Batwoman 24

Alternating Currents: Batwoman 24, Drew and Shelby

Today, Drew and Shelby are discussing Batwoman 24, originally released October 16th, 2013.

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Drew: When evaluating a work of art, I tend to ignore the artist — I’m far too focused on what the art means to me to care about what it means to anyone else, even if that anyone happens to be the one who made it. I think it helps me stay focused on the work in question — it’s all to easy to excuse bad art from an artist you like, or dismiss good art from an artist you hate — and focus on the meaning of a work of art. Occasionally, though, the artist (or the context into which the art was released) dominate the work’s meaning. Van Gogh paintings are presented as springboards for discussions of madness, and Beethoven symphonies simply cannot be performed without someone mentioning deafness. The real-world drama surrounding the release of Batwoman 24 are not nearly so biological, but in many ways, that only makes the issue a more frustrating read.

The “This Blood is Thick” arc has all been building towards the execution of a plan we aren’t entirely privy to — think Ocean’s 11 — and issue 24 finally gives us the first half of that plan. The Arkham inmates Chase released to bait Batman are tearing Gotham apart. It’s all Kate can do to keep herself from stepping in, but finally, Batman arrives, quickly discovering that Bones is behind everything. Batman confronts Bones, but Batwoman is there to defend him, and the Bat-people duke it out. Meanwhile, Bette’s training has paid off, and she easily infiltrates the D.E.O. facility where Beth is being held. Unfortunately, her plan seems to only get her to Beth’s cell, with no escape route.

And that’s it.

I don’t mean to oversell the departure of J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman — this series is going to have to conclude this arc (even if they’ll delay it yet another month with a diversion to Zero Year) — but dammit, I wanted to see what their plan was. They’ve played this whole arc very close to the chest, and the payoff was going to largely lay in how all the setup paid off. It’s all well and good that we’ll get a conclusion, but it’s hard for me not to lament the fact that we won’t be getting the conclusion. Again, I shouldn’t oversell the writer’s authorial voice — comics are a collaborative medium, and, like it or not, the editors are collaborators, too — but artworks finished by other artists occupy a dubious place in history, even in the most collaborative settings (see: A.I. or Beethoven’s Symphony No. 10).

I don’t want to turn this write up into a eulogy for Williams and Blackman’s run — it wouldn’t be fair to them, or this issue — but the turmoil that drove them from this series has left fingerprints all over the issue. Sandu Florea and Derek Fridolfs offer artist Trevor McCarthy an assist on a few random pages (likely due to the last-minute editorial changes Blackman mentioned in his departure announcement) — turning in finishes that are drastically different from McCarthy’s typically polished style. I was downright distracted at how unfinished Fridolfs finishes looked:

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This doesn’t feel like the Batwoman I’ve come to care so much about, making the fact that this is Williams and Blackman’s last all the more disappointing. That big black bar that runs down the center of that sequence appears in the two previous spreads, as well. It almost acts as a visual cue that these aren’t double-page spreads, but the thunderbolt motif that splits the page in each case ties the opposite pages together. Williams and McCarthy have always used and reused motifs, but have never repeated them as wholesale as they are repeated in these closing pages — and I’m still not sure what those black bars are doing there.

The only scene that feels totally true to this series is Maggie’s confrontation with Chase — who has just declared martial law in Gotham. Maggie knows that this isn’t part of the plan, Chase is surprised to learn that Maggie knows anything about the plan, and Bullock is just trying to keep the peace. Maggie gets to be tough, Chase gets to be slimy, and Bullock gets to be confused at what any of this has to do with Kate Kane. It’s a great scene.

Geez. The good scenes are bittersweet, and the bad ones just leave me feeling bitter. It’s hard to read this issue without the baggage we all have about Williams and Blackman’s departure — even our guesses about what might happen next are loaded. Are you having as hard a time taking this issue on its own terms, Shelby? What do you suppose Beth is going to do once she gets those gloves off? And/or what do you think she was going to have done once she got those gloves off?

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Shelby: I knew exactly how this issue was going to go the moment I saw the creators’ names on the covers.

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And with that uninspired sans serif font, I knew it was the end. Drew, I understand and agree with you that this shouldn’t turn into a eulogy, but that’s really what it feels like. It’s bad enough that Blackman and Williams are leaving this title, but to not even get to finish it breaks my heart. I certainly don’t mean this as a slight to the new creative team; in fact, I feel especially torn on what to do with this title now. I don’t like the way DC treats its creators, and I DEFINITELY don’t like the editorial decision to bring in the new team before this arc is finished. I think it’s disrespectful to the all the artists involved and its disrespectful to the fans. Blackman and Williams deserve the right to finish what they’ve started, just like Marc Andreyko deserves to take this title over and make it his own instead of finishing up someone else’s story and creating in the shadow of ire DC editorial has earned from fans. A big part of me wants to drop this title going forward, but I know that all that will do is punish Andreyko and the rest of the new team, and I don’t want to do that. I don’t know what to do just yet.

The biggest disappointment for me is not really seeing what will happen with Alice. My love for Alice is well known ’round these parts; I love her enigmatic origin, and I especially love the complications she added to Batwoman’s story. I couldn’t wait to see her outcome in this arc, and now we won’t get it. What could those gloves be for? She doesn’t have any powers they could hinder, so what are they hiding? Was the plan always to have Kate distract the DEO with the fight with Batman, or is she still genuinely trying to deliver him to them? The bat has no love for the DEO, he probably would have gone along with the plan, though he may have had some objections to the whole “releasing a psychopathic murderer” part.

As intriguing as I find the details of Team Batwoman’s plan, I’m more intrigued by the effect having a team will have on Kate. She has stubbornly tried to shoulder the burden of the Bat mantle largely on her own, especially since Bette was attacked. Now she’s got a partner in the field as well as a team at HQ, one of whom has direct ties to GCPD, which I believe makes her the first member of the Bat family with someone on the legal side of law enforcement who knows her secret. This has heavy implications for her personally as well as for the GCPD, and I am again disappointed Blackman and Williams will not be able to lay those final pieces in place before they depart. All in all, this is an extremely disappointing end to a run that has been challenging, risky, unique, and beautiful.

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?

9 comments on “Batwoman 24

    • Can you explain your reference to Monet & “madness”? Do you mean Van Gogh? Monet’s late works and loss of vision is commonly linked and a connection has been made between depression and his artistic production following his wife’s death, but he is not really the poster child for art by the “mad”. Just curious to know what you had in mind here.

      • Oops! No, you’re right: I meant Van Gogh (serves me right for getting distracted by other research). I’m changing it in the post, but am leaving these comments for posterity.

  1. I have a lot of thoughts on the issue, how it ended, and what that means for the series going forward.

    Drew, you say “…this series is going to have to conclude this arc …” but I don’t really think that it will. Like “Frankenstein Agent of SHADE”, I think it is just going to stop here (well, except that it will be this story line that ends abruptly, not the entire series). There is the Zero Year issue and then the solicit for 26, which seems to indicate they are just going to re-start it (from exactly what point, though, remains to be seen). It reads, in part “Join us as Batwoman starts her next chapter and faces a threat that might just have her rethinking her career as a hero!” That doesn’t give me a great deal of hope that the issues and actions that were coming to a boil in #24 will be resolved.

    I fully agree with those that say DC is doing a disservice to the readers by not allowing Williams/Blackman to finish the arc but I have to say, the creators sort of forced DC’s hand. I wonder if they handled their departure differently, if they could have finished the arc and then handed over the reigns to someone else. A comment on JHW3’s blog asked this and he responded, but the answer wasn’t really that satisfactory. I have to assume that the editorial interference got to the point where they just couldn’t stand it anymore and they HAD to speak out. However, at the time they made their very public, and very critical, announcement their leaving wasn’t a fait acompli. I have to imagine there is a scenario where they could have finished their arc at 26 and arranging for a transition and, only after their departure, cite the reasons for why they felt they had to leave. DC really didn’t have too much choice to drop them mid-arc after the criticisms hurled at them by the creative team and, timing wise, it made sense to bring on a new team to tie the book into Zero Year. Speaking out when they did seems to have been a matter of principle for them – which I respect – but standing by principles (as Batwoman’s journey has shown us) has consequences. While we can justly criticize DC for creating an environment where, due to editorial interference, the creators could not tell the stories they wanted to tell (and that they have building to for 2 years) but I don’t think they can shoulder *all* the blame for not allowing this arc to come to a satisfying conclusion. I really don’t want to come across as a DC apologist here, but I do think the situation is more complex than stating “DC is the badguy” and that’s that.

    All that being said, I am very sorry that we won’t be able to see the rest of this story – particularly after reading the tantalizing outline of the planned next issues on JHW3’s blog – and where they could have taken the characters next.

    • But does calling out DC as treating their creatives poorly force DC to treat them more poorly? There may have been some gamesmanship involved here (I almost think they were hoping for the kind of fan outcry that swept Gail Simone back into the writer’s chair on Batgirl), but I don’t think DC had to drop them. Dropping them for the crime of being frank about why they were departing doesn’t strike me so much as a professional necessity as it does petty and vindictive. In my eyes, DC’s choice to scrap B&W’s 25 and 26 lends credence to the accusation that DC doesn’t respect their creatives.

      That said: yeah, it would have definitely been better if they hadn’t opened their mouths. Williams’ justification was all about giving DC fair warning, which I agree is the right move (the comics version of two-weeks’ notice), but that doesn’t require them to air their dirty laundry right away. I respect them for being open and honest with fans (who I think largely want to know this kind of thing), but it understandably upset their editors. Would we have gotten two more issues from this team if they had simply waited to be honest with their fans? Maybe, but if this issue was any indication, they would have had enough editorial scars to be nearly unrecognizable as this series as we know it, anyway.

      • I mean, the whole thing speaks to the editorial direct at DC and how it doesn’t allow comics to be particularly insular or isolated. One of the things Andreyko repeated at NYCC was that he was going to incorporate Batwoman into the Gotham that’s been established in other New 52 titles. That’s what B&W have been resisting all along – playing by DC’s rules, and that’s not just about Kate getting married, it’s about existing in that same universe. There’s basically no part of the New 52 that’s been allowed to rear its head in this series — except possibly Wonder Woman, who felt an awful lot like Brian Azzarello’s WW (yet another isolated series).

        I love to rail on DC for making dumb decisions all the time, but maybe they’re just making consistent decisions. Of course they want control over this title: it’s a goddamn BAT title. Taking chances and telling dangerous stories aren’t exactly the order there.

        I was just thinking about a conversation Drew and I had with Brian Buccellato about Flash – he said that their second story arc was severely truncated so they could get to the Rogues faster. There’s a huge fucking machine in place, and the machine is designed to please the fans. And unfortunately, the fans keep asking questions like “when are we going to see _____ again?” and not “what are you doing to encourage creative storytelling?” So I wonder if DC was tired of saying “The Night of Owls, featuring all the Bat titles (except Batwoman” or “The Death of the Family featuring all the Bat titles (except Batwoman).” If Batwoman could simply exist as itself, that would be ideal, but it’s got that Golden NEW 52 logo right on it.

      • “But does calling out DC as treating their creatives poorly force DC to treat them more poorly?”
        Fair enough – and certainly it seems (at least according to Williams, so a pinch of salt may be necessary) that some of DC’s actions following their announcement were motivated by spite more than anything else. It is hard to imagine though, how a corporate entity could stand back and take the severe criticisms on the chin and let Williams/Blackman continue on as they saw fit.

        I do think, from a business standpoint, it was a professional necessity. DC is editorially driven and, as we have seen, for those creators who have a different vision (or even simply require not having last minute changes forced upon their work) they are no longer welcome to play in the DC sandbox.

        DC had to drop out Batwoman team when they did. Otherwise they would have shown themselves to be weak and opened themselves up to more criticism from their employees, which is untenable. If you don’t tow the line – and/or, heaven forbid, you speak out about the very real problems with DC editorial – you get axed. That is the message here, plain and simple, and I am sure other creators have taken note.

        Does that signal a lack of respect for its creators? You bet. Is it surprising? Not at all. Could things have ended differently and both sides came out of this looking good? Perhaps… but given the toxic environment described (I saw JHW3 say on twitter after writing my comment above that to stay on would have been “soul sucking”) it is unlikely that things could have ended differently. The creators could not stay on and retain their integrity and DC could not be criticized by the creators and not respond in a definitive manner. Either way, the creators lose and the readers lose. Time will tell if DC loses, too – certainly they have lost an amazing creative team, they come out looking like meddling jerks, and many people say they are going to drop the book but, as it is going to be more integrated into the larger DC/Batman universe, DC could very well see an increase in sales for the title leading to a short (or even long) term gain for them. We’ll see.

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