It’s relatively rare that the paneling in a comic – not the pencils, not the colors, but the layout itself – can make me sit up and take notice. And yet, every month, J.H. Williams III uses the layout of Detective Comics in strange and interesting new ways to move the story along without letting it get bogged down by his somewhat stiff action sequences. Sequences like the fight between Alice and Batwoman that is paneled within the small confines of their flowing capes gives Detective Comics #857 a visual dynamic that more than makes up for whatever shortcomings the book may have.
Rucka doesn’t manage quite as well as an out-of-left-field late-game twist hurts the book a bit. While he continues to do fine work on the main feature, the brief Question back-up he does with Hamner generally features more focused writing. In this issue’s main story, Kate and Alice come head-to-head after the kidnapping of Colonel Kane. Master plans are revealed, secrets come out, and, unfortunately, there’s significantly more flash than substance to the conclusion of “Elegy”. Despite all that, however, Rucka’s work on the title is still more than competent. No matter how much the Alice story slipped by the end, Rucka still used the opportunity to begin fleshing out Kate’s backstory and supporting cast, two things the character desperately needed.
The issue was more than just a showcase for Williams, however, as Hamner steps up in the 8-page Question back-up feature and brings some of his best work to date. A pair of brief sequences in particular stand out, the first coming as Renee breaks into a well-guarded mansion and the second featuring her daring escape. The art is dark and slightly cartoonish, but it’s also fluid and lifelike in a way very few running scenes are in comics. Though there appears to be no thematic or literal crossover between the two parts of Detective Comics, the Question back-up has quickly become a worthy piece of one of DC’s most entertaining, visually dynamic packages.
– Cal Cleary