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Batwoman #1 & #2

J H Williams III and W Haden Blackman
Dave Stewart
Todd Klein
DC $2.99

Review by Joe Palmer

The new Batwoman series picks up nearly where it left off at the conclusion of the Detective run. Kate has struck out on her own after being led to believe that the twisted Black Alice is her twin sister whom she’d been told had been killed in a terrorist incident. With Black Alice now presumably dead after a dramatic fight, Batwoman now operates without the aid of her father, the retired Colonel, though she’s putting cousin Bette, the formerly colorfully clad Flamebird,through  rigorous sidekick training.

A new threat has come to Gotham, La Llorona or the Weeping Woman. A tall, thin, and beautiful appearance hides her gruesome means of either abducting or drowning children. Detective Maggie Sawyer and the GCPD and Batwoman are on a collision course in their efforts to stop this new threat that is targeting only Latino children. After all, La Llorona is a real Latino legend told to children as a way to make them behave. Not only are Sawyer and Batwoman set to crash, Agent Cameron Chase from the Department of Extranormal Operations has been tasked to learn who Batwoman is and to bring her in. While Colonel Kane is implicated for his coverup of the incident surrounding Black Alice’s death, Chase suspects sawyer to be Gotham’s newest hero. Meanwhile, Kate and an off duty Maggie have their much anticipated first date. Chase and fellow DEO agents are already on the scene of a gruesome gang ambush involving were-creatures connected to a Religion of Crime sect when Sawyer arrives just to have  Chase get all jurisdictional on her. A top a roof, Batwoman observes and smiles at Sawyer, turns down Batman’s offer to join Batman Inc and follows a lead on La Llorona and unwittingly sets herself up for an ambush.

There’s your synopsis. Now for my belated thoughts that you’ve all been waiting to find out!

For a change of pace in comics storytelling, Williams and Blackman make all of the central story characters women: Batwoman/ Kate, Flamebird/ Bette, Sawyer, Chase, and La Llorona, are women. Commissioner Gordon, Batman, DEO Director Mr Bones, and now the Colonel are all secondary. All four women embody the hero, but they come to it from different viewpoints. Batwoman is the outsider as a vigilante who rejects working under Batman, as well as for her once media-hyped sexuality. Batwoman is also acting as a hard nosed mentor and trainer, transmitting her knowledge and military skills to cousin Bette. Whether in or out of costume, which is now quite the opposite of her red and yellow bright as a target palette, Bette is the negotiator and peacemaker. That is unless Kate successfully grinds the humor and empathy out of her or will Kate pay enough attention to Batman’s warning about the sidekick mortality rate to avoid figuratively killing Bette through her spirit? Sawyer upholds the straight and narrow path and the end justifies the means for hard as nails Chase. In the Greg Rucka penned arc in which Black Alice was featured Alice acted as a very twisted shadow self, whether she is indeed Kate’s lost twin or an unrelated woman is less relevant. As for La Llorona, the folktale sources I read indicated that she was a vain woman, spurned by a lover whom she married and sacrificed her own children in a fit of jealousy once she realized her philandering husband cared only for them. How Williams and Blackman interpret any of the folkloric elements into their version will be intriguing, that is, if they do. Hopefully they’ll not descend to obvious clichés about scorned women. After all, this is a book that has looked and should continue to look at things with a skewed eye.

Greg Rucka worked to establish the Religion of Crime and its holy book, the Crime Bible, as a central component to distinguish both Batwoman and former girlfriend Renée Montoya turned masked hero Question from the rest of the Batman related characters since the 52 series of five years ago now. As super hero comics go, they’re not the worst names, but they’ve always annoyed me. The crime sect seems to have taken a back seat for now with only the ambushed dead appearing as a means to to play off Sawyer and Chase. Iwon’t break into tears if the sect recedes more into the background while Williams and Blackman and the onboard Amy Reeder explore and establish other aspects of Kate/ Batwoman and a supporting cast.

Speaking of Renée, the character has survived into the post DCNu, but you knew that already. There is a panel in the first issue scene with Kate waiting to speak to Maggie at her precinct that shows Kate and the background in black and white while a photo of Renee in police uniform is in color. My initial reaction to this was that Renée had died, and merely seeing her photo had drained all color from Kate and the world at that moment. In another panel in issue two Renee as the Question appears with other Batman (presumably Batman Inc) associated characters as an artistic device. In my mind I’d love to see Renee make amends with former girlfriend Dee. Can you tell I have a soft spot for how the two were portrayed before Rucka started her on the anger and alcohol fueled deconstruction that led to the transformation into the Question? Yes, I do.

And that’s as good a segue as I can come up with to the date scene with Kate and Maggie. In the past five years we’ve had glimpses of Kate’s relationships that came after her and Reneé’s breakup. Was one woman named Mallory and another Anna? Rucka must have had reasons for thinking Kate and Maggie could make an interesting pair back when he wrote the pair flirting at one point in the Detective run. The idea of a relationship between the two struck me as full of possibilities though I read one critical comment that it wasn’t very creative to put Gotham’s two most prominent lesbians together when there must be plenty of other women in Gotham for either to date. It’s true, and introducing another woman into Kate’s life could make for interesting situations. However, Williams and Blackman seem to have lots to explore with the two. Kate seems attracted to strong women, and there’s little doubt about Maggie being a strong woman. Thankfully, drawing her smoking cigars (thank you, John Byrne) was abandoned long ago. Kate also seems silly and romantic with Maggie, whose own interest is piqued. Just how Maggie will react should she ever learn that Kate is Batwoman is the fertile ground I think and hope Williams and Blackman will cover.

What can be said about the art?  Williams first came to my attention when he drew the art for Milestone’s Death Wish mini series. His art wasn’t bad at the time though his layouts were very much tied to the conventional formats. Williams continues to challenge and raise the bar for himself with his compositions and he’s clearly having fun doing it. Each page is a visual delight and I’ve found myself looking at some pages over and over and being intrigued by the details each time. How many artists would take a minute to differentiate girl’s fingers by drawing stickers on each nail? That the girl is one of La Llorona’s victims makes this simple detail all the more poignant. The book would be stylish on its own with the art reproduced in black and white. Thankfully, Dave Stewart’s considerable talents and skills as a color artist complete the sublime visual feast. One minor note that I may be wrong about, and isn’t a detraction. In these two issues Kate’s skin tone seems to be as pale as when she is in uniform. I’ll have to look through the Detective stories to see if my perception of Kate not being colored as equally pale is accurate. If not, it may be simple stylistic change rather than some subtle clue about Kate’s mental and emotional states. It almost certainly isn’t a coloring mistake. Todd Klein brings his always consummate lettering expertise to finish the package. This trio are at the top of their respective games and even if the quality and creativity plateau here, it will be difficult for this reviewer not to be redundant in commenting. Will descriptives like inventive, striking, atmospheric, and gold standard become synonymous with Williams and Stewart?

Batwoman’s had a problematic history since her reimagination in 2006. Devin Grayson was given the character to research and flesh out and then indirectly dismissed from the project, and the character seemed abandoned till given to Greg Rucka who shepherded Kate through a run in Detective before leaving. Then the series promised for a February release was inexplicably pushed back to September. Now things seem to be off to a promising start again and I’ll be excitedly anticipating it every month.

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