Comic books can be amazing and magical, wonderful and joyous, they can leave you wanting to keep reading, and then, amazingly, a six or seven issue collected trade paperback or hardback edition is not simply enough and you want MORE and MORE, the need to devour a character’s adventures becomes almost like a drug, or a binge watch on a streaming service.
Such as it was when I got round to recently reading Volume One of Batwoman’s New 52 run written by J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman, with Williams also providing the artwork. Before I go any further, I have to admit to not being too familiar with Batwoman before reading this collection. Sure, I’d seen her appear in various issues of many of the Batman comics I’ve read over the last few years due to her being part of the “Batfamily” of characters and the world of Gotham City, but after reading the work of Williams III and Blackman I definitely feel the need, the wonderful need that is when you discover a new character that you love right from the moment you read their first panel, to read as much as I can.
There is a wonderful sense of forward momentum running throughout these six issues, represented in Volume One:Hydrology, not just in terms of story telling and character development, but in the attitudes represented to the story being told. The lead character of Kate Kane probably ranks alongside Gail Simone’s take on Barbara Gordon as the most viable, important and downright brilliant female character to have her own series in The New 52 line up, and, like Barbara, may in fact be the most brilliant character to feature in a comic book panel regardless of gender. Kate Kane is just a brilliant character and that’s simply enough.
With her pale skin and bright red hair, Kate stands out visually immediately, and with her cool, bad-ass costume and long red hair extensions, she’s definitely a visual stand out amongst other members of the supporting cast in the “Batfamily” side of the DC Universe. Of course, I’m saying the “Batfamily”, when in fact she isn’t technically a member of Bruce Wayne’s inner circle. By the end of Hydrology she has actually turned down a chance to join Batman Incorporated, instead opting to go with the Department of Extranormal Operations (which also features in the rather wonderful Supergirl television series).
What makes Kate an even more wonderful character and her role in each panel and page a joy is just how well drawn she is, emotionally and developmentally and not just in terms of actually being drawn by Williams III. She is wonderfully written and portrayed, whilst represented by fantastic artwork throughout and the ways each issue/chapter will experiment with how the comic should be read, sometimes going from each half of a page spread to the other instead of simply going down the page, is remarkable.
A comic book may be a series of three-dimensional drawings on two-dimensional spaces, but if done right, everything about it can be a fully three-dimensional reading experience and Batwoman is probably the most three-dimensional I’ve read in a long time. For all the supernaturally influenced goings on here (giving it a similar vibe to the equally wonderful Justice League Dark), in terms of character development, a lot of this feels very real, with the complexities and emotions of Kate bleeding out of the page as you read it. The artwork and writing allow you to experience her joy at falling in love with Maggie Sawyer, her pain as she rejects and lashes out at Bette, aka Flamebird (a harsh enough moment that is only the prelude to something even more terrible and harrowing to read), and her feelings of guilt afterwards, not to mention her hatred for her father. The angst, pain and sometimes joy is felt in a way that makes Batwoman a deeply empathic read.
The action when it hits does so in a violent and memorable way, up there with the best of any “Bat” title that makes it the equal to the art work of Greg Capullo and Tony S Daniel. The fluidity of the action from panel to panel is smooth and makes this one of the most enjoyable and “smooth” reads that I have ever encountered. If a comics panel is in many ways indicative of jump cuts, amazingly the art work here from Williams is almost seemless, like watching an action sequence develop before your eyes in one take, with little in the way of cuts. The use of colours from Dave Stewart manages to be wonderfully eye catching and yet subtle at the same time, a wonderful concoction that may sound like a paradox but which works tremendously. The use of red is dark and startling. Whether it’s when characters are bleeding (and there is violence here, but, like the use of semi-nudity and sex which I’ll come back to shortly, never once feels gratuitous), Kate’s hair or the red logo blazoned across her chest, the use of colours is both startling and boldly used but never overbearing.
The use of sex and sexuality throughout is mature and well handled. Kate is a lesbian, but the story never beats you around the head with this. She’s a lesbian pursuing a relationship with Detective Maggie Sawyer and that’s it, there is no gratuitous calling of attention to it. It is what it is, a normal pursuit for someone in this day and age and the romance that develops between the two is both tender, sweet and cute and lays the foundation for an emotional centre that looks like it will become the beating heart of the series as it continues. There is something quietly and wonderfully revolutionary here about how the writing handles same-sex relationships. It doesn’t call attention to it, as I’ve said, but the fact that it’s there and it’s handled in a matter of fact way and in lovely, understated romantic fashion, is important without crying out for acclaim on how “important” it is. We live in a day and age of same sex relationships, which is perfectly fine and normal, and Batwoman plays it’s love story with the same heart and soul as a relationship between a man and woman would play out in any other comic book, or movie, or television show. Romance is romance. It’s cute, it’s sweet and it’s loving regardless of the genders of whatever characters are pursuing it.
As my first introduction to the character, I loved Hydrology. The backstory to the character is developed in Elegy, written by Greg Rucka, with artwork by Williams III, but even if you haven’t read it, the exposition is there in Hydrology to explain it and yet never feels shoehorned in, it’s smoothly dealt with and the inclusion of a small part in the story via Kate’s father fills in many of the blanks. Overall, Hydrology is wonderful adult comic book entertainment. It’s mature without having to over rely on throwing “adult material” down the audience’s throats. Intelligent, well told, gorgeously drawn and with an ending that ensures that you will want to read Volume Two immediately, Hydrology and Batwoman New 52, under the stewardship of Williams III and Blackman, is the dictionary definition of wonderful.