Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Review: Batwoman #0


I don’t normally do reviews of comic books because usually I find that I can’t really do a decent job at being (emotionally) analytical about the material with only one issue of a series in my hands.  In order to truly represent the comic I’d be writing about I would prefer to wait until several issues have been completed, preferably a whole story arc, or a Trade Paperback has been released.  However by the time those things come out I’m usually not even thinking about that comic anymore.  I was supposed to review “Young Allies #1-6” months ago, for crying out loud.


Luckily this particular comic, Batwoman #0, is a One-Shot and its story is self-contained and thus easily reviewed.  Unfortunately it still may require a little background to fully understand who this character is.  I’ll give the short (As short as Beta is able to ever do, I mean) version:

Bat-Woman is a character created by DC Comics originally in 1956 as a reaction to the accusation of Batman and Robin being gay in the book “Seduction of the Innocent” (Which I very briefly mentioned once before).  Named “Kathy Kane” and declared a romantic interest for the 100% Heterosexual Bruce Wayne she was, as I understand it, not very interesting and only a competent crime fighter some of the time.  She was there for one reason; someone who Batman could be attracted to and rescue.   Yay feminism?  Thankfully DC did away with this lousy character in the 60s (Along with Ace the Bat-Hound), eventually replacing her with the much more well-rounded, competent and overall 175% more awesome second version of Batgirl (Barbara Gordon).  Later Kathy’s tenure as Bat-Woman was erased from continuity altogether with 1985’s “Crisis on Infinite Earths”.  Let’s never speak of her again.
The original Bat-Woman was an integral part of the Bat-Family for decad-JOSSED!
Fast forward to 2007 soon after the final issue of the above mentioned comic’s twenty-two years delayed sequel “Infinite Crisis”.  DC had begun releasing a weekly series (A rare thing for American comics) called “52” which helped explain the gap in the “One Year Later” storyline (Which I briefly discussed here).  The book focused on several B and C-string characters but introduced a new Batwoman, more or less unrelated to the first one, named Katherine Kane who is, like Barbara Gordon, super awesome.  She was part of a strategy by DC to bring more diversity (And publicity, most likely) to their comics by declaring that she was a lesbian...and also Jewish, but then executive-editor Dan DiDio would tell pretty much anyone who would listen just how gay Kate was and regularly patted himself and the company on the back for the bin progressive (Gay superheroes were nothing new at the point, but few received the push for attention that the new Batwoman got from the editors).  In 2009 she was made the main feature of Detective Comics as the regular star Batman had been recently killed sent on a yearlong adventure through time.   The character is most identified with Greg Rucka who wrote much of her stories, including her Detective Comics run, and helped establish her as one of the better new heroes created during the last ten years.

DC announced earlier this year that Batwoman would star in her own ongoing series starting in February of 2011, but they would first release Batwoman #0 to help bridge the gap between this new series and the recent run on Detective Comics.   This book is co-written by J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman with art by Williams and Amy Reeder (More on that in a bit).

Bruce Wayne/Batman, now back in present day after being Trapped in Time for months in “comic time”, is attempting to catch up on the things he missed during his absence; in this case the mysterious Batwoman who has been operating in Gotham as he hopes to deduce her identity and her modus operandi.  Tracking his prime suspect Katherine Kane’s movements Batman relates the evidence to support his claim via what appears to be a journal.


Why does she need lipstick to fight crime? 
This is an “Issue #0”, a marketing tactic that was used all the time in the 90s/Dark Age of Comics to grab a little extra cash from readers.  In theory they don’t directly affect an ongoing plot of the series proper; instead it usually expands upon a main character and/or storyline with a standalone episode though sometimes they could act as a direct prologue for the series as a whole either way acting a jumping on point for new readers.  In this case it seems to latter.  The story is told through the eyes of Batman who only interacted with Batwoman a token amount before he vanished into TIME ITSELF and therefore is the perfect narrator for anyone who doesn’t know much about the character.  We don’t learn details about her origin because Batman doesn’t learn them from his stalking observations this issue but his speculations to what it might be gives the newer reader serious clues (Though long time readers would likely already be familiar with it).  This format works; there is no better jumping on point for this character so if you’re even a little interested in Batwoman this is the issue for you.  The artwork is literally broken up horizontally and sometimes vertically: Williams draws the top sequences featuring Batman watching Batwoman fighting members of the Church of Crime from the shadows while the bottom portion, drawn by Reeder, features Bruce Wayne in several different disguises tailing Kane in her day to day life in order to gather evidence to support suspicions of her dual identity.  This format could have easily been redundant or stupid but the execution is handled wonderfully and helped give this single issue comic some much needed uniqueness.

The story is a character piece and I like it for two main reasons.  #1) It clearly and neatly gives us the Cliff Notes version of everything we need to know about Batwoman: she’s a rich socialite who may or may not be capable of having a decent social life (Something Batman admits he’s too broken to ever achieve), she has a military background that ended poorly, she has a colonel father who may be involved in her activities, she’s a skilled enough fighter that Batman (One of the ten best fighters alive) is seemingly impressed, and most importantly she lost someone close to her and Batman speculates is the motivation for her crime fighting.  Now if you are familiar with the character than you are already aware of the full details behind those facts, but for someone who’s new to her it is a great introduction to Batwoman without being overwhelmed by information.

#2) Though probably not its intended goal, or at least not its primary goal, it’s a fascinating study of Batman as well.  Over the years Batman has become increasingly dark and cynical (Note that the character was originally fairly dark until Seduction of the Innocent “fixed” him) starting in the late-60s/early-70s and reaching insane levels by the early 2000s.  Batman had become something of a paranoid lunatic who didn’t trust anyone, possibly not even his adopted children/crime fighting partners.  He has since been toned down but there are certain aspects of that interpretation that still linger and this comic makes that fact clear.  Why does Batman feel the need know who Batwoman is?  Traditionally Batman hates vigilantes unapproved by him operating in Gotham City (This includes Superman, by the way) which is part of the reason he dislikes the Huntress and barely tolerated the Spoiler for years.  His interest in Kate not only shows that his obsessive compulsion to be one step ahead of everyone, friend or foe, is alive and well but also reaffirms character traits that he has displayed in his modern interpretation.  I like consistency and Batman as he’s portrayed here is exactly how I would assume he’d handle the situation: one step ahead, but motivationally dubious (Character flaws are awesome).

Batman once devised several ways to brutally disable and torture his JLA teammates
You know, because he's sane
The artwork is fine, but I’m not the type of person who puts much stock into the art unless it’s really good or really awful.  The two sequences with the different artist gimmick works well as I said, though I wonder if either Williams or Redder couldn’t have just all the art work themselves.  Their style is very distinct from each other, especially the background, and I’m unsure who I like more since Williams doesn’t draw Kate Kane and Redder doesn’t draw Batwoman at all through the issue.  However I’m put off by how pale Katherine is in her civilian identity.  Is she always that dang pale?  It was downright spooky.  I realized that just about every time I’ve ever seen Batwoman drawn she’s been white as a ghost but seeing her that way as a normal person in street clothes freaked me the hell out.


Kind of like this only with a lady in a bat costume
The only real problem with this issue is that it’s very short.  I suppose that’s not too surprising considering it’s just a One-Shot but the price tag is still $2.99 which I believe is the standard for a normal sized DC comic right now.   That’s a lot of cash for a measly 16 pages of actual story.  Hell, there are 11 pages of PREVIEW for future comics…9 of which aren’t even for Batwoman’s ongoing series.  That’s clearly padding.  Part of this may be due to the fact that Williams supposedly didn’t want to do an Issue Zero but was forced to anyway.  In any case this doesn’t feel like full issue but I certain feel like I paid for one.

Ultimately this comic kicks ass I recommend it for anyone who a) wants to read more comics with female leads and b) have heard of this new Batwoman but have yet to check her out.  This is a great starting point for new fans.  I’m one of those new fans and I’m now really jazzed about the new ongoing.  I’m now hoping to get my hands on the older 52 and Detective Comic trades featuring her.  This should be a great series and February can’t come fast enough.

I give Batwoman #0 4 out of 5 Adorable Pandas.


Pros

-A great issue to start reading a critically acclaimed new character

-A very unique take on a usually painful type of book

-A good showcase of Batman’s personality and detective skills, and he’s a guest-star

Cons

-Too little story, too many preview pages for Detective Comics #871

-It might be redundant for people already fans of Batwoman

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