Greg Rucka (Author) & JH Williams III (Illustrator)
Comics / Superheroes / Bat Family
Just when I start thinking I'm becoming a curmudgeon with my bad reviews, I seem to always be saved by something like Batwoman: Elegy. I think I finally figured out why it took me months to read this comic. I kept opening it up to the first page and would become so dumbstruck by the absolutely gorgeous art that I would never read the words or turn the page. The color palette of this book is swathed in a brilliant red and black scheme, a color combination pointed out to symbolize the colors of war. And if the colors and drawings were brilliant, the panel layouts are mesmerizing, utilized consistently to contribute to the storytelling in a way I don't think I've seen before. There was a constant sense of movement in the stationary images. Fight sequences moved so fluidly across the page that my brain turned them into movie scenes instead of pictures on a page. This book is EPIC!
Batwoman: Elegy compiles a seven issue story from Detective Comics, generally a Batman title, during the aftermath of Bats apparent death. I don’t usually read capes-and-tights comics, so I don’t know how big of a spoiler that is, except I’m pretty sure Bats has “died” multiple times over the course of his very long history. Anyway, it focuses on Batwoman, who stepped up to fill in during his absence (which makes the very brief appearance of a Batman at the very beginning a little odd).
Kate Kane, who is the current flame haired Batwoman, is my new favorite superhero. She is sexy as hell and strong, but completely human and emotional. While she fights for the safety of the people of Gotham City, she's also currently searching for the reason she was kidnapped and brutally stabbed a year before by a creepy cult called the Religion of Crime. Of course being a crime-fighting vigilante superhero, she has a tragic past that repeatedly comes back to haunt her, but at least her father, Colonel Jacob Cane, is firmly on her side and acts a bit like her very own Oracle.
Our main bad guy, Alice, looks like a female Joker crossed with a Victorian Kewpie doll. She speaks in riddles that make absolutely no sense and believes herself to be Alice Liddell, the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland. Her insanity and lack of coherency make her even more of a difficult villain to face. I mean, no comic book villain is ever the type of person that can be reasoned with, but Alice combines her crazy with a heavy dose of disregarding human life. She doesn’t care if anyone dies because she’s in a dream world that might not even be real.
The first four issues tell the story of the present day with Batwoman and Alice facing each other in conflict a few times. The following three issues work out Kate’s back story – her childhood traumas, her personal family tragedy, her experiences in the military, and her years between leaving the military and becoming Batwoman. It fills in a lot of story that would usually not be told all at once, but it helped develop Kate into a fully realized character in a short amount of time. There are reasons why she does what she does, putting herself in danger, sometimes needlessly so, to stop the bad guys. Her personal relationships with both her father and other secondary characters gave her a base in reality that I often find missing with the more mainstream superheroes. I could imagine this woman existing – almost.
I haven’t ever read anything written by Greg Rucka before, but I will definitely be seeking out more from him. His ability to make a superhero character believable is outstanding. Not only that but even with my preconceived notions and high expectations, there were moments when I was genuinely surprised. Then of course there’s the brilliant, gorgeous, mesmerizing artwork by JH Williams III. I don’t think I’ve seen this type of page layout used so consistently and as fluidly as in this book. It’s not your usually square panels read from right to left and then on to the next page. There are many two-page spreads that have individual panels with a bolder prominent image in the foreground or background, which is a great way to show off action scenes. There were a few two-page layouts, however, where I got a bit muddled on how I was meant to read the page until I found myself reading panels out of order.
One of the gorgeous fluid two page spreads - Batwoman kicks ass
Yes, there were references to things I didn't understand, but it didn't often hurt the storytelling. Some research after I finished have led me to the year-long 52 series of comics for the history of the Religion of Crime and its relationship to Batwoman, and I fear I might be heading down a DC rabbit hole. If you don’t hear from me for a while, I’m probably huddled in a chair somewhere twitching, buried in DC comic trades trying to consume seventy years of comic history. It’s been nice knowing you.
Anyway, back to Batwoman: Elegy, thankfully there’s a narrative prologue that gives a brief summary of the events immediately preceding the story in this graphic novel, which glosses over events referenced later. Being me, I needed a lot more background on the Religion of Crime and the shape shifter monster people that pop in and out of the story. What is the Religion of Crime based around? Are they witches (there are references to covens)? How does a crazy sociopath with a Louis Carroll obsession become their leader? What's with the octopus guy?
If you follow comic news or even some mainstream press outlets, there was a bit of a to-do when this series first came out. Kate Kane is a lesbian and the comic never shies away from it. In both her background story and in present day, there are scenes of her love life, but nothing ever graphic or vulgar. To be honest, for a superhero comic, everything was refrained. There isn’t really any nudity or disgusting violence, though there is blood spill and a getting-out-of-the-shower panel.
Overall I’m so very excited for the upcoming Batwoman comic, even more than I was before reading Elegy. I’m curious to see how the book develops with Williams picking up co-writing duties with W. Haden Blackman, who I'm not familiar with either. Will Kate Kane stay such a wonderful three dimensional character? I hope so because if the writing stays as great as the artwork should be, this could become my very first must buy monthly superhero comic.
Solid superhero comic with gorgeous art, wonderfully developed characters; tons of background missing that I wished I had; occasional issues with two-page layouts with non-linear/traditional panel order