#CBR5 Maneuver #5 – Batwoman Volume 1

Batwoman 1Target: J.H. Williams, III and W. Haden Blackman’s Batwoman: Hydrology.  Collecting issues 0-5 of Batwoman (N52)

Profile: Comics, Mystery

Summary: From the back cover, “Gotham City is drowning.
They call her La Llorona.  ‘The Weeping Woman.’ A spectral presence that drowns her own sorrow by destroying the lives of others, dragging innocent children to a watery grave… or to an even worse fate.  The hero called Batwoman is no stranger to sorrow herself.  Estranged from the father who was once her partner in crime fighting, she blames him for the death of her mad sister in Gotham Harbor – but she blames herself most of all.
Now, she has a new partner, her cousin Flamebird.  Together they’re on the hunt for La Llorona, the children she’s abducted, and the shadowy forces behind it all.  But the hunters are hunted as well: Everyone from government agents to Gotham cops want to clip Batwoman’s wings.”

After Action Report:

If I had to point to a single comic that drew me to start exploring the DC universe, it would probably be Green Lantern: Rebirth.  There’s just something about power rings and anyone who grew up watching Captain Planet.  But Batwoman: Elegy is what got me really hooked.  I picked up the collected Elegy back in 2010 and when DC announced that Batwoman would be returning in the New 52, I started getting excited about the relaunch event and DC in general.  Hydrology doesn’t disappoint, picking up where Elegy left off and expanding on the personal experiences of this exceptional heroine.

Before I get any further, I need to put my cards on the table.  There is a phenomenal amount that I do not know or understand about DC’s continuity.  I’ve done a bit of due diligence this year to write these New 52 reviews, but, as I am perhaps overly fond of saying, I know just enough to get me in real trouble.  To make things worse, the New 52 universe reboot was only partial, so as many things have changed as not.  It’s a bit of a mess.  This is all by way of saying if I make a significant error in summarizing the books or their background material, I apologize.

Batwoman was one of the series that was not reset, so the events of Elegy are still canonical, and really are essential to understanding the unfolding plot of Hydrology.  I cannot recommend enough picking up Elegy if you get the chance, but to keep things simple and self-contained, I’ll do a quick summary here.  Spoilers to follow:

Batwoman, a.k.a. Kate Kane, is a military brat who got kicked out of the Academy for being lesbian and took up crime fighting using stolen military gear and her father’s Special Forces connections.  She ends up pitted against the ‘Religion of Crime’ and their psychotic leader, Alice.  In the final confrontation, Alice is revealed to be Kate’s twin sister, Beth Kane, who was kidnapped at the age of twelve and brainwashed to be the pseudo-messianic leader of the Religion.  It is strongly implied that Alice/Beth drowns in a river, and doesn’t survive. Kate retreats to her lair, blaming her father for not saving Beth when she was kidnapped, and herself for not saving her now.

As Hydrology opens, Kate is still dealing with the emotional trauma of Elegy.  She’s cut her father out of her life completely, taking on a new sidekick and a new case: a rash of mysterious child abductions at the hands of a ghost with power over water and the emotional state of its victims.  While the ghost is the primary antagonist of this first trade paperback, that story doesn’t get a lot of the focus.  Instead we see scenes from Batwoman’s street identity and an ongoing side story featuring Agent Cameron Chase of the Department of Extranormal Operations who has been tasked with identifying Batwoman.  The book culminates in a big reveal that links the kidnappings to a new criminal organization, but that plot extends into the next volume, so I won’t spoil it here.

The cluttered narrative works surprisingly well, refocusing what could have been another standard superhero adventure into a compelling story about Kate Kane, the woman behind the mask.  Like other members of the Batman meta-franchise, the psychology of the person is just as, if not more important than the superheroics.  At the same time, Kane sometimes seems to take a back seat to her own story, with Agent Chase, Flamebird and even Batman taking center stage for extended sequences.  I can’t decide if this is a good or a bad thing.  The extraneous subplots detract from the vivid depiction of Batwoman, but they also provide crucial insight into the developing story arc and help to contrast Batwoman with the rest of the New 52 Batman characters.

Regardless of the strengths and weaknesses of the story, the principle reason to pick up Hydrology, and by extension Elegy, has to be J.H. Williams, III’s phenomenal artwork.  Both of his Batwoman books have been spectacular examples of both style and layout.  In Hydrology the stand out features are the interplay of Batwoman’s bright reds with the blues and blue-greens of La Llorona, and the unique double-page frames.  It’s hard to describe just how much the style of the book enhances the experience without being able show off the pages here.  Williams, III has a unique aesthetic that brings an enormous level of detail to the individual frames whiles simultaneously playing with the bigger themes of the moment in the surrounding space.

One of the most striking pages features detectives talking about the origins of La Llorona in frames derived from the hair and tattered clothes of a ‘Dia de los Muertos’ inspired skeletal figure that sits in the center of a two-page layout.  Two pages later, Kate confronts her father in small frames that are superimposed over images of the events of Elegy.  Williams, III makes use of dozens of unique and interesting framing tools, including water, air bubbles, the Batwoman icon and even the stylized sweep of Batwoman’s cape.

Taken on its own, Hydrology is a middling literary work backed up by some truly spectacular artwork.  Where it shines is in the continuation of Elegy’s strong storyline and brilliant character work.  Kate Kane is easily the most compelling mainstream superhero that hasn’t already been explored to death.  She’s fresh, interesting and only slightly clichéd.  While there are a few complaints to be made about DC’s depiction of lesbians (always cops or bruisers) Batwoman is taking steps to diversify the superheroine line up, and does so with style and intelligence.

Posted on January 31, 2013, in Cannonball Reviews and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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