Batwoman 8

Today, Patrick and Drew are discussing Batwoman 8, originally released April 11th 2012.

Patrick: Every time I pick up an issue from this arc of Batwoman, I have to retrain my brain on how to read this thing. The defining characteristic of this story has been a fractured chronology that essentially demands to be re-read over and over again until the pieces fit. Whenever I assemble the pieces and take a step back, more connections become apparent and the complexity of the narrative grows.

Continuing in our grand tradition, herewith are the events of the story presented chronologically :

One month ago, during a Medusa vs. Weremonster scuffle in a Gotham alleyway, Maro chops off Rush’s left hand. She drags him back to an abandoned warehouse and pulls out a terrifyingly ornate box. In the box resides a hook named Ashoth. But why would a hook need a name? Because it’s a sentient force of evil, that’s why. Ashoth melds with Rush’s stump and takes over his mind.

Time-out here for a second. This alleyway scuffle (which is a great name for a big band swing tune, by the way) was presented as a crime scene in issue #2. Maggie even shows Chase the blood stain on the ground from Rush’s forced amputation. That’s 6 months worth of foresight paying off in this issue. While we will eventually get a lot of clarity in having all these issues published together in trade, the satisfaction of understanding that kind of moment can only be appreciated if you’re reading in real-time.

Skip ahead to two weeks ago. Jacob is still in the hospital with Bette. Dr. Siddhartha stops by just long enough to shatter Jacob’s hope that Bette will make a quick recovery. He stresses that it’s unrealistic and unhealthy to expect miracles, but assures Jacob that talking is good for people not in comas. This is both the least substantive story in this issue and the least substantive sliver of this story, so I’m not really sure what it’s doing here. I suspect Williams and Blackman remembered they needed to do a “Jacob’s Story” and this is what came out. But that only takes up a page of real estate, so we move on!

Now, hang on tight, cause the chronology for the next three scenes gets both really tight and a little inaccurate:

Skip ahead to “one week ago.” Chase brings some surveillance pictures of Maggie back to Kate’s apartment. The photos show Maggie casually flirting with other women, but more worrisomely, they don’t show Kate anywhere. This puts Kate on the defensive – they’re both busy: it’s hard to squeeze a relationship in when you’re working child abduction cases. But Chase puts her foot down and insists that Kate keep the relationship going so they can all benefit from Maggie’s involvement with the case – specifically, Maggie is assigned to the prisoner transfer of Sune, a high-level Medusa operative. Kate protests, but calls her girlfriend anyway. There’s a great set of panels that succinctly captures the interplay between Chase and Kate:

Kate passionately throws the pictures back in Chase’s face, while Chase just calmly asserts what must be done and hands Kate the phone. Batwoman needs some leverage against the DOA and she needs it now.

Skip ahead to “6 nights ago.” Maggie is at the helm of a GCPD boat charged with safely ferrying Sune to a safehouse. Suddenly, a wild Batwoman appears and takes out everyone on the boat EXCEPT Maggie. Until she’s cornered that is – at which point, Kate whips out a sedative and delivers it via ninja-syringe to her girlfriend. Kate mutters “…that wasn’t meant for you…” as Maggie passes out.

Here’s where the inaccuracy kicks in. The subtitle reads: “one week ago.” That suggests that this story takes place either before the meeting in Kate’s apartment or before the action on the GCPD boat. But all the diegetic evidence suggests this scene takes place AFTER the boat.

Anyway, “one week ago,” Batwoman and Chase make an escape from the Gotham docks with Sune in tow. Their escape plan has been compromised, so they must improvise a solution (involving showing a little midriff, a helpful trucker, and a tire iron to the skull). But not before Kate gets mad at Chase because she had to use that horrible sedative on Maggie. So Batwoman slugs Chase in the face in an awesome show of just how far she won’t be pushed.

Which brings us back up to the “now” story: Batwoman uses the weapon Chase gave her in the previous issue. It’s a sort of flying spearhead that targets the enemy for you, and attacks with ultrasonic waves, electricity, fire, magic, whatever. This weapon makes short work of the thugs of urban legend, but Batwoman calls off the attack when Falchion, the leader of Medusa, threatens to murder one of the many children he has on-hand for just that purpose. Batwoman tries to call his bluff – certainly he wouldn’t kill the children: he needs them for something, right? That’s why he stole them in the first place, right?

To make matters worse, Falchion has a sword that can slice though Batwoman’s armor like butter. He speaks cryptically about the blade being forged by “the Mother” and bathed in the blood of the Amazons. Just when things seem their darkest, an arrow whizzes past, nicking Batwoman’s ear and piercing Falchion’s chest. REVEAL: Sune wearing a black jumpsuit and wielding a bow and magical arrows.

Aside from the confusion I voiced with the timeline and the irrelevance of Jacob’s story, I thought this was a really strong outing for this arc. There’s a nice story at the heart of all of this about betrayal, which is mirrored nicely by Sune’s betrayal of Falchion. And the way Maro’s story tied back so specifically to the previous arc ends up being really satisfying.

Drew, though I’ve done little more than recap the plot, I’m handing it over to you. I like what I’m reading, and I appreciate the time it takes to figure out exactly what’s going on, but it makes for some dense-ass reading. That density doing anything for you?

Drew: This arc is such an oddball, I don’t even really know how I feel about what’s going on. We (consumers of serialized narratives in general) are used to stories being broken into bite-sized bon mots, but the degree to which Williams and Blackman are slicing this story has pushed me to my limit. I hate to chastise a team I like and trust for taking a risk, but this particular outing hasn’t borne the fruit that the previous issues had.

I suspect my biggest problem is that the focus of the vignettes has shifted from characters to plot. In the earlier issues, the brevity of these scenes was buoyed by the emotional notes they struck — even if they weren’t particularly significant plot-wise, we could understand the significance to the characters. This issue reveals a kind of opposite tack, where an emphasis on plot mechanics obscures character moments. The result feels like a lot of connective tissue; holding together the moments we’ve already established, but without much substance of its own.

Even the clever motif of the opening close-up kind of breaks down in this issue, as some focus on emotionally or thematically significant images, while others seem to focus on…whatever is there to focus on. This arbitrary nature is bared-out a bit in “Jacob’s Story,” which you were right to point out doesn’t really have a place in it’s own story narratively, or the issue at large thematically. It ends up feeling more than a little like it’s just there because Williams and Blackman needed to put something about Jacob and Bette at the hospital in.

Though it pains me to say it, I also found the art in this issue a little lacking. I’m not one to conjecture about the specifics of Amy Reeder’s exit from the title, or if that decision has anything to do with the quality of art in this issue (or vice versa), but I do feel bad being so disappointed with her last issue. She had big shoes to fill on this title, and she managed to put her own stamp on things, but much of the art in this issue feels uncharacteristically sloppy. Faces in particular felt straight-up difficult to read, something which has never been an issue for Reeder in the past.

I honestly don’t know what Maggie’s face there is supposed to be conveying there. Is she amused by Bullock’s seasickness? Disgusted? To me, she looks almost on the verge of tears, but that doesn’t make any sense. Ultimately, her reaction to that story isn’t all that important, but it’s not a good sign that I can’t use the faces to relate to how the characters are feeling.

It’s funny; when this arc started, I was kind of distracted by how unapologetically the first issue felt like a first issue — the six storyline gambit ensures that any such feelings are vastly exaggerated — and now I’m feeling how much this issue feels like a pre-climax middle-issue. That explains the shift in focus to plot, as well as the floundering of the coma story, which understandably can’t have any action until Bette pulls out of the coma (probably). I’m a big fan of comfort, so I guess it makes sense that I would prefer the stability of the second issue to the action or framing in the first and this one.

We’ve both questioned the reason for this particular storytelling gambit, but I didn’t see any specific gripes regarding that today. Have you gotten over your qualms? Have they gone away? I’m still not sure why a traditional chronology wouldn’t have been more practical, or even more enjoyable, for this arc.

Man, I make it sound like I hated this issue, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Kate’s professional relationship with Chase is deteriorating exactly as I was hoping, and that explanation of the crime scene from issue 2 was damn satisfying, but I’m not sure these moments stitch together to form a satisfying whole. Or rather, I’m not sure why this arrangement is better than a more intuitive one. Williams and Blackman have enough goodwill stored for me to trust that this will bear out in the end, but issues like this one make that more of a leap of faith than a matter of course.

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?

10 comments on “Batwoman 8

  1. I haven’t gotten over my qualms about how this story is presented – but I do fully expect it at this point. It’s also becoming less and less likely that they’er going to throw in a development that DOES justify this method of story telling. This issue is a pretty good example of where the gimmick does the narrative an active disservice: the Kate’s Story – Maggie’s Story – Chase’s Story set of scenes would have packed a lot more emotional umph it was presented as it happened. As it stands, I didn’t really understand all of what happened until I broke it down for this write-up.

    The thing is, I do appreciate when a work of art makes you investigate it closely. But usually I expect such exploration to yeild thematic relevance or additional meaning: not simply plot developments.

    • I think this method was working well at exploring themes and resonances in the first few issues, but now it feels like a gimmick Williams and Blackman are saddled with. I suppose it’s a feat enough that each thread can illucidate plot-points (besides Jacob’s), but I really miss the emotional chords that this arc was striking in those first two issues.

      • Well and it’s probably shitty to point out the ONE TIME they don’t totally land the emotions in an extremely taxing narrative style. Honestly, the fact that it EVER works is impressive. I maintain that, in trade, this arc will be a lot more satisfying.

  2. Batwoman my be suffering from the extremely high standard it set for itself. This issue is still among the top eschelon of what I think I’ll read this month, but it pales in comparrison to what I know this title is capable of. Maybe I’m just getting impatient — the six stories at once doesn’t make for a lot of emotional satisfaction episodically, but will probably have an awesome pay-off in the end.

    • It doesn’t help that the reference to the crime scene investigation in issue 2 had me cracking that book again. I had forgotten just how incredible that first arc looks. Is this one Amy Reeder’s last or is she finishing out the Drown the World arc?

      It is staggering to me how fundamentally different these two story arcs have been – in basically all concievable ways: visually, narratively, tonally.

      • Yeah, this was Reeder’s last issue. The circumstances of her exit aren’t totally clear, but it seems like there was some acrimony. Next month, Trevor McCartly (who we’ll recognize for his guest spot on Nightwing 4) steps in on pencils. I’m not sure how his style will jibe with this title (it seems even further afield from Williams’ work than Reeder’s), but I was particularly fond of his work on the Gates of Gotham.

  3. Oh, so I was re-reading Elegy today, and who should I recognize but Rush, the dude who would later have his hand replaced by a sentient hook. I didn’t get the impression that he had appeared before, but he was acting as a reluctant informant on the Religion of Crime. Anyway, we can put that little mystery to rest, and stop treating it like a mystery — he’s a bit player that was kind of surprising in his return (though he appears in the same clothes in Elegy as he sports as hook-hand-guy).

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