Today, Shelby and Drew are discussing Batwoman 12, originally released August 15th 2012.
Shelby: Oh, the life of a superhero, balancing personal relationships by day and caped ass-whupin’ by night. I have a hard enough time balancing office drone by day, nerd by night, so I don’t know how Kate Kane manages. She is beginning to fall into the classic (and seemingly inevitable) trap all heroes face: your loved ones assume you are sneaky and selfish, going out every night and keeping secrets, when in fact you are working harder than anyone to keep your loved ones safe. Kate starts on this downward slope as J.H. Williams and W. Haden Blackman begin a new arc, again with stories nestled within each other. At least this time it looks like everything is happening in the same chronological order.
There are three, independent stories going on in this month’s issue: Batwoman/Kate still working on finding the missing kids, Bette healing and dealing at her uncle’s place, and Wonder Woman kicking all kinds of ass on some island somewhere. Batwoman follows Bloody Mary to an abandoned hall of mirrors, where she learns Medusa is not a crime syndicate, it’s THE MEDUSA of myth. Kate convinces Chase and Bones (oh yeah, remember him?) that they need to call in Wonder Woman on this, which actually makes a lot of sense. Maggie and the GCPD are taking a lot of crap for not having found the missing kids yet, and Maggie is NOT OK with Kate having to suddenly leave town; Kate gets the “fine, leave, but don’t come back until…” ultimatum. Bette is staying with her Uncle Jake, having eerie and unnerving thoughts that there may still be some bits of The Hook inside her, and ready to start the training her uncle promised her. Wonder Woman obviously knows about the myths and monsters being raised, and is fighting her way through Medusa’s goons, when Batwoman shows up looking to palaver.
Man, there is a lot going on in this issue, it’s almost a little overwhelming. I think my favorite part of the story is the part with no capes, masks, or monsters; it’s Maggie, trying to deal with this investigation. Knowing that Maggie has a daughter of her own really highlights the toll this is taking on her. When a parent tells her she wouldn’t be satisfied with speeches if the child was hers, we know exactly how heavy that weighs on Maggie’s heart. It would strain a normal relationship. Kate openly admitting that there are things she can’t tell Maggie and having to leave when Maggie needs her the most turns out to be more than Maggie can handle. It’s that movie-theater moment, when you want to tell Maggie, “No, don’t you see, Kate isn’t selfish, she’s risking herself terribly to help you!” Williams and Blackman have crafted such a believable relationship between these two; they exist as an island of reality surrounded by the fantasy world of Batwoman. It’s balanced, and right on the mark.
BUT OMG I HAVE TO TALK ABOUT THE ART. Williams has once again broken my brain with his art and layouts. The sequence in the hall of mirrors is breathtaking, as Bloody Mary alternates between showing her story, and reflecting back the nightmares of Batwoman and her current werewolf sidekick.
The Wonder Woman pages are equally as incredible. The borders look like something lifted from Greek pottery, and the color palette is vibrant and warm, compared to Batwoman’s industrial black, gray, and red. Look at this full spread of the two of them in battle, see the way the layout is mirrored? When I started reading comic books, I never guessed there existed comics that look like this.
I’m almost at a loss for what to say for this title, because there is so very much I want to say. The story is interesting, the art is incredible, and I love these characters. This title features more women than any title I’m reading right now. Not only are all the main characters women, each one is a well-crafted, unique individual. They have their own strengths and their own weaknesses, which total up to realistic, believable, admirable female characters. This industry could use more titles like this. I can’t help but compare these ladies with the two-dimensional spandexed stereotypes running around in Worlds’ Finest; why would you stick to such tropes when you could have Batwoman or Bette, Chase or Maggie?
Drew: And why settle for just Kate, Bette, Chase, or Maggie when you can have all four? I was a little nervous when this issue started alternating between Batwoman and Wonder Woman’s stories — it seemed a little too like the overambitious “To Drown the World” arc — but Blackman and Williams handle it so well here, I remember why I was willing to follow them down that rabbit hole in the first place. Thing’s pace is still brisk, but there’s enough room to luxuriate a bit more in the atmosphere of Batwoman’s world.
I was particularly fond of the domestic scene taking place under Bette’s balcony back at the Kanes’. There wasn’t much room for Kate’s stepmother in the last arc (though I wonder what she was up to while the Colonel was spending all his time in the hospital), and while she’s hardly my favorite character, her humanizing banter with Jacob is very welcome here. After the last arc, we could use the reminder that he’s capable of any feeling besides grief, and a little playful chit-chat with the wife does the trick perfectly. Combine that with his satisfied smirk as he embarks on training Bette, and the Colonel is restored to his place as a force in this title. I don’t know how or when he and Bette’s paths are going to cross with Kate’s, but I know it’s going to be epic when it happens.
Other details are less important, but just as fun. I loved seeing Bones in his casual wear. Did you notice we get a glimpse of where the smoke goes when he’s sucking on a cigarette?
It’s kind of like he has lungs, but there’s no indication of how it got down to his chest in the first place. Does he have flesh that’s just invisible, or is he actually a walking, talking skeleton? I love that Blackman and Williams have no interest in answering that question.
Speaking of Williams, how great is it to have him back on artist duties? Don’t get me wrong — I thought Amy Reeder and Trevor McCarthy did excellent fill-in work — but Williams’ style is so distinctive, it’s hard not to see it as essential to the title. And boy does he deliver in this issue. Shelby already drew our attention to a little of his layout insanity, but I think I can be forgiven for wanting to dwell on this spread:
There’s pretty much nothing about this I don’t love. The fun-house mirror effects are a blast, and the continuous layout of the ring is as innovative as it is crystal-clear. It would be a great layout, even if it wasn’t specifically alluding to Wonder Woman’s shield, but that detail just deepens the effect. Williams is good.
He also plants tiny character moments in details that don’t draw much attention to themselves. Of course Bones still wears his leather gloves when he’s lounging. Of course Maggie likes a glass of red wine when she gets home from a hard day at work. But I think my favorite detail — and perhaps the most telling — happens in the fun-house, just before Abbot makes it explicit that Bloody Mary can show them their own dreams (or is it just nightmares?), Kate sees herself in a very different uniform.
Shelby already showed us what Kate sees in the next panel, but I really don’t know what to make of her in fatigues here. Is that her nightmare, or is Mary also tapping into lost hopes and dreams? The plants in the background look jungly to me (very scientific, I know), so I wonder if she feared being a soldier in a very specific scenario? Vietnam? Or maybe this is the fear of not being an officer, specifically (she did study at West Point, after all). I honestly have no idea what this means, but I can’t wait to hear your theories in the comments.
Oh, and did we mention that Wonder Woman is in this issue? We don’t really spend much time with her (you know, other than watching her be awesome), but Blackman and Williams establish a very clear voice for her. It’s a voice that’s more openly violent than the one we’re used to in Wonder Woman, but it fits the action and tone of this title perfectly. I’m really looking forward to seeing these characters bouncing off each other in October.
Williams and Blackman definitely rediscovered their stride in this issue, delivering the emotional, exciting, stunning action that made us love this title in the first place. With a little more space, these characters really sing. Add a strong reading of Wonder Woman in the mix, and I’m honestly going to have a hard time waiting two months for the next installment.
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?