Is there a better art team in comics than that of J.H. Williams III and Dave Stewart? Williams’ detailed, exquisite line work combined with his inventive, intricate layouts, and Stewart’s painterly, stylistically malleable colors make for one of the best-looking comics each month, one that doesn’t sacrifice storytelling or clarity for its stylistic flourishes. Add eight pages of Cully Hamner and Dave McCaig in the book’s second feature and “Detective Comics” remains an art appreciator’s dream come true.
Now, if only it were the same for those of us who love good writing, as Greg Rucka is clearly overmatched by his two art teams. Rucka’s writing in both stories is competent and simple, entertaining enough, but never rises above a certain level. After seeing Williams and Hamner work with the likes of Morrison, Ellis, and Moore, it’s a little disappointing to see them working off average scripts. Granted, one thing that Rucka does particularly well is play to his artists’ strengths.
After the new leader of the Religion of Crime, Alice, kidnaps Kate Kane’s father and plans to release a chemical weapon over Gotham, Kate suits up as Batwoman and joins forces with Abbot and the other ‘true believers’ to stop them. It’s mostly all-out action with somewhat nonsensical lines of dialogue from Alice thrown in. Like I said, it’s not a bad story, but it’s not the most engaging or exciting plot either. Williams, of course, does a great job and turns a standard ‘stop evil people on a plane from killing everyone’ plot into a visual feast, full of surprises and pages that make you stop to take in the whole experience.
As the opening pages of the issue show, Williams likes to use layouts to pair Alice and Kate together, going so far as to have them each share movements and poses. This habit is kept up through the issue, building to the shocking revelation of the final pages. Stewart’s colors work perfectly with Williams’ art on that final page as three panels move from a long shot to a close up with each panel losing color to further highlight the surprise that Kate must be feeling.
In the second feature, Renee Montoya continues to track down the slave traffickers and eight pages isn’t a lot of room to develop much more of a plot, but Rucka and Hamner do move things along nicely. Like the Batwoman story, this is pretty standard fare, but the pattern of resolving the cliffhanger from last issue, moving on, and ending on a new cliffhanger works well for the strip. Hamner is at his best with an agile fighter like Renee and her sneaking onto the property of one of the men behind the trafficking is a well executed sequence.
“Detective Comics” #857 continues to thrill with bold, inventive art from both the main team of Williams and Stewart, and the second feature team of Hamner and McCaig. Rucka writing both gives the issue a uniformity, but the artists are the stars here.