ComicsAlliance runs down the biggest -- and best -- books of the week.

GRATEFUL FOR A STORY LONG OVERDUE IN Detective Comics #854. When DC reintroduced the character of Batwoman, the mainstream press had a field day with the announcement that she was a lesbian. Executive Editor Dan DiDio said, "this isn't about a lesbian superhero. It's about a superhero, who also happens to be gay," but this tidbit was buried late in an piece that only cared about Batwoman's sexual orientation on CNN. Which is owned by the same company that owns DC. And referred to DC's executive editor as "Don DiDio." Did I mention this all happened in 2006?

Well, now DC finally has the chance to tell a story focused on Batwoman that lets us get to know her in ways that go beyond the one personal detail that triggered a media feeding frenzy. And it's a good thing they're not focusing all that much on her sex life, because one reveal of "Detective" #854 is that wearing a cape, cowl and skin-tight bat-emblazoned costume to fight crime by night is a social life killer no matter who you are.

And if you're a Batman fan, you should be happy to hear that's not the only thing familiar in the issue, whichhas the feel of a good Batman story in about every way possible. J.H. Williams' art is beautiful twice over, using one style to show the ordinary life of socialite Kathy Kane and another whenever she suits up as her vigilante alter ego. They both set the tone perfectly, highlighting Kathy's pain and doubt in her civilian life before switching back to a Batwoman whose confidence and ability to strike fear in others jumps off the page. Go read this one, and then hope and pray it keeps performing at this level.IMPRESSED BY THE TIMELESSNESS OF Northlanders #18. The best historical fiction reminds us that people who lived centuries ago were not all that different from you and I. We have the advantage of generations of accumulated knowledge, tools, and technology that were not yet available to our ancestors, but they had the potential to be just as clever, or kind, or cruel, and what drove them to experience happiness, or love, or fear, or anger was, on a basic level, the same as what drives us.

Wood's series of stand alone story arcs on the Vikings has delivered that level of quality with every issue so far, and is quickly correcting flagrant misconceptions about their culture brought about by three and a half decades of Hägar the Horrible.

Issue 18 kicks off a new short arc entitled "The Shield Maidens" in which three Danish women flee from a raiding party of Saxons that killed their husbands and burned their village to the ground. Danijel Zezelj's art is noticably more stylized and less realistic than the previous work on the series, and its muted tones set the mood of despair experienced by the three women as their failed attempt to run and hide leaves them with no choice but to stand and fight.

While it's not quite the best issue of the series so far, it's certainly good, and it's even more striking when one stops to consider how the story, of refugees making a desperate escape from a warband that destroyed their homes and families, could be believably told in the present day with a mere change in location.

FEELING A LITTLE FILIBUSTERED BY Barack the Barbarian: Quest for the Treasure of the Stimuli #1. In the work of pure, concentrated genius that is the DVD commentary track of "Conan the Barbarian," director John Milius and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger expound on how the hero of the film is a warrior-philosopher in the truest sense of the word.

And it's in that tradition that Barack the Barbarian follows, telling the tale of another mighty warrior philosopher, Barack of Shikhago, a mysterious outsider who has come to end the reign of the evil tyrant Boosh and bring change to the land. No, I'm not making this up. But someone else is. And, of course, by "making this up," I mean mixing equal parts Robert E. Howard and 2008 election, sprinkling liberally with bikinis (both chain-mail and regular), and then topping it all off with a generous heavy handful of political wordplay-based humor.

This is one of those books that, for better or worse, could only exist as a comic, as it's an inherently visual gag that'd never work nearly as well in any other format. Seeing a realistic depiction of a sitting United States President slicing two ogres to pieces while wearing only a loin cloth and leather boots is surreal. Seeing Dick Cheney depicted as a scheming evil wizard is, well it's about as easily believable as you'd expect it to be. And seeing Sarah Palin dressed as a knock-off Red Sonja is one of those things I'm going to work on convincing myself I never actually saw in the first place.

The art's vibrant and action-packed, and is a good complement to the overall tongue-in-cheek attitude of the story. But much as Barack refuses to back down from any challenge places before him, the book refuses to back down from assaulting you with visual and verbal puns alongside repeated riffs on the events of the 2008 campaign. It's all too much by the time you hit the second page, and then it keeps going all the way to the end.

The one amusing twist is that it's told in the form of an ancient saga, passed down from generation to generation and now retold by the narrator many, many years after the events occurred in a spirit reminiscent of this cartoon from the Perry Bible Fellowship. But now try imagining that three panel gag extended out to four issues. The joke's already wearing thin by the end of issue 1, and I'm not sure how it's going to be able to reinvigorate itself over the next three.