Spoilers abound in this review (including pictures of actual pages from the issue) so if you’d rather experience this yourself (and believe me, its worth the ride) go read, then return. Otherwise, onward!
First impressions: What can I say about this series that I haven’t said yet? The writing is top notch, the artwork is absolutely breathtaking, and the characters…oh the characters! Brilliant. I can’t wait to dive into this. #858, while it provided a nice bit of background, felt like not much more than a prologue to Kate’s origin story; I have a feeling we’ll find the meat of it here.
Artwork: Williams is brilliant, the colors are amazing, blah blah blah. You know this already if you read my review of the start of the series (or hell, even passed by a comic stand lately.) So I won’t repeat myself. Suffice to say the artwork is as good, if not better (seriously, I didn’t even know there was an ‘up’ to go to at this point, Williams set the bar so high for himself) as it has been in the past. The colors are wonderful too–I love the use of the lighter pastels for flashbacks especially. Not only does that give us a break from the dark, brooding ‘Batwoman palate,’ it makes it very, very easy to distinguish where we are in terms of timeline–something I think a lot of comic illustrators (even some of the great ones) have a hard time doing. Williams is not only a master, he’s a versatile one, and its doing wonders for not only the look, but the storytelling of this comic.
Here’s the one negative thing I’ll say about the issue in terms of visuals (and I didn’t seem to have this problem with the other issues in the series so far): the page layouts, while absolutely stunning from an artwork and visual perspective, make it very hard (for me at least–remember, still a comics newbie) to follow exactly what’s going on and which dialogue balloons go with what panel. Its not the end of the world and doesn’t really detract from the story or the gorgeous pictures, its just a little less intuitive to follow my way through the story than it has been, and less intuitive than I think it should be. Case in point:
Now, this is not the most egregious example (that would be a full page splash with a BUNCH of those little windows inside it, to the point where the balloons are getting so cluttered its hard to follow much of anything at first glance), but it illustrates my point. As much as I love the idea of those inset panels (and I do–the Bat-shape and blood drips are a particularly nice touch) it gets a little TOO busy and too confusing, especially in terms of dialogue, for my taste. I adore the fact that Williams is playing with the layout and really pushing the boundaries of visual storytelling in the medium, but I think its gotten to the point in this issue where its starting to sacrifice function for form. Not ideal. (Those of you who have read comics for a lot longer, I would love to get your take on this. Did you have this sort of trouble with this issue, or was it just me and my needing to get more used to the format?)
Writing/story: Hell. Fucking. Yes. Brilliant, just brilliant. I already posted some thoughts on Kate’s experiences in the beginning of the comic, but I just want to reiterate how much I love the way the military is integrated into Kate’s life. I love Captain America, don’t get me wrong, but he’s a man–and not just a man, a man’s man. He embodies the heroic male military ideal. Kate (despite the fact that she obviously never made it into the Army itself) is doing the same thing, not only updating the military ideal for a modern audience, but opening the door to a female one as well. As a female soldier, I appreciate this more than I can possibly say. I also completely fell in love with Col. Kane (Kate’s father) in this one too. I fully expected a fight, or at least an expression of disappointment, when he discovered that Kate had left West Point–but no. The exact opposite in fact. His quiet acceptance, obvious unconditional love, and the pride he showed in the fact that she stayed honest–both in terms of not lying, and to herself–was a very understated but truly touching moment.
I wish I could post a picture of the amazing, amazing last page of this issue, but a) there’s not one online yet that I could find, and b) its probably better that way, because its a completely beautiful, awe-inspiring and jaw-dropping moment. I simply cannot wait for #860. It’s going to be freaking epic.
One thing I do like about the panel I posted, though, is how very, very much that one page sets Batwoman apart from Batman. She may be using the symbol, but she’s not Bruce Wayne with boobs. Batman, as a rule, never kills–rarely threatens to kill, even. I have no trouble believing Batwoman’s threat here though. Its also interesting that her family is being threatened–Batman, of course, has no family (well, besides Alfred, and Robin if he’s around.) But even those aren’t blood relatives. It adds a very interesting dynamic to what Kate has at stake in this fight of hers, and I hope they explore that further in the future.
Final thoughts: Another absolute masterpiece. Do not wait for the trade. Do not start reading in the middle. If you haven’t gotten on the bandwagon yet, get the back issues NOW, and read. I promise you’ll thank me later.
Follow up: I should mention that I’ve also been really enjoying the second feature of the comic, “The Question.” Its nowhere near the epicness of Batwoman, but its still a fun read that adds, rather than detracts, value from the comic as a whole. I’ve always been a fan of “Law & Order,” and this comic quite reminds me of the first half cop segments (albiet with the hero/vigilante angle of course.) It’s good stuff. I don’t know that I’d have it on my pull list on its own (I love a good detective/asskicking yarn, but I prefer my comics to be of the superhero variety), but for now its a welcome addition to the issues. (Although I have to admit, if I could trade it and dedicate those extra pages to Kate and company, I’d do it very quickly.)