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Batwoman #16 – Review

BATWOMAN #16

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

The Story: Even monsters love their mommies.

The Review: Although I readily agree that as a half-visual medium, comics shouldn’t really need too much text to move itself along, I don’t actually think a heavy script is a flaw unless it doesn’t serve a purpose to the story.  It’s one thing when a writer injects a whole lot of fluff for no other reason than simply to enjoy the sound of his own voice, but if all that text actually tells you something that the art itself doesn’t, then that’s a good reason to have it in there, right?

In this case, if you didn’t have all that character narration in each scene, much of the issue’s subtleties and development would be lost.  Dialogue and art can only convey so much; neither can really let you delve into a character’s mind or reveal the fantastic details that make a living, breathing story.  Williams can deliver nearly any imagery possible, but even he can’t convey smell through visuals.  Do you realize how rarely comic book writers pay attention to these kinds of things?  As Batwoman fights her way across Medusa’s army, she notices,

“The thugs smell like a bar.  Malt liquor and unfiltered cigarettes sweating from their pores.[*]  But there’s something else…at first, it’s hard to place.  Wet and dusty, all at once.  Humid.  Then I remember taking down an oxy lab outside the city.  The goon running it had dozens of snakes all crammed into tiny terrariums.  Ball pythons and anacondas and boa constrictors.  These thugs…they smell like that oxy lab.  Like the reptile house at the zoo.  Like serpents.  They have Medusa’s stench all over them.”

Blackman-Williams also use narration to develop characters even with a ton of action going on.  It’s their way of having their cake and eating it too.  It may seem out of place for Chase to reflect on her purpose in the middle of a bloodbath, but when she reminds you this is a war she’s in, you realize this is exactly the time a person flashes back to how and why they got here.  Learning that her dad was once a costumed vigilante himself (“Acro-Bat”) and the pain he brought upon his family as a result, you really get a sense of her as a person, rather than just that conniving bitch from the D.E.O.

Without the inner narration, that scene where Bette Kane leaps in to help out would just be a garden-variety action sequence, giving her a moment of triumph and peril and nothing more.  Instead, the triumph gets underscored by her own terror (“The only thing you’re going to eat is my fist!” she says; “Please God, don’t let him hear fear in my voice,” she prays), and the peril gets softened by her mental planning (“[P]lease let Uncle Jake be right…please let this work…”).  All that dense language is really just making the story richer, more complex.

Of course, that makes it very difficult to fit in everything you want to say in a review, but I’ll say this much: page for page, Batwoman gives you so much for your money every month.  It gives you Wonder Woman slaying the Hydra, Bones wading into battle against Medusa, and Batwoman taking down a cult with a gang of were-monsters by her side.  It gives you urban ghost stories, mythological horrors, and superheroes who feel as real and human as you and me.

It also gives you just about the best damn art in the whole business.  There are artists who have terrific style.  There are also artists who show mastery over artistic technique.  And then there’s Williams, who has both in full.  You can spend half a day absorbing the script and the rest of the day enjoying all the craft Williams puts into the art.  Stewart is no less a master in the colors department, giving you a dozen different textures on a single page, and Mike Marts’ lettering adds yet another layer of character to the already complex story.

Conclusion: A tad slow to reach the grand finale and ever so slightly repetitive in certain parts of the script, but a wonderfully rich issue nonetheless, and the art puts it over the top.

Grade: A-

- Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * Incidentally, that is the exact same smell as the drunks stumbling over me on the night bus.  I’ll be the first to admit that public transit has its downsides.

- It seems like every fighter in Gotham is out in the streets doing their part.  So where’s Colonel Kane in all this?

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