THE BAT SIGNAL: Williams Focuses on Family in "Batwoman"

"Batwoman" #17 was a hallmark issue for the DC Comics series. Co-writers J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman concluded their third arc with a bang, wrapping an arc that had gestated since the launch of the New 52, putting Bette Kane back on the table as new hero Hawkfire and bringing a major surprise development to the relationship between Gotham City Police Detective Maggie Sawer and Kate Kane, as Batwoman revealed her true identity and proposed at the same time. If that wasn't enough for a single issue, the final pages teased the return of Alice from Williams and Greg Rucka's run on "Detective Comics" and revealed that D.E.O. Director Bones is Kate Kane's brother.

With so many developments in a single issue, Williams spoke with CBR's THE BAT SIGNAL about the proposal and progression of Batwoman's romantic life, the return of both Bette Kane and Alice to the series, how family plays a role in the next arc and an upcoming interaction with Batman.

CBR News: J.H., let's kick off with the two huge reveals at the end of "Batwoman" #17. The return of Alice is an event that's obviously been building for a long time. What made you think this was the right time to put her back into play?

J.H. Williams III: Haden and I were pretty gun-shy about dealing with Alice in any real way for a while, but needed her presence felt, the impact she had on Kate's life to resonate from the beginning. So we literally boxed her in that sarcophagus, revealing it way back in the original issue zero. This kept her isolated from any explanation needing to be shown until we were ready. No outside story elements affecting what Alice may've been doing this entire time. Only that the memory of her and the past would haunt Kate, affecting her choices. As we started fully figuring out was going make up the bulk of arc 3, about half way through that is when we decided we should reintroduce the sarcophagus at the end of the arc, and have it open to reveal Alice. The timing felt right, especially with Kate making such a major life changing decision. It was the right time to bring her crazy sister back, a perfect lead-in to bring family back strongly into the next story.

The other huge event in the issue was Kate essentially revealing her identity as Batwoman to Maggie Sawyer and proposing to her. This is a huge moment for the character that takes her into a new direction. As the story moves forward, what can fans expect from an engaged Kate Kane? How will her path to marriage progress differently from the average couple?

Yeah, Haden and I are super excited over this new direction for Kate and Maggie. We love that Kate did the proposal and revealed herself to be Batwoman all at once. It's like she is saying to Maggie, "You want to know what I've been doing, who I am, this is who I am, will you still love me?" We're planning this to be a prolonged story. The couple has a lot of issues to work out between them, and they both have baggage from other relationships that they bring to the table. It's not going to be easy. This is the more natural progression to take considering the lives they lead, how that will affect them on a daily basis will be profound.

Now that Maggie knows Kate is Batwoman, how will that end up affecting their relationship? Readers didn't actually get a chance to see Maggie accept Kate's proposal.

They are going to slowly turn into a much stronger couple. The fascinating part of this is the fact that Maggie now knows all of Kate's secrets. And exploring just how much Mags gets pulled into Batwoman's world will be a long, exciting journey. It will become much more immersive over time for Maggie, and how she and Kate deal with it is what we're interested in diving into.

Considering the gravity of the proposal for the character and the progression of a high-profile homosexual relationship in comics, it was surprising that the issue landed with relatively little fanfare and hasn't had a big promotional push since. Was this a deliberate choice to maintain the surprise for readers, or was there alternative reasoning?

The surprise for the readers was a key factor. Let everyone else catch up. And it made the scene feel more honest when people read it for the first time. Which was really great, because we had planned this well over a year ago. But because there wasn't a super pre-hype machine on it, it comes across very naturalistically. An evolution of the story and characters, not a cheap publicity stunt.

The proposal was obviously an important event and shouldn't be viewed as a publicity stunt, but were you upset that it wasn't primed or teased in any way by DC considering the gravity and importance of both the event and the entire issue?

It was surprising because I had expected a PR push, but like I said it became apparent quickly that it worked in our favor that nothing was spoiled for the readers. It gave them an unexpected jolt, shaking them up emotionally. The issue got picked up by outside media regardless of PR, Reuters and Huffington Post, to name a couple. I love that because there is nothing worse than building up something that is important to how a story impacts the reader, ruining the moment for them is the worst thing you can do. I do despise spoilers. PR works best if it can tease efficiently without just blurting crap out. So even though we did not prime ahead of time in this instance at all, it turned out just fine, and gave it all an honesty and power that the scene much deserved.

Beyond the proposal and the reintroduction of Alice, many major events went down in "Batwoman" #17. Bette Kane was reintroduced as Hawkfire with a quite literal baptism-by-fire. From the upcoming covers, it seems as though she's come back to be Batwoman's sidekick. Psychologically, how will Bette cope with her life-threatening injury in the last arc?

Yeah, this was another exciting element for us. Another building up story to carry across the series over time. Although Bette (Hawkfire) partners with Batwoman to a degree, we don't really see her in the same way you might see a Robin. We see her as someone who is learning to stand on their own, to become an equal to Batwoman someday. But yeah, she still has psychological damage from the brutal assault by The Hook, and nearly dying. This will haunt her for some time, but it has also taught her to not take this gig so flippantly. She now sees what she does, and her life, from a new perspective that will allow her to continue evolving.

Batwoman's relationship with her father has been a thread throughout the series since the New 52 began. With Alice's return, Kate's reconciliation with Bette and proposal to Maggie and the reveal of Director Bones as Kate's possible brother, is it fair to say that family is a big theme of the series as it moves into its third arc?

Yes, it's almost going to be a family drama story. What is good about the timing of this is that also during the story we're going to really get into the meat of defining Batwoman's relationship with Batman much more profoundly than before. We've dropped clues back in arc 1 about what is coming, and it all kicks into motion in issue #18. So while this arc deals with Kate's personal family, we're going to define her role in relation to the supposed "Bat-family."

Kate has a lot ahead of her in the coming months, including a team-up with Batman. Will his recent loss of Damian play into the issue at all?

Well... we wouldn't really call it a team-up, far from it. But the arc in general will have strong implications on Batman and how he views Batwoman, and vice versa. And yes, the death of Damian may be impacting his judgement during this story.

What other challenges lie ahead for Batwoman as the year continues?

I think we've mostly outlined them above. But part of this will be her learning some new things about herself, and that sometimes it's okay to need help, to work with others.

Before letting you go, could you update us on how your "Sandman" project with Neil Gaiman is progressing? Is there anything you can tease about the challenges of the project so far?

It's starting -- and it will be grand.

"Batwoman" #18 is on sale March 20, 2013.

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