It is with great trepidation that one goes into the fourth volume of New 52 Batwoman, collecting issues 18-24. Why, you may ask, is that the case when, once again, the writing courtesy of Williams and Blackman is impeccable and the art work from Trevor McCarthy is outstanding, not to mention those eye catching colours from Guy Major? Why the trepidation when this ongoing serial scales new heights with a seven issue run that moves with such ferocious pace, hits home with its emotions and builds to one hell of a final page that leaves, once again, the wait for the next issue/volume a tough one, as it always is when reading these collections?
Well, it may have something to do with the fact that we’re not going to see how this story was meant to be resolved, but I’ll get to all of that later, let’s just stick with the good stuff for right now, shall we, because for seven issues, Batwoman hits home run after home run (not that I know much about baseball), with each chapter of this volume leaving you sweaty palmed for the next chapter/issue until you’re left with the frustration of an epic cliffhanger that leaves you gasping in anticipation for what will happen next.
There’s a real sense of the story moving into new and great places with This Blood is Thick. Many of the stories that have been developing since Hydrology come to a head here. Bette has found her feet again as Hawkfire, Kate doses herself with Jonathan Crane’s fear toxin in front of Maggie to make amends for when she dosed Maggie herself with it, Jacob’s tutelage of Bette and Kate is discovered by Catherine, meaning the family dynamic at the heart of the series has expanded (and how brilliant would it have been to see that develop in future issues) and after only including Batman in brief cameos throughout, here he makes a fully fledged appearance that ups the thriller ante quite considerably, although as such, his eventual confrontation with Kate culminates in that end of issue cliffhanger which Williams and Blackman will never get to resolve, which sucks because as cliffhangers go, it’s a brilliant one that lays groundwork for interesting things in the future that, given how great the writing has been here, it’s a damn shame we’re never going to see what direction the talented duo would have taken it to.
Given how World’s Finest ended, amazingly Williams and Blackman don’t immediately follow through with their cliffhanger for that issue where we witness how Maggie handled the proposal and finding out Kate is Batwoman. There’s a sense that time has passed, and although both characters are moving into a new apartment together, things are a little tense until Kate injects herself with the fear toxin, a move that fully heals their relationship and leads to another proposal in a romantic moment that is so bitter-sweet and moving that it amazes me that so much heart and soul can almost bleed from the page. I mean, it puts many a Hollywood romantic comedy/drama to shame with being both life affirming, real and achingly romantic.
In fact, it’s Williams and Blackman’s evident love of these characters that has made their run such a wonderful read. For all the weird supernatural goings on and the brilliantly crazy surreal twists and turns, at the heart of their writing has been a story about their characters and their own struggles that go alongside the horror-thrills. Kate and Maggie, Bette going from Flamebird to Hawkfire via her rehabilitation, Jacob’s attempts to help her and having no choice but to allow Catherine to help, and with This Blood is Thick, the reintroduction of Kate’s sister Alice. The two page spread which portrays their reunion is beautiful beyond words, and full credit to artist Trevor McCarthy, the finishes from Francesco Francavilla and Guy Major’s colours, all of whom combine to create a truly vibrant and emotional work of art. I feel like I never mention their work enough here, so let me take this moment to salute this trio of talents in visually conveying the story telling as they do here, and nothing represents their work as brilliantly here as this moment. There’s very little dialogue, it’s all done with images that are so smooth and fluid that it feels like you’re watching actual movement from one panel to another and those colours…damn…those colours. There is no other way to describe it. It’s…art.
As the volume goes on, the story escalates and builds suspense brilliantly, with so many threads coming together so well. DEO Director Bones lays out his eagerness to get his hands on Batman, whilst their eventual trap involves releasing various rogue gallery members into the city, including Mad Hatter, The Riddler, Poison Ivy and Bane. It’s an epic set up and enough to carry a story on its own, and whilst various “Bat” titles are brilliant at doing epic event story telling like this, Williams and Blackman are merely using this as a means to tell a different story, and at the heart of it is a lead character simply wanting to get her sister back. The volume ends just when things are heating up and the final page, hell, the final panel, teases an epic pay off that will not be delivered to us by the writers who have brought us to that place.
Now, I could write at lengths about the ins and outs of the decision that went into the eventual exit from the series of Williams and Blackman, hell, I could be here until next week writing about it, but as it is, it happened and when Kate flies into her fifth volume, it’s going to be different, and I’ll not pass judgement until I’ve read it. As it is, as brilliant as it is, it’s hard to get to the end and not feel frustrated at the “creative differences” that sprang up between these two wonderful writers and DC Comics. Whilst one could argue that the idea of a comic book hero not being able to be married because they are not allowed to be happy is a plausible one, it’s still hard to not smell an element of crap about this reasoning, especially if you look at DC’s recent, and, admittedly brilliant, Rebirth which sees Superman (a guy, of course) married to Lois Lane (a woman, of course) and having a child together (of course).
If I start on this path I’ll be here all day, but as it is, these “creative differences” did lead to one of the best writing duos leaving a series that they clearly wrote to absolute brilliance, that took creative risks, wasn’t afraid to take a part of the DC Universe (in this case Gotham City) and filter it through a different side of weird. They did their own thing and didn’t feel the need to always cross over with the other “Bat” titles, a decision which allowed Kate’s story, and that of Maggie and Bette and Chase and Bones, to feel different, like its own entity, and they saved a fully fledged appearance from the Dark Knight himself until it was truly necessary, when the story fully demanded it, and when they did the results were spectacular to the point that you’ll want more, but that lump in your throat means you know that you’re not going to get it, at least not in the way that Williams and Blackman would have done it.
Williams and Blackman’s work here is comparable with other era defining takes on characters delivered by other truly talented writers; Geoff Johns on The Flash, Gail Simone on Wonder Woman and Batgirl (the latter being something I intend to cover in a future Comic Flashback), Scott Snyder on Batman, Grant Morrison on Superman, Frank Miller on Daredevil or Batman, Williams and Blackman deserve to be mentioned in the same breath in relation to Batwoman. They took a supporting character from the “Bat” family and made her someone central, brilliantly developed and placed her in stories that were unique and brilliant, they gave her a love story that was brilliantly handled and easy to emotionally invest in, everything was complimented by some of the best art work to grace a comic book page, and each issue, each volume, got better and better. It’s not just sad to lose work of this calibre, it’s sad to think of what we’ve also potentially lost, of the great stories that were to come. 24 issues is not to be scoffed at, it’s two years worth of work after all, but you can never help but want more and more especially when the work is as brilliant as this is.
Amazingly the story telling going on here isn’t something that can be easily broken up in separate stories. The 24 issues that Williams and Blackman wrote amounted to one large story arc that kept developing, kept going places, that never lagged and got better and better with each issue, each page and each panel. They weren’t afraid to take chances, to go places some comics would be a little afraid to go. Sometimes a single panel on Batwoman had the ability to make you go “what the hell” in the most amazing way because you knew you weren’t going to get anything else like it, especially in mainstream comics, and that this level of work comes to an end here, cut down, seemingly in the middle of the story, is a damn shame.