Sometimes, great comics make it really hard for other comics. “Batwoman” has suffered — in part because it’s nearly impossible not to compare it to Greg Rucka’s “Detective Comics” Batwoman run. Never is the comparison more painful than in a tricky issue like “Batwoman” #20, where writing and subtle nuanced relationships are so important. Unfortunately, yet again, I find J.H. Williams III, W. Haden Blackman and Trevor McCarthy not quite up to the task.
There’s nothing truly tragic in the writing and plotting, but there are a series of points that don’t quite work, including an eight-page info dump (dressed up as an action scene, but it’s still an info dump) to explain Beth’s appearance. There’s also a family intervention that feels overly convenient by having Kate give up all her long-standing convictions too quickly. The story needs her to team up with her family and so she’s suddenly (after more than a year and a half of comics) willing to forgive her father and do the “family team up.” To make matters worse, the art in the scene suggests that Kate has not actually changed her mind, so much as been worn down by opposition. The Kate I know doesn’t get worn down.
There’s even more convenient plotting in the fact that Bette has apparently miked Kate without her knowledge. Again, the Kate I know can’t be tracked so easily. But perhaps, as in so many ways, my opinion of this character and this book has been raised too high.
The reunion scene with Kate and Beth, a pivotal moment for both the book and the characters, has almost no impact. It’s a mostly silent scene — not a bad choice, but by having a character come in and suggest the two silent pages represent six minutes, the entire scene ends up feeling like the wrong note in a song.
The art in this issue is primarily by McCarthy, who gets better with each issue, but with finishes by Sandu Florea for half the issue, it just doesn’t work. While McCarthy really excels in his pages, Florea’s finishes are not nearly as good as McCarthy’s. Half the issue looks great and the other half looks not nearly as good. Florea handles most of the emotional scenes, like Kate’s family intervention and her reunion scene with Beth, and it all falls decidedly flat — especially since it has to stand next to other, better work. Guy Major’s colors are the only consistently smart aspect of the book. Beautifully dark or uncomfortably bright as necessary, it’s a shining light in an otherwise disappointing issue.
There’s no book I’d like to love more than “Batwoman,” but it’s apparently just not meant to be. Williams III remains one of the best artists in comics, and McCarthy is turning into a true talent, but issues like “Batwoman” #20 make me wonder if I should even be reading the book, let alone trying to love it.