Batwoman: Elegy by Greg Rucka and J. H. Williams III
I believe it was TJ at the now defunct Dreams and Speculation who introduced me to the current Batwoman, Kate Kane. (On a side note, I really miss TJ.) I remember the media attention concerning her status as a particularly high-profile queer character in DC; DC was pushing it heavily, considering their track record with diversity (although it’s not like Marvel really does much better). As I watch a lot of my favorite characters get shafted by the reboot, I thought it might be high time to investigate a character who seems untouched by all that madness. Also, I stumbled across a copy at the library.
Batwoman: Elegy collects the ten issues featuring Kate Kane that appeared in Detective Comics from 2009 to 2010. After her encounter with the followers of the Religion of Crime, which left her with a stab wound in the chest, Batwoman discovers that the twelve covens are about to elect their newest leader, a mysterious woman who calls herself Alice, quotes Lewis Carroll, and has a dim regard for human life. But there’s more to this battle than hero versus villain, and the comic delves into Kate’s past to help uncover the truth.
Sweet Mother Mary, is this comic book gorgeous or what? I’d heard about J. H. Williams III’s work before, but I had only seen it in pieces and not as a coherent comic. Kate’s life is artistically divided between her straightforward but intriguingly paneled present civilian life, her retro rendered past (which evolves into the art style of the present), and her lusciously and dramatically illustrated vigilantism. This Batwoman is a terrifying whirl of black, white, and red, and Williams does things with panels that I’ve never seen before (which doesn’t say much). There’s a two page spread that calls to mind both Mucha and mandalas, comparing and contrasting the pastel Alice with the dramatic Kate. Holy crow. And, delightfully, Williams stays away from cheesecake (unless you call Kate in a tuxedo cheesecake, which I definitely do) in situations I can imagine other artists doing very, very poorly with. (Although I still think Kate needs a good sports bra for her vigilantism. That can’t be comfortable!)
As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m fascinated by characters with extremely strong ethics. Kate is the ultimate military woman—daughter of two soldiers, a fantastic student, and so committed to West Point’s code of honor that even when her commanding officer gives her a way out when he hears about her girlfriend, she will not lie. Being Batwoman, as she says herself, is a way for her to serve her country. Of course, she’s not perfect—between her expulsion from the military and her decision to become Batwoman, she dropped out of college and pushed away a woman she loved. Despite her code of ethics, she can be violent (both emotionally and physically) and she’s still raw from the death of her mother and sister as a child. In short, she’s real… although the chalk-white skin might throw you for a loop. It did me. Other characters of note are her father, a classic military man who loves, respects, and challenges his daughter, and, of course, Alice, who reminded me of Harley Quinn a bit, what with the amorality, violence, and paleness. She’s an interesting foil for Kate, especially once we learn her origin.
I have to admit that the story itself took me a while to get into, as I was just leaping into this collection. The Religion of Crime and some adherents who are actually shapeshifters feel a little odd next to the realism of Kate’s life. (Charmingly, Daniel Choi helped Rucka with the research for Kate’s life at West Point; he has a small cameo as a fellow cadet who covers an assignment for her.) She feels so unconnected to the main Batman mythos that it’s odd to see the urban fantasy elements of regular flavor Batman crop up here. I’m still not sure how I feel about it, but the ultimate confrontation between Kate and Alice is not about these supernatural trappings, but about two women who are still hashing out their past.
Bottom line: An insanely gorgeous comic about the ultimate military woman and the way she’s able to serve her country. Worth a read.
I rented this book from the public library.