“Hydrology, Part 1: Leaching”
Writers: J.H. Williams III & W. Haden Blackman
Artist/Cover artist: Williams
Colors: Dave Stewart
Letters: Todd Klein
Editor: Mike Marts
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 US
Finally. Forget the New 52. Forget “Batman Inc.” Forget it all. Batwoman has been waiting in DC’s wings for too long, and we J.H. Williams III fans have been patient, confident the title would be worth tolerating the delays. And we were right. It’s hard to imagine any other DC comic published this month would be more beautiful thank this one, but hey, we knew Williams would offer some pretty and compelling visuals. No, the really good news is he and co-writer W. Haden Blackman have crafted a story worthy of the hauntingly beautiful artwork. I was surprised to find a supernatural element was included in this inaugural story arc, but it definitely helps to set this new story apart from previous tales featuring the title character. But the more interesting conflicts don’t stem from the mystery or the drama of missing children. Instead, what makes this such an engrossing read are the subplots, the character-driven moments that bring Kate Kane down to earth while also illustrating the extreme circumstances she’s had to overcome to arrive at this moment in her life.
Batwoman bursts into a Gotham apartment to find a ghostly woman in the midst of abducting a trio of children as their parents watch helplessly. The heroine is unable to stop the supernatural threat — later named the Weeping Woman — but gives her word to the distraught mother and father she won’t rest until she returns their children to them. Meanwhile, the woman behind Batwoman’s mask, Kate Kane, is being pressured by her cousin to train her and to join her nightly crusade, and Kane reconnects with Det. Maggie Sawyer and tries to take the first steps towards a relationship with her.
Williams doesn’t disappoint, offering plenty of unconventional, flowing page and panel layouts. He reflects the antagonist’s connection to water and her spectral nature to the fluid layouts and panel borders in her scenes. That contrasts with the sharp angles of the panel borders that arise when Batwoman crashes through a window. The jagged, sharp edges of the borders are like the sharps of glass she scatters about the room. I find it interesting that Williams has opted (as he’s done before) to portrayed Kate as something of a ghost among the living herself, and it’s more pronounced here given the villain appears to be a ghost herself. His backgrounds are incredibly convincing, but as strong as they are, they’re not nearly as powerful as the figures. The realism in his portrayal of people allows him to expose their vulnerability and humanity.
Stewart’s colors are absolutely lovely, almost making Williams’ linework look as though it’s painted at times. As strong as Williams’ storytelling is, the opening scene wouldn’t have been nearly as effective without Stewart’s cool blues and greens, which go a long way to reinforce the haunted and watery tone of the scene. I also like how he establishes the everyday work with much brighter colors. Furthermore, I was thrilled to find Todd Klein was still contributing the lettering to this property. He’s the most talented letterer in the business, and his innovative forms always add to the story.
Given the fact this comic book was crafted long before the New 52 initiative was in full swing behind the scenes at DC, the writers have don an excellent job of providing an accessible introduction to the title character and her supporting cast. There are plenty of references to the Greg Rucka-written, Williams-illustrated Batwoman stint from the previous incarnation of Detective Comics, but they’re there to provide context for the character conflicts. In other words, Williams and Blackman include exposition for new readers organically into the dialogue. The only reference that’ll be lost on the uninitiated would be the moment during which Kate dwells on a photo of Renee Montoya. Her behavior makes it seem as though she’s mourning a dead friend, but in reality, she’s mourning the loss of the relationship and perhaps the pain Montoya endured during their time apart.
The fact this comic was developed before the New 52 concept came into play at the publisher is apparent in the script. It contradicts some of the newly established continuity into which it’s now meant to fit. The problem stems from Batwoman’s new sidekick, her cousin Bette, formerly known as the part-time adventurer called Flamebird. The dialogue connects Bette to her time among the Teen Titans, but in the world of the New 52, the Titans are a much different and newer entity to which she couldn’t have any link. To be honest, the discontinuity doesn’t interfere with or intrude on this storytelling experience, but I think it’s indicative of a lack of planning at higher levels in DC. We saw this happen with DC continuity following certain reboots in the wake of Crisis on Infinite Earths, and that led the publisher to scramble to put together convoluted stories designed to serve as super-hero universe spackle.
Williams gives his fans a real treat by incorporating Cameron Chase and the Department of Extranormal Operations into this title. Williams was the regular artist on Chase a short-lived series about a federal agent investigating cases involving the DC’s superhuman community, and it’s fondly remembered, not only by its readers, but apparently by DC, which is releasing a complete collection of the series and associated stories. Williams and Blackman offer an accessible introduction to the character and her weird boss, but I find it interesting they opt for a slightly sinister tone in Chase. Maybe they’re going to do something new with her, or maybe it’s just a bit of misdirection for those unfamiliar with her. I look forward to seeing what role she’ll play in Batwoman, that of ally or of opponent.
Maybe what was most striking about this comic book was the story is populated by a cast of strong, female characters. All of the major roles are filled by female characters, and they’re convincing ones. The Weeping Woman is a thoroughly creepy yet somehow tragic figure, but my favorite bits in the book were Kate’s more personal moments. Her scene with Maggie and the confrontation with her father show opposite ends of Kate’s emotional spectrum. She’s almost shy and clearly vulnerable as she decides to approach Maggie, but she’s a whirlwind of outrage and hurt in the face of her father. While she exhibits a stoic and strong facade, the writers are exploring how Kate is broken in many ways. I would imagine this series will ultimately prove to be about her efforts to repair her broken parts. Maybe she’ll even end up carving out a life for herself rather than a mission. 9/10
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