It’s rare that having a different creator finishing up someone else’s story on short notice works well. At best, you end up with the new writer working off of the original person’s notes (like Brandon Sanderson concluding “The Wheel of Time”); at worst, you end up with a legal situation where the new writers aren’t allowed to even know what the original ending was (like Pip and Jane Baker on the 1986 “Doctor Who” story “The Trial of a Time Lord”). So with that in mind, trust me when I saw that I understand the tough situation that Marc Andreyko was in when having to conclude what J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman began. But as he, Trevor McCarthy, and Moritat wrap up the storyline involving Mr. Bones, Batman, the DEO, and Alice — well, the disappointment was probably inevitable.
Andreyko tries his best here, and I do appreciate that he wraps up as much as he can. Mr. Bones, Jacob Kane, Alice and Cameron Chase all get varying degrees of closure, which is a relief. And while it feels that doing so made everything a bit more simplistic, it’s acceptable. Mr. Bones’ revelation at the end feels utterly out of the blue — I’m not convinced it fits with what we saw up to this point — but it balances out with a good enough conclusion for Chase. Alice is now a generic madwoman here, which is disappointing. Her talking about people’s skin making a good handbag doesn’t mesh at all with her previous, “Alice in Wonderland” obsession, and it drops her from creepy to just dull. The big problem here, though, is that the dialogue seems to assume that no one would remember these characters. There’s a lot of clumsy lines where everyone re-establishes who they are (“Yeah, Elizabeth–I mean, ‘Alice.'” ” “I’m your wife and I don’t want to be a widow any time soon.”), and while I could buy the need to set everything up for new readers, “Batwoman Annual” #1 is the last part of a long storyline that would be less than interesting to anyone jumping in here, regardless.
Most consistent here is McCarthy, and it’s nice to see him return for the Batman versus Batwoman pages. While the layouts aren’t quite as intricate as when he was working off of Williams and Blackman’s scripts, he still brings a real flare to them even if it’s just the fun panel borders. His characters look rock solid here, though; everyone feels realistic and looks good, and the fights are beautifully choreographed. Reading “Batwoman Annual” #1, it’s hard to keep from wishing that McCarthy had drawn the entire comic. It’s elegant and striking under his pen, and wherever McCarthy goes next, I’ll definitely take a look.
The biggest problem with “Batwoman Annual” #1, though, is Moritat’s art. I’ve liked his work on “All Star Western” and “The Spirit,” so it was a disappointment to see his pages not up to snuff. Alice fares poorly under Moritat; her delicate yet perfect features and face now seem to just be little more than a young girl. There’s also a slight cheesecake element to Moritat’s art that feels out of place. When Batwoman reveals the tied-up Batman on the bottom of page 25, why is she pushing back her hips and kicking her legs into a scissor position? It looks like a parody of the ’90s craze for bad girl comic art, and that’s not a good thing at all.
There’s also a lot of generally bad poses and inconsistency in that scene. Take, for instance, the top of page 26 where we see Alice dangling from the ceiling and Bette chained up to the railing of a staircase. Unless Alice is now a bodybuilder (or standing on an invisible table), her arms are completely wrong; they’re bent and flexing like she’s either pulling herself up, or that somehow she has support so that she’s not actually dangling on those ropes. Alice’s height from the floor also changes from panel to panel; in the initial reveal, she’s maybe four feet from the ground, but two pages later on the first panel she’s a good twenty feet up in the air. Bette has similar problems; when we see her again, there are two people level with her, even though there’s no way that works with the scene that Moritat drew just pages earlier, unless they’re flying. And then, a page later, Bette is suddenly on the floor but still tied up. There’s no rhyme or reason to any part of this big, climactic fight scene, and it drags the entire comic down.
I’m willing to cut Andreyko a lot of slack here for what was a bit of a poison pill assignment. There’s no way that “Batwoman Annual” #1 would thrill most of those who read “Batwoman” #1-24 by sheer dint of the creative team change. While there were some real rough edges (and they’re ones that I feel have gone away in the monthly series, so part of the problem here could just be that it was written fairly early on in the transition), his contributions were ultimately fine. Unfortunately, with McCarthy only drawing half of the issue, it’s the other half that drags it down a bit. It’s a shame, too; we’ve seen better from Moritat. In the end, it’s not a great conclusion to what Williams and Blackman begun, but it’s better than no conclusion at all. With Greg Rucka, Williams, and Blackman having all departed the character of Batwoman with stories involving Alice still dangling, perhaps she should just be retired from this point on. It would probably be a little less stressful.