J.H. Williams III is doing the art on Batwoman again, and Major Spoilers thinks that’s a really good thing! Read on to find out just what this reviewer thought of Batwoman’s first New 52 encounter with Wonder Woman!
Writers: W. Haden Blackman and J.H. Williams III
Artist: J.H. Williams III
Colorist: Dave Stewart
Letterer: Todd Klein
Cover: J.H. Williams III
Assistant Editor: Rickey Purdin
Associate Editor: Harvey Richards
Editor: Mike Marts
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Price: $2.99
Previously, in Batwoman: Kate Kane, aka Batwoman, is on the trail of Medusa, leader of a group that’s been making urban myths real and kidnapping children. She’s now working with the D.E.O. and balancing her life as Batwoman with her relationship with detective Maggie Sawyer. Her cousin Bette Kane, aka Flamebird, tried to be her sidekick but failed to live up to Kate’s unrealistic expectations, eventually trying to forge her own path and also failing, just recently coming out of the coma that resulted from that failure.
AN UNCOMMON FOE
This issue promised the beginning of a team-up between Wonder Woman and Batwoman. While the two characters didn’t actually meet until the last page of the issue, we aren’t given the typical comic book runaround; Batwoman and Wonder Woman’s stories are told side by side leading up to their meeting. Batwoman is still following after Medusa, the same overarching villain she’s been hunting down since the beginning of this series. Wonder Woman is fighting against a serpent cult that uses blood sacrifices from children to bring back long-dead monsters. It’s quite obvious the two foes will prove to be the same, and the D.E.O. sends Batwoman to the same island that Wonder Woman is seen on during this issue.
Batwoman opens this issue fighting against Bloody Mary, an urban legend made real. Mary is dispatched quite quickly–though a spot of narration indicates she may become a recurring villain as Batwoman laments “I don’t know if we could ever destroy her, now that she’s been made real.” Even though she’s only in three pages of one issue, she’s my favorite villain we’ve seen in The New 52 Batwoman story. Her ability to possess and move through mirrors is obviously reminiscent of Mirror Master, and after she’s shattered the way she continues to speak through shards of mirror is incredibly creepy.
THE TROUBLE WITH AMBITION
One worry I had when Batwoman was announced as being written and drawn by J.H. Williams III (even BEFORE it became part of The New 52) is how Williams’ writing would work. DC Comics has had a proliferation of writer/artists lately, with Francis Manapul taking on The Flash, Tony Daniel doing Detective Comics after the relaunch and Batman before and David Finch writing the first arc of Batman: The Dark Knight. Of those three, before The New 52 I’d only seen Daniel and Finch’s books, and I absolutely detested both of them. Since the relaunch Tony Daniel’s writing on Detective has continued to be lousy and David Finch has admitted his writing on Batman: The Dark Knight was a poor decision and recruited Gregg Hurwitz to help revitalized the book. Francis Manapul’s The Flash has been incredible, and while occasionally the dialogue has felt a bit silver age it fits well with the tone of the book–even when Manapul needed to take a break on art. J.H. Williams III’s writing on the first arc, Hydrology, was fantastic and Batwoman was one of my top three titles in The New 52. Once we got to “To Drown the World,” however, Williams must have been struggling with deadlines and filler artists Amy Reeder and Trevor McCarthy were brought in.
Williams’ storytelling (assisted by W. Haden Blackman, who is alternately credit with co-writing and scripting) without the support of his art falters under its own weight. The story in To Drown the World was incredibly ambitious, tying multiple storylines across several issues in a way that required multiple readings to make any semblance of sense. While Amy Reeder and Trevor McCarthy tried nobly to emulate Williams’ style–and in at least some of the issues Williams provided art breakdowns for them–there may not be any artist alive that can do what he does, and his artistic eye is necessary for his story.
Wonder Woman and Batwoman are two drastically different characters, so writing them both in an issue is a challenge. While there are some writers (Kevin Smith, to a lesser degree Judd Winick) who can’t help but impart their own voices in their writing, essentially shouting over the voice of the characters. This isn’t always a bad thing–I have enjoyed Kevin Smith’s work on Batman in a weird way and I loved Kevin Smith on Green Arrow–but J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman do a perfect job of capturing the different voices of Batwoman and Wonder Woman. The opening narration from Diana succinctly wraps up the entire history of Wonder Woman in a way that honors the pre-launch character and what Azzarello has done since: “There are many stories about me… I was born of clay… I am a sister of Sappho… I belong only to America… These are MYTHS. I am the only daughter of Zeus and Hippolyta. I fight for both Gods and mortals, but I’m neither.” That style of lofty narration ensues through the rest of the issue, while the thoughts and speech in Batwoman’s world exist on a more street level. There’s a lot of narration in this issue, and while for some comics that might be detrimental, it works really well in this title.
A MINOR ARTISTIC QUIBBLE
I have always found Williams’ art in Batwoman phenomenal; the layouts are so intricate that you can read and reread an issue and find new levels on which the pages work together every time. Playing right into his wheelhouse, the opening of this issue takes place as Batwoman and werewolf Kyle Abbot enter a mirrored funhouse, and unsurprisingly the layouts making use of reflections are like going to a candy store–Williams was really at the top of his game with these layouts. Another element to Williams’ Batwoman is the juxtaposition of character styles; Batwoman’s costume always stands out from the backgrounds and the other characters, being very reflective and evocative of digital art. The D.E.O. characters are overly shadowed and feel like they’re pulled straight out of a noir comic. When Kate Kane is out of costume she still doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the world, being abnormally pale, but her pencils are at least the same as those around her. Normally this juxtaposition is something I consider to be a strength of Williams’ art, helping to give visual clues as to the place that characters fit into the world, but I didn’t really care for how Kyle Abbot was shown in this issue; it is consistent with Williams’ technique, but I just don’t really care for how he draws werewolves, so that drew me out of the issue a bit. A fun up-side to Williams’ utilization of double pages is that many of the advertisements get shoved to the end of the issue.
BOTTOM LINE: I’M BACK ON BOARD
I loved Hydrology, but dropped Batwoman during To Drown the World due to the inconsistency with artists and their inability to service Williams’ plots as well as he can. Now that J.H. Williams III is back on art, I will be buying this title until he inevitably falls victim to deadlines again. A lot happens in this issue as the new story arc “World’s Finest” kicks off–I didn’t even mention the Bette Kane scene, which should lead to future excitement. Batwoman #12 is masterfully crafted, and though I don’t care for how Williams draws werewolves, he has given us the second best Wonder Woman art in The New 52 (beating out Jim Lee and Tony Akins, but with Cliff Chiang’s Diana being my personal favorite). I am giving Batwoman #12 four and a half out of five stars, with the half star being knocked off for the weird werewolf art. Also, side-note regarding my comment on finding new layout elements every time you re-read the issue: I just noticed that the typical Bat-layout that has recurred in most of if not all the title page spreads cleverly transitions into a star on the Wonder Woman half!