Batwoman 15

Today, Shelby and Jack are discussing Batwoman 15, originally released December 19th, 2012.

Shelby: Speaking in the broadest of terms, there are a couple ways to define a person: in relation to the other people in their lives, or based solely on who they are as a person. So far in Batwoman, Maggie Sawyer has largely been defined as a character through her relationships, with Kate, with her daughter Jamie, even her relationship with her job and the missing children. This issue, we get a glimpse of just Maggie, and it looks like she’s starting to come apart at the seams. She’s got a job that’s pretty terrible even on the good days, a girlfriend who just isn’t around often enough, and a stubbornly independent streak which prevents her from asking for help. The batshit crazy she’s had to deal with these last 15 issues is catching up to her in a bad way; I have faith in her, but I worry she won’t make it through to the end.

I seriously think Maggie is having some sort of breakdown. As she watches Batwoman and Wonder Woman drop into the battle, she replays the last couple days in her mind. Gotham falls apart around her as Medusa soldiers run rampant. As the battle lines are drawn, she breaks down and asks Chase for D.E.O. help. Chase begrudgingly obliges, and lets Maggie know that the parents of the missing kids are arming themselves with baseball bats to take on the monsters. Maggie rushes to a church where they’re assembling to try to stop them, only to have to rush out again to rescue the father of the kids taken by the Weeping Woman. While all this is going on, there’s a running dialogue in her head of pain, exhaustion, stress, and panic, plus a fun anecdote about being locked in a tool shed by her father on a hot summer day for wanting to cut her hair short and wear combat boots. She keeps the father safe with a weird assist from the Weeping Woman, and after returning him to his wife she snaps back to her current reality: literal monsters with children in chains. The issue closes with the same images of Batwoman and Wonder Woman, and Maggie thanks God that Kate is somewhere else, safe and sound.

Love and acceptance. Those are the things Maggie is looking for. Her parent’s lack of acceptance of her lifestyle blends perfectly into her disillusionment with the Catholic church and God in general. How could it not, when her mother believed letting her father lock 12-year-old Maggie in a tool shed was an appropriate way to keep her from going to Hell? Her conflicted relationship with God is really interesting to me. I am a Christian, and have been a member of what is known as “the gayest church in Chicago,” so my ideas of God’s love and acceptance of his children, regardless of whom they happen to love, is obviously very different from her far more claustrophobic Catholic upbringing. On the one hand, she’s more scared of simply going into a church than we’ve ever seen her. Page one has her wondering if there is a God at all, and if so, then why does he hate her so much? On the other hand, though, by the end of the issue she recognizes that “God loves me enough to keep Kate out of this madness and to bring her home safe.” It’s heartbreaking and almost cruel for us as readers to know she finds peace in this thought at the same time Kate is plunging into a very dangerous situation that could potentially kill her.

batwoman and maggie

J.H. Williams only did the art on the first and last pages of the issue, and because he’s J.H. Williams, there’s far more to these pages than what meets the eye. The image above is the last page; the first is the same, except reversed, with the black and white circle at the top of the page and Batwoman at the bottom. The layout for the first page makes a lot of sense; Batwoman grows larger on the page as she gets closer to the viewer, in this case Maggie. But why then is it reversed on the last page? Somehow, Batwoman is retreating as Maggie gives thanks for Kate not being there. I see it as representing the strain Kate’s secrets are putting on their relationship; the longer Maggie remains unaware of Kate’s alter-ego, the more distance will open between the two of them, no matter how hard they work to make it work. I really want things to work between these two; I think this is one of my favorite relationships in all of the New 52. It’s right up at the top of my list with Alec and Abby and Buddy and Ellen.

This issue is kind of breath-taking, and I mean that literally. Maggie seems to be constantly on the verge of a panic attack: she can’t breathe, her chest is tight, her head pounds. It’s like she’s claustrophobic in her own mind. Even though this story doesn’t advance in the slightest bit in this issue, the time we spend with Maggie cements her in my mind as a fully-realized, grounded, relateable character. What did you think, Jack? I know last issue you were chompin’ at the bit to get back to the action and mystery; did this Interlude, as the issue is aptly named, make up for the lack of plot advancement with enough Maggie advancement? Also, do you just want to give her a hug and tell her it’s going to be ok? I sure as hell do.

Jack: Shelby, you know how I love a good old-fashioned character study, and this one feels like a particularly thoughtful Christmas gift from J. H. Williams. A whole issue exploring the character of a tough, sensitive lesbian cop with a solid-steel work ethic, a heart of gold, and conservative Catholic upbringing baggage? For me? You shouldn’t have!  Sometimes, as a reader or viewer of a serial, you make a Faustian bargain in which an author gives you everything you wanted from your favorite characters and more, and you hate every part of it. But Batwoman has this grace of perfect minimalism in story-telling. I got only what I wanted and LESS, and I couldn’t be happier with the result.

I wanted to get to know Maggie better in this issue, because, as Shelby mentioned, she’s only ever been auxiliary to Kate. I wanted  to know what complexities lurked beneath the surface. What I hadn’t anticipated in this character study was that even as we peer into Maggie’s secret baggage and childhood trauma, there really is no substantive revelation about her character. Why? Because she is just exactly what it says on the tin. If you dig down deep, past that earnest, compassionate, tenacious, profoundly decent exterior, you will discover a wealth of earnestness, compassion, tenacity, and decency. She only ever becomes more like herself.  This is the holy grail of human authenticity, the character equivalent of a solid chocolate Easter bunny that takes a week to eat.

That said, let’s have a look at Maggie’s inner demons. This series doesn’t normally spend a lot of time on gay oppression stories, and I think that’s to its credit; it is nice to think that our culture has arrived at a point where we don’t need to keep writing lynching novels. But we have to contend with the harsh reality that not every father is as high-minded as Jake Kane. Like everything else in the story, the flashback is really bare bones:  a single frame, text boxes against a white background, in which Maggie recalls her day of Draconian punishment. We don’t need to ask how this one awful episode figures into a larger story of shame and alienation, how she remained loyal to her mother but alienated from the Church, and how all those little Catholic intuitions never got away from her. It’s a story that’s been told so many times that we don’t need to connect more than a few dots to get the whole picture.

While we’re on it, Catholicism. Patrick and I grew up with a sort of half-assed Easter-Christmas Catholicism which we both summarily rejected as teenagers, which means we get to identify with a good leaving-the-Church narrative without bearing a lot of deep scars of hardcore cultural conservatism. Cultural Catholicism is a real thing, however, right up there with cultural Jewishness, and Maggie’s right:  no matter how long it’s been or how much you don’t want to be there, you always reach for the holy water, and you know the quiet, padded footsteps and the smell and the guilt immediately.

But a good reverse-conversion narrative doesn’t stop with a quick-and-dirty church-bashing and exit. That’s too easy, and it doesn’t accomplish much. A good narrative will circle around back to show us what the protagonist left of herself in this faith, in this abandoned receptacle of human emotion. (To this end, I recommend Dan Savage’s segment of the This American Life episode, “Return to the Scene of the Crime,” and Julia Sweeny’s autobiographical Letting Go of God.) Batwoman delivers on this as it delivers on everything, concisely and heart-breakingly. On the basis of no real information at all, Maggie declares that God loves her enough to keep Kate safe. Scroll back up and read that frame two or three more times. After years and years of rejecting the faith of her childhood, Maggie, at the end of her rope, holds onto this precious thought that she is loved, and that the ultimate expression of God’s love will be Kate’s protection. As far as Maggie knows, Kate walked away days ago, in a fit of cold indifference to Maggie’s anguish, unwilling to make the slightest concessions to keep her happy.  No matter; she has watched Felipe forgive the Weeping Woman. Of course she can forgive Kate.

I am at once warmed and wearied by her trials. I want her rested and safe and vindicated. I hope Kate and Wonder Woman have a plan to set this right.

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?

14 comments on “Batwoman 15

  1. Do we think Maggie’s own relationship to her father will cause any kind of resentment at the fact that Kate is rejecting her own, much more supportive father? She never really asked for specifics about their conflict, bit I can totally see Maggie seeing this as Kate not knowing how good she has it. Especially since Kate can’t really tell Maggie why she’s mad at him.

    • I think it all comes back to that secret. If Kate could tell Maggie everything, and I’m talking EVERYTHING, from the kidnapping to West Point to Alice to Batwoman, I think Maggie would understand perfectly.

      I feel so torn about Maggie knowing Kate as Batwoman. On the one hand, I think the secret could be the wedge that drives them apart, and I love them as a couple and don’t want anything bad to ever happen to them. On the other hand, there’s a little voice in my head that says if Maggie knows, she’ll die. Literally, they’ll have to kill her off, and that’s the very opposite of what I want to happen.

      • I think the lie has doomed their relationship from the start. It’s a REALLY big lie, and it has forced Kate to lie and keep Maggie in the dark about pretty much everything she’s gone through since they met. It’s always seemed like maybe Kate is in no emotional state to be in a relationship at all, but this arc has really shown that Maggie has her share of HEAVY baggage, too.

  2. Although I loved this diversion into Maggie’s psyche, I am feeling a bit restless about pausing the main storyline of rescuing the missing children. It’s been 15 issues and we still haven’t gotten any resolution. Any guesses as to who the “new partner” will be from the upcoming solicits?

    • J.H. tweeted at us that, to him, the characters often end up becoming the story that he’s most interested in. A lot of writers talk that game, but few offer slow meandering explorations of their characters to really make-good on that assertion.

      I read an awful lot of plot-driven series that I don’t mind that this particular series (or this story arc anyway) is slow to get to resolution.

    • NEW PARTER THEORIES: solicits say ‘a new hero is introduced.’ So I’m going to go with Bette in her new superhero persona. She and Jake have been laying pretty low for the last couple months, so that’d be at least marginally surprising.

  3. This issue sort of confirmed my idea that Batwoman needs to be a “wait for the trade” book for me. I liked it ok, not great, but golly, when that water came sweeping in, instead of being overwhelmed by awesomeness at the whole forgiveness thing I was just all, “Hey, no real resolution, how Batwoman of you.”

    I’m going to use that in regular conversation. “Congress Batwomnned the new gun bill, it looked good, but nothing happened.”

    • But isn’t that kind of a clue that Batwoman isn’t a series about tight plotting? That’s part of the reason To Drown the World was so fucking weird – we’re kinda trained to expect that chronologically fractured narratives to pieced together in some mindblowingly complex way (a la Memento). But that story arc tended to favor thematic groupings, and the resolution there felt like a let down because it didn’t tie everything together in a clever way.

      But I love it anyway. I can see where it will probably be more satisfying in trades, but the writing is sharp enough that I look forward to reading it a second time when this arc has played out.

      • Yeah, I actually think the fact that I have to wait between issues forces me to read this a different way than I would if I could just burn through it in trades. This title is so rich in themes and connections, I’m just not sure I’d really savor it if I wasn’t forced to be a little more patient. I’ve accepted that frustration is kind of built into any serialized narrative, so I may be a little too forgiving when it comes to this kind of thing.

  4. Pingback: Batwoman 22 | Retcon Punch

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