THE BAT SIGNAL: Williams III & Blackman Ring In The New Year With "Batwoman"

When DC Comics debuted its New 52 titles, "Batwoman" writer Haden Blackman and co-writer and artist JH Williams III opened their new series with "Hydrology." The arc followed Kate Kane as she tried tracking missing children and ended up discovering La Llorona, a living urban legend. Now, more than a year later, events that began in "Hydrology" are finally coming to a head as Batwoman and Wonder Woman face off with Medusa, the Greek demi-god and catalyst revealed to be behind the kidnappings, in a battle for Gotham that culminates in issues #16 and #17.

With Kate back on her home turf for a showdown with a mythological villain and her army of supernatural beings, THE BAT SIGNAL spoke with Blackman and Williams about their feelings about the end of their first epic maxi-arc, the missteps and triumphs of 2012 and what's in store for "Batwoman" in 2013!

CBR News: The current Medusa arc is ending and the first long storyline with the missing children is finally coming to a head with issues #16 and #17. How do you feel about wrapping up your first year-and-some-months-long maxi-arc on the book?

JH Williams III: I think it's all coming across pretty well. I was worried about how epic we could make it all feel while still doing character moments and stuff, but I think it's coming across pretty well. I was having trepidation when it came to over-the-top, epic imagery because we see that sort of stuff all the time in superhero comics, and at some point it can easily become passe. For me, its how to make it visually and story-wise interesting to see and stand out from what is typically seen in superhero comics, as far as epic stuff is concerned.

In these last few issues, we've seen a lot of your visual interpretation of Greek mythology with beings like Pegasus, who's drawn scratchier with a lot more crosshatching than your usual art, and Medusa, who looks like she's emanating light. How do you go about designing these mythical foes Batwoman and Wonder Woman are facing?

Williams: I always apply design and style manipulation for stuff like this on what the story is telling me, what the style is telling me, and in my gut, instinctually, what feels right for the characters. Particularly a character like Pegasus, who really only has one scene in this entire story -- what can I do stylistically that would say something unique about his character, just on a visual level? By choosing different styles like that with different characters, even if they don't get a lot of screen time, it can say something subliminally about the type of character they're looking at. Pegasus and that entire setting has this kind of rugged sort of look; it says a lot about the character and how isolated he was -- he chose the Southwest for a location to stay -- all that comes across simply based on the style I chose.

Before we move onto talking about what's coming next in story, JH, at Morrisoncon you spoke a little about your music and album cover artwork for rock and metal bands. Do you get inspiration from your music album covers for "Batwoman" or repurpose images from your work in the musicsphere for the comic?

Williams: The answer to that is pretty simple; I feel art influences art, so basically everything influences everything, even if you're not anticipating it to do so. Influences can come out when you're not thinking about it, and you don't realize it's reared its head until after you do something and you go back and say, "Oh, that reminds me of something else!" That's the beauty of artwork in general, especially when you're doing a lot of it, it how different things can show up unexpectedly in new and interesting ways.

For both of you, when you have a story that spans over a year and incorporates everything from gods to urban legends, how do you follow that up? Should fans get ready to start on another year-long story like this one?

Haden Blackman: I think that at this point we're not really thinking about it in terms of arcs -- we clearly are in the sense that we want to have five our six issues that have a beginning, middle and end and can be a satisfying read all together. But there's so many threads we placed in the first three arcs that aren't resolved by the end of this, so even though the main through line, the conflict with Medusa, will come to a resolution, there's all this other stuff that will still be hanging. In particular, the state of all of Kate's relationships will continue through the next arc and beyond. I'm trying to look at it more like a television series than a bunch of arcs; we want the series to stand on its own, and the arc, in the traditional sense, to stand on it's own, but we're constantly planting all these seeds to keep the story moving forward.

Williams: Yeah, when you really think about it, monthly comics are a serialized form of storytelling, much like a television series, and the best bet to get the most mileage out of your stories is to find ways to keep things connected as time moves along. Even though book three deals with Wonder Woman and Medusa, it still has all these connecting points to the past and future for all these different elements. Pretty much all regular, ongoing monthly comics operate this way, and I feel like Haden and I are trying to embrace that fully and look at the bigger picture and long-term scale of where they start, and where they end up over time.

Then let's talk about Kate herself -- how is Batwoman at this point in the Medusa/kidnapping story different than when you first started the book over a year ago?

Williams: One of the things I find intriguing in terms of where we're going in the next storyline is how it's going off of things we set out in the first year. For me, the whole first year has been about exploring myth and using mythical characters within the context of her story, sort of correlating the idea of superheroes being mythology and how Batwoman is becoming more of a mythical character herself through the ways superheroes are mythical characters. All of that kind of lends itself to a much more personal dynamic in the next seven issues or so in terms of her personal journey with family [and] what is Batwoman's legacy.

Blackman: To me, the most interesting stuff has to do with the relationships of all the main characters in the books, Maggie in particular. That relationship has evolved a lot over the course of our run, and in this arc in particular, we get to see how important that relationship is to them. I think the other thing that has been gratifying is, we've been able to, in this arc, really get inside Kate's head and then Maggie's head with the #0 issue and the issue that's sort of Maggie's point of view. To write from their point of view and express their thoughts in a really raw way was really gratifying and taught me a lot more about both characters.

Williams: Yeah!

Then tonally, will 2013 be more personal, with drama coming less from outside forces and supernatural creatures and more from the characters themselves?

Williams: Yes, definitely. What we were all about trying to do with "Batwoman," up until issue #17, was show how she's a character of the entire world. Now that we've established that, it's all about bringing her a bit more down to Earth, focusing on Gotham City and her relationships within that city. There's going to be some pretty cool stuff in that regard. I think it'll make an interesting pivotal shift in the way the story feels, too, going from something so big to something a little more personal, even though the ramifications will be equally as big.

Blackman: One of the things I think we can tease is, the relationship with the D.E.O. comes to a head in the next arc. [Kate's] been in contention with the D.E.O. pretty much since we started the book. Working for them was her real big decision she had to make at the end of the first arc, and the last two arcs, she's been constantly trying to buck that and get out from under the D.E.O. or use them to further her own ends and make the world a better place. That relationship is going to come to a head.

We've seen Mister Freeze defending Gotham in issue #14 and then he's on the cover of issue #18 -- is he going to be an important player in "Batwoman" in 2013?

Williams: He plays a significant role in the first part of issue #18, but in some ways, the next arc is going to be exploring Gotham more in terms of what people know, the basic Gotham cast in the DCU, really kind of exploring that. That's how Mister Freeze ends up coming back into it.You'll see some other Gotham characters rearing their heads over the course of the story.

Blackman: For us it was really important that we don't feel Batman's rogues gallery should be Kate's rogues gallery, which is partly born out of wanting to create new villains and spend as much time in the first year and a half fighting those villains, following her own storyline and not engaging with Batman or any of Batman's villains. Now, I don't know if we've actually planned this out consciously, but the last arc as it played out really was about introducing Kate to the wider world and the wider DCU as she's teaming up with Wonder Woman and experiencing the world beyond Gotham. This fourth arc brings her back to Gotham and shows how she fits into Gotham, but that doesn't mean all of a sudden Batman's rogues gallery becomes hers.

Williams: Ultimately, it's impossible for Batwoman not to run across someone like Mister Freeze, because Batman's rogues are so expansive, but if we try to focus on all the known Batman characters within our title, it's no longer Batwoman's title, it's Batman's. This next arc is going to be carving out the distinct differences between her and Batman pretty profoundly.

What can you say about this next arc and what Kate will be facing this year?

Blackman: I think this next arc is going to be super exciting; the D.E.O. relationship coming to a head is really driven by something the D.E.O. asks Kate to do and it requires them to have additional leverage over her, more than they currently have. They're holding this threat of hounding her Father over helping her early in her vigilante career as a threat to him, and they're holding that over her head. They're gong to ask her to do something is more insane than anything they've asked her to do before, and they need more leverage to do that. So it's going to force Kate to make big choices and it's going to force her into a situation that at the offset no one knows if she can pull it off or when -- and it's going to force Chase to ask questions about her own relationship to the D.E.O. and the decisions she's made and whether or not they're doing the right thing, so that's cool. And we're going to see a lot of characters that have gotten very little page time coming back, so Maggie has a very prominent role in the next role, Jacob has a very prominent role in the next arc. I love Jacob, and to see where that relationship goes in the next arc will be exciting for readers.

Williams: Yeah, perfectly said! [Laughter]

Trevor McCarthy is stepping in on art duties for the new arc -- is this following the same trajectory as before where a guest artist takes over for a mini-arc before you step back in, JH, or is he on for a longer time as you complete "Sandman?"

Williams: Yeah, he'll be on for an extended period of time because "Sandman" -- we haven't actually started the artwork on that yet, but that project is going to take a lot of time to finish off. This next storyline is pegged as seven issues, so you should be expecting to see Trevor on that for the entirety.

What is it about Trevor's style that made you feel he'd be a good fit for "Batwoman?"

Williams: What I like about Trevor's stuff is that he puts a lot of thought into what he's doing. Of course I'm attracted to that, and I'm attracted to some of his design sense. But what I really admire about his work is the level of detail he manages to get in. It's pretty significant, and there's a certain rock and roll vitally to his work as well that I think is interesting. Then, the rapport that he and I have built up over time is just good. He was a natural fit to bring in on a bigger scale for this story!

As your storyline concludes and you prepare to move into the next stage of Kate's life, what have you learned from this first year and a half on "Batwoman?" Is there anything you want or plan to do differently going into 2013?

Williams: I don't know if there's anything I've learned that can really be applied other than there's not enough room on the page for everything that we want to say! [Laughter]

Blackman: Yeah! I know it doesn't always seem like it because the storyline has gone over a year and Kate's still looking for these lost kids, but we did try to cram an awful lot into the arc. Going forward, we might get a little better at that. But the big thing for me was getting a little more confident and taking a few risks. I think the second arc that goes back and forth through time and tells stories through different character's points of view was a big risk that was met with mixed results initially, but then with fairly favorable results after people read it in trade paperback form. That was an interesting challenge. The other was to tell a story completely from Kate's point of view, and I think that was well received and I hope the Maggie one will be too. That has given me a lot more confidence in terms of their voices and spending time in their heads, and I'd like to do that more, to be honest. That is one way to tell more story in the twenty pages we have. The other fascinating thing for me over this past year is how much every now and then the story will take a shift all on it's own; its interesting how the story will just sot of write itself, like some of the things we're going to reveal coming up were unexpected and popped up all on their own in a way, which leads to more interesting things down the road, so that's an interesting thing to learn!

"Batwoman" #16 hits stores January 23.

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