Batwoman Vol. 1: Hydrology remains a frustrating read for me because it’s nowhere near as fun as it should be when you look at the parts making up its whole:
- It is drawn by J.H. Williams…
- Starring a lesbian punkabilly socialite with military training who runs her Batwoman operations as combat missions with the help of her version of Alfred, her army colonel father…
- Missions that usually involve monster-men, ghost-ladies, the Religion of Crime and an Alice-in-Wonderland themed crazy who is actually Batwoman’s presumed-dead twin…
- While trying to evade the eyes of the Department of Extranormal Operations, which is headed by a skeleton in a suit who smokes cigars.
Honestly, how is this thing not better?
It boils down to tone, which is, considering the subject matter, kind of dry and formal. Batwoman was partly created by Greg Rucka, and that’s generally been his style, as a writer of crime fiction. So it makes sense that when original series artist J.H. Williams was promoted to writer as well, he’d continue in this vein.
But it’s Hot Redhead Batman Fights Monsters. This is not the time for “reserved.”
Which is another problem with J.H. Williams: if this is the type of story he wants to write, then he is the wrong artist to convey it. He is an AMAZING artist – his layouts are something you can just stare at for hours – but he’s not a very kinetic artist, and I’m pretty sure giving a sense of speedy forward motion could only help these stories’ pacing.
There’s also the problem of breaking something that was working fine, for the sake of starting new, and that’s for Kate Kane to dismiss her father’s help because she believes he knew about her sister’s non-death; in his place, she recruits her cousin as a sidekick, because apparently – and by the way, this is never explained in the book as anything more than, “Oh yeah, Kate’s cousin is Flamebird and apparently knows about Batwoman, anyway…” – she has been crimefighting as Flamebird for a while.
Which leads to problem 3 – we don’t know why Kate decides all of a sudden that she needs a sidekick, because we don’t much know why Kate does anything. As a character who has a pretty interesting backstory (she was kicked out of West Point for refusing to adhere to Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell … which, in a nice but now problematic twist, means her origin already dates her), she herself is kind of vaguely drawn, when it’s not downright contradictory.
She’s a dedicated socialite, but unlike Batman’s Bruce Wayne, it doesn’t look much like maintaining a façade. Actually it looks like she’s just got a pretty good handle on her work-life balance. And her look – the shocking-red hair, the practically-bleach-white skin, the tattoos – makes her singularly stand out from every other character, but she’s not stupid and should know she has to blend in a little more to avoid suspicion.
But again, it’s never explained why she’s the only person in the book that looks this outlandish. So it’s a wee bit embarrassing that detective Maggie Sawyer never looks at her new chalky, red-haired girlfriend and wonders if she’s somehow connected to that chalky, red-haired vigilante she’s supposed to catch.
So in general, no, this is a book that’s ultimately very pretty and has a lot of concepts that might work better under someone else’s pen (obviously, my go-to would be Palmiotti/Gray and Amanda Conner, who’ve done great work with Strong Female Characters before). But as it stands now, nice art and decent potential isn’t really enough to recommend it.
Batgirl, Vol. 1: The Darkest Reflection, on the other hand, provoked two responses to me: “God this is a slog,” and “Why do they keep dwelling on the past?”
As I noticed when reviewing the first issue, the ostensible motivation for getting Barbara Gordon out of her wheelchair and back in the Batgirl role is as simple as “She’s the one everyone remembers, and she’s got an easily explained origin.” And I’d be okay with that – well, I’d make peace with it, anyway – if the stories themselves justified that decision.
But instead, the first six issues dwell to an unhealthy degree on the past, giving Barbara two chief character traits – the trauma of a gunshot victim, and the survivor’s guilt of a former paraplegic who’s up and around again.
And I mean dwell. Not a single PAGE goes by without some long-winded 1st-person narration where Babs outlines her feelings and frustrations and fears and dear GOD just go out and punch some Riddler goons in the face or something already!
But no, even her two new villains are trauma-based. The Mirror – a character with a design so silly you’d assume he was a parody, but nope, we are supposed to take this guy seriously – goes around killing people he thinks should have died because of the hell on earth that is surviving a trauma that killed a loved one and woe, woe be upon him!
The second arc revolves around a woman who developed mesmerism powers after being shot in the head and decides to become a hitwoman because she doesn’t want to be a victim ever again, and around the time she provides her motivation the reader has to wonder if the next arc will involve Madame Guilt-Trip, who has the ability to make people fall down under the weight of their crippling emotions or something.
It’s all incredibly dour, and so ham-fisted that there’s not an inch of fun to be had, which is especially frustrating since this was the book that they decided to cancel the previous Batgirl volume for – and that book not only was a ton of fun, it featured a Barbara Gordon who was actually likeable and multi-dimensional.
Reviews Coming Up: More Batman titles on account of there are like 50 of them! That Other Justice League Book! And two books that have actually been pretty well-received – Animal Man and Aquaman!
In Other News: Remember that Frankenstein book I said I really liked? Cancelled.