Drew: Last month, Batwoman kicked off its “To Drown the World” arc, separating the action into six separate times and perspectives: Batwoman’s, Jacob’s, Kate’s, Maro’s, Maggie’s, and Chase’s. It’s an interesting gambit, but one that makes assessing individual issues quite difficult. Each mini-story only has a few pages devoted to it each issue, which means they don’t have time for more than one or two story beats. I’m not entirely certain why the story is being told this way, but I have faith that writers J.H. Williams and W. Handen Blackman will more than justify breaking the story up in this way. Until that happens, though, these issues are a little frustrating in terms of how little each story moves.
The issue jumps all over its own timeline, so I’ll take my cues from Patrick’s summary from last month and just run it down in chronological order. Two months ago, Maro is once again using urban legends to fuel her magic, this time sacrificing three teenage girls to summon and control Bloody Mary. She’s also hanging out with Killer Croc, who she apparently has promised to make “big time.” Retracing how Maro’s magic works arguably isn’t the most efficient use of space, but introducing Bloody Mary and Killer Croc are important story beats, and showing us how Maro works is much more fun than the dry explanation we got last month. My favorite part of this vignette is when Williams and Blackman seem to be talking directly to the audience, having Maro chide Croc to “be patient…it will all make sense soon.”
Jump ahead to three weeks ago, where Colonel Kane is still sitting dutifully beside Bette’s hospital bed. He shares some musings about his twin daughters, and Bette caresses his hand, giving hope that she might pull through after all. This is a nice character moment for the Colonel but I’m not sure any of this is info we haven’t gotten before. It’s always been clear that he loves his daughter(s), and that he might be treating Bette as a bit of a surrogate. The only new info here is Bette’s improving condition. All in all, this was handled well enough to warrant inclusion, so this vignette also passes the smell test.
Jump ahead to two weeks ago, where Kate and Maggie are enjoying/being grossed out by some sushi when Kate spots Abbot, leader of the religion of crime, spying on her from outside the restaurant. Kate rushes out to confront him, and he explains that Medusa is trying to run the werebeasts out of Gotham. He tells her she’ll need his help to defeat Medusa’s magic, but Kate is not interested. This one feels a little expository. In issue 6, “Kate’s Story” was devoted to Kate and Maggie’s relationship; here, it’s devoted to giving Kate information about Medusa. Moreover, it’s information we kind of already know from Maggie’s bravura crime-scene assessment from issue 2 (which, while also just people talking, was illustrated in a much more dynamic, involving way). I suppose we needed to reintroduce Abbot, but I’m not sure this vignette was the best way to do it.
Jump ahead to one week ago where Maggie and the GCPD are busting up a turf war between the werebeasts and Medusa. Maggie arrests Sune, who is apparently Maro’s sister. Also, Killer Croc is there, now with six eyes and four nostrils. I’m really not sure what to make of this one. It contains no new information. We don’t understand who Maggie arrested until Chase IDs her in the next vignette, so it’s really just the story of her arresting a rando. We already knew about the turf war, end even the extra face-holes on Croc are shown later. This one feels kind of pointless, like Williams and Blackman didn’t know what to do with Maggie this issue, which is all the more frustrating given how they kind of teased us with a character moment last month.
Meanwhile, Chase is playing Q to Kate’s Bond as she explains both her new equipment and her next mission: to extract Sune from GCPD custody. Of course, that means Batwoman will again be in direct conflict with Maggie. This one is the most obviously expository, but is kind of pleasing in it’s efficiency. Chase summarizes Kate’s reason for working with the DEO in about the glibbest way possible: “Dad. Prison. Forever.” That glibness both fits her character and saves time reestablishing character motives. I also just like the conflict it sets up between Batwoman and Maggie.
Jump ahead one last time to the present, where Batwoman is still fighting the hook-hand guy in some kind of underwater lair. She rips off his hook, and he turns into someone she knows(?), just as Falchion’s other cronies show up. This is exciting, but incredibly aggravating in how incremental the progress of this fight scene has been. This scene bookends the issue, enjoying more than twice the space of all the other vignettes, but it feels like much less happens here. We still don’t know much about who Falchion is or what he wants with Gotham’s children. It’s kind of hard to be emotionally invested without more information, especially when the action being doled out so slowly. Williams and Blackman again seem to comment on the experience of reading this arc, this time letting Kate channel the audience when she tells Falchion “let’s get on with it.”
Totaling things up, it looks like I was happy with only half of the vignettes in this issue. The risks of this format become more apparent as multiple story-lines move into middle-act-syndrome, compounding their frustrations, resulting in an issue that feels like it was interrupted mid-sentence multiple times in a row. In the end, I think the hardest part must be that Williams and Blackman have tied themselves to progressing all six stories each issue, meaning they have to give time to stories even when there’s no compelling reason to do so. That’s all the more frustrating when I’d like to spend more time with other story-lines, progressing things in a more natural fashion. I have faith in Williams and Blackman to stick the landing, but I can’t help but react to the fact that things now feel very much in the air.
Whatever complaints I may have about the writing, I have nothing but praise for the art. We commented last month that Amy Reeder kind of had an impossible act to follow after Williams really set the tone for the look of this title, but she’s handling things with aplomb here. The layouts are creative and clear, and I love the motif of an inset detail at the start of each vignette. The acting is also fantastic — one thing you can say about telling six seperate stories is that there’s going to be a pretty wide emotional range. A particular standout on all fronts is the scene with the Colonel and Bette, but for illustrative purposes, I have to point to the opening fight scene:
That arrow motif adds a great sense of motion, but it also directs your eye. The rest of the panels on that two-page spread all have angled borders that point to the next panel, which is pretty neat.
Anyway, I’m already running long here, so I’ll turn it over to you, Patrick. What are you thinking? Are any of these vignettes striking you differently? Did you recognize that “Rush” guy?
Patrick: I did not recognize Rush. I mean, I recognized the hook-handed troll from earlier issues, but the identity of “Rush” escapes me. The problem is, as I’m reading, I don’t know if that’s a lapse in my perception, something the issue will dole out later, or just information poorly conveyed elsewhere. You know how there’s no introduction of Sune until after Maggie arrests her? That sort of thing is neat, but only when you the math works out. When Kate recognizes Rush, I assumed we’d get more perspective on just who that is later in the issue (and earlier in time), but we just didn’t.
As long as we’re on the subject of Hook Hand, the little reveal that I could wrap my head around was pretty fucking cool. The dude is a slave to some kind of intelligence in the hook itself. That’s some wild stuff right there. I may not have any idea who he was supposed to be once the hook was removed, but the way the Hook started to scream for its body? Creepy shit, even for a series that has a knack for creepy shit.
I also really liked the further exploration of who these supernatural agents of Medusa are. Last issue, Maro emphasized how belief in the monster is what makes her magic possible – and that’s a sentiment that even someone like Batman applies. Batman knows that the concept of Batman is probably more important than the physical manifestation, but Maro uses the concept to create the manifestation. In this case, it’s all urban legends – killer with a hook for a hand, Bloody Mary and two more that are a little more specific to Gotham City. Think about it though, if you grew up in Gotham, you’d hear stories about the Alligator Man who lives in the sewers. I like that it suggests a culture of urban story telling unique to Gotham. That’s just such a vibrant and subtle concept that I’m thrilled it’s being tackled by writers with as much wit as Williams and Blackman.
Like you, I’m still not sold on the puzzle-box chronology. From a practical stand point, it’s just sorta hard to follow. I had an easier go of it this time, but I still had to flip back frequently to make sure I was lining events up properly in my head. I’m starting to see that the culture of urban story telling that I was praising above may be to blame for this approach. The result of these fractured narratives is that we only have the vaguest sense of what happened, which is generally how we take in and understand those urban legends. While we badly want to untangle the mess and make more sense of it, we can’t: we only have whatever discrete pieces of information the story teller wanted to give us. That may make for sort of a frustrating reading experience month-to-month, especially as we try to write something meaningful about individual issues, but I think that’s how it will read when all the stories are collected in the trades.
I’ll follow your lead and backtrack on any of my half-criticisms of Amy Reeder’s artwork. Last month we pouted about it her not being Williams, but now that sounds like a completely inane complaint. Not only are the layouts stellar here, but the monsters deployed throughout are truly terrifying. And the acting! The whole of Jacob’s story is filled with really impressive facial expressions that betray an array of emotions. My favorite of which is this one – right after Bette’s fingers grace his own:
I mean: wow. Look at that poor guy. It’s mini-scenes like this that really emphasize how frustrating it is to hop away to something else moments later.
No matter what I say in its defense, I’m also bummed out by how little happens in the Batwoman: Now story – especially after the break. Last month, there was a sort of fun detail revealed about Batwoman’s gear that allowed her to survive the wound she incurred in the first couple pages. And while this issue shows Batwoman reaching for the super-intelligent-magic-dart that Chase introduced her to previously, there’s not really any indication of how she’s going to use it to save the day.
You have any sense of how much longer we’re going to be playing this game? I want so badly to experience this whole thing in one solid collection and see if my theory pans out. No Owls for Batwoman, unless I’m mistaken. I read somewhere that Amy Reeder was going to be off this title after just a few issues. I’m forgetting the facts right now, so it makes for a shitty story, but someone else is picking up the slack for a while with Williams returning to penciling duties thereafter. Hopefully, that interim-penciler can carry the load as well as these two.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?