“Batwoman” #16 is a stunningly beautiful book. A revelation almost in its visual perfection, but it just tries to do too much. Too many voices, too many stories, too many perspectives and too many words for too few pages, the issue collapses under its own ambition and stands as a good book instead of brilliant.
It is simply a fact that of all the artists working in comics today, nobody can deliver the powerful visuals that J.H. Williams can. His work on “Batwoman” #16 is exceptional. The book is a graphic tour de force, the pages feeling almost less like a comic book than stunning illustrated posters trapped inside the pages of a comic. The graphic elements are somehow both genius and effortlessly integrated.
Almost every set of pages is a double-page spread that is so detailed and perfectly executed that you cannot help but gape. Unfortunately, the writing and story, as a result, feel like second-class citizens. Williams and Blackman have us dancing from a double page spread in Batwoman’s perspective to one in Wonder Woman’s to one in Flamebird’s, to the mythological history of Ceto, then to one page for Medusa and one for Agent Chase, and on and on. The result is that the reader can never actually become immersed in the story, constantly being yanked in and out of character’s heads with every turn of the page.
Additionally, the voices don’t sound that different, which is a big problem. Different font choices and colors distinguish narrative voices, and from there you can look to Williams action to tell you whose head you are supposed to be in, but that really shouldn’t be necessary at this level of comic making. These women are different enough that I believe a reader should be able to tell the difference (at least between a few of them) if they saw the script without names attached to the narrative boxes, but that would be tough as written. Sure, the content would tip you off, but in a book that looks this good, I find myself demanding more from the writing as well. Perhaps that is actually the problem. If this were a more average looking comic book, the writing might not suffer so much in comparison, but as it is, it draws a sharp contrast. There are some other little nits relating to voice, like the fact that Kate cries at the destruction of her home. This struck me as decidedly un-Kate. As big a fan as I am of Wonder Woman, I don’t see the relationship between the two as one in which Diana has to remind Kate to “remember the mission” in any scenario, let alone the destruction of her home/base/memories/etc.
As an art book “Batwoman” #16 is five-stars, easily; as a comic book, I can only see giving it three and a half stars. I wish it could be more, truly, as the jaw-dropping art and care that clearly went into that aspect of the book is something I want to reward, but the book is overwhelmed by too much narration and too many narrators.