasn’t intended for something more.

Hine’s two issues (which I’m including as they feature the concluding chapters of the Question back-up) are pretty much a postscript to something he was doing – also alongside artist Jeremy Haun – in the Batman series Battle for the Cowl.  Jeremiah Arkham goes crazy, takes on the role of Black Mask, and we rejoin him, here, with some after-effects clean-up of that persona.  Haun’s art vibes with Hine’s general predilection for twisted points of view, and although the details are more interesting if you’ve got the story background to go with it, the two issues form a satisfying little dive into insanity even without it.

Rucka’s run on Detective was a hint of his restlessness with comics, I think, and so it was a pretty sweet deal to see him putting out some more Stumptown stuff after this and move over to something a bit closer to earth with his Punisher run (which I haven’t gotten in to, but I think Greg is a good fit for the character).  These issues, regarding Rucka, are ABSOLUTELY worth reading, they just end on a feeling of incompleteness, wondering if there wasn’t supposed to be something more.

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