During the course of Batwoman:World’s Finest, the story breaks for an interlude to concentrate a little on Maggie Sawyer. During this chapter of the story, Maggie ends up in a chapel, occupied by the parents of the missing children at the heart of this volume’s story, in what can only be described as the most honest and realistic depiction of a Catholic walking into a place of worship:
“Incense and candles and wood. The tight quiet. Shoes whispering against the floor. Hushed voices. Guilt.”
There is of course a little speck of hard-boiled detective styling to the dialogue, but just the description of “incense and candles and wood” and Maggie’s auto pilot behaviour of dipping her finger into a basin of holy water and blessing herself marks the moment as one of the most truthful moments that I’ve ever read in a comic book, to the extent that you can’t help but have that smell in your nostrils while reading it. Maybe it comes from being an Irish Catholic, but I know exactly what that smell is like.
That such a small but honest and real depiction comes during the course of a tale which sees our heroine Kate team up with the famed Amazonian Diana Prince to battle Medusa and a huge tentacled monster on the streets of Gotham City is a remarkable achievement and in many respects is indicative of what makes Batwoman and this comic book run as great as it is. For all the big and epic stuff going on here, J.H.Williams III and W.Haden Blackman aren’t afraid to focus on the small stuff either and it’s the small stuff that makes things feel more real.
With a title like World’s Finest, and this being DC of course, you know you’re getting a team up and instead of opting to team up Batwoman with any other member of the Batfamily, or of course the Dark Knight himself (there is a small one page cameo that is actually quite wonderful), Williams III and Blackman bring in Diana Prince herself, and the results are absolutely wonderful, with Kate and Diana making up for a brilliant partnership. Instead of opting for the usual “buddy cop” clichés, like having them at each other’s throats at first and then coming around to each other and leaving as best friends, Williams and Blackman have the two just get on with trying to defeat Medusa and find the missing kids that started this whole thing back in Volume 1. No fighting, no arguing, no pettiness, just straight down to the business of kicking ass and you know what? It’s brilliant and the fact that the two make a great partnership to read on the page is the icing on the cake.
Of course Kate is a great character on her own and is wonderful to spend company with reading, and surrounded by a wonderful bunch of supporting characters means that we don’t really need to bring in any of the “big guns”, especially from the DC Trinity, but to see Wonder Woman through the eyes of this particular duo of writers, especially given how they handle female characters (and this volume is a wonderful showcase for not only Kate and Diana, but also Maggie, Bette and Chase, all of whom get their moments to shine in some of the most cathartic comic book reading in recent memory), is wonderful. We’re with these characters every step of the way on their journey though World’s Finest and it all makes for wonderful reading.
Now, I love Wonder Woman. Like many I thought she was one of the best things about Batman v Superman:Dawn of Justice, I adored the will they/won’t they story line between her and Batman in Justice League and Justice League Unlimited and as for comics, Gale Simone’s run on the character, along with Jodi Picoult’s Love and Murder (a MUST READ, trust me on that) are sensational. There are however times when I feel like some writers just don’t “get” her. No doubt because of her strength and mythological background and stories, Wonder Woman, like New 52 Superman, has found herself at the mercy of writers and artists who just want a character who can fight and punch with brute force and whilst that is an integral part of her character, the portrayal of those elements seem to come at the cost of her femininity and her core strengths of being a wise and noble warrior, someone who is just as likely to think with her heart as much as she is with a sword. Williams III and Blackman truly get that.
Wonder Woman is a graceful and noble presence throughout. She kicks ass, shows restraint and great nobility and is drawn to beautiful standards courtesy of Williams, returning to art duties for most of the volume, with Trevor McCarthy doing the equally wonderful interludes. There is nothing brute or ugly about her here, both in terms of how she is drawn and how she is written. The most key part of the story is when both Kate and Diana encounter Pegasus, who has been tortured to the point of physical damage by Falchion. In turn for giving them information, he asks Wonder Woman to kill him so as not to live in pain anymore, a wish that Diana grants. Afterwards, as she walks away, we see that she is crying over the weight of her decision, tears that she tries to convince herself are due to the heat and fire coming from Pegasus’ remains which Kate cremates after his death, both of whom are deeply confused over whether or not the right thing was done in the end.
For a volume in a comic book series dealing with the supernatural, mythology and characters such as Bloody Mary, Medusa and a director of the DEO who is effectively a cigar smoking, walking skeleton, that Williams and Blackman can take the time for small quiet moments like this is wonderful and gives a semblance of believability and poignancy to what are highly charged, epic events going on around them. It grounds the tale, which becomes increasingly bigger and epic with each turn of the page, into something that is actually believable and plausible, even when the streets of Gotham are covered in giant tentacles and supernatural menaces threatening to destroy it.
Amazingly as well, this is a volume that pushes female characters front and centre in a way which feels pretty damn unique. Other male characters such as Kate’s father and Harvey Bullock are almost literally pushed to the side, with all of the attention and focus put onto Kate, Diana, Bette and Maggie. We see the story through them, hear their thoughts and feelings, and we even get to see events from Medusa’s point of view, bearing witness to her thoughts when she shows up for the action packed climax. The placing of female characters in such a way just adds to the revolutionary spirit of the title. There is no call to Batman at the end of this, there is no call to Superman either, which would have been an easy way out to resolve the chaos that transpires come the final volume. Wonder Woman is there and that is enough. This is, and always will be Kate’s story and Williams and Blackman don’t compromise on that, even with an Amazonian hanging around. Diana slots in nicely to the tale and despite being an A-List character, one of the “big three” of course, they don’t allow her to overshadow Kate in her own story, as it should be. She is a rank equal, fighting alongside other well developed female characters of which Kate is forever at the centre.
We do get one fleeting glimpse of Batman, but it comes at the end of the first interlude which is effectively Kate’s goodbye letter to her father in case anything happens to her, an interlude that details Kate’s past and the losses of her mother and twin sister Alice, in beautiful, heartbreaking style, that shock you with bursts of unexpected violence and one genuinely shocking plot twist that thankfully lessens the impact of its body count.
After all the weirdness and darkness of this and the proceeding two volumes, it looks as if we’re about to end on a hopeful note. The kids are saved, Diana goes back to Themyscira, her and Kate the best of friends, Bette has recuperated, is back in an even better costume and is attempting to return to normality and Kate has pretty much outed herself as Batwoman to Maggie through an in-costume marriage proposal. Of course it can’t be that easy and World’s Finest ends on a tantalising cliffhanger that will leave you shouting “what?” to the page and once again eager to see where this all could possibly be going.