BATWOMAN #1 – 4 (DC Comics) J. H. WILLIAMS III, co-writer & artist; W. HADEN BLACKMAN, co-writer; DAVE STEWART, colors; TODD KLEIN, letters.
It’s great to see Kate Kane/ Batwoman back in a monthly title again, especially with J.H. Williams III still involved in the highly creative art (with a capital A). The only thing that could make this even better would be the return of scripter Greg Rucka. However, J. H. Williams III and co-writer W. Haden Blackman have done a commendable job with the story so far. This is also one of the few DC NEW 52 titles that doesn’t appear to have undergone any continuity or character changes and is continuing forward from the points established pre-New 52. In fact, all of the Bat-titles I’m reading seem to have made the transition intact and without any make-overs.
It may seem a little odd to some that I’m writing about BATWOMAN #1-4 when the first story arc ends with Issue #5, which was published in January. I’m trying to write about this book without going into any major plot details in order to avoid spoiling it for someone who hasn’t picked it up yet. So that makes it unnecessary to include any more issues. Also, I’ve got a huge stack of books awaiting my attention (not just BATWOMAN #5) and I’m trying to catch up on my DC reviews before I get buried too deep.
BATWOMAN is one of the books that have that magic combination of great story and great art that keeps me coming back for more. I can’t think of another artist who puts forward the same effort as J. H. Williams III to embellish each issue with as many artistic flourishes as possible. Let me list just some of the ways: contrasting colors and shades for scenes with Batwoman versus scenes with Kate Kane; dark and drab colors plus shades of gray and blue for supernatural scenes versus country colors and earth tones when the action returns to the real world; various two-page spreads where the art and story sometimes revolve outward from a strong center; slanted panels; accented panels; skinny, tall and vertical panels and long and narrow wide panels; overlapping panels; thick, undulating letters on credit pages; overlapping images, etc. Each issue is an aspiring comic art student’s dream handbook. This is a beautiful book to view and admire.
The covers have been magnificent, heavy on symbolism but never cheating the readers. Every cover has images that relate directly to the story inside the pages. Each one is a masterpiece and extremely eye-catching. I’m guessing that BATWOMAN may be the best impulse purchase in the lot of NEW 52 books. I can’t imagine someone seeing that cover on a comic shop display for the first time, picking it up and scanning through the pages, and then putting it back in lieu of something else. This is a book for comic art lovers everywhere.
As in her pre-New 52 stories, Batwoman seems to get involved with protecting her town from the criminal elements that border on the supernatural and the occult. It’s never as simple as breaking up a gang of lawbreakers or subduing the latest super-villain. Her adventures involve the dark and mysterious. The conflicts are more complex and harder to resolve, and often contain deeper troubles beneath the surface. Williams III and Blackman are doing a nice job of maintaining the tone that was established back in the short run of issues in DETECTIVE COMICS before the new title changes.
I worried that no other writers could tackle the lifestyles of a lesbian hero with the same maturity, empathy and sensitivity as Rucka demonstrated in those DETECTIVE issues, but so far the writing team is doing a good job and even exploring the romance with Detective Sawyer even further.
There are also subplots with the further development of heroine/sidekick Flamebird, and the Department of Extranormal Operations (D.E.O) and its mysterious chairman who wants to connect Batwoman with a new terrorist organization (Medusa). The future relationship of Kate and her father/former mentor also seems in jeopardy, and there are major family matters with long histories that need reconciled.
I rate BATWOMAN a solid A for an unbeatable combination of story and art that rewards the reader and doesn’t take advantage of their investment in the book. For those who want to jump in, it’s just been announced that a hardcover will be released in June 2012 containing the first story arc of Issues #0 – 5. BATWOMAN: VOLUME 1 , HYDROLOGY is a little pricey at $22.99 but a hardcover collection on durable paper with 160 pages of this little gem sounds like a good investment.
I’m also sorry to learn that J. H. Williams III will be turning the art over to Amy Reeder beginning with Issue #6, but I’m hoping that her work will be equally good. Maybe Williams III needs more time to focus on the script and wants to keep the book on schedule. I have seen previews of the cover art for BATWOMAN #6, 7 and 8 at the DC website and it looks encouraging.