By: W. Haden Blackman (story), J.H. Williams III (story & art), Dave Stewart (colors)

The Story: Who wouldn’t give up a life of luxurious playing for French torture chamber?

The Review: Of all characters, Batwoman probably needed an origin story least.  After all, she appeared on the scene all of six years ago and has enjoyed quite a bit of publicity since.  When she took over the lead in Detective Comics in 2009, we learned the major points of her life: getting kidnapped by terrorists, losing her mother and sister, the dismissal from West Point, etc.  She actually has the distinction of having a prior #0 issue just last year.

And yet Blackman-Williams still manage to produce an enlightening, engrossing story delving into Kate Kane’s pre-Batwoman days, while steering clear of already covered terrain.  Instead, they have the luxury of filling in the gaps between the aforementioned big events of Kate’s background.  Plenty of creators had this same opportunity, only to offer just one discrete moment in their characters’ lives.  Blackman-Williams lay out a whole slew of formative experiences for Kate, giving her one of the most developed histories of all characters in the current DCU.

The emotional core of this issue, of course, is the connection between Kate and her father.  You soon learn that no matter how much she’d like to hate her dad to the grave, she really can’t.  The scene where he, newly widowed and in his military finest, does his soldierly best to pick out her dress, brush her hair, and make her breakfast is one of the tenderest family moments (and there seem to be a lot in the DCU lately, which I appreciate) I’ve seen yet.  Once she remembers that, it’s over; forgiveness is inevitable and, if her last line means anything, already happening.

Some commentators got a little indignant at Barbara Gordon getting schooled by Batwoman in Batgirl #12, and I get that.  Since the girl technically predated the woman by some years, it does seem a little unusual for the predecessor to get her thunder stolen that easily.  But though Babs may have gotten training from Batman himself, Kate actually went through a soul-searching quest on her own terms, much as Bruce did.  Maybe that’s why she bears more resemblance to the Dark Knight than any of his scions.  After all, none of them could say, “I crossed the Sahara on foot, living off insects and snakes and a teaspoon of morning dew.”

As with every other Batwoman issue to date, there’s just a tone of material to dive into and enjoy and discuss, and perhaps that sets this series apart more than anything else.  I almost never have a problem finding points to talk about, and what’s even more amazing is how well-crafted it all reads.  There’s a sophistication and beauty to the writing that’s downright literary.  How many other comic book writers can capture the allure of drunkenness with such accurate delight and pathos?

“I loved being outside my body, not feeling a damn thing,” Kate explains.  “I loved pretending that the spins were just a ride at the county fair…  I loved that it let me forget about the murders until morning.  But most of all, I loved that it gave [my dad] a reason to take care of me again.”

Surely by now the greatness of Williams’ art is practically a given.  Plenty of artists of his caliber have allowed their longevity to encourage them to coast in their work, but there is not one lazy, done-for-the-sake-of-doing-it panel in a Williams book.  Even at his simplest, sketchiest style, you can see the Cliff Chiangs and Chris Samnees of the business still have a ways to go to match Williams’ taste and class, even without the fancy panels and borders.  And Stewart has pretty much developed a whole color palette of his own that by itself makes this series look like nothing else on the stands.

Conclusion: Like reading a chapter out of a good novel, the script carries you along with it, no matter how wordy or involved it gets, and the art completely immerses you into the story.  Just great, human storytelling through and through.

Grade: A

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – This series doesn’t get enough credit for one of the most refined, nuanced portrayals of the military I’ve read in a comic.  Sure is a nice contrast to the grim, self-righteous bossypants you usually get.