Batwoman–the long-awaited follow-up to the Batwoman Elegy arc by Greg Rucka and J. H. Williams III that ran in Detective Comics a couple years back–is the least surprising good thing to come out of the DC New 52. Written by J. H. Williams and W. Haden Blackman, and drawn by Williams, Batwoman was always supposed to be a pretty good comic book. The only surprise, I suppose, is how long it took for it to finally come out . . . and how very good it’s managed to be even without Greg Rucka anywhere in the credits.
The story here picks up soon after the events of Elegy. Kate Kane, our hero, is still dealing (or rather, not dealing) with the emotional fallout of the events of Elegy, which are conveniently recapped in Issue #1 in case you missed it. She has a new crime fighting partner, her cousin Bette Kate (aka Flamebird), and a new girlfriend, Detective Maggie Sawyer of the GCPD. Maggie and Batwoman are both investigating a series of abductions of children by a mysterious figure known as The Weeping Woman. And Batwoman, in turn, is being investigated by Agent Cameron Chase of the Department of Extranormal Operations, who is charged with uncovering Batwoman’s true identity.
The characters and the art are the standouts in this comic. Batwoman’s actual investigation of the Weeping Woman, while interesting enough, is really only a backdrop for the character development of our leads. I think I forgot the details of the Weeping Woman mystery as soon as I finished reading issue #5! It’s a good thing, then, that the characters are so compelling and complex. It’s really an embarrassment of riches, having so many great women characters in one book. (And how sad is that, that having four vibrant women characters in one book is so unusual?) Kate maintains her double life; Bette clashes with Kate, wanting to play a larger role in her crime fighting; Kate and Maggie’s romance blossoms; Maggie performs her work for the GCPD with competence and flair; Chase searches for Batwoman’s identity.
Williams’ art continues to be some of the best in the business. Williams consistently draws women as people rather than objects of the male gaze. Batwoman is strong and sexy, but she never feels like a posed pinup: the impression the art leaves is always that of a woman of action. That same logic applies to how Williams draws Bette, Maggie, and Chase. A great example of this is a scene in issue #1 where Kate and Bette are changing into their crime-fighting costumes. In another comic, it would be such an obvious bit of pandering that I would have to roll my eyes. There, it just feels like a natural part of the story–you hardly notice it. And while Williams’ art is beautiful as sheer eye candy, it also does real work in establishing the atmosphere of Gotham and our sense of the characters. For example, there’s a big double-page spread in issue #2 where Maggie walks through a crime scene and brilliantly interprets what happens. We’re not just being told that our Detective Sawyer is one of Gotham’s best–we’re shown it.
Though issues #1-5 wrap up the Hydrology arc of Batwoman, they feel much more like a prologue to a larger epic than a self-contained arc. So much of the action in these issues involves moving characters into place for things to come. By the end of issue #5–spoilers ahead–Chase has uncovered Batwoman’s identity, and Bette Kane is lying in intensive care after nearly getting herself killed. I hope Williams and Blackman get to stay on Batwoman long enough for us to see how the rest of the story unfolds. I don’t only want the story of Bette being injured: that makes her a mere plot device. I also want the story of her survival and recovery. And I want to see how Kate and Chase are both changed by the DEO’s new role in Batwoman’s activities. Here’s to looking forward to where else this story takes us!