Today, Mark and Ryan M. are discussing Batwoman Rebirth 1, originally released February 15th, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Mark: One of the benefits of comic books as a visually-driven medium is that sometimes fantastic art can help make up for an otherwise competent but unremarkable issue. Such is the case with Steve Epting and Jeromy Cox’s work on Batwoman Rebirth 1, whose art uses the opportunity of Marguerite Bennett and James Tynion IV’s Kate Kane history lesson to deliver page after page of remarkable, poster-worthy splash pages.
The nature of these Rebirth issues (an opportunity to get new readers up to speed on a character’s status quo before their Rebirth-ed adventure begins) means nothing really happens in the issue story-wise. We get a tease about what Kate was up to during her Lost Year and a brief glimpse into her future, but mostly we’re treated to vignettes from different times in Kate’s life: her kidnapping as a child and subsequent death of her mother, her dismissal from the military for being gay, her recruitment into the BatFam, etc.
And while on their own these timejumping and disparate moments may not make a compelling case for the character, the issue is held together by Epting and Cox illustrating, sometimes quite literally, how these fractured pieces form the whole of Kate Kane and Batwoman.
But what makes Batwoman Rebirth 1 stand out from its sister offerings is that it promises (at least temporarily) a new take on the character. So much of Rebirth has been built around the idea of our heroes returning to familiar versions of themselves — Dick Grayson reverting back to Nightwing, killing off New 52 Superman in favor of a fan favorite, Green Arrow reuniting with Black Canary — but not so with Batwoman. The last image of the issue is Kate in an unfamiliar costume in unfamiliar surroundings. Say what you will about Tynion’s work, between this and his run on Detective Comics, he’s one of the few creatives on Rebirth really pushing these characters in new directions.
Whether these risks ultimately pay off or not, I applaud the effort.
What’d you think, Ryan? I’m not sure what your familiarity with Batwoman is, but if you’re relatively new did you find this history lesson intriguing or confusing? And if you’ve been following Batwoman for a while, how do you feel about Kate’s new look?
Ryan M: I’ve read a lot of Batwoman, and it was pretty awesome to see her called Commander Kane. I’m not sure what this means. Is the Batwoman identity dead? In some ways this final image is a mashup of all the phases of her life.
Mark, you pointed out the fractured nature of her identity as demonstrated in those fantastic splash pages. What the issue also explores is Kate’s commitment to each of these versions of herself. It’s not just that her hairstyle changes each time she starts a new chapter, though it does. Each phase is marked by new people, new lovers, and new locations. She has lived several lives and this issue gives you a taste of them.
It would be easy to consider Kate’s path to becoming Batwoman set by the brutal death of her mother and twin. The issue certainly leans on that idea a bit, giving us our longest stretch of straight scenic narrative when Kate is twelve. The rest of the issue gives us a kaleidoscope of Kate’s life, demonstrating that there is far more complexity to her path than a simple vengeance narrative. This rejection of simplistic definition is clear as Bennett and Tynion juxtapose Kate’s dismissal from the military with her on a yacht in Monaco.
Kate’s commitment to the values of the military and her own identity contrast with the party girl image she projects in Monaco. On the boat she is reckless, drunk and laughing. She performs a party trick with her bow and arrow, but she is surrounded by gossips who dismiss her as nothing. Meanwhile, her commanding officer, while he is upholding a bullshit policy, seems to value Kate. It’s a testament to her strength of character that she refuses his offer to deny part of herself. This is another place where the visual representations of the different phases of her life contrast. In every Monaco panel, the blue of the sky pops behind the revelry. Meanwhile, the military panels have a more claustrophobic feel thanks to the dark ceilings. Even Kate’s lack of expression versus her easy smile make these seem like two different women. One thing that unites them is the refrain of “I can’t” seen at several points in her young life.
If the story of the first half of the issue is “I can’t,” the second half is “where are you going?” This connection is made through another great splash page.
All of the phases of Kate’s life are united by Kate’s having left them. Otherwise, these fractured images are diverse. We have reactions ranging from tears to bitterness to stoicism. There is also the gun to the face in the lower right. All of these images are from Kate’s perspective. The rest of issue was telling the story from the outside. Her father, Safiya and even those bitchy party-goers have been voicing Kate’s narrative, telling us who she is and what she will do. The issue offers this brief insight into how she connects the pieces of her life. She is always leaving people behind.
With Kate established as a woman who has had a series of identities, it’s exciting to see what remains of her past selves as we get to know this Commander Kane persona.
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Man, this issue really bummed me out. I can appreciate that Bennett and Tynion wanted to reassert Kate’s history to clarify what is and isn’t canon, but so many of these beats were lifted verbatim from Elegy (or, close enough to verbatim that we couldn’t be expected to recognize any changes), that this just felt like an advertisement for a longer, better comic. It’s one thing to reiterate a character’s origin story, but another to repeat the specific beats of a specific telling of that story. That is, I’m fine with the umpteenth rehash of the Waynes getting killed or whatever, but less cool with that being done by just copying the sequence from DKR. It’s tough — I suspect Bennet and Tynion wanted to call upon more specifics than, say, Grant Morrison did with his one page origin story in All-Star Superman, but I think there had to be a better way than regurgitating the scenes as we’ve already seen them. Greg Rucka basically wrote half of this issue, which doesn’t give me the confidence in the actual creative team I’d hope for in a first issue (or whatever these Rebirth issues are supposed to be).
Since Mark seems to be referencing my arguments, I think I should comment.
I don’t think it is fair to say that Detective Comics is an example of Rebirth pushing characters in new directions. Stephanie Brown has reunited with Tim just like Black Canary – in fact, I think Green Arrow did a better job, because didn’t Green Arrow at least dramatise it, instead of having them be together just because they can. And while everything I have seen from Stephanie Brown lately has been grossly out of character, it doesn’t change the fact that ‘Rage against the Batman’ is a classic Stephanie Brown story. The only difference this time is that it is done badly.
Everything with Cassandra Cain I’ve seen is just repeating old stuff ‘she’s friends with Stephanie… because that is what it was like last time’, ‘She’s coming face to face with Shiva… because that what we did last time’.
Clayface as a hero is a great idea, but belongs to the exact same ‘let’s make Batman villains heroic’ story that was popular throughout the New 52. What is new with Clayface that wasn’t done with Killer Croc? Or Harley Quinn. Or Birds of Prey Poison Ivy?
Nor is ‘Dead Robin’. I know that Tim Drake isn’t technically dead, but it is by all means the same. Ultimately, in comics, ‘thought to be dead but actually captured’ and ‘dead and resurrected’ are meaningless distinctions
And in the pages of Detective Comics, how much new stuff has been done with Batwoman, as opposed to having the new stuff, like the idea of a second, Batwoman focused Batfamily, stripped from her?
Maybe this book will finally be the thing that does something new. But new is not what Tynion’s Detective Comics is. It is the same old stuff, done badly