Patrick: Batwoman #6 opens close on the Bat symbol on Kate Kane’s chest. Subtitles indicate that we are reading “Batwoman’s Story. Now.” Setting and protagonist are stated up-front in writing because we won’t be with this person, or in this time, for very long. The rest of the 22-page issue touches on the story of 5 other characters as related to the kidnapping and murder of children by members of Medusa and the origin of the La Llorona myth. It is a dizzying exercise in perspective and chronology that skips wildly between characters and locales. Some of the stories offer new perspective on events that unfolded in the five issues that proceeded it, while others (those presented as “Now”) seem to have skipped ahead in time to a climactic battle for the safety of the kidnapped children.
It’s a lot to take in, and some pieces are more substantial than others. For the sake of summary, let’s approach the events in the order they happened. As a prelude to Batwoman #1, a mysterious woman named Maro drowns a child under the supervision of a man named Falchion. These two are in the child-drowning business to revive the folk-tale known as La Llorona, or the Weeping Woman. Maria, the drunken mother of the newly deceased child, will try to drown herself, but Maro’s magic will keep her spirit from escaping into death. Falchion thinks this is a waste of time, but Maro sees the value in making the parents of Gotham believe in monsters again. I assume this pair is connected to Medusa in some way, or at least stands to benefit from Medusa’s mission to kidnap children. More information is necessary.
Jump ahead three months to a period of time after the events of Batwoman #4: Bette Kane, formerly Flamebird, lies unconscious in a hospital bed. She’s in critical condition in Gotham I.C.U. because she lost a fight to a fat dude with a hook for a hand when she tried to stop some street-level gun traffickers. Looking back on those pages from Batwoman #4, it’s clear that those guys work for Medusa – they bear the same emblem on their shirts that we’ll see later in issue #6. Back to the scene in the hospital: Jacob (Kate’s father) stops in to read aloud to Bette. It’s evident from his conversation with the orderly that he’s been doing this for some time. Bette has not been making a smooth recovery: her heart has stopped twice and she’s nearly bleed to death. More information is necessary.
Jump ahead one week to a scene between Kate and her girlfriend, Detective Maggie Sawyer. Interestingly, this scene is tagged as “Kate’s Story” as though that is somehow distinct from “Batwoman’s Story.” Maggie notices some fresh bruises on Kate’s body, no doubt from her experience working for the D.E.O. But Kate explains that the bruises are from boxing – which her father taught her. Maggie presses her for more information about Kate’s relationship with her father, but Kate pushes away; she’s not ready for the relationship to get into messy territory. More information is necessary.
Jump ahead another week and Batwoman is out crackin’ Medusa skulls with Special Agent Cameron Chase. Turns out Kate doesn’t much like taking orders from Chase, but they have been kind enough to outfit her with a kick-ass suit, making her basically impervious to gunfire. While this story takes up the most real estate in terms of page-count, there’s not much meat here. Suffice to say that Chase and Batwoman are following leads and beating up low-level Medusa thugs. More information is necessary.
Jump ahead once again by a week and we’re with Detective Maggie Sawyer as she has nothing new to report to Mrs. Lopez, the mother of a kidnapping victim. Maggie does a piss-poor job of comforting Mrs. Lopez, who ultimately storms out in disgust. Alone in her office, Maggie retrieves a framed picture from her desk drawer and stares at it pensively. Is there/was there a child in Detective Sawyer’s life? The scene ends abruptly before we get any kind of confirmation. More information is necessary.
And then there’s one final jump, again, by a week – this one taking us to up to the present. Batwoman is locked in battle with the same hook-handed baddie that landed Bette in the hospital. A mysterious figure in the shadows bearing the Medusa insignia and a sword looks on Batwoman overpowers Hook Hand. Oh and the fight appears to take place in some underwater aqua-dome. More information is necessary.
I feel ill-equipped to evaluate this issue. Hell, I almost feel ill-equipped to read this issue. In laying out that above plot summary, I had to draw up a timeline on scratch paper and refer to all 5 previous issues. And I think I may still be misinterpreting some of the information presented in this issue. For example, I think that shadowy dude with the sword is Falchion. I have almost nothing with which to back that up, but it seems like it could be correct, right? Mostly, though, I find myself wondering why the story is presented this way and whether it will continue in this fashion for the rest of the “To Drown The World” arc. I appreciate non-traditional chronology when it serves a specific purpose – like putting you in the head-space of the protagonist, as in Memento. It can be an effective tool in mysteries where both you and the detective are working so hard to put the pieces together. But there’s very little detecting in this issue, so I’m not totally sold on the necessity of this story-telling style.
It occurs to me that maybe it is meant to heighten the drama of Batwoman’s fight with Hook Hand (I wish he had a name). In the first couple pages, he lands a blow on Batwoman. The very next story (set a month earlier) shows the effect that same attack had on Bette. Then the last story we check in on before returning to the BW vs. HH battle displays the protective capabilities of the new Batwoman suit. When we snap back to the present, Kate is none the worse for wear and turns the tables on her aggressor.
All of which is to say that I found this issue sort of exhausting. I enjoyed dissecting and writing about this issue a lot more than I enjoyed reading it. Initially, I was really turned off by the artist switch-up, which I’m only getting around to mentioning now. Penciler Amy Reeder employs layouts far more ambitious than we see on most of the titles we’re reading, but it all pales in comparison to the twisted artistry of the 5 issues that came before. It’s still super effective, and in a world without those 5 issues, I’d probably be praising it as bold and adventurous. As it stands, I wish J.H. Williams III had the time to keep drawing this series himself.
I still don’t really know what to think of this issue as a whole. I have faith that the guiding hand that lead us through Hydrology and Elegy will again lead us to a satisfying conclusion in this arc. I might just need a little convincing that this is the right first step for this story.
Drew: It’s tough; it looks like this six separate stories in six separate times gambit is something Williams and Blackman are going to be sticking with for the remainder of this arc. I have faith that these threads will come together awesomely by the arc’s end, but it also means neither story gets much attention. I think all of these stories will pay off in the end, but in the meantime, it’s damn hard to say much — the issue is more or less the first few pages for six separate stories
But what a set of stories. We only spend a few moments with each one, but each of those moments establish the character motivations that will drive them. Colonel Kane is looking for a surrogate daughter in Bette. Maggie is taking this missing children case much more personally than anyone realizes. Maro and Falchion’s plans have something to do with Falchion’s deceased kin. Kate is trying to maintain emotional distance in spite of Maggie’s desire for openness. Chase is already getting frustrated with Batwoman’s “I do things my way” approach. The only story that doesn’t focus on specific motivations is Batwoman’s fight in the underwater lair, but we already know that she’s looking for those lost kids (and maybe wants a little revenge on hook-hand man), and seeing that she’s found them (note the dungeon full of kids behind Falchion in the picture Patrick included) is a fun little carrot that just makes us want to know how she got there in the first place.
All of these are handled well, but like I said, it’s tough to evaluate them until we really understand where they’re going. That said, these do obviously set-up some interesting conflicts; Maggie’s emotional baggage (and subsequent need for support) seem poised to clash horribly with Kate’s desire for distance, and Batwoman’s attitude with Chase may put her relationship with the DEO in jeopardy (note how quick Chase is to threaten Kate with jailing the Colonel). I’m not sure how those conflicts will resolve, but I think those have the potential to outlive this current arc. The other story-lines feel a bit more like Williams and Blackman are simply getting their pieces in place, but they’re interesting pieces and interesting places, and they look to be setting up something pretty fun.
Patrick and I were both pretty big LOST fans, so I think we’re in for narratives that utilize leaps in chronology to reveal character motivations and histories, but trying to tackle six separate threads in a single issue is a bit crowded for my tastes. Most of these scenes only get two pages. It’s a testament to what efficient storytellers Williams and Blackman are that we do get something meaningful out of each of these scenes, but it also lends to a little choppiness. Again, I’m convinced this is going to pay off in the end, but it makes assessing this issue on its own kind of difficult.
I agree whole-heartedly with what you said about Amy Reed’s pencils — they’re fantastic, but we’ve really become spoiled by William’s gorgeous work on this title. Her faces are expressive, and she has a very dynamic sense of motion. Still, my favorite touches were those that still felt like Williams — check out the way Reed frames the bullet strikes in that alleyway fight:
It’s a simple trick, but it directs our attention, kind of underlining the holy-shit-Batwoman-was-just-riddled-with-bullets-ness of that image. New colorist Guy Major taps into the hyper-real textures Dave Stewart had been using for the costume sequences. I’d also like to point to letterer Todd Klein’s continued excellence on this title. Letterer’s work often goes unsung, but his letters are a vital part of what make these characters so expressive.
You’re right: it’s tough to assess this issue as a whole. I still think this is one of the best titles we’re reading, but a lot of my enjoyment of this particular issue stems from the faith I have in Williams and Blackman to go somewhere with it. They’re a team I’m willing to bet on, so I don’t think I’ll be disappointed. They won’t need to go far; it’s not that this issue was bad, it’s just that (as you so eloquently put it) more information is necessary.
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