J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman close up their first “Batwoman” arc with power and beauty, just like the four issues that came before, and easily setting themselves up as one of the best, and surely the most beautiful, monthly comic on stands today.
In this issue, Kate hunts down the Weeping Woman that has been kidnapping the children of Gotham, only to find a larger something called Medusa behind her. After dispatching the Weeping Woman, by coming to terms with her sister’s (apparent) death, Kate returns to her “cave” to hunt down Medusa. Not long after arriving, however, the DEO (or, more precisely, Director Bones and Cameron Chase) storm into her home/cave and out her as being the Batwoman. Bones and Chase then blackmail Kate into working for them, and also inform her as to Bette’s critical condition and whereabouts. Kate and Batman have a tête-à-tête by Bette’s bedside and there’s some excellent foreshadowing about rocky roads ahead for the two premiere bats. That scene alone is worth the price of admission as far as I’m concerned.
Williams and Blackman continue to deliver a compelling and well-plotted story; as writers they have an exceptional handle on Kate’s voice. This is also the best take they’ve had on Batman so far, and the scene with Bruce and Kate in Bette’s hospital room feels pitch perfect. Some other decisions leave me a bit skeptical, however. The fact that the DEO (or at least Bones and Chase) have in five short issues uncovered Kate’s identity and blackmailed her into working for them is worrying. It makes for an interesting plot development and I’m excited to see where it will take us, but it speaks poorly of Kate, which is a shame. You get the sense that this never would have happened to Bruce. Given the parallels they have been setting up with Bruce and Kate, which I found smart and bold, this feels a bit like a step backward.
When it comes to the art, what can a reviewer say that hasn’t been said before? It is absolutely the most beautiful comic book on the stands. And it isn’t satisfied with just being the prettiest girl on the block; it also wants to be the cleverest and the most groundbreaking. And it is. Every month. The things Williams is doing (brilliantly assisted by Dave Stewart’s colors) are going to influence comics for a very long time. His storytelling choices, his graphic layouts, his kinetic movement, his shifting styles, his ability to combine highly detailed realistic panels with more simplified stylized images -- it’s all simply unheard of (or unseen?) for a monthly mainstream comic book. In this issue we also saw the addition of a fantastic new opening, which has Williams and Blackman incorporating the “who is Batwoman” text directly into the story in a way that gave me chills.
There is one flaw to Williams’ art being so incredibly compelling: Williams and Blackman are leaning too heavily on it. The scene in which Kate comes to terms with her sister Alice’s death in order to defeat The Weeping Woman feels sudden and not entirely satisfying. I felt strongly after reading this issue that it was unsatisfying primarily because the writing in the scene is not particularly strong and it happens too quickly. But Williams and Blackman can get away with the weaker writing because the art is so powerful. It’s subtle enough now that it’s not of much concern, but it could mean trouble on the horizon and keeps this book from being as perfect as it could be.
Regardless, the achievements of “Batwoman” cannot be overstated. As one of the most anticipated books of the past year, there was a lot to live up to and many opportunities to fail. But Williams and Blackman have delivered a great book and a standout among DC’s crowded field of new books. As we enter a new chapter with the exceptional Amy Reeder coming on as the artist for the next arc, things are likely to become even more interesting, and I can’t wait to see what this team will do next.