By: J.H. Williams III & W. Haden Blackman (story), Trevor McCarthy (art), Guy Major (colors)

The Story: Batman and Batwoman squabble over who gets to take what for their trophy case.

The Review: All in all, the Medusa storyline took three arcs and eighteen months to get from start to finish.  That’s a long time for any superhero title these days to spend on a single antagonist.  While Williams-Blackman did break up the action with quite a few smaller plot threads within the overarching story (e.g. Bette’s fall and recovery, Maggie and Kate’s relationship, etc.), this doesn’t change the fact that they put our heroine into a fictional rut.

For that reason, this issue is our first chance to see Batwoman take on a new mission, giving us a sense of the kind of challenges that sets her apart from the rest of the Bat-family.  Unfortunately, she’s not exactly operating according to her own agenda now, is she?  With the D.E.O. calling the shots, Batwoman winds up tackling opponents usually under her counterpart’s domain.  By doing so, she is no longer her own woman; she becomes the redundant, derivative hero we all dread—and she knows it, too.  Thus Colonel Kane observes as she threatens Mr. Freeze, “Look at her posture…  She’s posing, play-acting.”

Williams-Blackman have made Kate’s independent streak very clear from the start.  We’ve seen her firmly draw the line between herself and the goddamn Batman, so there’s definitely a time limit on how long she’ll endure the D.E.O.’s leash, especially since they’re leading her to cross that line over into the Dark Knight’s turf herself.  Here, she manages to avoid a potentially ugly confrontation with a Solomon-esque maneuver, only to displease all parties in the process.

Batwoman’s employment with the D.E.O. has always been tense (what with them coercing her cooperation through her father), but the conflict has quickly reached a breaking point.  Chase and Bones call in one Agent Asaf, a psych ops master, to lend his opinion on the matter.  His suggestion is stupidly simple—it boils down to “Threaten her even more!”—but he does drop a hint about the scale of the D.E.O.’s agenda in Gotham.  After remarking that Batwoman’s been hoping to use the D.E.O. to her own ends, he concludes, “But that won’t be enough, not for what we’re going to ask her to do next.”

If you saw the final page of #17, you don’t need to read any further to know what Bones’ next step is, but it’s worth noting that even Chase has misgivings about it (“[T]his city is crazy enough already.  We don’t need to add another lunatic to the asylum.”).*  We all know that Chase is a complicated figure with a somewhat questionable code of ethics, but we also know that she’s not out to inflict harm on anyone.  This could be the point where she has to go a little rogue herself to make sure events don’t spiral out of the D.E.O.’s control.

For some reason, a lot of comic book artists have a tendency to squeeze characters as tightly together as possible.  Maybe they think it’s the only way to fit everyone into a narrow panel, or maybe they it gives more impact to the image somehow, but it just feels claustrophobic, visually.  McCarthy puts a lot of effort into giving each character a good amount of space, allowing more breathing room for their movements.  He’s able to do this through a combination of amazingly creative paneling (rivaling that of master Williams himself—seriously, just check out the issue for that alone) as well as continuity of props and setting within each scene.  Major’s colors have never looked better, emulating Dave Stewart’s deep, rich tones wherever possible.  The chilling, ghostly glow he uses for Batman’s arrival almost fools you into thinking you’re looking at a Williams image.

Conclusion: Not much forward movement, plot-wise, but you still get treated to some of the lushest art on the stands, along with convincingly grounded scripting.

Grade: B

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * Perhaps that explains why she summons an unidentified, silhouetted individual (female in form) at the tail end of the issue.  Anyone care to guess who it is?  I’d like to think it’s Kate Spencer, the last incarnation of Manhunter pre-relaunch.

– So Maggie has accepted Kate’s proposal after all.  I imagine we’ve got to have a flashback of the serious talking-to they had the night afterward, right?