Today, Patrick and Jack are discussing Batwoman 13, originally released October 17th 2012.
Patrick: One summer time during college, I was looking for a job and I stopped by the mall in Appleton, Wisconsin. There was a sign at the info desk in the food court that said “Help Wanted” and then listed all the stores that were hiring. I didn’t know why, but I was really uncomfortable asking for this information – to the point where I almost wasn’t going to do it. But then I swallowed hard and just to myself “okay, I’ll just be funny.” Humor is the one tool I have at my disposal that I can use to address any situation I get myself into. God help me if I ever find myself pitted against the spawn of Chaos – I’d be fucked. Batwoman’s tools, on the other hand, we can have some confidence in those.
The plot here is pretty simple adventuring fare: Womans Wonder and Bat visit the last known whereabouts of Medusa — a prison-labyrinth, naturally — only to discover that the Gorgon has already escaped. The labyrinth guards (Minotaurs and Amazonians alike), have been slaughtered in what Wonder Woman deduces was a good ol’ fashioned prison riot. But there’s one terrible monster left behind to cover Medusa’s tracks – Nyx. Wonder Woman tries to reason with Nyx (they’re sort of family, after all), but it’s Batwoman who saves the day with several pieces of borrowed technology. Freed from the labyrinth, Wonder Woman leads them to a rusted out trailer to recruit an old dead cowboy answering to the name “Pegasus.”
Pretty straightforward, right? The heroes go to a location, fight a baddie and go to another location – this is what questing is all about. But these are two very different characters from very different worlds on this one quest. That duality is central to Kate’s anxieties early in the issue and the source of her confidence later on. The issue starts with Batwoman’s voice-over explicitly stating that she feels like she’s out of her league fighting Greek gods and monsters. I love that Kate is fascinated by the specific dimensions of Diana’s godliness: her skin, her voice, and this statement I’m better off not summarizing:
“And every time she looks at you, it’s like you’re being lifted up by a wave until you’re not sure if you’re going to fly or drown.”
Make no mistake: they’re in Wonder Woman’s world – the prison is guarded by Amazons, for crying out loud. For Diana, this is a standard family affair – she casually refers to the ocean as her “uncle’s works.” So it’s natural that Batwoman would feel a little out-classed in this environment. But Batwoman’s no slouch either: her family may not be a closely woven web of Greek gods, but Batwoman does belong to different orders – one being the Kane family and the other being that of the DC superhero.
We get a little bit of insight into each of these families in the only two scenes that cut away from the main action – one with the Jacob and Bette and the other with Agent Chase and Director Bones. These groups represent the two things that are clutch to Batwoman’s agency – Jacob made sure she was impeccably well-trained, while the D.E.O. made sure she was impeccably well-equipped. I love the moment Batwoman leverages both abilities simultaneously the rescue Wonder Woman from under a sea of giant evil centipedes.
It’s just neat that H.J. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman reach deep enough into Greek mythology to pull out a creature like Nyx and then reach just as deep into DC mythology to pull out references to Cyborg and Black Manta (as our heroes escape in his submarine/plane). The story so confidently embraces these disparate concepts and soon the idea that an ancient myth and a superhero story are any different just sorta fades away. This story arc bears the title “World’s Finest” which is usually applied to the Superman-Batman team, and while those stories usually need to do a little tap-dancing to explain why Batman would be helpful in a situation when Superman is already on the job, this team seems like a natural pairing.
The way this confidence is expressed in the artwork is astounding. I have a hard time writing about Batwoman without gushing about art, but Williams has outdone himself in this issue. Every spread is an ambitious splash page, with the exception of the first and last. But those pages — which I first thought were slightly-less creative outliers — are genius reflections of each other.
Look at those pages! The first has Batwoman’s color, jagged border and voice-over, the last has Wonder Woman’s color, Grecian border and voice-over. Both pages feature a character that’s being sized up though three close shots (the order of which is reversed: Batwoman sees headpiece-chest-belt, Wonder Woman sees belt-chest-headpiece). While issue #12 applied this combination of art-aesthetics more liberally, the little nod to it here was as mindblowing.
I could reasonably post every single page from this issue and spend a couple paragraphs talking about the art on each one, but let me just point out one more thing I liked. During the Jacob and Bette scene — which contains essentially no action, by the way — an interesting bit plays out in the background. A family of small birds fly away outside Jacob’s window, but a single large bird finds its perch outside Bette’s window.
Fun little side note for anyone not reading Wonder Woman: the zero issue of WW included a story about Diana sparing the life of a Minotaur that she defeated in battle. I like to think the Sentry in this labyrinth is that same Minotaur. It’s a simple piece of continuity that’s so exciting because it’s based in the characters, and not the all-too-common “oh, it’s the same guy from before.” They’re friends!
Jack, I know you’re not reading Wonder Woman (or Justice League), so this is really your only exposure to the Amazon’s world. Does any of this feel out of place to you? Or do Williams and Blackman use enough of their black magic to marry these two worlds? Also, what’d you make of Diana’s voice over at the end? Is she planing to marry Pegasus? Gross.
Jack: Patrick, I won’t lie to you: this sojourn into the realm of classical mythology does strike me as a seismic shift, like our heroes have suddenly woken up on another planet. It’s not a matter of new characters, new powers, new settings, or even new kinds of challenges for our heroes. It’s even weirder, because it demands a new epistemology altogether. I mean, what kind of world are we living in?
Batwoman has been working hard for a while now on this notion that myths become real as people embrace them, as caped vigilantes battle the physical incarnations of urban legends. Greek myths are an order of magnitude weirder and more fantastical, however, because we have all received them as pure fiction. No one pretends that they are real for any reason, not even to scare other fifth-graders at slumber parties. If we are living in a world not only of werewolves and shape-shifters and giant, rat-eating anthropomorphic crocodiles, which is simultaneously a world of kidnapping and urban crime and governments and armies, but also a world in which minotaurs and Medusa and Poseidon and Zeus are all literally real entities — well, what can we know about it? What kind of world could we possibly be living in?
A lesser story-teller would ruin the whole thing by pretending to have an answer to this question. Thankfully, we have, in J. H. Williams, a writer of grace, agility, and — wait for it — humility. So I don’t really get how all these myths and realities mesh together? Great, neither does he! Batwoman can hardly speak for all of her pressing questions about how all this works: do demigods die? Can they stop other people’s deaths? What are their powers, and why is being in Wonder Woman’s presence such a strange experience? This is all to say, what, really, is a demigod, and what kind of world are we living in?
If you’re tempted to dismiss that as silly mortal naiveté, consider that Wonder Woman is balancing some awfully contradictory observations herself, most of them about her mortal colleague. Is Batwoman is a tragedy? A sham? A soldier, a hero, a triumph? Or are all her other attributes secondary to the fact that she is going to die? What kind of world do these mortals live in?
Have our modern gods of steel and plastic rendered the ancient wonders obsolete? Of course not! Why, Batwoman can’t even recognize the good guys when she sees them, let alone purport to challenge a minotaur. Alternatively: yes, our modern gods have displaced the old regime. See how technology saves the day when Wonder Woman is helpless? It is impossible to infer a chain of being here, a hierarchy of power in any real operational sense, and that kind of ambiguity tickles just right.
The only epistemological certainty Williams seems prepared to grant us is that however these worlds connect, it’s going to be really fun. We will have gruesome monsters, charming one-liners, thought-provoking questions, and character development that hits you right where it hurts. After a nail-biter of a fight, Batwoman will derisively dismiss a terrible mythological monster as “Crazypants,” because the name of this title begins with “Bat,” and we expect nothing less.
As far as Wonder Woman herself is concerned, well, I didn’t want to be rude, Patrick, but since you asked: I don’t dig her, never have. I think she’s well-integrated into this issue, so I have no complaints on the score of craftsmanship. I have always found her apparent invulnerability and unflappability pretty uncompelling, in the same way that I do not enjoy Superman. This is, perhaps, a me-problem, but there it is. To its credit, this issue calls Wonder Woman’s uncertain, contemplative side to the forefront. Unfortunately, that contemplation is about the stresses of not quite being immortal, so it’s still hard to empathize.
I had a really good time with this issue, and I’m interested to see where the arc goes from here. But I’m also a mortal and a land-lubber. I miss Jake. I miss Bette. I miss Maggie. And the search for the missing children is starting to feel like the superhero-story equivalent of the medieval fantasy trope: “You’re just in a dungeon for some reason.” I look forward to seeing how this whimsical adventure loops around back to address the dark, urban, mortal tragedies we know and love.
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?