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She Has No Head! – J.H. Williams’ Much Anticipated Batwoman #0

by  in Comic News Comment
She Has No Head! – J.H. Williams’ Much Anticipated Batwoman #0

Batwoman #0.  J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman (writers).  J.H. Williams III and Amy Reeder (art).  Richard Friend

(inks – Kate Kane).  Dave Stewart (colors).  Todd Klein (letters).  DC. Full Color. $2.99. 32 pages (16 pages of Batwoman, 4 page Batwoman #1 black and white preview pages, 7 page excerpt from Detective Comics #871)

After many months of waiting, Batwoman #0 is finally here.  Does it deliver?

In a word?  Yes.  In many words?  Well, here we go…

Overall I’m very pleased with the book, as J.H. Williams III and Amy Reeder’s art is phenomenal and combined in a way that I wasn’t expecting.  In truth, though Williams superhero stuff for Batwoman is flat out amazing and fairly ground breaking in its creative use of panel layout, in some ways I have preferred Williams quieter Batwoman work – especially the style he chose to use for Kate Kane’s flashback sequences in the Detective Comics run.  So when I realized that Williams was going to be handling the “Batwoman” aspects of Batwoman and Reeder was going to be handling the “Kate Kane” aspects in a story that unfolds simultaneously, I was a bit disappointed to realize I’d be missing Williams Kate Kane stuff.  However, Reeder paces Williams beautifully and it turns out to be a good decision both because it introduces Reeder nicely and gets readers expecting Williams used to Reeder’s work in a more natural way.  I’m also hopeful that after this first toe dip, which looks exceptional, the switch to solely Reeder penciled Batwoman (or more combination work…it’s unclear how it will roll out?) won’t be so jarring to those wanting/expecting Williams.

And can we just talk about the cover for one second?  My kingdom for m0re comic covers that look like this!  Not only a beautiful compelling illustration, but well designed (and placed) titles, texts, etc.  Except for the barcode – and maybe issue number – this looks like a poster or print I’d hang on my wall…ah hell, even with the issue number I’d hang it on my wall.  I wish all covers could be so well-considered.

But it’s no surprise that I’m talking about the art first here because the art is clearly the star, and the writing is not functioning at the same level.  It’s not that the writing or plotting is bad, it’s perfectly acceptable, and better than a large number of the books I read regularly, but it’s just not living up to the art.  In fairness, it’s a challenge to live up to art this good – art that rivals any other book I’ve bought in the last year – but it is a blow, after the Rucka/Williams Batwoma: Elegy run, which raised the bar so high on both the writing and art front.  I knew we weren’t getting Rucka, and I was trying to prepare myself for that, but Williams and Blackman’s completely serviceable, but in no way exceptional writing, is a stark reminder of how important that part of the equation is, and how good Rucka really is.

[SPOILERS]

The plot here is very similar to what we’ve seen in the handful of Bruce Wayne: The Road Home books we got this fall starring a variety of Bat-universe characters being evaluated by Bruce (then operating as The Insider, now back to plain old awesome Batman).  In The Road Home one-shots Bruce was seen tracking his various colleagues and sometimes testing them and ultimately judging them on their performance.  Taking stock of all that has happened since his disappearance, and using the information and evaluations as the basis for a new plan to create Batman Inc.  So this is essentially Bruce treating Kate Kane in the same way that he’s treated the rest of his team, which I actually think is kind of great in the sense that it solidifies Batwoman’s importance in Bruce’s eyes and in their potential future together as Bats and her as part of the family – though I hope she’ll remain mostly on her own – at least for now.  Bruce’s surveillance of Kate Kane to determine if she is indeed Batwoman is pretty interesting overall as I’m always curious to hear Bruce’s thoughts on other characters, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little disappointed that this Batwoman book is as much about Batman as Batwoman.  It would have been a better fit under the title Bruce Wayne: The Road Home: Batwoman, like the other books it resembles.  That said, I think it was wise to make this a #0 instead of a #1, hopefully allowing this book to be a kind of peek behind the scenes of Batwoman via Bruce, and an interesting introduction to those that didn’t read the Rucka/Williams Detective Comics run, while #1 can just be Batwoman being Batwoman.

I suspect some readers will have a real problem with Bruce’s heavy involvement here but for me I don’t find it that problematic.  Perhaps in part because Batman is my favorite comic book character, I always feel like Batman’s perspective on anyone wearing HIS symbol is completely relevant and usually quite fascinating.  For my money, all bat things spring from Bruce, so he has every right to be involved in the life and career of someone wearing his symbol.  I know not everyone feels that way…and I can understand why, but I can’t pretend to agree.  Bruce, as the creator of Batman, as the impetus for so many that have joined in his fight and made it their own, has a right to some ownership of that, and yes to his notorious bat-dickery.  And while I know a lot of people hate that bat-dickery, it’s that bat-dickery that has always made Bruce more human and relatable to me than say Superman or Wonder Woman…characters required to be perfect and good and kind at all times without fail.  Bruce, though he is Batman, and perhaps in part BECAUSE he is Batman is also human and fallible, and he makes a lot of mistakes in his personal life…in fact, because his professional life is so controlled and flawless, I suspect he makes even MORE personal mistakes.  But those mistakes endear him to me somehow.  His overconfidence is natural to me…he’s the goddamn Batman…that would make you overconfident and probably selfish and it would unrealistic for him to just be a super swell laid back guy underneath all that.   So I don’t mind Bruce here, judging Kate Kane…and I guess I don’t think Kate Kane would mind either.  She might not agree with his assessment and if he told her to stop being Batwoman I have no doubt that she’d tell him to F off and go about her business…and I like that about her and would support her in saying that, but at the same time this is the man who inspired her to take up the mantle, a man she admires and wants to help in his crusade.  I think his opinion does matter to her.  It’s not the only opinion that matters, but it’s an important one.

Additionally, I can’t pretend that my little fangirl heart didn’t go all pitter pat about the ‘to be continued’ ending in which Bruce says about Batwoman “It’s time she and I have a serious discussion about the future”.  That is a conversation I literally cannot wait to see…and one I hope we do in fact GET to see.  My two favorite characters, discussing their future as Bats?  Exciting stuff.

My biggest problem with the issue, perhaps ironically, since this is Batwoman and not Batman, is that I don’t really feel that Williams III and Blackman quite “got” Bruce’s voice.  It doesn’t sound like Bruce to me, or at least not definitively Bruce.  Voice is a hard thing to get and of course different writers have different takes on characters, but especially with two men currently (and more to come?) in the Batman suit, it’s more important than ever to get Bruce’s voice right.  But there were many places here where it could have just as easily been Dick speaking as it could be Bruce.  And at the end of the day, because Bruce and Dick look similar as well (tall, dark, and handsome can look pretty similar in comics) I had to rely a little on Bruce’s new costume (which looks great in Williams hands – no surprise there) to know for sure that it was Bruce I was listening to. But considering the drawing talent that went into this book (and that much of that art is from the writer in question) it’s hard for me to be too hard on some weaknesses in the writing and my gut feeling is that this will all get better with time.  Additionally, since we didn’t really get a feel for Kate’s voice here, so I’ll be anxious to hear it in Batwoman #1 in February to see if Williams and Blackman “get” Kate a little better than they do Bruce.

I’m not sure that the structure Williams and Blackman chose is ideal for this story – especially since it’s on the short side at only 16 pages – as it tries to tell two stories simultaneously – one of Bruce watching Kate fight the Religion of Crime – and one that takes place over several days (weeks?) of Bruce investigating her as Kate Kane in a variety of somewhat silly disguises (sidenote regarding silly disguises: Really Bruce?).  Anyway, the story is a bit difficult to read the way it’s presented, with both stories running simultaneously on pages mostly split in half.  I think I would have responded to it with more enthusiasm if it was possible to read just the Batwoman parts and just the Kate Kane parts separately as well as together, but because of how the stories and art sometimes intersect, it’s not really possible (or at least easy) and reading them at the same time means that every two pages (but really every one page since the stories each take up half a page) you’re being pulled away from one story/scene to see what’s happening in the other.  It’s ambitious and interesting, but for me, it didn’t quite work.  As soon as Williams, Blackman, and Reeder build up any momentum within the story it was killed by being pulled out of one story and into the other.  I think for the sake of the storytelling I would have preferred a more traditional method in which Bruce is watching an ongoing battle, that is intercut with bits of his “day surveillance of Kate Kane”.  It’s more boring and seen before for sure, but I wouldn’t have felt conflicted about what to read and when and felt yanked around so much.  At the end of the day, to me it feels a bit like a highly experienced artist trying to tell a story without acknowledging the other parts of the equation that aren’t visual.  Perhaps not realizing that though the pages are exceptionally beautiful and perfect (and they are) that actually reading it – rather than just admiring it – is jarring and a bit frustrating. Regardless, it’s exciting to see some ambitious exploration of the form – especially in a mainstream superhero book– and I hope that Williams, Blackman, and Reeder continue to be so bold with the book, even when it’s not perfectly successful.

Overall, it was easily the best and most intriguing comic I read this week, despite some of the problems and the short page count, and it’s left me very excited for what’s to come in Batwoman #1 in February 2011.

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