In "Hydrology," the explosive first arc of DC Comics' ongoing "Batwoman" series, writer/artist JH Williams III and co-writer W. Haden Blackman pitted Kate Kane against the Weeping Woman, a figure from urban myth kidnapping children in Gotham City. Establishing Kate in the New 52, the series picked up exactly where Williams' and writer Greg Rucka's Batwoman stories in the pages of "Detective Comics" left off: Kate fighting crime sans support system after discovering her dead sister is alive and a super villain caused Kate to kick her father to the curb.
In Williams and Blackman's second arc, "To Drown The World," the skeletons in Kate's closet come back to haunt her as she contends with a new magical villain, the machinations of the DEO and vigilante-hating Agent Chase. Joined by artist Amy Reeder, the creative team set off to explore their characters a little deeper and reintroduce one of Gotham's scariest, and scaliest, villains in the process.
With "Batwoman" #6 and the beginning of the next chapter in Kate's life on sale now, THE BAT SIGNAL spoke with Williams, Blackman and Reeder about everything Kate, from the ongoing comic to their recent GLAAD Award nomination.
CBR News: So we've got the DEO and Chase being a big part of this next arc. Kate's been on her own and you've portrayed her as a hero who is staunchly independent, but she is a former marine; because of that, with the DEO is she in a place where she could slip back into following orders? Or is she past that part of her life now?
JH Williams III: I'd say she's past following orders. There's going to be this sense of conflict taking place between her and the DEO and her sense of duty, but at the same time she can't help it, the benefit of the resources that will now be available to her, so there's a lot of different interesting juxtapositions for all involved I think.
W. Haden Blackman: The other part of it, too, is who she's reporting to. Chase has a very strong personality and strong opinions about vigilantism and masks in general and I think it's quite a different character that she's reporting into, we've gone with a different dramatic conflict with the fact that [Chase is] such a strong character with such really volatile opinions on vigilantes. I think it's going to cause a lot of friction between them.
Amy, with the DEO, are you also getting a chance to dip your pen into Batwoman's supernatural encounters, or is your purview mainly Kate's personal life and the more "real," grounded side of the comic?
Amy Reeder: It's kind of a mix of both, but I'm definitely dipping into the supernatural side of things. Because they are introducing a new rogues gallery, I'm not sure what they have planned for the future but it feels like a theme in my arc happens to be building that gallery. So there's a lot of supernatural in there, but you know, a good healthy dose of reality, which I always enjoy myself!
While Batwoman goes back and forth between fighting crime in this more supernatural world and her civilian identity in the everyday world, you guys also have a fun juxtaposition of art styles going on as well. Amy, how do you approach drawing your sections of Kate's life and the "Batwoman" story?
Reeder: Good question. I definitely have thought a lot about how I want to approach that because I feel like part of Batwoman's identity that JH has created is this idea of she looks visually different when she's in costume. So I definitely wanted to be in keeping with that. What I do isn't quite as involved as changing up styles but I've been doing a grayscale rendering on Batwoman's figure when she's in costume because I really feel like it adds to the whole film noir feel. I've been trying to do that as well as trying to keep the story separate, because the whole idea with this arc is that it's told from six different perspectives, so that's also been a challenge trying to figure out how to separate those. I think I mostly am having my colorist handle that because I don't draw in multiple styles. But that's definitely been a challenge, trying to make sure that things look separate and entering several worlds.
As Amy mentioned, this next arc is presented from six different points of view. What can you tell us about the story, and what might readers expect or be surprised by?
Williams III: I think some of the surprise might come from the way we're handling the six different points of view because we kind of mess with time a little bit. For example, each issue opens up and ends with this bookended scene that take place in the present day, but all the stuff in between follows each character we're going to focus on from a different point in the past, moving forward towards now as each issue comes out. So Jacob, his part of the story might start at a different point in time than say Maro's story does, or Maggie Sawyer's for that matter. Which I think presents some interesting challenges and kind of creates a nice fresh perspective on how to move these pieces forward for people.
Blackman: One of the things that I like about what we're able to do is, because we are going from six different points of view we had to focus on character arcs for each of those six characters and have them have a beginning, middle and end and show some growth there. I think with Jacob in particular, that's not a character we got to spend time with in arc one. I really feel like we're taking him to some dark and interesting places and there's some things that I think readers will learn about him and he kind of learns about himself as he goes through that will be surprising. And the other thing I'm really excited about it, we've talked a lot about creating a rogues gallery for Batwoman and we're definitely doing that, but we also aren't ignoring the fact that she's in Gotham. One of the characters that emerges and has a fairly large role in this arc is a familiar Gotham villain who we kind of get to reinvent and change along the way as well. So I'm excited to see people's reaction to how we're handling that villain and setting up stories for arc three and beyond as well.
It sounds like this arc almost functions as a character study for a lot of your cast -- do you see this as a darker chapter, delving into the mindsets of your characters as they go through the series?
Williams III: A little bit. It definitely has that element, but like Haden was saying before, a lot of the stuff here is going to set up long term stuff and how that all relates to what's already come before.
Blackman: And it's up to each character; some of the storylines are very plot heavy and hopefully we still get some character development in there. Others, like the Jacob story, I feel are very much a character study. It's a little lighter on plot but it's very focused on what's going on internally for him, which for me is just as dramatic.
Besides showing different viewpoints, you're moving back and forth through time. JH, you already have intricate panel work and unique ways of fitting things together -- with you and Amy working together, how do mesh your styles on this story? Do you have a template where you say, "I want this here and a bat-shaped thing here," or is there a lot of conversation back and forth between you?
Williams III: It's actually pretty cut and dry in a lot of ways. Any ideas I have for visual stuff all comes through in what Haden and I put down on paper in scripted terms: what makes something right for a panel or a scene, or every once in a while there might be an idea for how a double page might work. But I'd say eighty-five, ninety percent of the time it's Amy's call. She's bringing her own thing to the table and I want to see her thrive doing what she wants to do within the framework of how a "Batwoman" story might work. So she's very much doing her thing, and it's very cool.
Reeder: Thanks! And I'm no stranger to unusual panels, I don't think that I have as much versatility as JH but [in] my previous series, "Madame Xanadu," there was a lot of experimentation with interesting layout designs depending on the various things Madame Xanadu was involved in. So I definitely try to incorporate a lot of that, especially in the fight scenes.
Outside of "Madame Xanadu" you got your start in manga at Tokyopop. Do you feel you bring any of your manga influences in the way you approach "Batwoman?" Or is it two different spheres in your mind?
Reeder: To me it's all really the same thing. I think I am more heavily influenced by Manga than I am by American comics because that's what I started out reading and it's just what makes more sense to me from the beginning. But for the most part any style change that I've made has either been because I've learned more or it fits the story. I think working on "Batwoman," even though there's so much supernatural in the story, it's probably much more grounded than anything that I've drawn before. So I think that I do concentrate a little more on the literal side of how I'm going to render things and such. But I think of it very similarly -- it's a little darker but Manga has dark stories as well, so I just change it up because the mood's different, not because it's published by a different publisher.
Turning back to story, with the Weeping Woman you were sort of pitting Kate against a supernatural urban legend about personal trauma while she was sorting through her own personal trauma and relationship woes. What does this next villain, Maro, mirror or say about Kate and Batwoman as a character?
Blackman: Well, it's hard because I don't want to give too much away! [Laughs]
Williams III: Yeah, I'd say Kate will question herself on what it means to be Kate versus Batwoman in ways that will be a parallel to Maro, because Maro in a lot of ways will be a lot about identity.
One of the big elements at the end of "Hydrology" was Bette's capture at the hands of the DEO and Chase. Bette's been something of the comedic relief for "Batwoman," so does her removal indicate a change in tone, taking out the lighter aspects to say things are going to get darker from here on out?
Williams III: That's one of the things that kept sticking with Haden and I when we were dealing with Flamebird, which is we really don't see her as comedic relief in that way, we want to see her as a very three-dimensional character. Some of the process of what's happening with her and how it spills over into the following storylines is that evolution of the character. We really want to make her a fully well-rounded character who could some day possibly be worthy enough to hold her own title if need be. So it's not really a metaphor for cutting out any lightness, it's just an evolution of the story and what the place is that these characters will have go through to come out on the other side bigger and grander than when they started out as.
Blackman: And for me there was some question of, "Do we do this to Flamebird to show how it affects Kate?" Well yes, of course, that's one reason to do something like this, but it's also to show how it affects Bette and how it will affect Jacob, her uncle. They're all interconnected. We found greater story and opportunity in how this horrible thing has affected Jacob than how it affected Kate.
JH, you've already said you're really excited to see the Gotham villain pop in. Amy and Haden, is there a specific part of "Batwoman" or this upcoming story you're really excited for fans to see or you think will surprise them?
Reeder: I'm really excited for them to see Maro; I really think he is a really appropriate villain for this character. I think it's pretty ingenious.
Blackman: I'm really excited for Jacob and Killer Croc! Oh wait, am I not supposed to say that? [Laughter] Redacted!
Williams III: Well, honestly I think it would be cool, I mean we're not telling what's going to happen, so...
Blackman: So when I say redacted that's a joke! [Laughter]
What can you say at this point? Is Killer Croc coming down the line?
Blackman: He's in the second issue.
Williams III: He shows up in #7. His role will be an interesting one! [Laughs]
To wrap up, "Batwoman" has been critically-acclaimed out of the gate, and the work all three of you have been doing has garnered attention and praise even just issue-to-issue. How does that affect you as you continue to write and draw "Batwoman?" Is that something you always consciously have in the back of your mind?
Williams III: Not really. For us, at least from my point of view, it's just a matter of telling the story that we want to tell. We really don't ever try to alter something because of what others may have said; we have a very distinct plan and it's set in motion and we just have to have faith that what we're doing is the best we can possibly do at this time. So I don't think it really affects us in that way. It does kind of bring a sense of challenge, I guess, because we want to make sure we're constantly pushing ourselves and not falling back on our laurels. We want to make sure the next script is a better script than the one we wrote previously. That's what we're thinking, but we'd probably be thinking that regardless of what anyone had to say about it! [Laughs]
Blackman: For me it's a little different, I feel I'm really humbled and honored by the positive critical reception we've gotten but I feel a lot of responsibility to show a well-rounded character because she's a lesbian -- I want to make sure we're showing her as a well-rounded character and that we are showing honest relationships. We just got nominated for a GLAAD Award and that has affected me more than any of the other accolades that we've gotten because that's the one thing I wanted to make sure we were doing -- not pulling any punches because we were afraid that she was being typecast but also showing a well-rounded character and real, honest relationships.
Williams III: Exactly. Exactly.
Reeder: I definitely feel a little pressure coming in as the new one on this book, so that definitely is something that I've been having to deal with. But for me it's been a journey in figuring out what can I do to both honor what's already been done and then bring what I do best into the book. What I've concentrated the most on is just creating a sense of moment and a sense of exuberance into the stories that JH and Haden are telling. So that's what I've been doing to cope with it, and I hope other people see it, and we'll see what happens!
"Batwoman" #6 written by Williams III and Blackman and drawn by Reeder is in stores February 8.