Sunday, 24 January 2016

Batwoman Book 1: Hydrology (#0,#1-5)

"I will soldier on" - Batwoman

Although this is officially Batwoman's first volume set in the New 52 universe, it actually follows on from her pre-New 52 run in Detective comics which was collected as Batwoman: Elegy and which I covered here.  In that story we were told the story of how Kate Kane became Batwoman after being dishonerably discharged from the army for being homosexual.  She tangled with a villain called Alice who turned out to be her twin sister Beth who was kidanpped when she was a child although her Army officer father Jacob had told her she was dead which leads to a big rift between the previously close father and daughter.  Kate Kane in her civilian identity had also met the lesbian Gotham police officer Maggie Sawyer at an offical function and had a dance and flirt with her.  Now the big change with this new series is that Greg Rucka had left DC and so is no longer on writing duties, alas.  JH Williams III still provides most of the art and shares a writing credit as well with W. Haden Blackman.  Kicking off this collection is an odd little zero issue, not to be confused with the zero issues that every DC comic ran at the start of the New 52's second year.  I believe it was an aborted start to a Batwoman series post the Detective Comics run before it was decided to delay the start of the series and make it part of the New 52 launch leaving this issue orphaned as it were.  So having it collected here for completists sake is a nice touch.  So without further ado, let's dive into the murky and somewhat magical world of Batwoman.
Batman stalks Batwoman.
Issue zero is an reintroduction to Batwoman and Kate Kane.  Narrated by Batman/Bruce Wayne it covers him stalking Batwoman at night and Kate Kane during the day in varying disguises to support his hypothesis that they are the same person.  The pages are split horizontally in half, JH Williams III illustrates the Batwoman half and Amy Reeder the Kate Kane part.  Their styles mesh well, and in fact Amy Reeder will take on a future arc in volume two giving JH Williams III some breathing room and allow him to keep his output to the highest standard.

The Batwoman sequence is her fighting the Religion of Crime on a dockside over a sarcophagus which I assume either contains or she thinks contains the remains of her sister Alice who fell in the harbour at the end of Elegy.  Batman assesses her fighting styles with approval and notes she appears to use military training.  When it looks like she might have met her match and he thinks about stepping in, she uses some tech to overload the cybernetic arm of her attacker.  Unfortunately for her, the Religion of Crime keep her away from the sarcophagus long enough for it to leave by boat. 
Kate visiting her mother and sister's grave.
During his tailing her by day in disguise he notes she likes to go clubbing and hook up with chicks for one night stands.  He knows her mother was killed when she was young and her sister too (although we the reader know her sister survived).  He notes this tragedy is definitely an incentive to become Batwoman.

Lurking outside her building he sees that her father comes regularly but she refuses to let him in.  While she is clubbing, he feels a little envious that she can let herself go "in a way I can't".  Next day he contrives to bump into her in a bookshop and sees she is reading a book on Exorcism.  Finally he decides on one last test.  He comes up behind her and swings a baseball bat at her head.  She predicts the attack, flips and kicks him in the face.  Impressed he runs off, he decides his theory is correct, Kate Kane is Batwoman. and he thinks:

Batman: "...She has the one thing I cannot teach. That hole inside her that can never be filled, no matter how many criminals she takes down... it gives her the drive to do this.  It's time she and I have a serious discussion about her future.
La Llorona, the Weeping Woman.
The story begins proper with a look at a ghostly female figure.  She is abducting some children as their parents watch helplessly.  They are recounting this to Maggie Sawyer after the fact.  Apparently Batwoman crashed in but was too late, "she said she would save them, Batwoman promised" they say.  The kids and the woman vanish and Batwoman assures them she'll "save them all".

Maggie then tells them that twelve kids including their own have been abducted, she says it would be unethical for her to give them the same promise Batwoman did.  "But I promise I won't ever stop looking".  She takes them out to the lobby and they leave.  Waiting there for her is Kate Kane.

Kate notices a photo of Renee Montoya on the wall of rememberance for cops killed in the line of duty on the wall, and says to Maggie that she and Renee were involved for a while.  Now this is where the book strikes a somewhat sour note for me.  Although he didn't create the character, Greg Rucka in Gotham Central and later the maxi-series 52 spent a lot of time developing her, including having her outed as gay, getting involved with Kate, leaving the police force and becoming the new The Question.  So The New 52 not only undoes her becoming The Question, it also has her killed off as if to spite Greg Rucka for leaving DC (I think the parting was less than amicable).  Now when there was a backlash against this, DC said they'd bring Renee back when the time was right.  However she never returned until after The New 52 officially ended (yay!) after Convergence. She's now a Gotham PD cop again, her missing time being accounted for as being in Seattle.  Her relationship status with Kate Kane in the new continuity is as yet unknown as Batwoman was included in the mass wave of cancellations that ended The New 52 (boo!).
Kate Kane flirts with Maggie Sawyer.
Anyway, Kate asks Maggie if she wants to come out for "beer and a band?"  Maggie says it beats another night in a cop bar.  We cut to later on where Kate is getting into her Batwoman outfit and her cousin Bette into a pair of plain overalls.  When Bette asks where her "Flamebird" outfit is, Kate says she burned it.  Bette sulkily says she has a spare.  For now though she is going on patrol with Kate in a plain outfit.  She wants to know why Kate isn't talking to her father, Kate says it's not up for discussion.

We then are introduced to Agent Chase who works for the D.E.O or "Department of Extranormal Operations".  Her boss is Director Bones, a skeleton in a suit who smokes cigars.  He has some work for her in Gotham.  He wants to find out more about the Operation Jacob Kane covered up in Book One.  There is a new terrorist threat appearing there called "Medusa" and finally she is to discover Batwoman's real identity.
Agent Cameron Chase.
Back in Gotham, Maggie and Commisioner Gordon are at the site where some drowned kids have washed up.  This makes it six drowned, thirteen missing.  The only lead Maggie has is a local legend called "La Llorona".  A woman who let her kids drown then drowned herself and came back as a vengeful spirit.

Kate and Bette are back after their night patrol. Kate says she thinks Bette isn't taking things seriously and not pulling her weight.  Then her father appears.  She chews him out over lying about her sister then tells him to get lost.  Later that night as Batwoman she checks out the place where the drowned kids were found and Batman approaches her, "I have a proposition for you" he says.

Later Kate and Better are out crimefighting and Kate says she told Batman "I'd think about it."  She says Batman Incorporated is "either a stroke of brilliance or totally insane."  She doesn't like the idea of taking orders from Batman:

Batwoman:
"I don't even want to think about the daddy issues that might imply."

Bette says her father will keep calling on Kate until she agrees to talk to him.  Kate says Bette gets either her or her father in her life and she needs to decide which soon, or "I'm going to take the decision away from you."
Kate and Bette fight crime.
Next day Maggie is confronted by Agent Chase who tells her Maggie is at the top of her "who is Batwoman" list.  She hands over her card so Maggie can contact her to prove otherwise or suggest an alternative.  Later in a church, the weeping woman La Llorona abducts another child.

Maggie and Kate are on a date flirting heavily with each other.  Maggie tells her about having to deal with the Weeping Woman while having a government bureaucrat breathing down her neck who thinks she is Batwoman.  Maggie then says she'd arrest Batwoman for intefering in her case.  Then she says "can we get out of here?"  They walk back to Kate's place and kiss goodnight.  Kate says she wants to see her again soon and they part.
More Kate and Maggie flirting.
Maggie is called to a crime scene where Agent Chase is waiting.  Some of the dead are were-people from the Religion of Crime.  Maggie doesn't recognise the uniforms of the other dead bodies.  Maggie speculates on how it all went down.  That the initial victim had his hand chopped off before being dragged away by one of the sides, but it is unclear which.  The watching Batwoman says "nice work babe".
Batman appears behind her and she tells him she hasn't made up her mind about joining his organisation.  She asks him what Agent Chase wants with her, he says Chase will tear Gotham apart to find her real identity.  He also advises her to keep Flamebird out of the Weeping Woman case.  "Murdered sidekicks tend to come back from the dead as super villians."

In a house on the pier, Batwoman is having a look round.  She is surprised by Maggie but says to her, "It started in the boat house didn't it?" before escaping.  Maggie calls Chase saying she knows where she can find Batwoman, who is currently exploring under the pier, and who then gets dragged under the water by a mysterious force.
Batwoman faces her past underwater.
As she is pulled under a voice says she is "such a sad little girl" and that "I can taste the deep scars on your soul."  She says Kate can leave it all behind and "you can sleep with me here forever."  But Batwoman breaks free and surfaces gasping for air.

She clambers out of the water and is greeted by Agent Chase and her people.  She says Batwoman is wanted in connection with a terrorist attack, that being the situation in Book One her father covered up.  Batwoman breaks free and knocks out the men guarding her motorbike and races off on it.

She's missed a date with Maggie.  She arrives back home and tells Bette she is done trying to train her, she "doesn't have what it takes."  She cruelly says that the only thing Bette ever lost was a beauty pageant.  Bette slaps her and runs off saying she's a control freak.

Kate: "You're a bitch Kate Kane".

She says sadly as she sits on the bed.  Meanwhile Agent Chase has gone after Jacob Kane next.  She asks about the cover-up but he refuses to speak about it.  She needles him about the way his daughter is living her life right now and if he is proud of her.  He says he will be proud when "she starts doing something worthwhile with her life."  He then asks Chase if her father would be proud of her and leaves.
Bette suits up to crime fight despite Kate's rejection.
She calls Director Bones and he says to forget about the father for now and concentrate on the sidekick next.  We then see Bette getting dressed up as Flamebird.  Kate goes to Maggie's place to apologise for standing her up, then ends up crying in her arms.  She says Maggie is beautiful and they passionately kiss. Then sex happens.
 Ah....
...hmmm..
...hrmmm..
...sigh.

As Maggie and Kate make tasteful black and white love, Flamebird is fighting La Llorona and a large man with a sycthe for a hand.  He guts her and leaves her for dead.
Flamebird meanwhile is nearly killed.
In the morning Maggie and Kate discuss the case of the missing kids.  Meanwhile Chase finds Flamebird just clinging to life and has her taken someplace else.  Batwoman is speaking with a woman who worked at the morgue when two kids who were killed when playing in a disused boathouse were bought in.  Apparently the mother still reeked of gin when she came to identify them.  Her name was Maria Salvaje.

Back with Agent Chase she tricks the barely alive Bette into giving her a name so she doesn't die alone. "Kate Kane" whispers Bette.  Chase says that's an interesting coincidence, then orders Bette to be dropped off at Gotham Central Hospital.
Tricked by Agent Chase.
Batwoman has found Maria's father and he says she drowned herself to be with her children.  Agent Chase meets with Director Bones who has come to Gotham in person because she has "unmasked one of Batman's shadow soldiers..."

Director Bones: "...there's no way I'm missing what comes next."

Batwoman goes to the boathouse and calls for Maria, who appears saying "you can't be here.  This is desecration.  This place is sacred."  Batwoman says it is the site of her suffering.  Maria says she will share her suffering with everyone starting with Batwoman.  She gets into Batwoman's head, Alice/Beth bursts out of Batwoman's body.  Maria says "now face what you have lost".
Batwoman faces down La Llorona.
Batwoman manages to break free of Maria's control saying she is not responsible for what happened to her sister, but Maria did choose, "to be a drunken careless mother".  She needs to look at what she has become.  In distress, Maria says "they made me do things".  Batwoman says she can atone by telling her where the missing kids are.  Maria turns back into a normal looking woman and fades away, just before she disappears she says:

Maria: "The others are in Medusa's coils. But you can still save them.  Please save them".

Then she is gone.  "Who the hell is Medusa?" says Batwoman to herself.  Then back at home she finds Director Bones and Agent Chase in her flat.  She goes to attack Chase who fends her off saying they know she is Batwoman.

She shows her Flamebird's blood-stained costume and tell her they found Bette bleeding out in an alley and that she is now in a stable condition at Gotham General.  Director Bones gets to the point, he wants Kate to work for the D.E.O and dismantle Medusa.  When she asks what it is, he says it is a criminal cartel getting a foothold in Gotham.  If she joins them she gets access to technology not even invented yet and her father won't go to prison for orchestrating the cover-up of the events of Book one.
Director Bones gives Kate no choice.
Thus blackmailed, Kate goes and sits by Bette's sickbed.  Batman is there as well, and Kate doesn't seem bothered he knows her identity now.  Batman says her working for the D.E.O will put her at odds with him.  She says she knows what lines don't get crossed.  Batman says Bones will "eventually force her into an impossible choice."  The book ends with Batwoman telling the parents from the start of the book that the Weeping Woman is gone and she will do everything in her power to bring their children home.

This is a good start to Batwoman's New 52 run.  It goes without saying that JH Williams III's art elevates the thing as a whole, even if the writing isn't as tight and focused as it was under Greg Rucka.  Giving Batwoman a more "magical" enemy to face off against makes her stand out from the run of the mill criminals and psychos that the rest of the Bat-family deal with and of course give JH Williams III carte blanche to go crazy depicting the ghostly and monstrous across gorgeous double page spreads.  Agent Chase, the D.E.O and Director Bones aren't new characters, in fact JH Williams III drew a miniseries they starred in early in his career and which I may feature on the blog at some point in the future.  The romance and instant connection between Maggie and Kate is well written and the love scene treated as erotic and sexy, rather than tacky and explotative.  Now I know some people will say that any sex scene between two women is pandering to the male gaze, but guess what?  Us lesbians quite like seeing two women fucking as well and I don't see why our fun has to be curtailed just because we share predilections with heterosexual men.  Anyway, Batwoman at this point was one of the high points of the New 52, gorgeous to look at and an enjoyable read, roll on the next volume "To Drown The World" which continues the hunt for the lost children and what exactly is Medusa.

5 comments:

  1. So... 'being in Seattle' is the same as 'being dead' :-D

    Why is Kate Kane's skin so abnormally pale? She's as white as a sheet of top-quality printing paper, as if she didn't have a drop of blood in her body (which would be handy for being Batwoman, I must admit).

    Batwoman is my favourite DC superhero. It's refreshing to have a female hero who isn't a 'girl' or a 'miss', and who has a male counterpart but isn't at all subservient to him. Plus she dresses more sensibly than Wonder Woman, and she has a motorbike. Only, now that 'don't ask, don't tell' has been confined to the dustbin of history, doesn't she need a different origin?

    Annoyingly, that fifty-shades-of-grey sex scene doesn't tell me if the rest of Kate Kane's skin is as white as her face.

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  2. Hey at least it wasn't Detroit!

    I have no idea why Kate Kane is so pale. You'd think it'd make identifying her as Batwoman easy. So I prefer to think of it as more of a stylistic thing and that in the world of the comic she isn't as pale.

    She is a great superhero, I hope she makes a comeback in her own series soon. I think DADT is still recent enough that it just about works as an origin if she was one of the last victims of it and spent longer as an aimless party girl. But it will need to change in a couple of years.

    She is a natural redhead and they tend to be pale all over, so she probably is.

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  3. I enjoyed the black and white images! :D mind u with JH Williams its all awesome to look at. he really knows how to make water look wet if you kno what I mean.

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  4. I know what you mean, esteemed commenter G :-)

    When J. H. Williams draws water, it practically makes your fingers damp when you turn the page.

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  5. Yes, I quite agree with both of my esteemed commenters, I think a measure of how good an artist is, is how they render fire, water and fur (doesn't have to be photoreal, you can do that stuff well cartoon style too). Also I am reading my baby sister's copy of Sandman Overture (which I gave her for Xmas) and it's bloody amazing looking. The words ain't too shabby either :p

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