J.H. Williams III, W. Haden Blackman and Trevor McCarthy’s “Batwoman” #23 finds Kate injecting herself with the same fear toxin that she subjected Maggie to while elsewhere her father and Bette (among others) try to torture Agent Asaf for Elizabeth Kane’s location. It’s a clumsy and heavy-handed issue that doesn’t leave much of an impression.
While I want to appreciate that Williams and Blackman are trying to give Bette some personality and smarts (as well as a more prominent role) in “Batwoman,” I’m never impressed when one character’s intelligence has to come at the stupidity of others. Making someone in a group look smart just by making everyone else look incredibly stupid is a somewhat lazy tactic, and the fatal flaw in this issue. Bette’s “brilliant idea” to get Agent Asaf to reveal Elizabeth’s location, is just a normal idea that makes everyone else in the room look like idiots, not to mention casual torturers. Since it’s a plot twist set up to be the issue’s “awesome reveal,” it falls even flatter.
Kate’s fear-based dream sequences are more of the same. They’re adequate, but there’s nothing exceptional about them. They don’t reveal anything new about Kate that readers don’t already know. They don’t pull back the curtain and reveal horrors better left unsaid; they’re just a literal interpretation on the page of everything we’ve already seen.
Unfortunately, that’s the problem with the writing on this title in general. It’s not bad, but it’s just not as good as it should be. It’s tough to write Bat-related characters — they’re detectives, which means they’re both very smart and very good at what they do, so stories have to be constructed with incredible care in order to appear as clever we need them to be as readers. “Batwoman” hasn’t managed that for a long time now. Too much reliance on internal narration and over-writing in general has not compensated for stories and characters that just aren’t as smart or creative as readers expect them to be.
McCarthy’s visuals are good on the whole, and in fairness, stronger than most mainstream comics, but they still suffer in comparison to what many readers have come to expect in “Batwoman.” Williams and Blackman’s scripts continue to suggest the kind of visuals that Williams excels at — epic double page spreads full of the beautiful and terrifying — but McCarthy is just not capable of delivering at the same level for those ideas. Kate’s nightmare experience in this issue is adequate, but there’s just nothing that will blow your mind, as I suspect readers would get if Williams had been on art. Similarly, the graphic elements that Williams enjoys integrating into his work are still here, but not integrated nearly as successfully, feeling instead like random disparate elements, instead of a cohesive whole. There’s a rote feeling to the visuals on the book, a feeling of “just getting by” that’s depressing for a title that I once had such high hopes for.
There was a time when “Batwoman” as a title held so many of my hopes and dreams for mainstream superhero comics. Unfortunately, the book has not delivered. It’s not a bad series, but unless it’s being drawn by J.H. Williams III, there’s just nothing exceptional. For a book that started with such promise and ambition, that’s a disappointment.