In the foreword to one of his glorious Batman & Robin hardcovers, Grant Morrison said that he was going crazy over Rucka’s work with Batwoman… and… well, good enough for me.
Batwoman: Elegy has two big things going for it.
1. It is absolutely gorgeous. I mean beyond anything JH Williams III has done in the past. JH Williams III has worked on some pretty fantastic comic books in the past but he uses every part of the buffalo on this one. It is pretty clear, panel to panel and page to page that the same hand laid out the illustrations, but Williams communicates in half a dozen different visual languages with his finishes… Matte finish, richly layered colors, big bold flats, gray tones. It is like several different specialists all running different riffs on a single master’s core idea… Except that he is the engineer of all of it (JH Williams III is running the post-New 52 Batwoman comic as well… But I only read trades).
2. Rucka does what Rucka does well. He takes real-life military issues and blends them into a four-color superhero world, and makes them work well together. Kate Kane (the “modern” take on the Batwoman) is a capable military operative from a family of superb soldiers… Who happens to be a lesbian. She isn’t a lesbian in the ooh, ah, hetero-porn sense, but a very three-dimensional woman facing a very human problem at the crossroads of career choice and sexual orientation. She deals with it in what she thinks is the most honorable way… and through a series of struggles, ends her military career, and ends up a kind of super-soldier superhero.
Now a comic book that is grounded in real-world military concerns isn’t the kind of comic book where the protagonist is struggling against alien invasions or 1,000,000 malicious former corpses, all armed with otherworldly power rings. Kate Kane’s struggles are about social status, somewhat relatable stresses, romantic relationships, family problems none of us would wish on our worst enemies, and the rising influence of the so-called Religion of Crime in Gotham City. She works with a much more realistic palette of crimefighting tech than Batman and his Science Fiction Closet, and if she takes a knife to the chest, her recuperation has to be dealt with in a very different way than the default superhero three-world Ultra Combo Finish of “I got better.”
This is a book of emotional highs and lows, tragedy, perversion, betrayal, and personal loss; yet also of punching a room full of criminals into red-gloved KOs; of crashing through skylights in a flutter of wing-reminiscent crimson bat-cape. It is gritty and visceral as it is gorgeously rendered. Unlike even some pretty well realized telekinetic possessions and galaxy wide gamma irradiated rampages, Batwoman: Elegy makes you feel something (made me feel something anyway).
Pretty obvious that: I loved it and.
What is Great About Batwoman: Elegy?
The writing. Also the art. One thing that I really liked about this book, especially as I don’t read monthly floppy comic books, is that even though Batwoman’s adventures take place in the greater DC superhero universe, you don’t really have to know that much about whatever the hell else is going on to appreciate and enjoy this story. I was vaguely aware of the Religion of Crime, and I remembered even some of the more obscure Batman-borrowed villains from my days working on the Vs. System card game; but whatever. You don’t really need to know anything about superhero comics to drop your jaw at JH Williams III’s illustrations or wipe away a tear summoned up by Rucka’s prose.
What Gave Me Pause About Batwoman: Elegy?
I had a theology class back around 1993 where the instructor’s main criticism of comics — the medium that I was then growing to really love — and loved to relate to many different philosophical discussions and situations — was that they were taking themselves too seriously. I do think there is something to be said for “comics allow us to tell stories about superheroes without making superheroes look silly” (which is the point of differentiation that a fairly famous reviewer who used to work for me said was the main thing that made comics special… though this was years before amazing works like Batman Begins, X2, or Iron Man); if you are in that camp, and you mostly want to see Superman punch a planet so hard it shatters into 1,000,000 irradiated pieces, then weld together a bent-backed concrete bridge using his laser vision lickety-quick (forget about the underlying structural damage that crashing through it at the speed of sound might deal in the first place)… then this comic might not be for you. If your criteria for female-fronted superhero comics comes out of the 1990s bikini-blur of bad girls and butt shots (the last comics review I did on this blog spent several paragraphs talking about the specific rendering of Emma Frost and contrasting January Jones in X-Men: First Class relative to Andrews illustrations)… This might not be the comic for you. Kate Kane is “hot” (would be considered “hot” by a fair number of people), but despite the flowing red tresses of a Batwoman, her civilian persona has stereotypically clipped short hair. She is covered by tattoos and looks like she would be able to beat you up, even when there is no Bat-Shield emblazoned across her bust.
To me, that treatment of female Bat-hair is kind of a hat-tip to the original Batgirl from the campy Adam West Batman television show, even though Barbara Gordon is a completely different character. I liked it regardless.
Sometimes you can have a great, or well-written, technologically useful, or otherwise +EV piece of writing, art, artistry, craft, self-expression or article that has some element that some people just “can’t get over.” In Magic articles some guys don’t like name drops or humor, or are incredibly myopic. They will fixate on something (whether or not that is the central thrust of a piece) and judge it on some detail without being able to appreciate it for its whole (I am sure you know what I am talking about). Ultimately, I know that my vast blog readership crosses many backgrounds and demographics and maybe you just don’t want your comics to be progressively preachy. Batwoman: Elegy isn’t MOSTLY progressively preachy but an inability to empathize with how a talented lesbian might be dealt with by the US military might translate into an inability to appreciate Batwoman: Elegy despite how gripping and well-illustrated it might be. Me? None of these things bothers me (in some cases quite the opposite); but they gave me pause insofar that they might have given some of you pause.
Why Would Someone Want to Buy Batwoman: Elegy?
It is already great in every way that I care about. My ability to appreciate comics translates across fairy tales (Stardust and Fables) to Superman deconstruction (Miracleman and Supreme) to trippy Brazilian author autobiography (Daytripper) to regular old four-color superhero adventures (Invincible). I love any kind of comics that are well-written (Sandman) or well-rendered (WildCATs); sometimes we get both (She-Hulk… or Batwoman).
Buy / Don’t Buy:
I can’t give this book a “highest possible recommendation” without a perception of watering down future highest possible recommendations, but it is pretty great (if you are into liking things that are pretty great).
Make me a millionaire (a couple of pennies at a time, it turns out):