During our first month assessments of DC's New 52, I spoke highly of J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman's work on Batwoman, but I did not put it among my top 3 books of the relaunch.
This was a mistake.
While it was immediately evident that Williams' art was better than ever, it took me a few issues to really see that the writing was just as good - if not better.
I don't know how Blackman and Williams divide the writing duties, but however they do it, it's working. These guys are doing so much, and they're doing it so well, that I'm having a hard time listing all the things that they're excelling at. Seriously, this comic is absolutely top notch. All the plotlines, all the dialogue, and all the scenes are phenomenal, and they mingle and interrelate in incredibly naturally. There's a lot going on, and it's seamless.
This issue opens with Batwoman trying to fight off the mysterious female spectre that has been plaguing Gotham City since issue #1 in a beautifully composed and incredibly intense sequence. Williams' art is on full display as he depicts Batwoman trying to avoid being drowned by her ghostly antagonist. His panel work is as amazing as ever, and the imagery and symbolism that he employs is simply stunning. Considering that Williams has been setting the world on fire with his art for so long, you'd think that we'd be getting used to this by now, but it seems like he's only getting better and better. The way Kate Kane slowly transforms into Alice, aka her sister Beth, while trying to escape her attacker's grasp must be seen to be believed. And that's just the first six or seven pages!
From there, Williams and Blackman really emphasize how strongly related Batwoman is to Kate Kane's earlier run on Detective Comics, as the Department of the Extraordinary prominently enter the picture, trying to interrogate Batwoman and Colonel Jacob Kane about the plane hijackings by Alice. Their initial attempts achieve little in the ways of success, but it's interesting to see the way the creators are using what came before to drive their current story.
For all that, it's the closing sequence that sold me on this book. Williams' art continues to make these sequences as engaging as any action scene, but it's the writing that makes it among the best things I've read in a good long while. As shown in the Moments of the Week, Kate and Bette have some pretty intense interaction, but it's the moments between Kate and Maggie Sawyer that make the issue. Their few pages together are among the most emotionally genuine, poignant moments that I have perhaps ever encountered. It's early, but they might be one of my favourite comic book couples. Hopefully they can last beyond the first arc.
Verdict - Must Read. I feel like I haven't really managed to explain why this comic is so good, but it's quickly moved to one of my favourite series currently being published. Williams and Blackman are doing amazing work with Kate Kane and her supporting characters, creating a beautiful, fully developed Gotham separate from Batman's, and I'm loving every moment. You should seriously give it a look, as it's making a strong argument for book of the year.
I did actually put Demon Knights in my top 3 after the first month of DC's relaunch, and I stand by that choice. Unlike Batwoman, Demon Knights feels a lot simpler and more straightforward, which isn't a bad thing. I've described it elsewhere as being very similar to a Dungeons & Dragons campaign, in the sense that a bunch of stuff happens, it's kind of all related, and in the end, it's pretty interesting, if not necessarily the most intellectual thing ever.
Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against some mindless violence / adventuring. Frankly, that's sometimes exactly what you need, and it's definitely what you get when it comes to Demon Knights. This issue is admittedly a bit of a bridge, moving all the characters into position for the big battle with the bad guys that they've been moving towards since the first issue, but it's still a ton of fun. Cornell manages to use this necessary movement to focus in on the characters a bit, telling the reader more about each and every one through the ways that they prepare for the coming conflict. It's subtle, but also incredibly effective.
And all their preparations make this a rather full, quick paced issue. Exoristos and Sir Ystin work on fortifying the town's defences, Vandal Savage "trains" the villagers for battle (read: makes fun of them), and the others get up to their own actions to help ready for what's to come. It's a definite "calm before the storm" mentality here, but it's nice to see Cornell making use of this time to further develop his large party of personages.
I also cannot speak highly enough of the work that Diogenes Neves and Oclair Albert are doing on art. They continue to make quite a capable team, as their efforts seem to come from a single person they are so cohesive. They're also doing a bang-up job creating the fantasy world that these characters inhabit. They excel in both the mundane, like the villagers and their village, as well as the extraordinary, like the many monsters, explosions, and demons that are seen throughout the comic.
Verdict - Check It. This comic is just a lot of fun. Things were a bit slower this issue, but it's clear that they're building towards a pretty solid crescendo, and I cannot wait to see things once they really shift into high gear.
FRANKENSTEIN AGENT OF SHADE #3
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Alberto Ponticelli
I don't know what to tell you about this one. There's a lot of cool and wacky stuff going on. Intellectually, I can see the many ways that this title should be appealing. It's got monsters, spider monsters, bigger spider monsters, and lots more.
What's not to love?
And yet, it still isn't resonating with me. It feels like Jeff Lemire is putting every single idea he comes up with into the book, hoping that something will ultimately stick, but it just isn't happening. It's almost as if things are too crazy. It seems that every single time that things are as crazy as they can be, they somehow get a little crazier. But instead of that being exciting, it comes off as business as usual. It's not interesting that some bigger monster has come to fight our heroes, it's boring.
It also doesn't help that the characters seem so underdeveloped. Like Demon Knights, there's been constant action since issue #1, but it doesn't seem to be working. The dialogue is cliche and overwritten, and what little characterization that has taken place has been rather underwhelming. I don't need Frankenstein to tell me that he shall never yield; I'd rather just see him not yield. At this point, everyone seems pretty flat and archetypal, and it's rather difficult to sympathize with any of them.
This is especially disappointing because I really enjoyed Lemire's Frankenstein Flashpoint mini this summer. It had some pretty good character work and a clear focus to its story that feels absent here.
Verdict - Skip It. It pains me to say this, but this title just isn't interesting. I am a pretty big fan of Jeff Lemire's work, but his skill as a writer doesn't seem to be coming through here. It's almost as if he's trying too hard for Frankenstein and company to be crazy and exciting, and it doesn't feel genuine. I've tried to give this title a fair shake, but I think this is it for me.
And there we have it. Clearly a week of ups and downs for me, but that's just the way it is sometimes. How was it by you? Good? Bad? Ugly? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.