27 September 2011
"Batwoman" #1 (Nov 2011)
"Hydrology, Part 1: Leaching"
J.H. Williams, III: co-writer & artist
W. Haden Blackman: co-writer
Dave Stewart: colors
Todd Klein: letters
Janelle Asselin: assoc. editor
Michael Marts: editor
Batman created by Bob Kane
Date of publication: 14 September 2011
$2.99, 32 pages
I've never read a Batwoman comic before, but I knew that a few years ago, DC had decided to update the Silver Age character. This Batwoman is Kate Kane, and all I knew before this issue was that she had red hair and made some waves a while back for being a lesbian. Story-wise, I was peripherally aware that she had some kind of ongoing story involving her family and the military. Since the Bat-family of books were selling well enough to satisfy DC's bean counters, they've been largely unaffected by the establishment of the new continuity and it shows. This first issue tries to catch up new readers like me along the way, but the exposition is fairly awkward to read; there were whole pages that felt like illustrated editor's notes more than dialog.
Some spooky ghost woman who looks like Helena Bonham Carter is going around kidnapping children, and Batwoman is on her trail. We open with a near-rescue, and then the Hispanic parents recounting the incident to Detective Maggie Sawyer. (She was a cop in Metropolis once upon a time, but sometime after I stopped being a regular reader, she came out of the closet and moved to Gotham City.) Kate and Maggie seem to be on the verge of courtship, but before that goes anywhere, Kate is taking her cousin Bette out for sidekick mentoring. Bette had been Flamebird, but Kate has decided to demote her to "Plebe," complete with generic uniform devoid of any personality. I suppose their quick night out and about roughing up some guys in a bar had something to do with tracking down the kidnapping ghost woman, but I had to fill in that gap myself since no one ever asks anything like, "Where are the children?" or "Who's the creepy ghost woman?" They just fight.
The dialog between Kate and Bette primarily serves as a pretext for introducing newbies like me to the back story of the Kane family drama, involving Kate's military dad covering up the fact that Kate's twin sister, Beth, was in fact still alive but had become insane and surfaced as a super villain, who then perished for real. If it sounds convoluted in my summary, I can assure you it's not made any more palatable in this issue. Oh, and some skeleton guy working at a government agency is looking into both the Kate family and Batwoman. So there's that.
The art is particularly solid; there is a nice blend of imagery that looks like painted work alongside traditional pencils and inks. It was a little jarring at first, but as the issue unfolded I found I really enjoyed the effect. It gives the story an aesthetic ripe with atmosphere, but a certain sense of old school comic book kinetic energy that I can see being enjoyable on an ongoing basis. I did have a problem with the proliferation of splash pages, however; six of the first eight pages are splash pages, and there are only six single pages in the entire issue. They look great but there's a sense of story decompression here. I feel like J.H. Williams, III and W. Haden Blackman must have had a conversation that either involved Williams pleading with Blackman to back off on story content so he could show off his art, or the two of them deciding that Williams had to do 18 splash pages because they didn't have enough material for a full issue.
Also, I would be remiss not to comment on the fact that we see Kate and Bette change into, and then later out of, their costumes which seems largely a pretext for showing us Bette in bikini briefs with some side boob. Is dressing for a night of costumed vigilantism an obvious, practical step to take? Sure. Is it reasonable they would chat while getting changed? Absolutely. Relative to the other notorious, egregious issues of the New 52, this hardly seems worth mentioning but it does feel a little gratuitous.
All in all, I'd say this is an average, three-star issue. It was clumsy at times and lacked enough substance for my taste. I found it a cut beneath Batgirl and Detective Comics, but at least I wasn't outraged like readers of Catwoman or Red Hood and the Outsiders.
I liked the ghost woman part of the story, which is surprising given I'm not generally big on superhero stories involving the supernatural; I like my costumed people to fight other costumed people, or mobsters. I prefer to let Mystery, Inc. investigate ghosts. With the Kate family drama, I feel like I just started watching NCIS in the middle of its fifth season. Sure, I can glean what I need to know (especially when it's all spelled out for me like it is in this issue), but do I really care?
This opening story arc runs five issues, and I think for the time being I'll commit to reading the next four and then reevaluating the series. I don't have an instant need to keep up with this book, but I also recognize that some of what bugged me may have been obligatory first issue housekeeping. I'm interested to see how subsequent issues read, now that Williams and Blackman shouldn't be so boxed into providing such forced exposition into their script. (I'm also hoping for fewer splash pages; this issue only took me about 12 minutes to read, and that's much too low for my taste.)
Incidentally, the first printing is sold out. I just happened to find one at Barnes and Noble. A second printing will be available at comic shops on 12 October, the same day that issue #2 hits shelves.