Batwoman 19

batwoman 19

Today, Patrick and Drew are discussing Batwoman 19, originally released April 17th, 2013.

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Patrick: Early in this issue, DEO Agent Cameron Chase says to her sister: “I think I’m about to do something horrible.” This isn’t an admission of guilt, she isn’t asking for absolution, and she certainly doesn’t want to be talked out of doing this horrible something. But Chase isn’t the only person in this series that’s about to do something horrible. The whole cast of Batwoman imposes personal sacrifices on each other to the benefit of… well, of what exactly? Love? Honor? Duty? The very thing they’re sacrificing?

The issue opens on Agent Cameron Chase’s conversation with her astranged sister, Terry. It turns out that the Chase sisters’ father was a costumed crime-fighter back in the day, and his lifetime of punching dudes in the face was cut short when he was brutally murdered. This, naturally, soured Cam on superheroes — and is why she’s willing to work so hard for the DEO and manipulate Batwoman. This scene plays out at a leisurely pace — taking  up a quarter of the issue’s real estate — and contains the most straightforward messaging in the issue: Chase wants to shut down superheroes to spare their families the grief of losing them. The irony, of course, is that Chase ends up putting those same heroes in mortal danger. Pointedly, she also ends up putting herself in harm’s way over and over again.

I like this scene for a lot of reasons. While the conversation plays against a simple beach backdrop, the sisters have a kind of common-memory shorthand. It’s like when you reconnect a friend you haven’t seen in a long time and you find yourself suddenly experiencing memories of the great times you used to have with this person. Trevor McCarthy slots one of these images from their shared history into the middle of every page — with the unsettling semi-exception of page one. The interjection on the first page is half memory and half something else. Is it the inevitable future? Or just Terry’s worst fears?

Agent Cameron Chase and Father DEAD

The shocking image of Chase bloodied and beaten on the floor is so arresting because it’s presented with the same kind of authority the rest of the memories are. Terry and Chase connect on through this fear the same way the connect on their childhood memories. The relationship between the characters is so clear, and considering this if the first real look we’ve gotten at Chase’s personal life, it’s remarkably effective.

The rest of the issue is harder to get a bead on. Maggie has been having nightmares as a result of Kate dosing her with Scarecrow gas. Kate played it off as an accident, but in reality, she used the gas to keep Maggie from getting too close to discovering her connection to the DEO. (…somehow — whatever necessitated weaponized fear-gas is never disclosed). Even as Batwoman, Kate pushes her support network away by refusing to come clean with Bette about working for the DEO. Appropriately agitated, Batwoman goes to see Director Bones, but Bones has a mission for her: help him uncover Batman’s secret identity. Batwoman repeatedly refuses, until Bones reminds her that they have Beth.

That last one is a bit of a bombshell — we saw that Beth / Alice was coming back two months ago, but I think we all expected her to be the next big bad guy. What we see here is so much more heartbreaking: she’s another bargaining chip for the DEO to use against Batwoman. Having that trump card is especially important now because it seems like Batwoman’s getting harder for the DEO to control. After all, the old “we’ll send your dad to jail!” threat is met with a hearty “fuck you, Bones!” from Kate. But with Alice in their pocket, the DEO shouldn’t have any trouble getting Kate to turn on Batman. Which is an interesting turn for this story to take — it’s not like there’s a lot of love lost between Bats Man and Woman at the moment. She even spends some time trash-talking him to her cousin:

Batwoman trashes Batman

But that’s the beauty of this series. Kate can’t be motivated by her petty differences with Batman, she must be driven by something more fundamental. In this case, she’s driven by concern for the sister she already felt responsible for killing. But just as Chase ends up putting herself, and the people she cares about, in danger to protect them, Batwoman does the same. For heaven’s sake, she drugs her girlfriend and keeps Hawkfire in the dark about the VERY REAL SHIT the DEO is up to.

This theme also turns up with Col. Kane’s story. Jacob has a history of training his girls to be super soldiers, which ends up getting them maimed or killed. And when his wife discovers what he’s up to, she’s outraged, but rather than pulling the plug on the whole thing, she doubles down on the danger. She offers to act as a nurse and confidant for Hawkfire, effectively enabling the behavior that she disapproves of to continue.

Maybe this is just the cost of doing business in a world populated by superheroes. You know how they say “you always hurt the ones  you love?” In normal-people terms, it means that emotional availability is hard. But when everyone puts on masks and capes and works their feelings out on the streets, shit’s bound to get dicey.

Drew, I didn’t mention the cyborg Shard hunting for DEO agents or the content of Chase’s dream at all. Both seemed like subjects too big and too unrelated to fold into my analysis (I mean, Shard mentions the Religion of Crime — that’s a whole other can of worms). There’s so much in here that rings true, and most of it in unison, that it’s incredible that there room for that kind of plotty stuff. You think that’ll come around into the same thematic area or are we just seeing the groundwork for the beat-em-portion of this series?

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Drew: Oh, it’s all related, Patrick. I suspect the “thing” the DEO stole from the Religion of Crime was Beth. It seems that their sole reason for recovering Bath was to leverage her against Kate, but it seems like they may have also done a little counter-brainwashing out of the goodness of their hearts. Until now, we’ve only ever seen “Alice” speak in Lewis Carroll quotes with that peculiar white-on-black lettering, but here, we get the slightest hint that Beth might just be in there somewhere.

…Shelby?

It makes me wonder if the DEO always meant to hold Beth over Kates head, or if this is just a lame plan B. After all, if they can capture Beth with no help from Kate, do they even need Kate’s help anymore? Wouldn’t Beth-as-double-agent be a much bigger boon? Wouldn’t Kate be more willing to work with the DEO if they saved and deprogramed her sister rather than making increasingly desperate and personal threats? Granted, Bones was pretty quick to threaten the Colonel in the first place, but it seems like there were many better solutions here.

But settling for non-ideal solutions is really the theme of this issue. As Patrick points out, just about every character is compromising their beliefs is some way or another, which I think does tie into Maggie’s dream. In skipping the immediate aftermath of the To Drown the World arc, we never really saw how Maggie came to terms with the reveal that Kate is Batwoman — bear in mind, this wasn’t just a trust thing, Maggie actually hated Batwoman. It turns out, she hasn’t really come to terms with it, at all. She’s clearly still traumatized by the whole Weeping Woman/kidnapped children case. She sees that trauma as her burden alone to bear, which is driving a wedge between her and Kate.

"Call me when you've had your daughter taken away, then reminded of that loss daily by a highly disturbing criminal investigation, then had your girlfriend reveal she's your worst enemy and also propose to you at the same time, then we'll talk."

They’re having enough troubles even without the fear toxin thing, but the fact that Kate is lying about it emphasizes that the breech of trust hasn’t yet been settled.

Taken together, everything is related to that theme. This title is one of the best at this type of thematic study, and W. Haden Blackman and J.H. Williams III knock this one out of the park. Williams has commented that “sometimes the character IS the story,” and this issue maintains that tight focus on the characters, following them as they grapple with these themes — the way only the best serialized storytelling can.

For his part, penciller Trevor McCarthy delivers a gorgeous issue. As usual, there are the Williams-esque layouts, but McCarthy also picks up some of Williams’ signature ink washes, making for a stunning dream sequence.

Creepy or not, this panel is gorgeous

The result is a Williams/McCarthy hybrid, combining two distinct voices into a third, producing a book that looks like nothing else on shelves.

Can you tell that I liked this issue? I’m always a sucker for pretty art and thematic unity, and this series continues to have a wealth of both. That it sets up a Beth/Kate conversation that’s been brewing since before the relaunch only excites me more for next month. The characters may have to choose between having their cake and eating it, but when it comes to the quality of this title, we get to do both.

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 Comixology and download issues there.  There’s no need to pirate, right?

19 comments on “Batwoman 19

  1. I’m torn on this series. I thought that JH Williams art on the book was 2nd to none but the story has not been that compelling for me. I love Batwoman’s origin story (DADT) but aside from Maggie don’t care for the family part of her supporting cast. I will say that I found the McCarthy art really appealing but found that the story seemed far to broken up and disjointed. Will def give the series through the summer, but not sure about the long term.

    • The disjointed nature of the story in this issue does make it a little harder to sink your teeth into than any of the J.H. Williams drawn story arcs. Though, this issue is massively more successful in presenting a thematically unified set of stories than the chronologically fractured To Drown the World arc. That’s sorta weird, right? It seems like Williams and Blackman get more adventurous in the way they tell stories when J.H. isn’t drawing the issue.

  2. Drew, I’m starting to feel like we need another close look at Maggie. I think it was issue 14 that stayed in her head the whole time – and while that was an awesome exploration of the character, her girlfriend/fiance coming out as Batwoman is a BIG DEAL in her life, and I’d like to get her perspective on it. The last thing I want is to see her become the put-upon wife character (the Betty Drapers or Skylar Whites of the world). She’s strong enough that I don’t think that’s where she’s going, but she’s also sort bullheaded enough that she’s not going to talk about her feelings either.

    • I agree with you that the jump from “Hey I’m Batwoman – Let’s get married” to the next issue is awkward. It feels that there are missing pages or something. Maybe the reaction/fallout was in an issue of Gotham Central that I didn’t read or something.

      • I don’t know that I find it awkward so much as it’s a question that I still want answered. Batwoman’s ballooning cast is almost encountering the same (great) problem that The Flash had – there are too many plot threads that I care about. Even with insightful looks at all of our characters in this issue, I just WANT MORE.

        Also, New 52 Gotham Central? Let’s write a goddamned petition or something.

  3. Can you clear something up for me – Did Maggie get doused with the fear toxin off panel? I have no recollection of that happening (and went back to issue 18 to see if I just missed it) so when they talked about it in the issue I was more than a bit confused.

    • Yeah, they mention it twice in the issue, but there’s no actual depiction of the act anywhere in here. It’s an interesting choice to just sorta skip over that, but there’s also a bunch of stuff that’s been glossed over – just like whatever conversation must have taken place between Kate and Maggie. I mention this is some other comment, but there are some similarities between this story arc and To Drown the World, in that we’re just getting pieces of the whole story.

      It’s so tossed off though… I wonder if there’s something to just tying Batwoman into Batman’s world. The previous issue showed us Mr. Freeze and this one mentions Scarecrow. Maybe after sort of ignoring him for 18 issues, Williams and Blackman realized they needed to prove that there is a relationship between these characters.

      • But after Kate’s speech about not wanting anything to do with Batman (and the previous issue’s falling-out between them) it seems like Blackman and Williams are actually putting MORE distance between Batwoman and Batman, which I think I like. This series has never really felt like it takes place in Gotham — even when it was written by Greg Rucka, who perhaps has the single strongest sense of what Gotham (at least modern Gotham) feels like. I don’t mean that as a slight — very few Bat-family books have broken out of Bruce’s shadow as well as this one. As much as I like the idea of playing ball with crossover events, I think this series has really benefited from doing its own thing.

        • I think they’re putting more distance between Batman (the series) and Batwoman (the series), but not necessarily more distance between Batman (the man) and Batwoman (the woman). I agree that one this series’ strengths is its apparent autonomy, but I also don’t think this is a push towards re-integration with the rest of Gotham. For me, even the Batman we see in this series is different from the Batman we see anywhere else in the DCU.

        • I don’t view it as a different Batman in this book so much as it is Batman viewed threw a different perspective.
          Dick/Tim would say that Batman has contingency plans ontop of contingency plans. Kate says he a control freak.
          Dick/Tim says that he doesn’t share information because he doesn’t trust them/anyone. Kate says he doesn’t respect anyone.
          At the end of the day their view are just two-faces of the same coin. (PUN INTENDED!)

        • Yeah, that is how I see it as well.

          It is also kind of interesting that the way Kate describes Batman also applies to herself–she and Batman are bound to clash–they are too similar. She isn’t a team player, she thinks she can do everything herself, she is a control freak, etc. I wouldn’t say she disrespects Batman, but in some ways she doesn’t seem to respect him. She certainly is no longer awed by him, as she used to seem. It will be interesting to see where this goes and how the relationship between the two of them will evolve through the current arc.

      • Thanks very much for confirming that. I really thought I had just missed it … but it seemed like something that should have been treated in a way that couldn’t be overlooked.
        As you guys say, there is A LOT that went on between the proposal/reveal and last issue. I have no doubt (at least I hope and expect) we’ll see what occurred then. They have – with varying degrees of success – delivered fractured narratives so I am sure we will revisit the time in between issues 17 and 18.

        There are so many interesting threads they can follow between the Maggie/Kate relationship and the reveal of Beth to Kate (as well as the Chase & her sister, Col. Kane etc). I want to know about them all!

        • Oops, apparently we ALL missed it: it actually happened in the second arc. Williams reminded us via twitter, and a quick refresh on issue 8 confirms that Kate dosed Maggie with what we called a sedative at the time (stating “…that wasn’t meant for you…”). That was a dozen issues ago, so I think we can be forgiven for forgetting, but its significant as one of the few Maggie/Batwoman interactions. It probably is too long ago for it to still be affecting Maggie, which kind of reemphasizes that these are real emotional issues, not just trippy drug-induced dreams.

    • I’m with you — it totally threw me for a loop. I’m confident we’ll come back around and at least get a more detailed explanation, if not an actual flashback issue, of what happened between these arcs. It reminds me of…some TV show that did a similar time-jump between seasons, creating a kind of mystery as to what happened in between. I’m totally blanking on the name, which is kind of frustrating, but I’m sure Patrick will know what I’m talking about — that nerd watches A LOT of TV.

    • The fear toxin episode comes from issue 8 when Batwoman was breaking Sune off the police boat, and injecting Maggie was a mistake.

      It seems Maggie is into Kate enough to get past the fact that Kate is also Batwoman, but she had (has) enough antagonism toward Batwoman (for a variety of good reasons–including being a cop and Batwoman being a law-bending vigilante, not to mention being injected by fear toxin and all) that there had to be some sort of coming to terms with Kate/Batwoman’s identity. I feel cheated we didn’t see this, and I hope the story comes back around to this. I have faith it will as Batwoman has so far done a good job in fleshing out its various characters. The disjointed timing can be distracting, though.

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