JH Williams III was honored Saturday night in San Francisco with a party thrown by Isotope Comics, immortalized by a special event-exclusive glass adorned with his artwork. Williams, known for his critically acclaimed work with Alan Moore on “Promethea” and his Batwoman-introducing run on “Detective Comics” with Greg Rucka, has been a big part of DC Comics’ New 52 relaunch with “Batwoman.” For the celebration, Williams, joined by his “Batwoman” co-writer W. Haden Blackman, proudly displayed dozens of pages of original “Batwoman” artwork, literally covering the walls with the gorgeous pages.
The party, which saw people dancing and drinking until well past the bars closed at 2 AM, allowed Williams and Blackman to relax and mingle with fans in a way that is impossible at typical signing sessions and conventions. “You can’t get better than parties at the Isotope,” a cheerful Williams told CBR News. “This is the awesomest setting to have a comic book store signing event. It’s unlike anything else, you can’t help but have fun. A lot of signings, I just sign a book and the person moves on. With this sort of event, you are immersed with the people. You can sit and talk with them for long periods of time. It’s so much better and really intimate.”
James Sime, owner of Isotope Comics, agreed, saying that he ranked Saturday’s party among his best. “Fantastic crowd, fantastic people, really adorably beautiful crowd. A party is only as good as the people who arrive, and the people who arrived tonight, W. Haden Blackman, JH Williams III and all of you other motherfuckers, are awesome!”
Isotope parties are nothing new for Williams, who said he’s “done a couple before, and they’re always like this. [I like] to come out for other artist’s parties, when I can get away from the drawing table.”
One thing that made this event unlike any other Isotope celebration were the highball glasses Sime commissioned for the evening. Featuring a Williams-illustrated pirate girl sitting atop the Isotope Comics logo, the glasses were handed out to everyone who came to the party and, in true Isotope fashion, there was a wide selection of drinks on hand to fill them with.
The specialized glasses have become a trademark for Sime’s events, with the store owner having offered them numerous times in the past, ranging from shot glasses to tumblers and everything in between. The type of glass to be created for each party is an important choice, not made lightly. It was for this reason that Saturday night’s highball glass, while a hit with partygoers, was not part of the original plan.
“We choose a glass based on the artist’s work,” explained Sime. “We wanted to do a skinnier glass, originally, for Jim [JH Williams III]. Jim wanted to do a sexy pirate pin-up girl, but then he called me up and told me he went overboard on the art and we had to wrap it all around the glass. So we had to change it to a bigger glass without a lot of taper. A tapered glass would have ruined the art. It’s all about the artist.”
Earlier in the day, the Isotope hosted a more traditional, all-ages signing with Williams and Blackman. During this event, they sat down with Comic Book Resources and talked about “Batwoman,” Renee Montoya’s place in the New 52, Bette Kane’s status with the Teen Titans and what they thought Kate Kane would drink if she were attending the evening’s party.
CBR News: How does it feel with “Batwoman” officially a critical and commercial success now that the first three issues are out? Is that satisfying to know that the book was off the shelves for almost two years and yet its been received again so well?
JH Williams III: Yeah, certainly. I really didn’t expect it to be. I knew it would do well, but I didn’t think it was going to be so warmly received. It did really well in sales, and then the critical response was overwhelmingly positive. It was surprising. I expected it to have a lot more push and pull than it did. It was really heartwarming and gratifying.
W. Haden Blackman: The fan reaction has been really positive, but I think we’ve been bringing in new readers to comics, which we didn’t necessarily expect. All the reaction we’ve gotten, either through email or our website or events like this, it feels like there’s a large number of people who either haven’t been reading comics in a long time or who have never read comics before and have started with Batwoman.
Williams: Female readers, too.
Many fans were a bit worried that it took so long for “Batwoman” to come out after it had been announced by DC. It seemed that people assumed you had been working on it since the end of your “Detective Comics” run, but was that really the case?
Williams: Well, when Greg [Rucka] decided to leave DC Comics and they approached us about taking over [“Batwoman”], there was literally only three days before the announcement was made to the public that we were taking it over. Nothing had been written, and we didn’t even know what the plot was going to be and all that stuff. We needed time to develop that. It was misleading to fans, in some ways. People had the idea that we had been working on it already, but we were actually far from any launch date, for sure.
It looks like you’ve been able to keep up the pace now, though. It’s been three issues out on time with no delays and no drop in quality.
Williams: Well, this was a year ago, and that’s about par for the course for me. I do six issues a year of work. That’s about what it takes for me, and I sometimes do little things in between that can eat up time, too. We had a lot of travel we had to do. We had a signing tour in Europe and other commitments that had been set up before the [“Batwoman”] deal was even made. You can’t back out of your prior commitments, though. Then they wanted me to do the “Batman, Inc.” covers, and I did a story for the “DC Universe Legacies” and stuff like that. A lot of stuff ended up being done in that period of time. The original announcement for “Batwoman,” people thought we had already been working on it, but we had no idea what the story was going to be.
Since the initial announcement, the series evolved in to the one we are seeing now as part of the New 52.
Williams: Right, right. Even the issue #0 — we had already written and drawn issue #1 when DC came back at us and said, “Oh, we want an issue #0 now.” We had to go back and rethink where we wanted to start and think about what would be worthwhile to do for an issue #0. That’s how we came up with that story that could act as a bridge between [“Detective Comics” and “Batwoman.”]
Have you heard any reaction from Greg Rucka about the direction you’ve taken Kate Kane in?
Williams: No. When the book came out he sent me a congratulations email, but I don’t know if he’s actually sat down and read it. I know it was a character he really cared about. I couldn’t imagine, if I was in his shoes. It’d probably be like, “Well, I don’t want to look at that for a while,” because I’m sure he has his own notions of how he would do things. He probably would feel uncomfortable having to look at it in a critical way right now. I could be wrong — he may have read it. I haven’t spoken to him. I’m probably going to see him around the holidays in a few weeks, and I’ll talk to him about it then.
You’ve mentioned Renee Montoya, The Question, a few times in the first three issues, noticeably, her absence from those issues. Shouild fans expect to see her enter the book, or is her part in Kate Kane’s story over?
Williams: We’ve got some vague ideas on how to deal with that character, but right now she’s kind of in limbo. Honestly, we really don’t know what the DC Comics edict on her character is.
Blackman: With the New 52, it feels like a lot of continuity is being invented as they go along. So, for us, we’ve tried to stay away from anything that might step on the toes of other creators. More importantly for us, we started working on this book before we even knew about the New 52. We felt that [Renee and Kate’s] relationship had run its course and we wanted to take things in a new direction and start a new relationship with a character that maybe has been around before but has been underdeveloped, like Maggie Sawyer. We can show a slightly different relationship than Kate had with Renee.
Williams: Ultimately, I think at some point [Renee] is a character we are going to have to address in a more concrete way, but it has to be at the right time. It has to make story sense to do it. It has to feel right and work in to the bigger picture. [But] I think we agree that at some point we will have to go there.
Were there any other elements of the book you had planned out that had to be changed because of the New 52?
Blackman: A handful. We’ve had a couple things that we had to go back and change a line of dialogue here or there. We had one change in issue #2 where we had a scene with Batwoman talking to Batman. Originally, it was written as Batwoman talking to the Dick Grayson Batman because, at the time, that’s who Batman was. We had to rewrite that scene, and there were a handful of art changes that had to go along with that. It hasn’t been anything too extensive. Partly, that’s because we’ve said, “We’re in Gotham.” We are going to acknowledge that we are in Gotham, but we are gonna create our own version of Gotham in the DCU for Batwoman, because she needs her own supporting cast. She needs her own rogues gallery. She needs to exist independently of other characters.
Williams: She needs a legacy of her own. Not Batman’s legacy. In some ways, I think this is very key, because if you think about how she came in to existence in the first place, she wasn’t given authority to do so by Batman. She saw what he did and said, “Oh, I can do that,” and stole the idea. It wasn’t like he handed anything over to her. She’s not like Dick Grayson or any other bat-character that came before. So we’ve just had to make small changes. Our plot doesn’t revolve around what other people are doing.
Speaking about legacy, you brought a character by the name of Bette Kane into the book as Kate’s semi-sidekick. Bette Kane’s legacy is, in the pre-crisis DCU, she was the original Flamebird. You’re showing her become a hero now, as well, and in the end of issue 3, she’s suited up as Flamebird. Is that foreshadowing that Bette may become Flamebird again at some point in the New 52 universe?
Williams: I don’t want to say too much, but it is foreshadowing. Not in that way, though. I don’t want to say too much because I want people to be surprised by what we are going to do, but we are definitely going to revitalize that character in a real strong way. At the same time, subtextually, we want to comment on how she’s been treated by other creators and how she’s been a character that other creators didn’t take very seriously, even though fans love the character. Her overall arc is going to show this sea change.
Blackman: What’s interesting to me about [Bette Kane’s] origins is that she became a vigilante because she fell in love with Robin. She had this crush, so she became Flamebird. The opportunity to take Bette Kane, who has this silly origin story and show her as a three-dimensional character that really believes in what she’s doing is really exciting for us. But, from day one, our rule has been that we want to take all the vigilante tropes and turn them on their ears. We want to see how Batwoman would deal with a kid sidekick. We see this play out in issue #3 and continue in to issues #4 and 5.
Are there any plans to touch more on the new Bette Kane’s Teen Titans past, or are you going to stay away from that whole continuity mess for now?
Williams: Well, we’ve kinda been told we can’t. [Laughs]
Blackman: We had some lines that referenced it, but we had to change them. It’s because the continuity is kinda evolving over time. If you go back and read issue #1, we have a line in there where [Bette Kane] references the Teen Titans.
Williams: She flat out says it. From that point forward, we can’t really talk about it. For now, anyway.
A very distinctive aspect of your Batwoman, since her introduction in “Detective Comics,” is the way you’ve made her incredibly pale. It’s become even more extreme and noticeable in the new series. What’s going on there?
Williams: [Laughs] OK, in real life a redhead has two types of complexions. Both are extremely pale. One version is very freckled and very pale. The other type, in real life, their skin is basically like porcelain, they have almost no pigment. This was our attempt to capture that quality. As you can see, when you see shots of her, her shadows will have tone ,but her highlights are where all the paleness comes from. I’ve met tons of real redheads in my life and, in certain circumstances, you notice that the person has no skin color. They go out in the sun, they burn. It’s kinda that attempt to capture that.
In the current run, we’ve had a couple of printing issues where the colors that Dave [Stewart] did on her shadow tones, where you would see some color, turned a little bit grey or greenish or something like that, and that was not our intention. It makes her look even more white than she really is, you know what I mean? That’s something we are trying to find a way to correct. Ultimately, I kind of look at her like the actress that plays the queen in “True Blood,” who is a redhead, and the actress that plays Jessica, who is a redhead as well, if you look at their skin in that show, there’s almost no pigment. Knowing redheads in my own life, I doubt they put much make up on them to make them that pale. [Laughs]
Looking into your immediate future, later tonight, you’re debuting an exclusive glass for the Isotope Comics party with a unique pirate-girl design on it. How’d you come up with the idea for the image, and did you actually design it to fit on to a curved, clear surface?
Williams: I knew it was going to be curved. I’d never done a glass design before, so I wasn’t sure how it was going to come out. Originally, when James [Sime] said, “Hey, let’s do a glass,” the first thing I thought of was, he wanted a pin-up girl, so I thought, let’s do like a pink cheetah print. [Laughs] When I designed it, I figured that would be expected, so it popped in to my head to do a pirate girl instead. Then I thought what to put with the pirate girl, and that’s where all the sea life stuff came in to it.
Blackman: The octopus is my favorite part!
What’s the first drink you guys are going to have out of the glass?
Williams: I’ll have to drink water, because I’m allergic to alcohol. [Laughs] [Blackman] can have my alcohol!
Blackman: Probably a gin and tonic.
What do you think Kate Kane would drink?
Blackman: What would Kate drink? I think it depends on who she’s with. She wouldn’t drink red wine in that glass, though. A pale ale.
Williams: Some form of whiskey. It’d be whiskey. That’s my favorite alcohol. When I could drink, it was always whiskey.
The first three issues of “Batwoman” by JH Williams III, W. Haden Blackman, Dave Stewart and Todd Klein are on sale now. Issue 4 comes out December 14.