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Batwoman – The Zero Issue

Review by Joe Palmer

J H Williams III artist & writer
W Haden Blackman co-writer
Amy Reeder artist
Richard Friend inker on Reeder’s sequence

Last Wednesday (thank you, holidays and recovery from same for the delay!) saw the release of this special issue, a primer of sorts for anyone who’d not read any of the previous stories in Detective or 52. For those of us who have and wanted more this comic is more like assurance that DC thinks that Batwoman, a character with a troubled history, is good…enough.

All seemed well with Batwoman when Rucka and J H Williams III began telling her stories in Detective’s main spot; the Big Bat having remained firmly in place since #27 oh so many decades ago. Then came a huge WTF moment when Rucka announced his departure to work on his own personal projects. Stumptown (to be collected as a trade in February 2011) is damned good in its own right, as well as a hint, at least for me, of what Renee Montoya could be like if the decision to mold her into The Question hadn’t happened. The series hastened to an early ending with the aid Jock, a good artist in his right. Word of the character’s continuation surfaced, now in her own title with Williams and W Haden Blackman as co-writer and Amy Reeder as alternating artist. Of these three it’s with Blackman’s work that I’ve no familiarity, so I’d little idea what to expect. On the other hand, Reeder’s art on Madame Xanadu (alas, now canceled!) has proven to be quite enjoyable though how her style would mesh with superhero storytelling was a question I pondered. Pish, as the Brits say. Based on her work here it shouldn’t have been a concern at all and I look forward to her solo arcs.

The story’s plot is standard, and it works well enough as the intent for this issue is partly a jumping on point for newbies. Batman, the scowly Bruce one who’s now returned to present-day Gotham from his time jaunts, surveils Kate Kane and Batwoman to prove that they’re one and the same. Now that Bat-Bruce is back he has to indulge his control issues and understand this new player as much as possible. While Bats looks on one part of the story shows Batwoman whaling on Sister Shard, she of the kooky Cult of Crime, and her henchmen as they steal away a sarcophagus, no doubt for sinister reasons. The other part, which is drawn by Reeder, has Batman mostly observing but also interacting in disguises with non-costumed Kate. This sequence includes Bat Bruce in disguise shadowing Kate into a club as she dances (and picks up a woman) and Bats ignoring the attentions of a male bartender. Williams’ art is the same level here as he delivered with previous installments. In a word, it’s amazing. Compare this work not with his Promethea or even Chase, but with the not so well known Deathwish mini series from 1990s Milestone to get a full appreciation of how he’s dedicated himself to his art.

If having a quibble is necessary then I suppose it would be that the titular character herself is not given one word of dialog in the entire issue. Certainly no one else is either, but Batman is the narrator, as well as the guardian and authority figure who gives and withholds approval. I just think this choice might have been more effective if it’d been punctuated with a single line or even a word of dialog from Batwoman to pierce Batman’s self-perceptions.

The question of Batwoman’s relevance within the Bat-verse was recently posed in the GLA forum. The character’s sexuality was mentioned as the determining factor. Perhaps it’s true. But if it’s true now, it is certainly also true that this was the main reason for her creation as a love interest for Batman  just a short two years after Wertham’s “Batman and Robin are homosexuals” accusations that in part led to the Comics Code Authority. In that beginning she was simply a gimmick, although one that with charm and camp/ kitsch appeal, and it wasn’t until her revival in the 70s that she took on another purpose. Robin as well as other teen sidekicks were gimmicks when they were first introduced back in the early 40s. The perception (or reality) that Nightwing, Robin, Oracle or Batgirl, etc. are relevant occurred with the progression of stories. None of this is to say that I think this Batwoman is gimmick-free, whether it be in conception, presentation, execution, or simply individual reader perception. The New York Times piece that labeled her a “lipstick lesbian” was certainly a gimmick, but DC was hardly responsible for that. And thankfully Williams tossed out the original high heeled boots for something more…um… sensible.

Setting aside the money making factor, the true purpose of any character in any medium is to be able to tell a story through which one hopes others will be able to identify with in some fashion. And if for now Batwoman’s stories personify or reflect some real world elements in a four color fictional fantasy that I’m content.

December 1, 2010
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