Comics Review: Batwoman – Elegy

Writer: Greg Rucka ~ Art: J.H. Williams ~ Colours: Dave Stewart
Publisher: DC Comics ~ Year: 2010

Batwoman Elegy Trade Paperback Cover Art Greg Rucka J H Williams III Kathy Kane[xrr rating=5/5]

The Low-Down: One of the most well-crafted and gorgeous superhero comics produced in years, this collection acts as an excellent introduction to its intriguing central character, while also showcasing some truly astonishing artwork.

The Backstory: Socialite-turned-vigilante Katherine Kane is the latest costumed crimefighter to stalk the streets of Gotham City, taking her inspiration from the Dark Knight and battling injustice under the identity of Batwoman.

What’s it About?: Six months after nearly losing her life at the hands of the mysterious cult known as the Religion of Crime, Katherine is back on the streets and eager to hunt down the Religion’s new leader. But when she encounters this leader – a psychotic Lewis Carrol-obsessed young woman named Alice – Katherine is soon uncovering secrets she’ll wish were left unearthed…

The Story: “Lesbian Batwoman!” That was the main news story when this newly remixed and revamped version of an old-school Batman character was announced back in 2006. Yes, DC were introducing an openly Lesbian superhero into their shared universe, but when Katherine Kane made her first appearance in the year-long miniseries 52, not everyone was impressed. Touches like the rather impractical high-heel boots on the costume didn’t exactly help, and while there was some good writing, the general impression was that DC had ended up with a showy ‘Lipstick Lesbian’ character and not much else.

As a result, this first proper starring role for the character (in the pages of Detective Comics, where Batman first appeared back in May 1939) had its work cut out for it to prove Kathy Kane could work as a genuine protagonist. Getting a successful and engaging bit of superhero action would have been enough – but instead, the two resulting stories collected here (‘Elegy’ and ‘Go’) showcased razor-sharp storytelling combined with mind-blowing artistry.

Batwoman (Double-page Spread) JH Williams IIIWritten by Greg Rucka, the novelist and comics writer behind series like the police-centric Batman title Gotham Central, this is an incredibly strong piece of superhero writing that gets to the heart of an intriguing and well-crafted character. It was certainly easy to wonder if we really needed another Bat-costumed vigilante, but Rucka gives Katherine’s journey through the story a whole series of levels, making her a compelling and interesting character while not turning her sexuality into a cheap bit of titilation. Thanks to her backstory, it’s key to who she is (we find out in ‘Go’ that she was originally training to be a marine, but was drummed out of the service thanks to the ‘Dont Ask, Don’t Tell’ rules that forbid gays from serving in the US Armed forces), and Rucka manages plenty of nicely played character twists, while building a fascinating relationship between Katherine and her father.

Sadly, this isn’t completely self-contained. As with so many superhero stories, there’s past history this links in with (in this case, the lengthy story of ’52’), meaning certain plot twists come as a severe culture shock (especially when a group of shape-changers seem to just turn up out of nowhere). However, unlike many superhero comics that flirt with being adult but only really manage adolescent violence and melodrama, this is a superhero action adventure that feels genuinely grown-up, and will leave you hungry for more – and, after many delays, we’ll finally be getting more in the ongoing Batwoman series finally starts in September 2011 (although sadly without the writing talents of Rucka).

Batwoman - JH Williams IIIThe Art: Some comics look good. Some comics look beautiful. And then, there are the comics that blast your head off with exactly how lush, artful and downright gorgeous they look. J.H. Williams III has been building a reputation over the last decade for being one of the most impressive and experimental artists in the business (especially with his work on Alan Moore’s Promethea and the opening/closing chapters of Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers of Victory), and he really pushes the boat out here, delivering some deeply eyeball-frazzling visuals.

There’s barely a page in the whole collection that isn’t breathtaking, from the lush painted style and angular panel structures of the Batwoman-in-costume sequences to the cleaner lines of Kathy Kane’s everyday life. Double-page spreads explode in colour, fight sequences are rendered as lightning-bolt-shaped panels raining down around the central character, and the whole thing is simply a jaw-dropping showcase of the kind of places comics can go when a writer and an artist are prepared to push into new territory. Of course, there’ll be some who’ll look at this sniffily and say “It’s all a bit flashy and hard to read”, but this is the kind of storytelling that only comics can do (and which still works best on the printed page), making the design and structure of the page an integral part of the story. Far more than just eye-candy, Batwoman: Elegy sets a new standard for art and storytelling craft in mainstream comics – and if only there were a few more mainstream titles out there even capable of trying to keep up…

The Verdict: An expertly crafted and characterful introduction to a new superhero gets pushed into must-read territory by some gob-smacking artwork. One of the best mainstream superhero comic books published in a long time – buy it, and give your eyes a feast.

[amtap book:isbn=0857684299]

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