By: J.H. Williams III (co-writer & artist), W. Haden Blackman (co-writer), Dave Stewart (colorist)

The Story: As always, having too many women in your life can be a big problem.

The Review: Comics rely on a sympathetic collaboration between words and art.  When the artistic pedigree of a title reaches the kind of heights you see here, sometimes the story becomes almost irrelevant, which can be tough on a writer-centric reviewer like me.  But so far, this title has managed to beat the odds and be a powerful force on both a visual and textual level.

Take the opening of this issue.  Setting aside the jaw-dropping imagery for a moment, the scene itself has great integrity.  It not only starts you off with an immediate sense of peril, it also has importance to the story long after it ends.  When the Weeping Woman drags Kate into the depths of a Gotham river, Kate takes on the form of her twin sister.  You don’t know if this is a supernatural effect from the ghostly lady, or if it’s Kate’s drowning fancy of how her sister might have died, but whatever it is, its effects can be felt throughout the rest of the issue.

Kate carries the trauma of that experience back home with her, and it unfortunately leads to a very messy confrontation with her cousin.  It’s a very painful exchange.  Kate’s near-miss earlier that night has clearly rattled her, and she projects that anxiety onto Bette in the harshest way possible: You don’t have what it takes… The only thing you ever lost was a beauty pageant.”

When Bette originally appeared as the flippant, attention-seeking Flamebird, you were almost forced to not take her seriously.  But in the pages of this title, she’s shown her dedication to the Bat has been sincere (even at the cost of ditching of her sunny outfit and taking on the codename of “Plebe”).  Her wounded reaction to Kate’s rejection tells you exactly the pain she’s feeling, even before the quiet tears come: “Why, Kate?  What did I do?  What happened?”

While Bette goes to vent her resentment elsewhere, Det. Maggie Sawyer heads right to Kate’s door to demand, “Why did you stand me up?!”  As a grown woman who won’t take nonsense from anyone, not even Batwoman, she stands firm against Kate’s reticence and gets rewarded with a burst of free-flowing emotions.  But keep in mind: Kate’s crying jag doesn’t actually respond to any of Maggie’s questions, meaning the inevitable Talk has only been postponed.

Meanwhile, Cameron Chase of the DEO is none too pleased about Batwoman slipping her grasp.   She proves her investigative chops by hitting up the next best thing: Colonel Kane.  Her pointed questions about his daughter don’t break his silence, but they do allow him a strong character moment when he replies, “…if your father knew this was your job…asking people like me questions like that…would he be proud of you?”  It’s a credit to the writing that even as you take glee in Cameron’s abashed silence, you feel pity too, since she, like him, is only doing her job.

I’ve always wanted a chance to talk about Williams’ art, but now that I’ve got it, I find little to say.  The art simply speaks for itself.  Its storytelling power is so potent, the script practically serves only to give context.  Look at the sequence of Batwoman breaking Cameron’s hold and taking down two other DEO agents besides, a rapid string of repeated figures in one panel, yet completely and easily understandable from Williams’ masterful choreography and design.  And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Stewart’s interplay of bold and muted colors, which deserves major praise on its own merits.

Conclusion: Absolutely one of the strongest titles in DC’s current roster.  It does not break ground with its ideas, but it takes the simplest concepts and makes them like new with a great combination of thoughtful writing and outstanding art.

Grade: A

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – I’m charmed by the fact that Maggie and Kate take the old-school route of going to a movie for their (ultimately washed-up) first date.

– I have to say, a bat makes for a very creepy stuffed animal for a young girl.  It almost looks like something from Gremlins.