If there is one thing I adore in a good love story, it’s a “meet cute”. The best movies, television shows and books that dabble in that thing called love, really know how to sell the idea of a soon-to-be-couple meeting under the most adorable circumstances. Comics are no exception to this. Superman meeting Lois Lane for the first time by flying in to save her. Batman meeting Catwoman on a darkened roof of Gotham after she’s stolen something. Wonder Woman finding Steve Trevor washed up on the beaches of Themyscira.
Sorry to all of them, those iconic, world-famous heroes that they are, because Kate Kane and Maggie Sawyer have you beat. A high-class party where the men are wearing tuxedos, the women in dresses, Kate Kane shows up in a tuxedo. As does Maggie Sawyer, and although their flirtation and interaction in Elegy is only for a few pages, in particular a gorgeous full-page panel made up of them dancing, with musical notes surrounding them, you cannot help but fall in love with the idea of this couple right from the off. There is something genuinely sweeping and gorgeous about JH Williams’ artwork in that moment that you just want to take the page right out of the book and hang it on your wall.
Now, of course, I have gone a little bit backwards with my reading of the modern Batwoman. I started with the New 52 run, and am only now getting to the introduction of her backstory, which took up Detective Comics issues 854-860, and which ran from August 2009 to February 2010. Amazingly, I never felt confused or lost when reading the New 52 run. In fact, in reading Elegy, which was written by Greg Rucka, I felt like I was reading a long-awaited prequel to the story I just read, and boy does Elegy work.
As I’ve said, not written by JH Williams this time, although his art work is there for all to see and it’s so satisfying to see he had his gorgeous, grandiose, atmospheric, gothic style down to a tee even at this early stage, Elegy was written by Greg Rucka, who had handled Batwoman’s part in weekly mini-series 52 and it has to be said, both Rucka and Williams clearly saw this character and her part of Gotham City in very similar ways.
I have fallen so much in love with how Williams and Blackman had developed and told Kate’s story over their run on the character that the idea of reading another writer’s take on Kate has left me trepidatious to the extent that I am practically afraid to pick up Volume 5: Webs, which made the idea of going back and reading Elegy that much more durable, even if I was still a little nervous reading someone else’s handling of Kate’s story. I’m glad I did go to Elegy, and I owe Mr Rucka an apology for being a little wary, because his writing here is wonderful, honest and at times beautiful.
His story telling is raw in a wonderful manner and both he and Williams/Blackman clearly saw Kate in the same way. The author may be different this time, but this is clearly the same world and characters that I fell in love with for four trade paperbacks.
Even more satisfying was seeing the events that are frequently mentioned throughout the Williams and Blackman run actually take place here. The storyline with Alice, which could potentially be ruined by knowing the eventual twist, now takes on a tragic, horrible, inevitability that is hard to look away from. The flashbacks that take up the second part of the story, which are drawn in a softer way than the present day sequences, are even harder to look at due to the tragic centre and the love and care the reader has built up for these characters, Kate in particular, but the storytelling is so brilliant and the artwork so perfect that it’s hard to take your eyes away. If anything, the softer artwork doesn’t even lessen the blows of the violence that befalls these characters we’ve come to care for.
Knowing the fates that are going to befall Kate’s mum and sister are stomach churning when we see the relationship between the sisters and the honesty of their interactions with their mum and dad. As much as you don’t want to, you cannot for one second stop reading when the inevitable happens and, like Kate, despite her dad’s pleas, one finds it incredibly difficult to not look at the horrible carnage that has befallen the Kane family.
The “present day” scenes are superb, the action thrilling and the eventual threat against Gotham City a perfect blend of the real and the fantastic, but, for me anyway, the flashbacks are where the real meat of the story is. To see Kate’s development into the hero that we know and love is superb. I would use words like engaging and honest, but this goes beyond that, it goes beyond just being simply engaging. To have character development and story-telling like this in a comic book is downright masterful. Even more brilliantly, Rucka isn’t afraid to show Kate’s flaws and her emotional infallibility. Her inability to keep a steady relationship going, or the part of her life where she is directionless after being discharged from the army before finding her destiny in that Gotham City alleyway, makes her one of the most believable characters that I’ve ever read within the pages of a comic book. It’s a superb element that I’m glad to see would find itself being expanded further when Williams and Blackman were on writing duties.
The manner in which Rucka handles Kate’s discharge from the army is…words cannot do it justice actually. It’s honest, real (all too real, in fact) and there is a quiet, subtle, anger to it that is mesmerizing. The writing, and the book itself, doesn’t get on its soapbox or anything (although it would be entirely justified in doing so, don’t get me wrong), but the fact that it conveys the wrongness of the situation, and the manner that it plays the reaction of Kate’s dad, is subtle and beautifully handled, just like everything involving this character does, from this, to those brilliantly crafted first four volumes of her New 52 instalments. The panels that keep playing off Kate’s reaction as she learns of her fate within the ranks and her realisation that this is the end of her time there are subtly and beautifully played. The removal of a ring has never felt as powerful as it does here whilst the way it holds on Kate’s face before she says those words is truly unforgettable.
With this level of storytelling sophistication, gorgeous artwork and amazing characterisation, Batwoman: Elegy is a refreshingly adult work, in the truest sense, without pushing any of the adult nature down the audience’s throat. It’s adult in the way it deals with its themes, ideas and characters, and whilst there is an element of sex and nudity, it’s all done in good taste, without pushing flesh or being gratuitous. In other words, it’s never exploitative and in this day and age, that is to be commended.
I try not to use words like “masterpiece” when reviewing, I feel like it’s too obvious a thing to do and lazy, but to hell with it, i’m going to be obvious and maybe even a little bit lazy. Elegy is…a MASTERPIECE!