Batwoman 10

Today, Patrick and (guest-writer) Jack Ehlers are discussing Batwoman 10, originally released June 20th, 2012.

Patrick: This whole arc has been about the power of belief. The monsters of Medusa’s army are all terrors from the zeitgeist, and while there’s a fair amount of straight-up magic that brings these creatures into play, Maro states time and again that she can only spawn these monsters is because the citizens of Gotham believe in them. Their belief makes the impossible possible. But people don’t just believe in ghosts and hook-handed men and sewer creatures – even in a city as dark as Gotham, they believe in each other and abstract Bat-ideal of justice.

While the events of this story are presented in chronologically fractured vignettes, we present the plot summary as it happened. (This practice, by the way, is exhausting. It’s been a fun narrative technique to experience and analyze, but I’ll be happy when we don’t have to recap this style of story anymore.) One week ago, Maro explains to Killer Croc this whole notion of belief fueling her magical creations. Sure, she makes sure he’s on a diet that’s heavy in radioactive animals and virgin blood, but it’s the fact that cultures throughout history have feared a monstrous crocodile that allows his horrifying transformation. This might be a bit early to mention art, but holy hell: I love the page wherein she explains this.

It just really drives home the concept that comic books are just modern myths. The presentation is so tidy and efficient, it’s going to make my 1100-word write-up seem inelegant by comparison.

Jump ahead to “35 hours ago.” Jacob is still in the hospital, spending every waking hour with Bette as her condition refuses to progress. Half-talking to his unconscious niece, but mostly-talking to himself, Jacob returns to a topic he’s mused on before – the difference between his daughters. Kate was so like him, but Beth was sweet and kind and patient, a caliber of person Jacob could never hope to be. He sobbingly confesses that he loved Beth more.

Jump ahead again to “28 hours ago.” This is only seven hours after Jacob’s little break-down in Bette’s hospital room. Kate stops by to visit her cousin for the first time. She’s decked out in the Batwoman outfit and she doesn’t come inside. In fact, she waits on the other side of the window observing her father and her cousin, never drawing attention to herself. After a brief moment, she leaves.

Skip another 10 hours and we’re at “18 hours ago.” Maggie Sawyer investigates the scene of a fresh kidnapping when she’s interrupted by Police Commissioner Jim Gordon. Maggie knows that the public is none-too-happy with her performance on the case and she pleads with Gordon to let her keep up the investigation. Gordon’s only advice? Pretend the kids are hers, and then solve the motherfucking case already. Maggie steals away to make a phone call to… someone: a child with a sweet voice. More on that in a bit.

Jump forward again to a mere “2 hours ago. Sune, Batwoman, Chase and some DEO officers are doing their best to contain dragon-Croc. It looks to be going pretty well for our heroes until Croc throws out some explosives, critically injuring one of Chase’s men. But Batwoman and Sune are rip-roaring and ready to go, so they pursue Croc back to Falchion’s lair on their own.

And that brings us up to the main action – the “now” part of the story. That kiss that Shelby objected to last month is cut short when Kate pulls away. She has a girlfriend after all. Sune’s not too broken up about it. In fact, she’s much more interested in murdering Falchion (which she does with his own sword – badass). Kate objects to killing in the traditional Bat-family fashion, but it’s too late, the deed is done. Thing is – Sune didn’t murder Falchion as any form of justice or revenge or whatever: he was a sacrifice. Sune morphs into Maro and claims her right to lead Medusa.

After a couple months of scant developments, it’s refreshing to see the conflict kicked into high gear. With the exception of Maro’s story, everything in this issue takes place within mere hours of Batwoman’s underwater brawl. All the drama feels more immediate, the emotions more salient – all because it’s less of a chore to connect the dots. That’s been one of our biggest criticisms throughout, there are so many moving piece that it’s been a feat just to keep them all straight, let alone remember what’s poignant about them. This issue plays like a revelation. So many threads come home to roost, including an answer to my lingering question: why doesn’t Kate visit her cousin in the hospital.

Let’s talk about that one for a second, because there’s some kick-ass character work on display there. Jacob spends so much time explaining how he is so much like his emotionally distant younger daughter. But he’s there, day-in and day-out even though that’s not what he’s comfortable doing. He’s trying to emulate the behavior of his more compassionate child. Kate’s not totally unfeeling, she just can’t engage on that same level. I love the level of detail rendered on Kate’s face – it’s heartbreaking and calls to mind the obsessively shaded Batwoman-face from the issues penciled by J.H. Williams III.

There are a lot of surrogates at play in this issue. Croc stands in for Sobek or Chinese dragons, Bette stands in for Jacob’s deceased daughter, Gordon even suggests that Maggie imagines the missing children as her own. Oh, on that topic: who is Maggie calling? A child from a previous relationship, perhaps? We’ve gotten hints in previous issues that there was once a child in Maggie’s life, but it’s clearly not something the character is used to addressing.

We’re lucky enough to have a guest writer with us today, my sister and favorite-person-in-the-world: Jack. He doesn’t read a whole lot of comics, but he is a fan of Batwoman and is one of the smartest people you’ll ever have a beer with. Jack, how’s the fractured chronology working for you? You seeing the same kind of payoff in this issue that I’m seeing? Also: it looks like there’s one at least more issue in this story arc – will you be coming back to see how it ends?

Jack: Well, shucks, my brother’s the best.  Let me assure you, gentle reader, he drinks much smarter beer than I do.

Patrick is right about the fractured chronology of the last several issues:  it is equal parts riveting narrative device and pain in the ass.  All told, most of the stories in the issue only get to hold our attention for a couple of frames.  That is an aggressive way to split a narrative, sort of the opposite of the syndrome one experiences watching the last hour of Return on the Jedi, in which we watch Luke fight Darth Vader for just long enough that we no longer care about what the Ewoks are up to.  The net result here is two-fold.  First, I am violently reminded that I care about each of the story’s moving parts.  Second, I am confused about and indifferent to the hard facts of the chronology.   I could fix this by going through frame by frame with a pencil and paper, but why?  I don’t think it’s a sustainable style of storytelling, but it’s a fine enough way to keep the reader on edge for a couple of months.

But let’s get big-picture and discuss this theme of mythology, self-fulfilling prophecy, and the power of belief — or, if I choose to call a spade a spade, lies.  The monsters in this universe are walking, talking lies.  They exist as people believe in them, a principle which the comic interprets so literally that Maro has her followers researching their roles to see what kind of powerful magical creatures they can become if they live up to the rumors about themselves.  It’s some trippy circular reasoning, but it suggests a very legitimate metaphor for the relationship between perception, identity, and power.  Personally and professionally, we have all eaten a couple of mutant rat tumors in the hopes of gaining the supposed magical powers of the rat-eating monster.

At first, I thought Batwoman was being a little ham-handed on this point.  I mean, how many times does Maro have to reiterate this rule of belief-makes-monsters-real?  How many times does art have to remind us that art is important?  Then, I remembered that the consequences of our elaborate psychological constructions are not really a soft science.  They have enormous real-world implications.  The lies we accept about ourselves end up dictating our actions, for better and worse.  Full disclosure:  I recently joined the army, a process which basically consists of being lied to.  There’s a lot of smoke and mirrors and yelling, but at the end of the day it’s just a long exercise in aggressive myth-making:  they tell you that you are soldier in every manner and tone of voice until you start to believe it.

Which reminds me – Colonel Jacob Kane.  I love Jake Kane, because he is living a lie.  More to the point, he lives several of the most cherished lies of American pop culture.  He is the hardened war-hero who knows he killed all the right people, but who is still sensitive enough to hate himself for letting his daughters see him put their cat down.  He carries a series of secret burdens with great stoicism, but kind and gentle spirits move him to tears, because he believes that they are somehow of a higher and purer order than he is.  A fierce lion-heart, solemn calculation, a noble soul rendered helpless by his own Spartan self-discipline — I love that lie as it pertains to the fantasy of the American soldier and to every other fantasy for that matter.  Like all great identity-crafting lies, it is subject to faltering, failure, and the exposure of its inherent contradictions and pretensions.  It breaks down, because it is not real; if it were, people wouldn’t have to lie about it.  I believe we will see Colonel Kane’s lie break down before this series ends.  The disappointment will be heart-wrenching and AWESOME, and hopefully when we see his fallibility, we will all come away from it thinking that we, too, could embrace such a lie.

I would be remiss if I did not address the kiss between Sune and Batwoman.  I shared Shelby’s disappointment and indignation when we first saw it in the previous issue, and I shared Patrick’s relief that Kate pulls away abruptly.  I’m pullin’ for Kate and Maggie.  They have a charming relationship, which is borderline-healthy and stands in stark contrast to every other facet of their lives.  I was relieved, I say, but only briefly, because the moment exposes a larger problem which this series has, up until now, held at arm’s length, the totally egalitarian treatment of gay characters.  To be fair, there has been a tremendous cultural evolution on this point in recent years (remember when Rent was edgy?).  Gay characters are rarely made to represent a whole gay community anymore, to manifest or debunk stereotypes, or to demonstrate some all-encompassing victimhood.

In all these regards, Batwoman is on point, but there are subtler ways to exaggerate the importance of a character’s sexuality as a novelty.  In this case, it is a phenomenon that I will call, “So Everyone is Just Gay Now Syndrome.”  It is most conspicuous in niche media (The L Word, Queer as Folk, I’m looking at you), for which queerness is an end in itself:  homosexual characters outnumber heterosexual characters in a kind of sexual bizarro-world.  Not only does this over-emphasize one of our characters’ more superficial attributes (whom they’d rather have sex with), it completely glosses over the majority-minority dynamic which makes the social taboo possible in the first place.

Fact:  not everyone is gay, even when your protagonist is.  It’s tricky — one of the draw-backs to writing gay characters — to tell a story with a modicum of love-interest and related drama if you are honest about the fact that 90% of the people in the story are not even batting for your hero’s team.  Batwoman is usually pretty good about this.  Kate, though beautiful, is not typically so knee-deep in adoring female fans that it becomes a distraction from the story.  Sune’s mid-mission advance is an anomaly, and it strikes me as a crass device.  I assume that there is some more sinister magic at work than simply an inappropriate and ill-timed attempt at seduction.  But even if such a scheme is revealed in the next issue, I will resent that the comic thought I would fall for a trick so cheap.

Regardless, I will be sticking around to see this show wrap up.  It’s been a good ride:  urban decay, monsters, cool gadgets, corrupt bureaucrats, survivor’s guilt, family skeletons, dark brooding soulful men and women, a whole lot of clunky-but-profound insights into the human condition, and all of the other things one comes to expect from a story whose title begins with “Bat.”  What’s not to love?

Jack Ehlers attends army officer radio geek school at Fort Gordon, Georgia and promises to go back to being smart again someday.  Although ostensibly a grown man, he still pretty much likes what Patrick tells him to like.  His enthusiasm is contagious, and it is always a treat to participate in his creative endeavors.

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?


18 comments on “Batwoman 10

  1. Courtney can no longer guest write, as she is obviously way smarter than the rest of us. Hi Courtney!

    I do have one point to counter the “everyone is gay” misstep of Sune’s advance: Sune is also Maro, and Maro is a dude.

      • Some sort of magic, shapeshifter, Siamese twin? I’m not sure it’s Maro disguised as Sune, or Sune disguised as Maro, or just Sune and Maro.

    • Shelby! Remember when we agreed to be best friends? You raise a good point. I think the root of my objection still applies, just because of the perception we have of the character in that moment. So I guess “Everyone is gender-confused and gender-confusing” would be more accurate than “Everyone is gay,” but less snarky.

  2. What’s interesting about all the lies to oneself and how that shapes the identities of these characters (and monsters) is that I’m not 100% sure on how we should apply this to Kate herself. Should we? While she gets a full two stories in every issue (both “Kate’s story” and “Batwoman’s story,” it doesn’t really feel like this arc is really about her. In fact, she’s mostly just being bossed around by Chase – and while there’s room for character work within that, most of the heavy-lifting is being done by Maggie and Jacob (which is sorta weird). Anyway, just trying to wrap my brain around how the central theme applies to the protagonist, no big deal.

    • Kate’s a trickier case. I’m not sure she’s lying so much as she is pleading the fifth. Like Bruce Wayne, she parades a couple of straw-man identities. Nobody is really meant to believe them, and everybody knows they’re standing in for giant question marks — sort of what masks and costumes are about, right? Kate can’t be a spoiled, useless dandy, but she also can’t fail to present herself as one. She can’t be a soldier, because USMA sent her packing, but she can’t NOT be soldier — she’s a daddy’s girl, and those years at West Point indoctrinated her for life. We don’t have a lot to go on, besides the persistent evasion of all of these contradictions.

      • Well and on top of all that, all of her strings are being pulled by the DEO at the moment. It’s sort of a bummer that the character has been robbed of all of agency throughout this arc. It would be BAD ASS and EMPOWERING to watch her take on the DEO after this is all said and done. Whatever comes next, I believe, should address Kate’s own drives more than the supporting cast.

  3. Since Courtney and I are such homos for narrative, we didn’t really touch on the art in this issue. Which is a shame, because there’s this really cool device framing the Batwoman stories. There are these sorta classical Grecian columns that support an engraved banner across the top of the page. They depict ancient cultures battling giant lizard creatures (sort of piling on with power-of-myth theme). AMAZINGLY, in the final page, the columns break and the banner starts to shatter with it, as though the constructs of the myths are falling apart. Which sorta suggests that we have NO IDEA what Batwoman is up against: there’s no blueprint for the kind of power Sune/Maro is about to use against Kate.

    • Yup – it’s also awesome that clearly space on these pages is a fucking premium. There are 6 interesting stories crammed into 20 pages. And yet a whole page is turned over to this silent moment of Kate looking in from the outside. Really speaks to the divide between what the DEO is forcing Kate to do and what she’d rather be doing.

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