BATWOMAN #19

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

The Story: Chase and Kate demonstrate that every sisterhood is its own beast.

The Review: Where Batwoman really separates itself from the competition is how much effort has been put into developing the supporting cast as fully-rounded characters, with lives and problems outside of whatever Kate’s got herself up to at the moment.  At this point, you feel like you know Maggie Sawyer, Jacob Kane, Cameron Chase, and Bette Kane as intimately as you know Kate herself, which is a rare and special kind of achievement for a superhero series.

How often do you get a series where a supporting character is so compelling she can have her own series.  At one point, Chase had just that, and here, Blackman-Williams demonstrate why.  Her vendetta against “the capes and masks” is clearly a manifestation of witnessing her father die from his wannabe superhero aspirations.  There’s a genuine pathos to Chase’s bitterness that makes this otherwise ludicrous set of circumstances feel real.  In some ways, her perspective of the whole costumed capers thing (“cosplay”) is very convincing; in some ways, you can easily be swayed into viewing her as a hero in her own right.

Even if you don’t, you can still see her as a sympathetic figure, someone who’s still mixed and messed up over her father’s secret life years later.  “I don’t hate him,” she insists to her sister, Terry, “I just feel sorry for him.”  But even just reading the text, you can hear the bile in her voice that exposes the lie.  She may justify her actions in this issue as a protective measure, to save others from what she and Terry suffered, but it’s still pretty clear she’s being led by her personal anger, not her conscience.

Almost all the Batwoman characters have a unique internality like this, even the most minor.  While Katherine, Jacob’s second wife, has been a background figure for nearly their entire run, she suddenly asserts her own importance here.  She’s doing the same thing Kirsten McDuffie did in Daredevil #24, only in a less direct and metafictional way.  She acknowledges Jacob’s right to engage in whatever crazy life he wants, but demands inclusion.  Kirsten’s decision to leave Matt Murdock ultimately sends her offstage; Katherine refuses to be so marginalized, and I have to say, you can’t help respecting her for it.

Whereas Katherine strives to enter Batwoman’s world, other characters won’t allow Batwoman to invade or define theirs.  Earnest as Kate is in wanting to sympathize with and comfort her fiancée, Maggie replies (rightly) that some of her experiences and emotions can’t be shared or hijacked that way, because “…you can’t begin to understand it until you’ve been through it yourself.”  And while Kate may want to prop up the illusion that she’s in complete control, that she calls the shots, Bette quietly punctures that idea with her departure, stating, “As long as you’re working for the D.E.O. I can’t trust you.  And I can’t be your partner.”

“I never said we were partners,” Kate mutters.  But just because she never did doesn’t mean that the partnership didn’t exist.  Bette has just as much say in that matter, and just as much a right to dissolve it as she feels appropriate.

Lest you get the idea that Batwoman has suddenly gotten overshadowed in her own title, let me assure that nothing of the kind happens.  Her friction with the D.E.O. finally spills over the top as they ask her to do the one thing she can never agree to do, driving her to call their bluff, ready to accept whatever consequences that might bring—until Bones pulls out his wild card, one that suddenly takes on a very eerie lucidity as she says, “I’d like to see my sister now.”

I suspect that if you’re an artist working under Williams’ direction, you will have no choice but to step up your game and try things you’ve never thought of before, and McCarthy definitely has.  Of course, he’s always had the chops to do wildly inventive layouts like Bette and Kate’s clockwork battle sequence, but it took a demanding script to get him there, and he’s going to be an even greater force in DC’s art ranks from now on.  At times, the narrative doesn’t flow quite as naturally as it should, but these are the rare casualties of experimentation, and for the most part, McCarthy delivers as stunning an issue as Williams might himself.  Major manages to give McCarthy’s flatter style of figure incredible body and depth through layered coloring, making an already visually striking issue even more so.

Conclusion: I still consider this series as one of the most well-crafted of DC’s products, and issues like this demonstrate why.  It lacks hype, but deserves as much attention as any of the pop or cult favorites out there.

Grade: A-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – If you had your doubts as to Mr. Bones’ truthfulness in implying his sibling relationship to Kate and Beth Kane, here’s a tidbit from Jacob himself: “I think I have a son.”

Grade

Conclusion