In Praise of J.H. Williams III and Dave Stewart (Detective Comics: Batwoman)

As I start this blog, there are several posts I want to write. I begin with one of my favorite comics: the “Elegy” story-line in Detective Comics: Batwoman, written by Greg Rucka, with art by J.H. Williams III an colors by Dave Stewart. There’s a lot to say about this new Batwoman, and about Rucka’s writing, but in this post I want to dwell on the main reason I discovered and love this comic: it’s look. Like Matt Price over at Nerdage, I believe that “…the obvious selling point of the book is the art.”

Williams and Stewart have created an astonishing look to the story-line “Elegy”, which begins in Detective Comics 854. The organization of panels, which overlap, and the different textures in the colors (for example the contrast between the lush soft red of Batwoman’s hair and the ink and shade lines in the same hair) give the design of the comic a three-dimensionality that is unusual in comics nowadays. The comic also favors painterly, two page spreads overlaid with smaller panels or shards of other panels. This kind of breaking up of your standard paneling is not brand new to comics but inĀ  my experience, no team has done this kind of thing with such elegance. There are so many outstanding examples of this technique in Detective Comics 854-856, that I am hesitant to single one out for praise, but I will anyway. In 855, Batwoman whisks away her villain across an eerie, nocturnal, fall cityscape. The smaller panels that intercut this canvas, which combines the look of watercolor brush-strokes with line drawing, are irregularly shaped and overlaid with falling leaves that swirl in the background and the foreground, creating a three dimensional effect.

The color scheme of the comic is also a bit different–the night scenes are colored glowingly, and the day scenes have a yellow or pale yellow luminiscence to them. I really like how another blogger, Baldwin, expressed his enthusiasm over the coloring: “the reds are blood red; the blacks are silky black; the blues are like Billie Holiday; and the whites are tinged with a hint of menace.” Yeah, Billie Holiday indeed! There’s something haunting about the coloring, it’s like jazz. The drawing by Williams, especially in the quiet moments of the story line that begins in #854, is crisp and realistic, clean, simply put: beautiful.

The team of J.H. Williams III and Dave Stewart may very well be my favorite pencilling/coloring team in comics right now. The only thing that comes close in my limited experience, is Simone Bianchi’s work for The Astonishing X-Men. I wish I could find more examples. Does this style have a name? Someone let me know. In sum, the look of Detective Comics: Batwoman is just so lush and popping, it really is in a class apart. That’s it for now. I’ll comment on Rucka’s writing soon.

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