Batwoman Rises Above the Convolution and Confusion

It’s here. After months and months and months of delays, Batwoman #1 is released. There are many questions: can the book live up to the character’s previous run in Detective Comics volume one? How will it relate to the rest of the relaunched DC titles (it does have The New 52! logo on its cover)? Will the slight change in creative team affect it quality? Will it be good?

The modern character of Batwoman has had a rocky road in her short publication history. Her origin and characterization has been convoluted by various creative teams over the last five years. This particular book picks up from her run in Detective Comics 854 to 863, written by Greg Rucka and drawn by J.H. Williams III. Those particular stories were excellent. They were modern, compelling, grounded and few more adjectives you’ve read elsewhere.

And this book is a direct continuation of that run, as references are made to the previous storylines. So how is this book part of The New 52? It’s not. Written well before the DC reboot, delays in art production seemingly caused it to become part of the new initiative, but it shares nothing with those new titles. It is on its own, yet definitely connected through its use of shared characters and settings. The whole situation is a mess. History is repeating itself.

Simply put, as comicbook readers we are looking for consistency. If a title is part of a new launch, then make it part of a new launch. Don’t leave plotlines from previous continuity if it’s not part of the present. Case in point, Batwoman picks up with Kate Kane’s cousin Bette joining her in her superhero activities. It mentions that Bette was once Flamebird and a member of the Teen Titans. Is that still true? If it isn’t, then why is it in the book? There are many reasons (excuses), but at the heart of it is a simple lack of quality control and due diligence.

What’s not lacking is the quality in this “debut” issue of Batwoman. Taking the book on its own, ignoring the The New 52 concept, connecting it to the Detective Comics run – you have something beguiling.

Rucka is no longer with DC. Williams, with W. Haden Blackman assisting, has taken over art and story for the book. In that you have some level of consistency (there’s that word again). What’s presented in Batwoman #1 has all the hallmarks we’ve come to expect from a Batwoman story. There is a supernatural element; the images are haunting; the characterizations are gritty and existential; the story is thought provoking. It’s as if no time has passed.

The book’s drawing power stems from the artwork of J.H. Williams. His work, especially combined with minimalist writing, is poetic. The panels leap from the pages, each a masterpiece of modern art in their own right. The movements of characters are fluid, evocative of a style and execution we have never seen, but are quite familiar with. The color work of Dave Stewart completes the sequences, strengthening Williams pencil work. And while some of the double page spreads glance too quickly over key pieces of information, all is forgiven when taken together as a whole.

There are flaws, however minimal, but they do harm the overall quality of the book. Too much of the backstory is glanced over – this is not a first issue as there is much to garner from pervious stories. The dialogue is suspect in at least two occasions, but is quickly overcome by the inspiring visuals which paint a picture with words that neither could do on their own.

A review of Batwoman cannot pass without mentioning at least one other facet of the book. Previously, much had been made of the title character’s homosexuality – a lesbian superhero with her own title. Often when major publishers delve into this territory the result is troublesome, clumsy and at times insulting. Characters such as this become gimmicks, and gimmicks are never good. Batwoman and her characterization is something different. When Greg Rucka wrote her origin in Detective Comics, he was very careful to ground the character in near reality, to give her an authentic feeling, genuine experiences and relationships within her environment. Williams continues that tone. We don’t have a gay superhero; we have a superhero that happens to enjoy same-sex relationships. She’s a person. How novel. And by the symbol on her chest, we have a good idea whose side she’s on.

Batwoman is a product of what has come before, in that it is not a debut issue, nor a fitting compliment to the new DC Universe. While this should not be a mark against the title, as part of a larger publishing effort, it must be. Is that fair? Arguments can be made for either side. The bottom line: it is an excellent book.

To answer the questions from earlier: the first issue of Batwoman lives up to the previous run. It, however, does not relate to The New 52 (yet). The change in creative team has not affected the quality at all. Batwoman is a compelling, modern take on the superhero genre. Too bad it’s gotten lump with the mix bag of new DC titles.

RATING 8 / 10