Published by DC Comics
Long before DC rebooted their Universe and it became the new 52, they spent a year producing a weekly comic that was surprisingly good, if somewhat rushed and messy. Out of the midst of this, a new character called Batwoman was launched deep into the heart of Gotham city. On announcing she was to be the first high-profile lesbian superhero, the chances of a train wreck were high. Surprisingly DC showed restraint, waited a couple of years to get the right artistic team together and then pulled off one of the best initial runs in recent history.
Kate Kane is the daughter of a Marine Colonel who was drummed out of Westpoint for a breach of the American Military’s ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell‘ policy. Thankfully that absurdity has passed into history and luckily the character has not. (While on the topic, I cannot pass by the opportunity to shout out my Homeland and the way they choose to lead the Pacific in legalizing gay marriage recently.)
There was plenty of opportunity here to exploit having such a high-profile heroine leap into the conservative world of Batman comics. Luckily Rucka and Williams have created a brilliantly written character with genuine motivations that drive and inspire her. While her sexuality does come into play, it is handled in such an organic, realistic way that it almost seems too good to be in a comic book.
Rucka handles everything with a deft touch, the characters feel real, he has Kate and her Dad use army lingo that rings true and through their brusque discipline they show real love and affection for each other. There are never enough, well written, strong, female characters in comics and to have one who can sustain her own monthly series is a welcome change. Batwoman also feels like a real woman inside the suit, not just a Batman clone with boobs and heels. Speaking of heels, her costume here has almost realistic looking combat boots and a great cape and utility pouches.
On art duties, J.H. Williams is off the charts, I have raved about him before and expect to continue joyfully shouting his praises for as long as he keeps putting pen to paper. Aside from the beauty of his art, it is the innovation that I appreciate best, the way he uses differing shapes and sizes of panels to tell the story across the page. But also the design of the entire page, there are panels that invite or even require closer, deeper reading than usual. Recently I have been all about clean, focused storytelling but exceptions will be made for artwork that is this good and strives to take sequential story telling to new and better places.
When Kate is acting as Batwoman the art is all high gloss and dark contrasts with great dynamic splash pages and interesting panel shapes. But when she is simply herself the colours are lighter, more pastel and the panels and storytelling much simpler. There is yet another stylistic change when we get to the flashback sections and look at her origin. It reminds of Fraction and Brubaker’ Iron Fist book but that was using multiple artists, here it is just one supremely talented dude.
Well one dude who is ably assisted by the mighty Dave Stewart on colours. Once again I wish I knew more about the dark arts of colouring. If only so I could ramble at length about how good this is. Stewart rises above even his own high standards and is crucial to the tone of the book.
Most comics that take me a long time to read are due to wordiness. Not this one, Rucka keeps his word count low and doesn’t crowd out the art with dialogue. It doesn’t stop him from telling an excellent story here either, there are new villains and allies and you get a great sense of where Batwoman stands in Bruce Wayne‘s town, all without the usual Batman team up for the whole book. Batwoman very much carves her own niche.
This is a great origin story that Greg Rucka is writing here, we are immediately dropped into the action, but are given hints throughout and at the end are a series of flashbacks (I assume these ran in the back of the original issues)that fill us in on the years gone by and how Kate came to be Batwoman. There are interesting parallels to Batman’s own story while still being wholly new and fascinating, I loved how Kate’s Dad played the Alfred role, how Kate was inspired by a random encounter with Batman and how she views his signal in the sky not as a warning to criminals but as a call to arms for her.
Should I buy it? I am once again struck by how much I like this comic and how good J.H Williams is on the art duties, I need to be getting the next volumes and I suggest you join me.
Next time: After my looks at DC and Marvel, I am going to keep it a little more independent and spend a month at Image Comics. I will cast an eye back at one of my favourites from recent years the dark, funny and dirty fantasy of Orc Stain by James Stokoe.