In DC Comics’ “Batwoman” ongoing comic book series writer W. Haden Blackman and writer/artist J.H. Williams III have been infusing their book with a macabre sort of magic, both artistically and literally, when it comes to villains for Kate Kane.
Pitting Kate against urban legend La Llorona in their first “Hydrology” arc, the two expanded the villain roster to include a hook-wielding maniac, a magician, and Killer Croc in “To Drown The World,” estranging her father and teaming Kate up with Chase and the D.E.O. in the process. But as the fragmented narrative draws to a close in “Batwoman” #11 big things loom in Kate’s future, including Bloody Mary and a guest appearance by DC’s Amazing Amazon, Wonder Woman.
Joining THE BAT SIGNAL, Blackman and Williams happily dove into discussing the end of “To Drown,” their plans for the upcoming #0 issue, and the Wonder Woman/Batwoman limited series that almost came to be!
CBR News: You’re at the end of the “To Drown The World” storyline, and it seems like a big theme for this second arc has been individuals against organizations. Batwoman’s against Medusa and even the D.E.O. as she seems to have the stronger moral code. Is working for that Machiavellian organization changing her?
J.H. Williams III: I think so, wouldn’t you agree Haden?
W. Haden Blackman: In some ways. You know there’s always going to be that core to her that doesn’t ever change, but we already saw the D.E.O. storyline where she dons a new set of armor and is using some new tactics and is more open to working with others. Then in the new arc she’ll be teaming up with Wonder Woman. That has a profound impact on her in the way that she views herself and her position in the superhero world. So I think she definitely is impacted, but there’s a core to her she stays true to.
Williams III: One of the things she’s slowly learning is that before she was very centralized to Gotham City and facing very isolated threats that pertained to her directly in a lot of ways. But through the course of facing something like Medusa, this organization, she’s slowly coming to the realization that playing the loner might not always be the trick to solving problems. That’s a tough pill to swallow for Kate who has always been independent. So that’s kind of changing her long-term, showing that in order to achieve forward mobility she might need the help of others.
It feels like in this arc you had that realization across the board for a lot of characters, especially Jacob, who even guiltily admitted to loving his other daughter more. Do you feel he and Kate are broken in the same way, or that they need to work together as a team for their own sanity?
Williams III: Yes and no. I mean the lies between the two of them are so profound and so big that it may be one of those things that could possibly always have some big impact on how they relate to each other, even if they find some way to reconcile. It’s one of those things that you can’t forget what was done.
Blackman: I think the one thing that always interested me that ties them together is they are both suffering from tremendous survivor’s guilt, even if they don’t articulate it that way or can’t acknowledge it. Even Jacob’s confession in the last issue, I think a lot of that is driven by survivor’s guilt and I think a lot of what Kate does, even putting on her mask, is driven by that.
Speaking of that mask, one of the other big points you’ve touched on is her relationship with Maggie, and you have Chase saying she’s not sure if the Detective is dating Kate or Batwoman. As the creators on this title, do you see a distinction between the two?
Williams III: Well, kind of a key example, the way Batwoman is somewhat different in my mind versus, say, Batman, is Batman definitely plays two different roles as Bruce Wayne or Batman. Yeah, they’re both connected through memories and whatever, but with Kate it almost seem like Batwoman and Kate, while they have two separate lives going there’s this border between the two where either personality is an extension of the same person to me.
Blackman: I feel the exact same way. It’s almost like the old school Peter Parker Spider-Man where you don’t kind of know where one begins and the other ends. When she puts on the mask she doesn’t stop being Kate.
Looking ahead to the next arc, what prompted you guys to want to team Kate up with Wonder Woman?
Williams III: Well, this was something early on Haden and I had discussed that at some point we really wanted to put those two together. Just as something that presents a character that Batwoman could interact with from the well-known, popular aspects of the DCU that’s a little bit different than who Kate is as a personality and how the two can reflect off each other — much in the same way Batman and Superman reflect off each other when they interact. So we thought it was a very cool juxtaposition to place those two together.
Blackman: And the story is kind of interesting, because we pitched it as a limited series, a team-up between Batwoman and Wonder Woman back when DC was unsure what was going to happen with the ongoing Batwoman series, whether it was going to be an ongoing and who would write it. So we pitched that and actually got green lit and we started working on that. Then they came back and asked us to take on the ongoing starting with issue #1, and we decided to fold it into the third arc. So obviously we changed some things and adjusted the storyline to fit in with what we’ve done in arcs one and two, but one of the first things we thought about when we started working was we wanted to team up with Wonder Woman.
Without giving away too much, what can you say about that third arc story? Are you playing on the idea that both Kate and Wonder Woman are warrior women/soldiers?
Blackman: They’re both warriors in their own ways, but there are some stark differences. I think for us what’s been interesting is Batwoman being in the shadow of essentially someone who’s a demi-god. What does that mean for her, how does she hold her own, how does that impact her psychologically? Then for Wonder Woman it’s teaming up with somebody who has a very strong definitive lines not to cross, like killing for example, where I think that’s a little hazier for somebody who runs around with a sword and who was trained to be a warrior.
Williams III: It’s kind of a tricky thing. I mean, I don’t want to give away too much but ultimately some of the things spilling over from “To Drown The World” will have a huge impact on where things go in the next arc. One of the things, like I was saying earlier, that we’ll be exploring is Batwoman learning she has to work with others to achieve a greater goal. I think it’s going to be one of the major themes here moving forward.
Blackman: We go back to this quote all the time, but we want there to be no status quo in the book. You don’t feel that after an issue and an arc that things went back to normal — there is no normal. Arc three in particular, there are some big things towards the end that will change dramatically Kate and Batwoman’s life moving forward. That to us is really exciting, to constantly be pushing forward her life based on the choices she’s making.
Williams III: As far as the way the arc moves, the way it feels when you read it, it’s going to be very different than any of the previous arcs we’ve done. One of the things Haden and I very much are after is trying to get each story to feel, even though it builds off of previous stories, that each has its own weight and feel that’s unique to itself. So we’re trying some things that will be immediately noticeable as a difference from the previous arcs just in the way it moves and feels.
Does this difference translate over to the art as well?
Williams III: A little bit. The way the story moves and feels and the themes of the story, even the nuances always affect how I approach stuff visually. I always try to do what the story is telling me it needs to do on a visual level, so depending on style and changes and manipulations that occur is all fed by what the story is dictating to me.
On “To Drown” you had Trevor McCarthy step in on art, and he’s been dedicated to incorporating the god/myth theme Maro is talking about in his borders. Was that an element Trevor brought with him to the book?
Williams III: A lot of it is what he brought with him, all influenced by what we had done before on “Elegy” and “Hydrology.” The art and the layouts had a very much thematic commentary structure centered on what the story was about. Trevor was super excited to come onto the book and felt like he could contribute some ideas in that area. As far as layouts are concerned and the scripts and such, Haden and I will have suggestions but we don’t necessarily go into, “Use this type of border motif,” or anything like that. We let the artist do what the artist wants to do as long as it serves the story.
With that in mind, what are some of the visual themes you’re playing with both in this next arc and the “Batwoman” #0 issue?
Williams III: On the art level there’s two different things going on. The kickoff of arc three definitely has this sense of division between Wonder Woman and Batwoman in terms of style approaches, and as the story progresses. Those things will merge because they’ll be united in a single goal. As far as the #0 issue, it’s going to be stylistically — even though it falls after issue #12 and the first part of the next arc, it’s not necessarily a part of that arc — but we wanted it to have a similar vibe to it in the way it feels in content and the way we’re executing the narrative and such like that. At the same time we wanted it to be its own unique thing. The end result is the #0 issue is going to move unlike any previous “Batwoman” issue to date on a visual level. It’s pretty cool. We play a lot with the styles in that — I know, it’s kind of like we can’t help ourselves to do that these days! [Laughs]
Moving over to the #0 issue, from the solicits it seems to be talking about Batwoman’s origins.
Williams III: Yes, but it also has crossover to what’s going on now, at least on an emotional level for the character. Even when we have to touch on similar themes to stuff about her origin we’ve seen before we went out of our way to show stuff from a new perspective, and also integrate some things we hadn’t seen before.
Blackman: For me the most exciting part is it’s all very strongly from Kate’s point of view now. So you’re going to see how things that have happened to her recently, especially in regards to her relationship to her father, color her telling of her origin. So we thought that’s really exiting, and then the other part is to show some things that had been referenced but we never actually got to see, things that set into [motion] her becoming Batwoman.
Going back to J.H.’s run on “Detective Comics” with Greg Rucka, readers have seen Kate’s origin getting kicked out of the military under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Is any part of that origin changing?
Williams III: It’s all the same. Haden and I are both extremely respectful of what Greg was trying to do and wanted to do and we felt that shouldn’t be messed with. All that stuff stays intact. Like Haden was saying, one of the biggest differences is we’re getting to show some of those instances from Kate’s point of view today looking back. We don’t dwell on it in the same way it does in Elegy because it’s not necessary to do that. One of our goals was to acknowledge those things but from Kate’s modern day perspective, and also integrate new things we didn’t get to see before, expanding on some other themes.
As this is the New 52 with new rebooted origins for many characters, and because Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed, was there ever a desire on your part to change the origin so as to avoid dating itself?
Williams III: No, it’s the core of her.
Blackman: Exactly, it’s the core of her, and part of me doesn’t want to go back and rewrite or revamp because I don’t want us to ever forget we did have that insane law! Hopefully we’ll go forward and people will accept that things have changed, they’ll be a lot more tolerant, but I don’t ever want to forget that’s the way that it was. For me I would hate if anyone ever changed that because it’s part of who she is and it’s also a great reminder of how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go.
Williams III: I agree wholeheartedly. I think it’d be insane to change that. While “Batwoman” isn’t setting out to be a political comic story content wise, some of the aspects can’t help but touch on that level. Like Haden was saying, this is all stuff that happened and happens in our country. Through Kate Kane we see how those things affect people’s lives in real ways and can change their lives forever. I don’t think saying something like that never happened just to reboot a character, it’d be a crazy idea. [Laughs]
Going back to the #0 issue, what can you tell us about the story itself and how does it fit into what’s been going on in the book?
Blackman: its kind of timeless in a way because it’s talking about her origin and past, but it’s from Kate’s point of view it takes place right around the beginning of arc three. So it fits very nicely into arc three and hopefully will be included in the trade paperback at the beginning of the arc because it fits well with that.
Williams III: I think the plan is definitely to put that in the collection of arc three. Its slot might move in relation to the issues that are coming out now, but even if it doesn’t it still causes the story to move in an interesting way because it’s all from today’s point of view of the here and now, but calling back to the past. The other fun thing about it as far as visuals are concerned, it’s the first “Batwoman” issue that doesn’t have a single double page spread! [Laughs]
Blackman: The other thing that’s cool about it is we actually set up some stuff in the #0 issue we aren’t planning to touch on in arc three but directly ties into the storyline in arc four. So there are some scenes in the #0 issue that directly set up stuff for arc four, which is pretty cool. I feel if you’ve never read a “Batwoman” issue before you can jump onboard with the #0 issue, but if you have been reading it you’re going to get a lot out of it as well.
What else can readers expect from either the #0 issue or future story lines?
Blackman: I’m really excited to see everyone’s reactions to the end of “To Drown The World.” The way that the arc has been working, it’s six different threads but they take place in different places in time and each one is moving forward, and in issue #10 and 11 they start to sync up. So I’m really interested in seeing people’s reactions to the whole thing once it’s all out there. And then like we did with arc one, there are things at the end of arc two that will directly lead into arc three. It’s not a clean finish at the end.
And J.H. is excited for less double page spreads!
Williams III: Well…[Laughs]
Blackman: I could have sworn there was one in there!
Williams III: Nope, there is not one single double-page spread in all of the #0 issue! [Laughs] I don’t know if I’m excited over that, but the readers will see a different way the stories can move with “Batwoman.” What intrigues me in working that way stylistically is it again allows us to stretch ourselves in different ways than is expected out of “Batwoman.” One of the things I’m always looking for is how does this story move differently from the story before. I like the #0 issue functioning in this way because it’s a very direct, simple straightforward piece and having the art be very straightforward itself is the perfect tone for it. At the same time it shows something different than what you’ve seen before.
Blackman: Yeah, well I’m just finishing up the script for #14 and I think it’s all double-page spreads. [Laughter] I just want to say to the fans thanks for sticking with us, even though this arc two has been trying for some people because of the way the narrative structure flows. They seem to still be willing to stick with it and that’s pretty gratifying. Now that Chapter #10 is out people are seeing how it fits together and seem to be gravitating towards what we were doing, so thanks very much for supporting the book!
Williams III: I have to echo that. I think people who stick with us to arc three, arc three is sort of the culmination of everything we set up and hopefully people will see the build and crescendo in arc three and it will be very satisfying. So we’re very grateful for everyone who stuck with us!
“Batwoman” #11 hits stores July 18; “Batwoman” #0 goes on sale September 19.