A few years ago, DC caused all kinds of hullaballoo when they announced they were releasing a new comic featuring Batwoman, an out lesbian. Some people thought it was exploitative, others thought it was a genuine intent to be inclusive. After the initial media sensation and some delays in publishing her in her own series, I forgot all about it until about a month ago when someone added it to their Goodreads list. So, curious in seeing how they’d portray a main character who was a lesbian, I ventured into my local comic shop (which is the same one I frequented over 25 years ago when I was going through my X-Men obsession) and found Elegy.
Ironically, Batwoman was actually created back in the 50s as DC’s reaction to allegations that Batman and Robin had a homosexual relationship – so they created Batwoman as a romantic interest for the Caped Crusader. She lasted for a few years, but was eventually retired in the 60s when DC was streamlining the characters in the Batman universe. She was revived recently in the 52 series with a new look and backstory: Kate Kane, expelled from Westpoint under the DADT rules, is inspired by a chance encounter with Batman and finds a new purpose and a way to fulfill what she considers her duty to serve. Funded by her stepmother’s fortune and with access through her military father to state of the art armour, technology and weapons, she takes on the mantle of Batwoman in Gotham City.
Elegy is Batwoman’s second story arc and takes place sometime after her near death at the hands of a cult called The Religion of Crime (I cringe when I read or type that name … but really, Batman fights someone named the Penguin, so I should just let that go) which was told as part of another series (but I refuse to track down those issues because I don’t want to admit my obsession with reading everything from the beginning). Kate has recovered from her near fatal wound and is hot on the heels of the crime cult, chasing down the rumour that a new leader is coming to town. Based on the fact that the cult was following a prophecy that her death would herald a new era, she has a rather personal reason for chasing this down.
Elegy is broken into two rather distinct parts – the first is the arrival of Alice as the new leader of the crime covens. Alice is a rather psychotic rendition of Alice in Wonderland who speaks in odd non-sequiturs which are actually lines of dialogue from the Lewis Carroll book. As with any big bad in a comic, her plans are nefarious and she is intent on causing maximum damage. Once the Alice saga is concluded, the book segues into Kate’s backstory, giving insight into how she came to be Batwoman. The Alice part was okay and the fallout from it serves as a great push for the Kate’s continuing story and struggles, but it wasn’t the highlight for me.
The backstory made more of an impression and gave a much better understanding of Kate’s motivations. As with most heroes, her past is marred by angsty tragedy and she drifts for a bit looking for direction. A chance meeting with a mugger and Batman gives her a renewed purpose and she focuses on becoming Batwoman. With Batman, there’s always been a strong sense of integrity and justice – at whatever cost. Kate exemplifies this and one of the best scenes is when she is drummed out of Westpoint for maintaining the code “A cadet shall not lie, cheat or steal. Nor suffer others to do so”.
The artwork is really quite stunning. I’m always torn as to whether I think the story or the artwork makes or breaks a comic. In this one, I think it’s the artwork that grabbed me the most. JH Williams does some amazing pages – the action scenes are complex and really quite gorgeous. It is amazing how a comic can capture and portray so much in a few panels. In many cases, there is little or no dialogue in the scenes, but none is needed and I found myself going back to them again and again just to admire the artwork. Batwoman in action is a sight to behold – quite gorgeous and definitely a BAMF (Bad Ass Mother F****er). They even altered what seemed to be the standard comic book heroine costume to have functional boots and armour (as opposed to high heels and lots of décolleté) – her costume may be form-fitting, but Batwoman is substantial and not someone you’d want to mess with. The artwork where Kate was out of costume, at least in the first half, seemed a bit more awkward – Kate seemed smaller and in the gala scenes the artist has her makeup looking like she has raccoon eyes (Goth?). The scenes with Maggie Sawyer, Captain of Gotham’s Major Crime Unit, weren’t as fluid and seemed a bit stilted – something that seems to have resolved itself in the actual Batwoman series. All in all, I much preferred Kate in costume, kicking ass and taking names. But that could just mean I really just like a woman in uniform.
Overall reaction: A great introduction to Batwoman – the storytelling is good, with the potential for some complex plots and the artwork is gorgeous.
After a couple of successful story arcs in 52 and Detective Comics, DC finally got around to launching the Batwoman series as part of their revamp/re-launch of all their titles late last year.
The Batwoman series starts immediately after Elegy, carrying over the events and aftereffects of that story arc. Issue 0 is kind of a standalone where Batman is stalking Batwoman in order to figure out who she is and whether she’s an ally or a menace. It serves as an introduction and transition for Batman fans who may not have warmed up to the idea of Batwoman The actual Hydrology story arc starts with Issue 1, with Batwoman confronting a ghostlike woman who has been stealing young children from their homes. There are six children who have drowned and thirteen more that are missing. The only clue that Kate and the Gotham City Police Department (actually Maggie Sawyer, Kate’s romantic interest) is an urban legend of La Llorona, or Weeping Woman, that tells of a woman who drowned her own children and then herself, only to return as a vengeful spirit who steals children.
There are quite few more plotlines being woven together in the series – some which will be resolved in this arc, others that will carry on through the rest of the series and this gives the writers a chance to further develop both the characters and the arcs to make some interesting reading. Kate’s main goal is to solve the kidnappings and return the children to their parents, but at the same time she is struggling with the guilt and anger over what happened in Elegy, her ambivalence around training her cousin Bette as a sidekick, developing a relationship with Maggie, the arrival of a new and unknown crime cartel setting off underworld massacres, being approached by Batman and being hunted by the Department of Extranormal Affairs. Sounds like a lot, but the writers balance it all quite well, and things dovetail quite nicely with the impact of one subplot affecting the others. At times, Kate can be a bit of an asshole, especially with her cousin, but at the same time you can see the pressure she’s under as she takes on more responsibility and risks.
The art is great – all my positive comments from Elegy still stand – fantastic action scenes with some mesmerizing panels. I’m happy to see that Maggie is being drawn a bit less stiff and stilted and the artwork lets you see a bit more of her character in some of her scenes. Together, Maggie and Kate have a much better flow and they seem much more comfortable on the page (if that makes any sense). In the first few issues, Kate (out of costume) is portrayed as pale … vampiresque pale … which I found a bit distracting especially in a club scene where she all but glowed in the dark. This appears to be resolving in the later issues and the colourists are starting to pink her up a bit so she looks a bit less like she should be in the Twilight series.
Overall reaction: I’m enjoying the series more than Elegy arc that was featured in Detective Comics. Kate has more room to grow in her own series and the plots are allowed to expand and intertwine. The artwork is still stellar. I’m going to be visiting the comic shop on a monthly basis now.