Batwoman 0

Alternating Currents: Batwoman 0, Courtney and DrewToday, (guest writer) Courtney Ehlers and Drew are discussing Batwoman 0, originally released September 19th, 2012. Batwoman 0 is part of the line-wide Zero Month.

Courtney: I don’t much care for plot in fiction. There is enough cause-and-effect to parse out in real life, and I would rather just trust fiction-writers to operate within their own made-up rules and make all the numbers add up on their own. I want to stare out the window of the car and appreciate the landscape without worrying about whether we missed our exit, and Batwoman 0 allows me to do exactly that.

As Kate Kane reflects on the long road to becoming Batwoman, we can relax, because any regular reader of the series knows how this story begins, middles, and ends. Even if we didn’t, the trope is beyond obvious to anybody who has ever heard of a comic book: hero endures traumatic childhood loss, hero gets idealistic and ambitious, hero goes through a series of unfathomably awful training experiences with the help of a wise mentor, and hero emerges as a bona-fide face-stomper. What we get instead of a novel story is a series of sensitive, thoughtful, gruesome, beautiful vignettes with a certain amount of face-stomping in the margins — which, as far as I’m concerned, is practically Christmas.

First and foremost, we get to spend some overdue quality time with Kate. She is her daddy’s girl, after all, so her message to him is not encumbered by the inherent deceit of her profession, so she really takes the gloves off. This fabric of vignettes would never work in a novel, and it would seem pretentious as short stories or poetry, but in this medium it’s right on target: watch Kate stand up to playground bullies, watch Kate grieve her dead sister, Kate going to West Point, Kate in the throes of ill-advised teenage love, Kate crossing the Sahara, Kate caring for refugees. It’s a disturbing beautiful journey, and we get enough snapshots to fill in the gaps as we see fit.

This also means that we can finally apply the ongoing theme of identity to Kate with the same kind of scrutiny as to the other characters. Here, J.H. Williams makes a brave leap. Kate makes explicit the dichotomy between her two identities:

… and then brings the disparate strands back together in the character we know and love:

Batwoman is not a caped vigilante. Batwoman is the next evolution of Kate Kane and the breadth of responsibilities that she will shoulder alone, to include fighting super-villains as well as mundane, human tasks like, “make my girlfriend less upset.”

I also have to say that although Kate’s training is an exceptionally familiar trope, the execution is superb. We begin by tipping over a sacred cow: West Point has — in its own, self-defined terminology — made Kate a soldier, but military training does not magically transform all or even most soldiers into bona-fide face-stompers (don’t tell anybody). Kate must pass through a powerful trial-by-ordeal marathon, the reading of which makes most of us whimper, “I don’t WANT to be a bad-ass anymore…”  Then, we just barely clip the corners of Kate’s three years with a band of international vigilantes, the “Murder of Crows.” I confess I feel somewhat cheated, not getting a visual representation of some of their activities, such as “ripping along the Swiss mountain-side in a glider suit,” but two frames later, I’m watching a veritable giant punch Kate out in a Serbian boxing ring, so I guess I shouldn’t get too greedy.

All told, this issue is an elegant, insightful little nugget of story-telling.  It cuts all the fat off the narrative, and it finishes with a flourish. Given this charming interlude, I will be appropriately pumped when we return to brass tacks with monsters, fights, and specific events.

Courtney is prejudicial to good order and discipline at Fort Carson, Colorado.

Drew: It goes without saying that there’s a lot of suspension of disbelief in superhero comics. We accept that characters have superhuman abilities, lead double-lives, and choose to fight crime in spandex. Batwoman (and the entire Bat-family, really) doesn’t deal in superhuman abilities, and while that ostensibly makes them more believable, that added believability makes the whole running around in a costume thing more open to scrutiny. I’m so used to swallowing these ideas as the cost of admission, the surprise of J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman’s mining that decision made those moments all the more effective.

Part of the reason I was so willing to accept Kate’s decision in the first place is because Greg Rucka had so brilliantly lowered my guard with his DADT storyline. There are many ways a career airman might react to learning his daughter was kicked out of West Point and is gay on the same day, and — unfortunately — absolute acceptance is one of the most surprising. Of course, he doesn’t really have a choice — his love for his daughter trumps any other loyalties or ideologies he might hold; he’d do anything for her. It follows, then, that he would accept his daughter’s vigilantism, even though it’s WAY THE FUCK more unusual than being gay.

Of course, that was the detail I forgot — I’m so used to characters being superheroes, sexuality seems like a much more touchy subject — but vigilantism is, of course, a much harder pill to swallow for the characters in this story. At least, it should. The Colonel puts up some resistance, but he comes to accept this, too, as Kate knew he would.

Kate desperately wanting her family to find out about a secret she feels compelled to keep hidden draws a pretty strong parallel between her sexuality and her vigilantism. Of course, the Colonel isn’t as comfortable with the vigilantism — fighting crime is dangerous, after all — but the fact that he comes to accept it is a testament to just how supportive he is. That support would come off as reckless if he didn’t have the resources to train her, though I suspect that he again knew he had no choice. He understands all too well why Kate would want to fight crime, so he also knows he could never really convince her to do anything else.

Focusing on their relationship makes the closing of this issue all the more heartbreaking, as Kate details just how devastated she was to learn of her father’s deceit. He was the one person she had trusted for years, and to discover that he had been keeping secrets from her violated the same trust that allowed her to keep none from him. After a whirlwind issue like this, the idea that Beth’s fate drove Kate throughout her life is still quite salient, so we too can understand just how Earth-shattering it would be to learn it was all a lie.

The conceit of the issue as a message to her father — one he’ll only find if she dies — is a strong one, but it makes a lot of work for Williams, who must convey many plot points in a few brief, dialogue-free panels. Of course, if any artist is up for that challenge, it’s Williams, who delivers an issue as moving as any of his more traditional narrative work. It’s impossible to pick a favorite moment (honestly, any of the excerpts above would qualify), but for sheer iconic power, it’s hard to beat this moment, when Kate first encounters Batman.

Then again, maybe I’m just a sucker for Batman.

It’s a dazzling, moving issue — one that largely transcends the zero issue trappings to deliver a timeless character study, offering a rare glimpse inside the head of our hero. It’s a complicated world Kate lives in, but one she has come to accept as hers. It’s strange to hear Kate mention the more mundane aspects of her day-to-day after all she’s been through, but like Courtney said, Batwoman is just the next stage in Kate’s life. What a good issue.

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?

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17 comments on “Batwoman 0

  1. I know this has been said before, but Dave Stewart’s colors push J.H. Williams’ art over the top. Just look at the image of Batman above–it looks like someone cropped a photograph of Batman and stuck it in the frame. And while I know he is wearling grey/black, the highlighting makes him glow–it realy shows that, to Kate, he is the most real thing in that moment–more real than the attacker running off, the pipe on the ground, the puddle in which she is sitting….

    • The creative team on this title really goes above and beyond to deliver an experience to the reader. I think it’s one of the most beautiful books I’m reading.

    • Yeah, Dave Stewart is a key player in the look of this tite. His immaculate textures and distinction between Kate’s costumed and non-costumed life are incredibly effective. What I really like about that Batman shot is that it mythologizes him, but in a way that makes it clear he’s a human being under that costume. We’re often privy to people’s impressions of Batman, and they’re often of a hulking, otherworldly demon or mysterious specter. It seems like seeing him as just a guy in a suit might undermine that reverence a bit, but it actually makes Kate respect him more. Realizing that Batman is a person, just like her, gives her a new mission in life. The art conveys that idea beautifully.

  2. I know we normally love to hate on excessive text boxes instead of actual dialogue, but building a believable and heart-breaking reason into the story makes me want to just shut up and read. I need to get the trade paperback of pre-52 Batwoman, if for no other reason than seeing more of Beth in that awesome costume.

    • Oh dude, this is the example that defies the no-dense-fields-of-text-boxes rule by virtue of how much emotional information it conveys. We’re told that Kate loves her sister and loves/hates her father, but the worlds actually BACK THAT SHIT UP. The details matter here because they each add complexity to the reality, instead of smoothing it away in mindless exposition.

  3. So I definitely teared up while reading this issue. Something about Kate as a kid sitting in the closet with her sister’s clothes got me. I think you make a good point that Batwoman is the evolution of Kate Kane, that they are one in the same.

    • That scene was so touching; the acting by both Kate and her father was incredible. You are probably (definitely) not the only one who teared up reading those pages.

      • And what a great character is Colonel Kane–someone bad ass enough to train/support Batwoman, and yet doing his best as a single dad/widower. Also a nice portrayal of a military family, I might add.

        Although I can understand Kate’s feelings of betrayal toward her father, as someone involved in the gay community, I sometimes just want to give Kate a little shake and tell her “Stop being so hard on your dad! Do you know how lucky you are to have him!”

        Look at me talking about Kate Kane as if she were a real person–signs of a successful portrayal of a fictional character! Though to be honest, I think I would rather hang out with Kate Kane or Starling from Birds of Prey than most of the real people I know….

  4. Pingback: Batwoman 22 | Retcon Punch

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