At first it was the artists that attracted me to comics with their flash and action and colors, but as I got older I started to realize how important the writer is. He was the one who put the words in the character’s mouth and if they were doing some crazy action, it was the writer who put them there. I can forgive bad art in a book if I love the story, while the art would have to be pretty spectacular to get me over a crappy story. That being said, J.H. Williams III is one of those artists. That’s not to say that Greg Rucka isn’t an amazing writer or that this story isn’t any good, because it is. But when I write a review for a book, I find myself more interested in the writing than the artwork. Normally I would be all over Greg Rucka with complements as he is deservedly one of my favorite writers, so let’s get that out of the way and then we can focus on the artist for a change, shall we? The story is a fantastic detective, neo-noir, crime caper with hallucinations. It’s sublime in the details and thick in the meat of the story. Greg Rucka is my kind of writer and nobody writes a strong female lead better. So now that we got that out of the way…
Every page of J.H. Williams III’s art in this book is painfully beautiful. With a touch of Charles Vess-like fairy tale quality and Sam Keith-like loving attention to details, even in the borders and margins, Williams is constantly challenging the limitations of the medium with panel placement and border bleeding and sheer precise craft work. Williams will lock your focus onto the key part of each frame with a box around the important details. For example; Batwoman is fighting a thug, but what is most key is her kick that sends his machine flying, highlighted by a little red box, very dynamic! On other pages, one frame will bleed behind all the others to create depth and detail like the layout of an apartment or the connective visual theme of music, shown by separating panels with staff notation and interacting with them to create almost movie poster art. This doesn’t begin to do the work justice but it is a start.
A partner in crime, Dave Stewart brings life to the work is such an integral way that one often wonders where Williams stops and Stewart begins. In an ingenious way, Stewart manages to breathe life into the pages by utilizing different textures like watercolor, focusing your eye to the action by sharpening the blacks where you need to look and fading out the background slightly. He will fade the pencils from black to gray when he wants to add an ethereal, gossamer look to the creepy villain of the book; Alice. This is a partnership that is so complementary to each artist, neither takes anything away from the other. While some artists today are seemingly impressive, one starts to notice that if they weren’t colored, they wouldn’t be so incredible. Stewart enhances the pencils, but doesn’t stand in their way either. Williams’ line work is flawless, graceful, at times storybook-like even. This is a mind blowing collaboration!
DC has just released this book in a slightly over sized hardcover to do the artwork the justice it deserves. I highly recommend grabbing one before they’re gone. And the closest comparison I can make would be if you had a chance to see Empire Strikes Back on an Imax screen. Some things are just nicer, bigger.