Today, Shelby and Drew are discussing Batwoman 20, originally released May 15th, 2013.
Shelby: Trust is always an interesting concept to explore when masked superheroes are involved. The protagonist’s entire experience is based on a lack of trust: they don’t trust their loved ones to with their secret identity, they don’t trust the existing authority to take care of crime. That the distrust is well-founded doesn’t lessen the fact it’s the foundation of a successful masked superhero. But even the most independent superhero has got to have someone in the corner, some support system of people they trust and can rely on. Unfortunately, Kate seems to continuously find herself faced with people telling her, “you will trust me, whether you like it or not!”, essentially rendering the entire concept meaningless.
The story starts with Chase’s story of how she found Beth. She was raiding a Religion of Crime training facility looking for intel on Batwoman’s identity, a raid that went extremely, extremely poorly. She was the only one who made it out, and she brought the sarcophagus with her. No one know what is was or how it worked exactly, only that it brought Beth back to life and had kept her in stasis. Kate gets a touching six minute reunion with her sister, and then agrees to Bones’ proposal: in exchange for Batman’s identity, the D.E.O. will leave Kate, Beth, and the rest of her family alone forever. Unfortunately for Kate, the whole crew (including her stepmom and Maggie) were listening in over the bug Bette planted on Kate last issue, so now they know the whole story. Kate is furious, and claims she doesn’t need their help because she can’t trust them, but Maggie puts her foot down; she tells Kate that she will quit her self-imposed martyrdom and accept their help in getting Beth back, or she can pack her things and go.
Poor Kate: she is constantly pulled and prodded into doing what everyone else thinks is best. I suppose we can find some comfort in the fact that now she’s finally being bullied by a group of people who genuinely have her interests in mind. What I don’t know is whether this forced trust will help or further strain the Kane clan’s relationships. I can see this being the thing to finally bring them together. Everyone is on the same page, there are no more secrets, and there’s a common mission to rally around.
But what is the value of forced trust? Especially a forced trust formed by a breach of trust? Even though her intentions were good and she was ultimately in the right, Bette violated the trust Kate had in her by planting that transmitter. The Colonel violated Kate’s trust by okaying the move in the first place. Hell, Maggie violated Kate’s trust by arranging the family ambush (fambush) at their apartment. While I think Kate should have turned to her family a long time ago, and am happy she’s finally got some support to help her get through this mission, two wrongs don’t make a right. The Kanes might be able to come together for Beth’s sake, but they’ve still got a long row to hoe in regards to actually trusting and supporting each other.
Beth makes me exceptionally excited for where this series will go from here. Trevor McCarthy rendered a beautiful meeting between the sisters.
Beth looks so small and alone in that vast white room. Neither sister is wearing her mask. Beth breaks the silence with a small, shy, “Hi.” It’s perfect. This is really the first time these two have seen each other since they were kidnapped as children, as Beth and Kate, not Alice and Batwoman. I love the character of Alice for what she is to Batwoman. In the hero/nemesis relationship, it is not at all unusual for the villain to make the statement “we’re not that different, you and I.” They are two sides of the same coin, and that relationship is perfected in Alice and Batwoman. Twin sisters, two girls who could not possibly be more similar, both victims of a horrific incident. Both girls were driven a little mad, but one was driven to fight for justice, to use that madness to save others from the same fate. The other fell into the madness, and never came back. That’s right, never; as the D.E.O. agent puts the hood back on Beth’s head to take her away, she speaks as Alice, saying, “Now I can do no more, whatever happens. What will become of me?” We are not through with Alice, and I could not be more excited.
J.H. Williams and W. Haden Blackman have layered the relationships in this title like a fancy cake, and those levels of trust, those levels of family, are what make this book so compelling. There’s the Kane family and all their issues (Bones included), there’s the D.E.O. family and Chase’s issues with superheroes and her own mortality, there’s the Bat family and the current Kane vs. Batman fight that’s about to play out. Those are all powder kegs, and Beth is a lit match. What do you think, Drew? Is there a happy Kane reunion in the near future, or is this whole situation just going to blow itself to hell?
Drew: I mean, there’s even more trust issues going on here than Kate has time to fully address. Yes, she had come clean with Maggie about being Batwoman (and probably a bit about the D.E.O.), but she was keeping certain parts of her past secret — namely that she had shot her with scarecrow toxin way back in issue 8. But Kate flippantly asking for more of that same toxin from Bones might be more than a little incriminating. It’s not clear when during/how long after the Kate/Beth meeting that the Kanes decided to encamp at the Sawyer-Kanes, so it’s possible Maggie knows relatively little, but I think it’s important that Kate doesn’t express feeling betrayed by her — she knows she has too much explaining to do.
Maggie doesn’t get more specific, but she seems willing to forgive Kate for her transgressions so long as she accepts help now. Her “my way or the highway” ultimatum at the end feels much more like tough love than manipulation, which is a delicate line, but Williams and Blackman navigate it perfectly. They’ve always had a great sense of these characters (and have recently focused quite a bit on Maggie), but I have to applaud the delicate balancing act they pulled here — all while giving us a scene that feels perfectly natural to our characters.
In all fairness, McCarthy does a lot of the heavy lifting in that scene. Everything, from the specificity of the layout of the living room to the fact that Kate takes off her mask as she enters — exposing her emotionally to both her family and the audience — serves the drama. I’m particularly enamored of the details he imparts as he introduces each of the scene’s players.
The foregrounding of the bug receiver — which they’re all listening to — is a brilliant choice, but I’m more interested in their reactions. Maggie, discomforted both by Kate’s betrayal AND the presence of her in-laws, seeks out some creature comforts — she’s wearing sweats and drinking a big ol’ glass of wine. She clutches her glass and stares at the receiver — she’s obviously worried — but her face is blank. Colonel Kane, on the other hand, doesn’t show any outward concern, but knowing that this man plunged himself into training two members of his family to fight crime to distract himself from the murder/kindnapping of his wife and daughter makes it clear that he’s just trying to distract himself with whatever he’s reading — again, the foregrounding of the receiver is telling. Catherine, least familiar of the four with superhero stoicism, is the most outwardly worried. She holds her phone in a half-hearted attempt at distraction, but she is obviously not paying attention to it at all. She seeks comfort in the nearness of Beth — which is charmingly expressed in the fact that you can still see her in Beth’s panel. It’s a brilliantly acted, brilliantly staged scene, and I continue to be impressed with McCarthy’s work on this title.
This issue is really all about reunions, and Shelby is absolutely right to cite the trust issues that surround them. Kate is willing to do anything to get her sister back — a sister who may still have a number of homicidal tendencies — but is unwilling to accept the help of her loved ones because of past betrayals. With all of the cards out on the table, Kate can once again rely on her family for help — but will she? Kate has been keeping secrets from someone or other since the start of this series. This is one of the few series we’re reading to effect real, lasting change for its characters, so there may be hope for Kate, but old habits die hard. All that is to say, Shelby, I’m not sure if this will end happily or messily, but I can’t wait to find out.
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Maybe we’ll get lucky and it will be messily happy?
And you’re totally right to cite the tough love/manipulation line. If it were anyone else, anyone who isn’t as stupid stubborn as Kate, I’d say it would work as tough love and that would be the end of it.
Hey how about that teaser for the next issue? “Whatever Happened to Killer Croc?” Is it time for us to get an intense, character-focused look at Croc? It’d be a little bit of a story stall-out, but we’ve seen this creative team do that before (and we praised the HELL out of the zero and that Maggie issue). Plus, I’m a total sucker for that title construction: Whatever Happened to ______. There was an issue of Brightest Day called Whatever Happened to the Manhunter from Mars, and while I don’t totally love the issue (it’s 100% hallucination), the gravity invoked by the title made the whole thing feel a little more important.
I think it might be drawn by Francesco Francavilla, which is always a pleasure. It may be frustrating for those looking for forward momentum, but I can all but guarantee that it’s going to be an awesome issue.
Does that dude do anything but villain-focused issues? Wouldn’t it be great if he ended up drawing all the New 52 September issues? “He always does our villain issues.” “They’re ALL villain issues!”
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