In 2006, the debut of Kate Kane, the second iteration of Batwoman, was met with such praise/derision that the character managed to land in publications like USA Today and The New York Times, old media juggernauts whose pages rarely covered the world of four color cape-and-cowl superhero comics, unless a new movie featuring the X-Men or Batman was slated for release. It was a rare moment of cultural penetration for DC Comics, who so often appear inept when it comes to garnering anything resembling outsider press, but the thing about Batwoman that nobody could seem to make up their minds about was if DC Comics was presenting the adventures of a gay, Jewish superheroine without comment, in an innocent attempt to diversify a superheroine roster that trended Caucasian, ample-chested and straight, or if Kate Kane was merely a cry for attention, one that the media was, indeed, suckered by. Considering that I was largely done with comic books by the time she debuted in 52, the weekly comic book that promised to further shake-up the DC Universe in the aftermath of one of their yearly infinite crises, I was in no position to find out myself. But the character has persisted, even to the point that she ousted Batman from Detective Comics for a brief period of time and now is the focus of her own book, co-written and drawn by the indomitable J.H. Williams III.
Assuming that you don’t know anything about Batwoman (and I don’t, so we’re in the same boat!), Batwoman #1 has an irresistible hook–a supernatural killer/kidnapper of children who is the creepiest thing to come out of Gotham in some time. The Weeping Woman, apparently an urban legend of some kind, is the vengeful spirit of a woman who drowned her children, then drowned herself. Appearing to be made of water, she occupies a room, crushing the lungs of those inside. When she leaves, taking a child with her, the room smells like the sea. Regardless of any plot thread involving the government, Batman, or Kate Kane’s personal life, this is compelling stuff–far and away the most captivating mystery of any of the new Bat-books. A lot of that is due to Williams’ art, which is not only evocative, but frequently outside the lines of typical comic book presentation. This splash page, for instance, fleshes out the Weeping Woman through some police procedural while making her the center of focus, visually, despite her absence:
Other pages, including the title page, push towards a sort of psychedelia, an is-it-or-isn’t-it-real stream of events that navigate the murky reality of Batwoman #1‘s ghost story in ways that other mediums would struggle to reproduce, the actions and dialog converging so that the confusion of the victims feels more real than that of, say, the disbelieving girlfriend in a haunted house movie.
The things that don’t deal with the Weeping Woman are a little confusing to a first time reader like me, as the middle of the book serves as an infodump of things I’ve missed over the past five years. Kate Kane is no longer in a relationship with Renae Montoya, whose sexuality I would have never guessed from Batman: The Animated Series. She’s training a sidekick who, apparently, was less than useful in the recent past. Her father (at least I assume that’s her father) shows up, leading to another infodump about Kate’s sister and family history, and, while it’s all rendered very nicely, the book feels weighed down with words that, this early in the game, don’t feel as important or central as the kidnappings, or even the two page splash detailing the government’s interest in bringing Batwoman down.
However, Batwoman is an interesting character, one that I’m interested in seeing more of. It would be hard for me to ignore a monthly book by one of my favorite artists, but, buoyed by Williams and W. Hayden Blackman’s script and the sense that DC Comics has managed to create a real minority hero of consequence and purpose in five years, with a minimum of exploitation, the book speaks for itself, offering things to new and old readers alike.