This is from Detective Comics #854—early into JH Williams III’s run on Batwoman. I wanted to say a few things about it to sort of tease out a little bit of what I feel about his work on this book, and why it wasn’t as affecting to me it was for others.
This image sort of is a decent sample for what didn’t work for me with the Batwoman work. My fundemental critique, rejection of that work, was that the pyrotechnics of Williams special effect layouts I found were at odds with the gothic undertones of both the story, and his actual art within the panels. This was like if the Crow had scene transitions from the Adam West Batman series. Which I can get where that choice would be made because the series itself was kind of this gothic psychedelia thing. On some levels it WAS a cure soundtrack behind the cartoon Alice and Wonderland. But I don’t think the hokey same bat signal, same bat channel, quite landed that punch.
Moreover, from a page composition standpoint—a large chunk of his choices seemed to deliberately put a distance between the reader and the story. Even if the choices were on each individual micro-level made to relate back to the story—this was a book you had to hold out at arms length to appreciate as it was intended to be read—and at that distance, its difficult to actually read. In that sense, there is a prickly fuck you side to these choices in a genre where most readers and critics will never even take notice of the art. Williams III has seen to it that it is impossible for you to talk about this book without saying something about the art. The art is the first thing you have to engage with on every page—because the design choices while individually beautiful—fight you.
On this page the bat design in the middle of it immedietely makes you focus on it. That’s the first thing you register when you hit the page. Then you have to go search for the first word bubble. And if you follow Batwoman’s eyes from the first bubble it takes you away from the next thing she says. And the directionality of that panel is diagonal top left to side right, which runs you into the batman panel which isn’t the next panel you are meant to read. So you have to swim back against the grain—again all of this drawing attention to the big fat bat symbol in the middle of the page—over to Batwoman who says for the perp to whisper into her ear. Of course the action to get to that bubble has already ruined the dramatic spot of the extremely beautifully drawn square panel where Batwoman leans in, and simultaneously takes notice of Batman.
The Batman panel is interesting because he literally points you back up the page—drawing attention to the top corner of the batwing. again everything in the composition has been done to make you focus on the bat symbol over any of the actual content. The corporate logo over everything.
Good luck even seeing that triangle panel at the bottom of the bat. Batwoman’s hair in the bat panel tries to drag you back in that direction, but instead you just down in the lower panel because of the shape of the bat.
And then that bottom panel is it’s own trip because the arrow of the symbol comes down to the right of Batwoman’s face, and because of the whiteness of her face—your eye does move to the left—which takes you away from the next spot of dialogue which has been lettered about as far away from the character as possible, because again—the shape of the logo meant that you couldn’t put that bubble where it is meant to go without ending up on top of the logo or underneath it.
And look. In one sense, this is cool as hell. Because on one level it is very much middle fingers in the air, gripping your balls, punk comics. This is a comic that is designed to wage war against the predominant psychosis in big two superhero comics which has relegated the art to an afterthought. JH Williams III will not be ignored.
On the other hand, you can also read it as an artist who is having to annihilate their own storytelling just to stand on the box tops and get heard. There is a calculation here of “this is the only way to be seen in an industry which ignores its artists”.
So yeah. These pages put me off a little bit because I DO look at the art, and I just feel condescended to. And what’s worse, I don’t really feel these choices are nearly as effective as the art which they are obfuscating. There’s individual panels and sections in Batwoman which are stunning for their figure work, setting, dynamism, and the Gothic tone he gets between the inks and whites. But you have to work for that stuff. To say nothing of how hard you have to work if you actually are interested in the story at this point. It leaves me very cold. And maybe somewhat depressed.
Also while I’m at it, Dave Stewart’s color choices(and I don’t doubt that trying to color anything under a DC logo is it’s own kind of thankless hell) in this book were a bit of the same stuff. It was a lot of “well I CAN put in these colors” and not enough of asking if he SHOULD. When you see these pages in their original black and white, the coloring feels extremely over worked in places. The top panel here is beautiful in isolation. But in conjunction with the middle harsher tones—it causes this bleed out on the bottom panel, which hurts the impact of the page as a whole.
Also…shitty graffiti alert there on the left.