Complex, emotionally rich and incredibly engaging, Batwoman’s New 52 run continues with greatness as the second volume, To Drown The World, taking in issues 6-11, sees writers J.H Williams III and W. Haden Blackman once again mine the character and her part of the Batman Universe with incredible story telling, realistic dialogue and character development that feels as if it’s stepped out of real life and into a comic book page, albeit one complete with horror leanings and supernatural thrills.
With Williams III taking a break from drawing duties with these six issues, it’s left to Amy Reeder and Trevor McCarthy to provide the images and Guy Major with the colours, and remarkably little change is felt. Although the art and colours are maybe a little less gothic this time around, it’s still full of atmosphere and compliments the words from its writers incredibly well and also still finds a way to include those remarkable full-page panels bursting with heart, soul, action, violence and imagination which are breathtaking to read and look at. Batwoman continues to be, in the shape of this second volume, a visually dynamic spectacle full of heart and soul.
The story telling here is a definite highlight about these six issues. Picking up where we left off in the first volume, To Drown The World continues with Kate now a fully fledged member of the Department of Extranormal Operations, frequently partnering up with Cameron Chase, a somewhat combustible working relationship if there ever was one, trying to stop MEDUSA, a criminal organisation that is kidnapping and murdering children through supernatural means. Williams and Blackman don’t spare us the details here, we are witness to key MEDUSA member Maro killing a child by means of drowning the first time we meet him, the child’s speech balloon carrying the anguish cry of “Mama”. Of course this is all part of his plan to turn the child’s mother into The Weeping Woman, the supernatural being who kickstarted the first volume, Hydrology. The panel depicting the child and her siblings submerged and dead in the water is deeply chilling and yet never feels gratuitously done, but carries a disturbing sense of horror and dread that is truly inescapable.
Whilst the story sounds somewhat simple enough when described, it’s the execution here that is remarkable. Instead of telling it in a linear fashion, the writing proceeds to do so in a non-linear way, jumping through its timeline, showing events from multiple points of view but in different time periods. Its makes this volume a little dense to chew on initially, but is very much worth it by the time the last chapter/issue begins, where everything comes together as one, and as with all great books/comics/television shows/movie series, the effect of the brilliance going on here just leaves you wanting more right away.
Once again the writing is not just a means to deliver great set pieces, it’s the characters and their arcs here that are the key, sweeping the story along and making it all that much more greater. The relationship between Kate and Maggie continues to be the emotional highlight, although the hospital scenes between Kate’s father and Bette manage to tug at the heartstrings as well. Kate and Maggie’s story continues to be the beating heart at the centre of the things, and whilst it’s doesn’t play as front and centre as it did in the first volume, the moments they share here continue to be a lovely depiction of love and romance in a surreal and deeply troubled world, the light amongst the darkness. Their conversations over whether or not to reveal their pasts feels pained and real, and is conveyed visually through the use of a remarkable full-page panel with boxes containing the conversation surrounding a larger image of the two right in the centre.
That’s one of the things I love about this title so much. It’ll not just devote a full panel to a larger action set piece/image, but will devote it to something emotional like a couple in love having a conversation about the status of their relationship. It’s another factor that marks this run on the character, and this run of comics, as something altogether meaningful and mature in a way that is very rarely seen. This strand of the volume pays off in droves come the final moments between the couple at the end of issue 11, when Kate’s barriers break down thus prompting Maggie to reveal her own secret, that she has a daughter, whom she has lost custody off due to her the demands of her job. It’s the perfect combination of emotionally raw and bittersweet and after all the dark thrills and action that has taken place throughout these six issues (not to mention another open ending that will leave the wait for Volume 3 that more gut wrenching), it ends To Drown The World on a note of optimism that balances out the darker leanings magnificently.
Make no mistake, there are very dark leanings here. The use of the supernatural and threats such as Bloody Mary, are terrifying, with some of Amy Reeder’s art being the type that will haunt your dreams. There is a wonderful command of both horror and action throughout the visuals, marking Batwoman as a title that can grip you like a vice when it’s firing bullets and kicking ass, and yet scaring the hell out of you whenever a character like Bloody Mary or The Weeping Woman shows up. The combination of surreal horror and intense action sequences show, once again, that Batwoman is not a title to rest on its laurels and is not afraid to combine genres with gleeful, darkly surreal abandon. The scares, when they come, are terrifying; the romance, when its shown, is deeply engaging; the action, when it’s depicted is bone crunching, violent and brilliantly conveyed. The change of artist midstream can sometimes take one out of a comic momentarily. Personally I find a change in style makes me step back a bit and force myself to step back in, but that is definitely not the problem here. Reeder’s art is perfect for the series. As I’ve said before, it may not be as gothically flavoured as Williams’, but it’s still retains an elegance and style that is perfect for the writing and for Kate herself. Full credit to Amy Reeder and Trevor McCarthy for their magnificent and consistent work throughout.
Like all great serials, come the end of To Drown The World, you’ll find yourself wanting more, to step back into Kate’s story and the characters she surrounds herself with. Batwoman, under Williams’ and Blackman’s writing, is the most emotionally rich, deeply moving, suspenseful and frightening collection of comics out there. With its fantastic use of colours, art work and atmosphere, it grips like a vice and never let’s go, dazzling you with visual splendour, story telling thrills and three dimensional characters. DC took its fair share of criticism and acclaim when it launched The New 52, but in the middle of it all was Batwoman and for that, it marks the initiative to relaunch its universe in 2011, and to devote itself to an ongoing series like this one, worth it.