Commentary Track: JH Williams III On "Batwoman" #1

Wed, September 14th, 2011 at 3:30pm PDT | Updated: February 3rd, 2012 at 6:29am

Comic Books
Kiel Phegley, Staff Writer

SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major SPOILERS for "Batwoman" #1 which goes on sale today from DC Comics.

While many fans have been waiting to see the final result of DC Comics' linewide relaunch for months now, readers invested in the adventures of Kate "Batwoman" Kane have been waiting longer than most.

Originally planned to his stores in January after a special "Batwoman" #0 issue hit the stands, the follow-up ongoing series to the award-winning arc in "Detective Comics" by Greg Rucka and JH Williams III was mysteriously delayed in the eleventh hour. Fans were at first perplexed at what could hold up the highly anticipated book co-written Williams and W. Haden Blackman (with art on the second issue to be handled by Amy Reeder), but before long the reveal of the New 52 made it clear that they'd have to wait no longer than the fall to see the next chapter in Kate Kane's life.

That wait ended today as "Batwoman" #1 officially arrived in comic shops across the country, revealing what's been happening with DC's red-headed heroine since the revelation that her father hid the fate of her sister-turned-arch enemy from her, the total dissolving of her romance with Rene "The Question" Montoya and the twist that saw her cousin/former teen superheroine Bette learn her identity. To help fans dig deeper into the debut, CBR News reached out to Williams to provide commentary on the biggest story threads in the ongoing's first issue. Below, the writer/artist reveals how important Kate's relationship with her father will remain to the book, what weird and supernatural secrets will drive the first murder mystery arc and subsequent genre-busting stories and romance, rivalry and a DEO agent called Chase will complicate "Batwoman" for months to come.

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CBR News: I wanted to start by talking about how you conceived the first issue of "Batwoman." The #0 issue we saw a few months back really covered the origins of the character, but as much as #1 felt like the beginning of a new ongoing adventure, there were still plenty of moments in the story that found ways to catch readers up on who Kate is and where she's been. How did you split the difference between writing this book for fans who were along for the ride in "Detective" and newbies?

JH Williams III: It was kind of tough because it's one of those things where, yes, the character had a very significant story that came before, but it wasn't necessarily in her own title. It was all about finding that balance of catching people up but giving them something new. It's a really tricky thing because you want people to feel like this is a start, but you want them to know that everything that came before mattered. It's all about identifying the important pieces of the character, and making sure they flow properly with how the story is going to move as we set the stage for what comes next. The process on that was really just making sure we are examining the material that came before enough that we could insert what we needed in a very direct manner without being overtly expositional. That way, it allows us to jump right into new characters like the Weeping Woman, our new villain, and the new subplot material we're looking to develop.

The one subplot that everyone knows about is the falling out between Kate and her father over what exactly happened to her sister. There's an implied cold war going on between them in issue #1, and in some ways the long delay readers went through to get to this launch since DC moved it to be part of the New 52 meant echoed in the long period where they haven't been speaking. Did that occur to you at all as you were working on the story? That there would be some synchronicity for the fans and the characters?

Maybe subconsciously. We didn't really understand how much time was going to pass between one story and another until we were well into the work. That's an interesting take you've got though – that the gap worked to the advantage of their estrangement and how much time we'd seen since the periodical's publication. I think that's a very interesting assessment. But for us, it wasn't a very conscious thing because we started writing the scripts for this quite a while ago. It was sometime last year.

For us, we knew that this estrangement would be taking place by the way things were left at the end of the "Elegy" book. So we had to find a way to continue that and not short-change what came before. Focusing a lot on that will have major ramifications for where the series can go now. This is not something that can be easily solved for her and her relationship with her father.

At the same time as that relationship is off to the side and simmering, you've got a bunch of new faces making a splash in the book, and the first one is a character who you can help me solve a personal comics mystery for. For years, I've seen the name Bette Kane in print, but I've never heard someone say it out loud, and I've wondered if it's pronounced like "Betty and Veronica" or like "Bette Midler"?

I've always pronounced it like "Betty," but I don't know. It's never occurred to me that people would pronounce it like Bette Midler, though she does spell it like that. [Laughter]

But more importantly, this is an older Bat-Universe element coming fully into play. When Kate was first introduced in "52," she was introduced as an entirely new character who, while based on a previous DCU iteration, was essentially a brand-new cast member. As you were looking on developing Bette, what was the attraction to having a sidekick-like character in Kate's world, and how much did you want to use from the character's previous iteration versus making her all-new?

We're very much approaching Bette Kane from a fresh perspective but acknowledging that she does have a comic past. Some of her lines see her referring to her time with the Titans and that kinds of stuff. The way Greg left that character – because she didn't get much time in the "Elegy" book but she was in the three issues that came out which Jock drew quite a bit – made for the pieces that we're picking up on. Bette realizes who Kate is and wants in because of her own past. She wants to be Batwoman's Robin, per se. So we're taking all those elements and finding a different way to play it and twist it all around. It'd be pretty boring to have it be "Here's the female version of Robin" essentially. [Laughs] Her story is going to be a long one and a quite profound one. We've got some interesting stuff in store for her, but I don't want to give away too much about it.

Though aside from the plot mechanics of it all, one way it feels like this character works for the book is that while we've gotten to know Kate as a character through the "Detective" stories...it's been a really rough ride. That's been necessitated by the revelations of the story, but those issues are very serious and in some cases sad, but Bette seems to lighten up the proceedings a bit. Was that part of the plan?

Yes. That was definitely one thing we wanted to show. Her personality versus Kate is – well, Kate can be fun, but she can also be pretty morose too. Better provides that pop. She's got a slightly younger perspective on things. Her attitude towards things is a little bit more flippant than Kate. Kate is more methodical even though she responds emotionally to things. So we were very well aware of that dynamic and wanted to drive it home because it will provide some interesting character interactions and plot point interactions just because of the personality difference there.

The third big ongoing element for the book is the romantic element with Maggie Sawyer becoming a new regular in the cast. Unlike the scenes with Kate's father where we are given a very clear reminder of what happened between them, the scene where Kate catches a glimpse of Rene Montoya's picture was very silent and subtle. You absorb the impact of what that means without being given all the specifics. I'm assuming you'll get a lot of fans asking "Where is Rene in all this?" but how does your choice to focus on this new relationship with Maggie build on all that we've seen before?

In some of my conversations about the book, I heard a lot of people assuming that with Rene and Kate, they were kind of the "it" relationship for each other. But to me, it seemed like there was a lot of baggage and a lot of damage done between the two of them. And to me it felt like that damage was kind of irreparable on a personality level. I don't see them actually having a future together. I don't think Kate is the kind of character who should be constantly pining after someone instead of trying to move her life forward. In this first issue, she pretty much has set her mind on letting the past be the past and moving forward. When you think about it, it makes a lot of sense because she's sort of isolated herself from her father and is trying to set that aside and move forward from there as well. So Kate is trying to redefine her life in a lot of ways and the pieces of her life.

Her relationship with Maggie Sawyer came along, and one of the interesting things to us in writing this relationship was that so often heroes have relationships that are doomed to fail. We're not sure if we want to go there and have this character just be another superhero who can never make it work with anyone. We're definitely interested in seeing where this will take Kate. What I like about it is Kate having an interest in someone who, while she's a cop, has lived a pretty normal life in a lot of ways. And Kate...well, she hasn't. [Laughter] So that normalcy has a lot of attractiveness for her, and in some ways, that's similar to what originally attracted her to Rene. Of course, Rene ended up becoming something else. So the new relationship provides a lot of interesting dynamics for us, and we're really excited by it.

You bring up something that stands out to me overall when looking at the Weeping Woman, who I'm not even sure we can all the way call a villain yet, and the mystery with the children. One strong thread of you and Greg's stories was this combination of very normal, relatable human issues that Kate had dealt with like "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and then on the other hand some really, really, really weird stuff. That marriage seemed to be what made the book click then, and the new mystery fits in that mold well. Is that part of what your conception of "Batwoman" as a series is? Are those two elements always going to be driving this character's stories?

Yeah. I absolutely agree with that. In a lot of ways, you don't see a lot of interaction with the supernatural or weirder stuff and the superhero side of comics. A lot of times with the Batman stuff, even though you have some crazy characters it's all focused on trying to keep things in "realistic" terms. But I think Kate's world has shown us a different side of DC and a different side of Gotham really. There's something metaphysically unique about Gotham that makes it a place where weird stuff can happen. To me, this harkens back to the stuff that you would see – weird, esoteric stuff – in "Batman" in the '70s. We're bringing that back out and showing that you can have grounded characters and grounded storylines mixed in with crazy, esoteric, fantastical stuff. If it's blended right, it can work. That's one of the things that jazzed me so much about the first run and Greg's story. He introduced these elements, and that easily opens the door for us to push the envelope and see where we can take it. I think it's pretty cool.

We do meet Chase by the end of the issue, and right before this hit stands, DC announced that they're going to be releasing a full trade of your original "Chase" series.

Yes!

How did that feel to have that happen?

Pretty exhilarating, actually. It's something I've been wanting for a long time, and I knew it was an uphill battle because it's material that essentially was a story that was unfinished in her own book. She ended up having plenty of guest appearances since then and the same with the DEO as a concept, but I've had discussions with DC about this for years, and one of the things that they kept telling me was there wasn't anything they could tie "Chase" to in a prominent way in order to warrant doing the trade paperback. So inserting her into "Batwoman" was just something I wanted to do. It had very little to do with wanting a trade. But I think what happened was that DC started to see the value in doing a "Chase" trade with all the DEO stuff on their own without having any realization about the kind of role Chase would play in "Batwoman." It was this serendipitous thing where both happened simultaneously.

So as we've said, there's this very strange world Batwoman exists in with weird, creepy stuff, and while Chase and the DEO can technically deal with anything, their series was always more of procedural. Is there a way that on a sheer conceptual/idea level these two worlds will clash in "Batwoman"?

Certainly. We're definitely going to be leading to some thing where the role of the DEO is going to be stepped up as the series progresses. We've got some interesting notions in terms of how we'll play the story arcs because we feel like even though we're dealing with the superhero genre and that it's a Batwoman comic in the DCU, we feel like each story arc can be its own genre. This arc is a particular genre as is the second and the third. But we're also setting up different pieces in each story that feed into the next and actually comment on a part of each story unto itself. It's a tricky balance figuring out all the subplot material and its relevance to each arc, though as each story carries through you'll see how the subplot material feeds through to set the stage for a grander whole. That's ultimately what we're after. By the time we get to the end of the third arc, you'll feel like we've done a full-on trilogy where all these pieces work together even though they are their own stories.

Does having Amy Reeder work on the art for the second arc aide in that revolving genre feel as well? Did you try and write the story to match her particular stylistic strengths?

Yes. But at the same time, I very much feel like one of the things I've had the luxury of in being an artist who's worked with some tremendous writers was being challenged by those writers. Certainly, they were interested in wanting to cater to things I was interested in, but at the same time, they challenged me to push myself and have to deal with stuff I might not necessarily think of on my own. That's something we're after too – telling the story that fits within the framework of where we're going and can be exciting for Amy to draw, but at the same time challenge here and see if we can push the envelope on stuff. So far, she seems pretty excited by what we're giving her. What's fun too is that even though her arc will feed of the first one and then the third will feed off of hers once I return to the art table, her story will definitely feel like its own thing. That was one of the key things about playing with the different genres. In the end, each arc will have its own feel and you'll be able to say "Here's book one, book two and so forth."

"Batwoman" #1 is in stores now from DC Comics.

TAGS:  commentary track, dc comics, new 52, batwoman, jh williams iii, amy reeder, kate kane, w haden blackman

 
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