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.
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?