SUNDAY SLUGFEST: Batwoman #1A comic review article by: The Firing Squad
Holy crap everybody Batwoman #1 has finally happened! This is almost like the Chinese Democracy of comics right here, so you should probably get it just because of that. Also, it sure is pretty.
I'll admit, I don't have many goonish tendencies, but being in love with Kate Kane is one of them. I was a latecomer to the saga of Batwoman, and I only caught up with the story when "Elegy" went into trade, but Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams' efforts immediately enraptured me. I craved more, and then I joined the legions who clamored for the promised ongoing. We prayed for a miracle, and Dan DiDio inadvertently heard us, and with the new 52 we finally got the long-awaited Batwoman. Was it worth the wait?
With the new 52, many of the titles have felt less like a reboot and more like a renumbered continuation, and Batwoman numbers among them. While for some of the books that was detrimental, for this title it is a worthy successor to the pedigree. Williams collaborated with W. Haden Blackman on the script, and while their story is solid, it misses Rucka's distinct flavor. There are still plenty of intelligent plot points and the right amount of occult influence that Rucka infused into his run, but the real star as usual is J.H. Williams III's art. As a writer, the book holds together nicely, and the set-up for the future is stark and promising. Since her introduction, Batwoman and her adventures have had a unique, horror-influenced appeal that puts the book above the other Bat family titles. Its scope and ambition is well-welcomed, and is actually in line more with the "Dark" aspect of the DC New Universe (I refuse to abbreviate) than it does with the "Batman" category.
Williams is inarguably a gifted artist, able to present complex shape-molded panels with a contextual respect for eyeflow as well as emulating classic styles, like he did with David Mazzuchelli's distinct talents on "Go," the beloved second part of Rucka's run. Williams' seamless ability to transition between pencils and painting is the saving grace of just about any title he's on, but it doesn't hurt that he clearly has a vision for the character. As you might have garnered, he is a master of visual storytelling, and his distinct page layouts across the page promotes a heightened sense of kineticism that most comics artists must envy. It even facilitates the obligatory "catch-up" session, where a two-page spread of the previous events is smashed together into one gigantic pin-up, hyphenate-worthy expression of exposition and backstory.
Some would argue that Batwoman #1 is a difficult comic to breach, but Williams and Blackman do a great job of subtly reintroducing supporting characters without excessive backstory- favorites from Gotham Central like Rene Montoya are referenced with enough suggestion. Those who read 52 know their relationship, and those who didn't can figure it out from a single line of dialogue from Captain Maggie Sawyer (another Gotham Central holdover.) The new villain "La Llorona" is creepy and threatening, though I was left with a minor niggle:
The last page features Batwoman meeting with Batman at the scene of a murder, and he ends the comic by saying "I have a proposition for you..." My heart immediately leaps to the thought that this is a reference to the sorely missed Batman, Incorporated, but if its not, then it seems to be a forced cliffhanger, as this book came out before Batman #1 and contextually, there is no reason for this line of dialogue.
That said, while not as mind-blowing as Animal Man or Action Comics, Batwoman is easily the best title released during this week of the new 52, but it has wonderful sense of atmosphere and charm to hang onto. Kate Kane never feels uncharacteristic, and I'm happy to see the relationship with her father after the events of "Elegy" finally addressed. Batwoman may have been a relaunch #1, but it's more a title for us loyal, preboot fans, and with all this desire to hook new readers, it's nice to know that someone at DC still remembers us, the fans who waited.
Rafael Gaitan was born in 1985, but he belongs to the '70s. He is a big fan of onomatopoeia, being profane and spelling words right on the first try. Rafael has a hilariously infrequent blog and writes love letters to inanimate objects as well as tweets of whiskey and the mysteries of the heart at @bearsurprise. He ain't got time to bleed.
I'm going to be sexist for a moment.
Batwoman makes me think that Batgirl is meaningless, or at least redundant. At least earlier versions of Batgirl were teenagers, so in some way they were on a level with Robin. But if I want to read about an adult woman in a Bat suit, this is the book I'm picking. Honestly, this book makes me wish Barbara Gordon would graduate from being Batgirl and pick a new name for herself, the way Dick Grayson did. But I'm also a big fan of creative logic and evolution of character.
Here's the thing: Kate Kane's world is so wonderfully realized that I feel like she can cover all the ground that Batgirl could-- and even stories that Batman and Nightwing could. I realize that marketing demands multiple Bat books, but Batwoman is rich enough to make me wish they'd cut down to only a few so the line doesn't get diluted (and, taken out of context, I just sounded like a Nazi).
I would imagine most people will make the focal point of their review of this issue the art. And who could blame them? This is probably one of the best looking comics on the stands. It is a visual treat from start to finish and I would probably buy it every month just for that-- which says a lot coming from a guy who is generally more interested in the writing than the art. Every page looks like a splash page, yet conveys the amount of information you'd find in a nine panel page.
Williams III, with Blackman, also manages to tell a good story, one that features enough bits and pieces to hint at what's to come. La Llorna is an interesting new villain and I like that we get her first run in with Batwoman in a flashback. I also love the fact that Kate has taken Bette under her wing, right after she cut ties with her father. There's this wonderful thread running through all the Bat books and their characters involving mentors and their students. Having Kate teach Bette connects her to the Batman family thematically.
Then again, the ending of this issue just flat out connects her to the Batman family and I'm really looking forward to seeing how it plays out.
Kyle Garret is the author of I Pray Hardest When I'm Being Shot At," available now from Hellgate Press. His short fiction has been published in the Ginosko Literary Journal, Literary Town Hall, Children, Churches, & Daddies and Falling Into Place. He writes comic book reviews here at Comic Bulletin and blogs for PopMatters. He can be found at KyleGarret.com and on Twitter as @kylegarret.
When Batwoman first emerged from the recycling of other bat-femmes, I suspected that most were excited by the idea of lesbians meshed with Batgirl nostalgia. Now, having read an issue, I haven't a clue how to explain Batwoman's popularity.
Batwoman isn't about nostalgia. It's about repressed sexuality wrapped up in bat-trappings. Kate Kane, alias the Batwoman, is a sister of Sappho, but she doesn't actually display any lesbianism. I'm well aware that she asks out Maggie Sawyer, but writers J.H. Williams and W. Haden Blackman scrub the sexuality of the character.
In The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo the bisexual Lisbeth Salander takes Michael Blomkvist in bed. In the second film Lisbeth wakes up naked with a woman sleeping next to her. Kate Kane asking Maggie Sawyer for a date is as innocuous as you can get. I'm not asking for full on scenes of a lesbian superhero going down on another woman. I can rent those flicks, and there's plenty of slash fiction out there. I just want a little heat. Something to suggest a spark between Maggie and Kate.
I felt the warmth between Maggie and her traditional girlfriend Toby Raynes. It even emanated in Superman: The Animated Series, ostensibly a kids' show. If I removed Maggie's and Kate's dialogue, I'd never suspect they were gay. I'd never guess that either was attracted to the other. They would just be two women talking, about practically any subject. The body language should have been much more insinuating. A flip or curl of the hair around a finger, for example. Kate should have at least unbuttoned her layers of coats or unwrapped her scarf.
Of course in order to generate electricity, the characters must have heartbeats. With the exception of Bette Kane who inexplicably gets sucked into the Robin role of ungrateful sidekick, none of these characters register so much a blip on the radar. Bette's blip incidentally is a whiney one.
Maggie Sawyer doesn't sound like the tough Captain who worked with Superman in his Man of Steel days. Neither does she bear the striking features Byrne bestowed to her. It actually looks like she had some plastic surgery.
Kate Kane is a chalk-faced Louise Brooks look-alike whose limp dialogue lacks personality especially when slopping out needless exposition:
Do you realize how ridiculous that sounds? I get that the writers needed to explain Kate's Daddy issues, but all Kate really must say is:
"But Beth survived somehow, and he knew! He knew she was still alive, and he didn't tell me. He didn't try to save her from whatever horrible nightmare her life had become."
Still trite, yeah, but at least it would have been tidier.
The plot is a rehash of the La Lorna legend, and it hasn't anything to do with Kate's sister Beth as far as I can tell. Her father ties into a subplot featuring the DEO still led by Mr. Bones trying to ferret out Batwoman's secret identity, which isn't very smart, for obvious Bat reasons. Chase Cameron now looking like Marlene Dietrich from Morocco-- keep those obvious lesbian icons flying-- has been assigned to the case. Yay?
The surprisingly clean, dull Batwoman continues co-opting sexuality with her bizarre dominatrix uniform as seen through the lens of the wholesome ideal of the superhero. The concept designs for Ross' Batgirl and Batwoman costumes didn't issue this tone, a miasma at once ludicrous and lascivious. One hopes that the leather or pvc suit has a softer lining. Otherwise, Kate's breasts are going to chafe something fierce. At least, the rub will give her some color.
There's way too much going on in Batwoman and no focus. Are we pitting Batwoman against a Mexican ghost? Are we slowly, so very slowly, exploring her love life? Are we examining her cliché relationship with Bette? Are we psychoanalyzing her Daddy issues? Are we delving into her sister Beth's ridiculous plight? Are we fighting 1960s Batman villains? For some reason, Kate and Bette take a moment to pow, biff, bam, ooof some campy felons.
Williams and Blackman should pick a horse and stick with it. Even two at the gate would have been a vast improvement. The writers should give Kate a personality. Perhaps include a narrative where we get a glimpse of her thoughts. They should display her sexuality in a healthy way, not parade her nude around her niece. They should soften that lousy costume. Go back to a cloth uniform. She can keep the leather mask and cape. Better yet, let's coax the newly rejuvenated and repaired Batgirl out of the closet, pair her with Supergirl and dispense with this cipher. I considered awarding Batwoman one bullet, but I don't believe the writers and artists meant to be tame and bold in the wrong places. It's more of a train wreck than anything else.
Ray Tate's first online work appeared in 1994 for Knotted. He has had a short story, "Spider Without a Web," published in 1995 for the magazine evernight and earned a degree in biology from the University of Pittsburgh. Since 1995, Ray self-published The Pick of the Brown Bag on various usenet groups. In the POBB, as it was affectionately known, Ray reviewed comic books, Doctor Who novels, movies and occasionally music. Circa 2000, he contributed his reviews to Silver Bullet Comic Books (later Comics Bulletin) and became its senior reviewer. Ray Tate would like to think that he's young at heart. Of course, we all know better.