BookBin2014: Batwoman Volume 4: This Blood Is Thick

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I’m quite sad that I am here to give a rather lackluster review to my latest adventure with Kate Kane. Perhaps it’s because the last collection was, by far, the best of the best since Batwoman’s “New 52” relaunch. After all, it’s kind of hard to top Batwoman partnering with Wonder Woman. Also, Williams was back as the artist, which you all know delights me to no end. And both Williams and Blackman were fiercely on-point when it came to that collection’s story arc. Simply put, the third collection was perfection, IMHO.

The fourth volume, This Blood Is Thick, isn’t awful (that’s such backhanded praise, no?). Something about it, however, didn’t set well with me. Perhaps it had more to do with my knowledge of the behind-the-scenes issues. As fans know, this was Williams and Blackman’s last run as Batwoman’s authors. She’s now in another’s hands, with Williams and Blackman not even concluding the cliffhanger on which this collection ends. It’s a good cliffhanger, to be sure…but that just makes it all the worse. Dance with the one who brought you, DC. They brought the Lady Kane to this precipice. They should have been the ones allowed to lead her over the edge.

But I digress.

Perhaps it also was because Batwoman actually doesn’t get all that much air time in this collection. Surprisingly, for being the titular character, she’s almost relegated to supporting cast a lot of the time. That’s not necessarily terrible, since many of the supporting characters in Batwoman’s world are pretty ace…but I still would like my fair share of time with the star of the show. Also, I didn’t really like the injection of Batman villains into Batwoman’s storyline. I get why they’re there, but I have always enjoyed that Batwoman kind of exists in her own…what? Parallel universe to Batman and the rest of the Bat family? They don’t really intersect all that often (although Batgirl got a full-on taste of Batwoman’s mad skills a while back). I like that. But this time, seeing Batwoman going up against Batman foes like Mr. Freeze and Bane? I don’t know anything about these characters…and I don’t care to. They aren’t Batwoman characters. So GTFO.

Says the one who went crazy over Wonder Woman’s appearance in the last collection.

Finally, though, it really is the ending that really pissed me off with this collection. Again, Williams and Blackman were cut off at the knees here. They’d already written Issue 25 (the continuation of where this collection ended) and were beginning to plan out Issue 26, which would have ended the arc of this particular Batwoman run. They knew where all the characters were going to end up, they knew how they were going to conclude the story…and now? Now we’re never going to get their ending. And that sucks. Seriously, I reached the last page and felt oh so frustrated and not the least bit furious. Really? That’s it? That’s how you wanna roll with this, DC Comics? Lame.

Final Verdict: All that being said, I’m keeping this in my collection. I don’t think that it was so terrible that I don’t want to own it anymore. I am, however, very disheartened by the truncated whimper on which Williams and Blackman have gone out with Batwoman. This is the last batch of their comics, and the next collection will mark the arrival of the new Weaver of Tales for the Lady Kane, Marc Andreyko. I’m not sure what to expect with the next collection, but I love the character enough that I’m willing to give it a proper chance to impress me. All I have to say is don’t blow this, Andreyko. I don’t take kindly to people fumbling my fandoms.

BookBin2013: Batwoman Volume 2: To Drown the World and Volume 3: World’s Finest

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I told you I’d be speaking of the Lady Kane very soon. I bought all three of these graphic novels at the same time, and while I enjoyed Batgirl’s collection immensely, it was really all about Batwoman for me. These two graphic novels, To Drown the World and World’s Finest, barely made it into the house before I was flipping through them, devouring the visuals, squeeing at the snippets that my brain was able to process on a first-blush review, and then champing at the bit in anticipation of the story that awaited me.

Admittedly, I might have enjoyed the second Batgirl collection a bit more if I wasn’t so looking forward to these two novels. Sorry, Batgirl.

Truthfully, though, I was a little bit…not necessarily disappointed by the second Batwoman collection…but definitely not as enamored of it as I was of her first go in the New 52 universe. One of the primary reasons is a pretty obvious one. J.H. Williams III didn’t do most of the artwork for this collection. He and W.H. Blackman were busy writing the story, so a lot of the interior art was done by Amy Reeder, Trevor McCarthy, and Pere Perez, with Guy Major doing the coloring. Not that this made the artwork terrible…but Williams is such a masterful artist that not seeing his work makes you painfully aware of how unlike Williams most other artists are.

Plus, there are a lot more “male gaze/crotch/butt/boob” illustrations of Batwoman in this novel than previously, which I found very distracting. These particular poses die down after a while, but the fact that they’re in there at all really annoys me. Batwoman isn’t here to titillate you with pendulous breasts and a latex-clad badonka-donk. She’s here either to save or kick your ass, depending on which side of the law you choose. Also, if you’re turning to comic books for that kind of titillation? Here’s a little bit of advice: Women, even the comic book variety, are on this planet for more than your ogling. Also? Batwoman is not interested in you.

Williams and colorist Dave Stewart return to the drawing table for the comics that make up the third volume, giving even more credence to the collection’s title, World’s Finest. Not to mention the fact that the third volume’s writing is that much stronger…and there’s the fact that another DC Comics heroine makes a guest appearance throughout this collection, making it that much more amazing.

But first, the second volume. Just as I stated in my review of Batgirl’s Knightfall Descends, I feel like this second collection is a bridge collection, with story arcs designed to get us from the amazing work in Hydrology to World’s Finest. It’s still a solid offering (probably more so that Knightfall Descends) and carries the plot forward in strong ways.

The payoff, however, is the third volume, which is brilliant from start to finish. Plus? Wonder Woman. Yeah, that’s right. Wonder Woman plays a major part in this collection as she agrees to team with Batwoman to help defeat the latest menace to threaten the residents of Gotham City.

[Loba Tangent: Why are there even still people who live in Gotham City? I’m sorry, but not even knowing that Batwoman had my back would make me want to…okay, never mind. I would totally stay in Gotham if Batwoman was there to protect me. Carry on.]

Seriously, denizens, the third volume of the Batwoman story is ace all the way. Williams and Blackman are so on-point throughout, and Williams’s artwork shines as always. He makes the graphic novel experience such an immense joy, even when depicting some of the darkest, most gruesome moments. And believe me when I say that Batwoman’s world is incredibly dark and incredibly gruesome.

To be honest, this third volume made me believe that Batwoman could totally convey to a movie experience. This is definitely in part to Williams being such a masterful artist…his vision of Batwoman’s world is absolutely cinematic. Plus, the fantastical villains and epic battles would look amazing on a big screen. It definitely helps that the writing is so great as well. I know I said before that I didn’t think Williams was as strong a writer as he is an artist, but I do believe that the combo team of Williams and Blackman nail this story in such amazing ways. They both have hit such a stride, not only with the large-scale story arcs but also with the smaller, more intimate character developments. They also do a fantastic job on inner monologues, something that Gail Simone does with equal (and at times greater) mastery with her Batgirl writing. Plus, using this particular storyline would also bring Wonder Woman to the big screen, which is something that I fear might never actually happen unless she rides in on someone else’s coattails…or cape. All the better if she came in, lariat blazing, with another bad-ass comic heroine!

Of course, my high praise and adoration for the third Batwoman graphic novel makes the recent shakedown at DC Comics all the more disappointing and upsetting. Williams and Blackman have walked away from Batwoman because of DC Comics brass interfering in story lines that they had already greenlit. Story lines that should be allowed to be completed. I was willing to be a little less decisive about this until I read these latest offerings, but now that I have? I so very much would love to see the continuation of this story that Williams and Blackman wanted to tell. There’s a fourth collection that will contain what I think are the last of Williams and Blackman’s contributions to Batwoman…so at least there’s that. Still, I can’t even begin to express my disappointment that they have left…and have taken an amazing story with them.

Final Verdict: Not only am I keeping these (der), I’m also going to finally pick up Wonder Woman’s New 52 novels. Her story is currently being told by Brian Azzarello. I’m not that fond of his writing style, as I previously indicated in my review of his Joker graphic novel. Also, Cliff Chiang is in charge of the artwork. I’m not really all that crazy about his style either. Unless, of course, he’s drawing Wonder Woman as Joan Jett. Otherwise, meh.

Obviously, not really liking the writer or the artist are two major reasons to stay away from Wonder Woman. However, I kind of feel a bit schmucky that I’m not supporting Wonder Woman. I’ll at least give the first novel a go. We’ll see where it goes from there…

BookBin2013: Batwoman Volume 1: Hydrology / Batgirl Volume 1: The Darkest Reflection

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Please don’t think that because I have paired these two books into one review I don’t think they are worthy of their own individual posts. I can assure you, denizens, this is not the case. However, it just so happens that I purchased both of these “New 52” collections at the same time (along with my very own copy of Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, which I have already reviewed but mention because it will play a part in the following review). I also happened to read these two collections successively, which sparked a bit of “compare-and-contrast” within my swirly brain.

First, a bit of exposition: Both are collections of the first comics for each heroine under the recent DC Comics “reboot.” I use reboot loosely, however, because it kind of was a reboot…but not really. In my mind, a reboot would have meant total tabula rasa for all the characters involved. This wasn’t exactly the case, at least for Kate Kane and Barbara Gordon.

For example, Barbara Gordon is, indeed, once more Batgirl. However, she is still the same Barbara Gordon who was shot at point-blank range by the Joker in The Killing Joke. Part of her history is still those years she spent in a wheelchair and the time she spent known as Oracle, the brains behind the Birds of Prey.

Kate Kane is still the wealthy “playgirl” of Gotham with a military history that was curtailed by “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” She also still carries with her the baggage of dark truths revealed in the anthology Elegy.

So not necessarily a complete reboot in the truest sense of the word. However, it was enough of a reboot to get Gordon back into that Batgirl costume, which I definitely appreciate. Even more, it was enough to get Gail Simone in to take over telling Batgirl’s second chance at bat.

Heh. Get it? Bat. Never mind.

Simone’s name on the cover of The Darkest Reflection is ultimately what lured me into Batgirl’s story. I spoke about my thoughts on Simone’s prowess as a comic writer in my review of Wonder Woman: The Circle. She did wonders (I’m sorry; I’ll stop doing that, I swear) for Diana of Themyscira. She was also responsible for telling Gordon’s tale as Oracle for many issues as head writer for Birds of Prey, so I knew she already had a connection with and understanding of Gordon that most writers wouldn’t already have.

Similarly, it was seeing J.H. Williams, III’s name on Hydrology that lured me once more back into Batwoman’s storyline. Williams was the artistic brilliance behind Elegy, so I knew the art once again would be exemplary. However, this time, Williams was also the writer, taking over the Batwoman mythology from Greg Rucka. I honestly think this was the collection’s biggest weakness. Not only was Rucka a more captivating and comprehensive writer, I think taking on both roles caused Williams’s art to suffer a bit. But only a bit, mind you. Between the two collections, I would choose Williams as the more stunning and unconventional artist. Still, I think that writing and drawing were too taxing for Williams. His artwork was nowhere near as astonishing as it was for Elegy.

Sticking for a moment with commentary on the artwork, I will say this in favor of Ardian Syaf, the artist behind Batgirl’s return: I much preferred his rendering of Gordon as Batgirl to Williams’s rendering of Kane as Batwoman. Batgirl came across as fit, athletic, limber, and lithe. She has a sporty physique and her Batgirl costume is modestly rendered. She looks like she’s ready to do battle with villains.

Batwoman, on the other hand, at times looks like she’s ready to take a spin or two around a pole in Gotham’s redlight district. Pendulous breasts and a generous derriere, covered in latex in a way that leaves little to the imagination, Batwoman is also drawn in a far more provocative manner than Batgirl. Translation: There are lots more stereotypical comic renderings of Batwoman from utterly ridiculous but obviously “male gaze” angles than there are of Batgirl.

Syaf’s take on Batgirl is celebratory of the female form, while Williams’s take on Batwoman comes across many times as exploitative. It’s a shame, really. I want to like Batwoman more than Batgirl, but I find comics that depict women so wantonly to be insulting and, truthfully, kind of sad.

I can’t help but wonder if the moderation of Syaf’s artwork was due to Simone’s presence. Did Simone let Syaf know that she didn’t want Batgirl coming across as one step above a Playboy Playmate? Or did Syaf perhaps refrain from the more lascivious artwork out of deference to Simone? Or maybe it has less to do with Simone and more to do with the one primary difference between the two characters names: Gordon is a Bat girl, while Kane is a Bat woman. Perhaps the “girl” nom de guerre grants her a reprieve from the more pornographic postures?

Of course, this isn’t to say that Syaf didn’t ever present Batgirl in some of those predictably provocative male gaze positions. There are a couple of doozies in this collection, actually. Williams, however, is the guilty party between the two artists when it comes to objectifying artwork.

As for the storytelling itself, I’m going to have to also give my vote to Batgirl. Just as I mentioned in my review of Simone’s writing for Wonder Woman, here she again presents her primary character in a wonderfully and holistically developed fashion. Barbara Gordon is believable, replete with damage, fear, guilty, wonder, and joy. Williams simply fails to provide Kate Kane with the same level of dimensionality, presence, or realism. He gives it the old college try, but, in the end, he lacks the inherent connection with and understanding of Kate Kane that a female writer—particularly one of Simone’s caliber—could bring to her. This doesn’t mean that I think only a woman could properly write for Kate Kane. I thought Rucka did an outstanding job as her storyteller. I just don’t think Williams is the correct guy for this mission.

Still, Williams is able to keep my interest in Batwoman piqued enough that I wouldn’t be averse to continuing to read more. However, should Simone tire of hanging out with Batgirl, I would be more than on-board with her moving on to the other redhead in the Bat pantheon.

Final Verdict: Um. I’m going to say keep, Bob. Plus, I have already added their respective second volumes to my wishlist. Here’s hoping that Barnes & Noble has another awesome ComiCon-inspired graphic novel sale, so I can snag reasonably priced copies of the next stories the same way I snagged these and The Killing Joke.