REVIEW: Batwoman #0 – “Beyond A Shadow”

Batwoman 0, cover by Amy Reeder

So obviously, this site is still pretty new and we’re still figuring out what works and what doesn’t. As far as comic reviews, we’ll be posting reviews of our pull list and then any other comics that catch our eyes. These will be both new and old comics, but we’ll do our best to put reviews of new books up on Wednesdays in case anyone wants to use the review to help them decide what to pick up or not. We’ll also be using a 1-10 scale for review. Some of that may change, and we welcome constructive feedback, so comment away!

Our inaugural review is DC’s Batwoman #0, from the creative team of J.H. Williams, W. Haden Blackman, Amy Reeder and Richard Friend. As you may recall, DC announced a few months ago that they were proceeding with a Batwoman on-going but without the guiding hand of Kate Kane’s original writer, Greg Rucka. The announced replacement writer? None other than the artist who created the beautiful look of Batwoman’s run in Detective Comics, J.H. Williams. If you missed that run on Detective, go get it! It’s collected in trades and, while a little overly goth-looking, is completely gorgeous and a great story.

But enough about how great an artist Williams is, how does he stand up as a writer? Well, it’s worth pointing out that Williams (who is still the artist for “half” of the book… more on that in a minute) is co-writer with Haden Blackman, a noted Star Wars writer for Dark Horse. The credits don’t break down Plotter vs. Scripter, so it seems to be a joint effort from both of them.

The difference in style between Williams' Batwoman panels and Reeder's Kate panels

The book’s layout is remarkable, with most pages being half-Batwoman, half-Kate in her personal life. Williams continues his trend of artistically dividing the panels, such as jagged diagonal lines dividing the top half from the bottom. It’s these divisions that also alternate between Kate and Batwoman, providing contrast both in the art style and the story content (action vs. character).

The story itself is much what you’d expect from a zero issue. A recently returned Bruce Wayne is investigating Batwoman, trying to verify that Batwoman is in fact Kate Kane. As Batwoman battles the Religion of Crime at night, Bruce goes undercover to follow Kate about her civillian life. Be warned, the story itself is only 16 pages, with preview artwork of the upcoming issues and a Detective preview taking up the remaining pages. Still, the cover price is down to $2.99, so it’s on par with most DC/Marvel these days.

Williams and Blackman write a convincing story with good dialogue (the majority of it is Batman voice-over as he investigates). Batman’s on-character and Batwoman’s history is retold in a smooth way that never feels like exposition. Williams’ artwork is as good as ever, highly stylized and interestingly laid out. Reeder and Friend’s artwork is also stylized though in a more traditional comic book style, but is similar enough to Williams’ style to provide contrast without looking like completely different characters (for instance, she draws a pale, fairly goth-looking Kate but still makes her work in a world of more traditional-looking characters).

On the topic of Kate in general (if you’ll indulge me in some grousing), I’m still a little disappointed that they decided to make Kate such a “gothic doll” back in Detective. When she first appeared in 52, she was a long-haired, tan, super-model-type. Yes, this depiction of Kate makes more sense for her character and Rucka did write in a scene explaining why she looks so different now, but it still kind of irks me that it’s such a jarring change. I’ll balance that fairly minor gripe with this praise: I can’t think of a more identifiable and realistic lesbian character in comics. I think the thing that makes her work so well is that her being a lesbian is almost never brought up and not the sole focus of her stories, unlike so many LGBT characters. Remember when Judd Winnick brought in that gay assistant for Kyle when he was writing Green Lantern? The kid had no reason to be there except for Winnick to get up on his high horse and beat us over the head with his heavy-handed pro-gay message. I have no problem with comics teaching socially-conscious messages, but they should do it with more skill than a below-average after-school special. And I think the way they handle Kate is superb: she’s gay, but that’s the least of her notable traits.

As far as this issue goes, I give this an 8/10: a great catch-up with gorgeous art, but definitely a preview of things to come rather than a good story on it’s own. With DC’s lax editors and catering to artist’s demands, I wouldn’t be surprised if Williams’ combining art and writing chores delay this series from time to time. Hopefully Blackman handling half the writing will allow them to make deadlines. Even if not, the occasional delay is probably okay with me if the quality of the art remains up to the high standards Williams has already set.

For further reading:

  • Batwoman: Elegy: The collected edition of the run in Detective Comics I mentioned above. The first time we really get into the meat of Batwoman’s character.
  • DC 52 vols 1-4: The first appearance of Kate as Batwoman and the introduction of the Religion of Crime. There’s a lot going on in this 52-issue mini-series, and while all of it is good, Batwoman’s story comes in and out.
  • Crime Bible: Five Lessons of Blood 1-5: Doesn’t appear to be collected in trade, but this 52 Aftermath mini-series was written by Rucka and gives further detail on the Religion of Crime and involves The Question (Renee Montoya) and Batwoman
  • Final Crisis: Revelations: While Darkseid conquers Earth with the Anti-Life Equation, the Religion of Crime finds an exemplar in the form of Vandal Savage. A great story featuring The Question, The Spectre and Batwoman

    Also of note is the Chase series from the 90s. Most people will point you to Morrison’s Seven Soldiers as a great example of Williams’ artwork, but I think his work on Chase deserves a second look. I believe there’s a trade coming out of the first few issues, or maybe a DC Comics Presents reprint. Check it out if you can’t track down the original issues.

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    5 Responses to REVIEW: Batwoman #0 – “Beyond A Shadow”

    1. E. Peterman says:

      Good review! I agree with you on the point that Kate is an interesting character, period, and her sexual orientation is handled matter-of-factly, which is as it should be. The layout of this issue was superb, and the Batman-as-narrator device worked very well. Yay, Batwoman!

    2. Daniel J. says:

      Nice review!

      I like the change in character that they made in Kate between 52 and ‘TEC.

      It is jarring, but it fits in with everything she went through in 52 and there is a nice progression if you also include CRIME BIBLE #3, which is where we see her in between “super model” and “goth.”

    3. Thanks! Yeah, I like her change in character better too, but the design is a bit over the top for my tastes. On the other hand, the original design was too lipstick lesbian, so maybe I just won’t be happy with anything 🙂

    4. Is there really another way to portray a ginger in a comic? 🙂

      JH explained his rationale for her look in a recent interview.

      I’ve met lesbians who do look like her, so it does work for me, but I am so enraptured by the art and the character overall, that I would probably accept anything, even if she went black hair, black lipstick, etc.

      In costume, the white skin and red lips gives her a striking look and I think JHW III is using it as a way for the character to intimidate her prey when she’s on the hunt. 

    5. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think WIlliams is doing anything wrong here. It’s a totally valid choice and appropriate to her character, I just don’t really like the look (and not even enough to consider it anything more than a minor gripe).

      Plenty of lesbians do go for a goth look, but if they’re trying to not make it a thing, shouldn’t she dress like a normal person, not a super-goth nor a super-model? Then again, you still have to make her look her own and there’s plenty of straight girls who dress goth, so maybe that’s a non-issue.

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