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

The Story: Batwoman and Co. do some major cramming for the big Batman test.

The Review: Batwoman is not the first person to attempt the takedown of Batman, but she is the first hero to do so.  This means a very different kind of approach to the task than that you typically get from his villains.  Their plans are usually born out of years of direct experience with the Bat, meticulously plotted and conspired, with the intent to kill.  Batwoman has the uglier task of taking in Batman alive without ever having fought him face-to-face.

With that in mind, if she’s actually going through with this, then she and her team will require a lot of prep-time to defeat the absolute master of it.  No better way to start than by cornering his enemies first, which is a challenge in itself—or, at least, it should be.  Honestly, you expect far more resistance from Bane than what you see here, even if he’s cut off from Venom on an island and facing two well-equipped* opponents.  But given how much ground Williams-Blackman have to cover in this issue, maybe they can’t afford as much of a Bane-fest as they’d like.

The problem is, of course, that even Batman’s greatest enemies don’t necessarily have hard information or specific advice on him.  Bane offers only vagaries couched in the most general terms on how he defeated the Bat, and the minor rogues Maggie manages to interview provide even less specific information, more interested in metaphor (“He’s a revenant.  A wraith…”) or their own obsessions (“He’s on drugs.  Maybe Pop or Venom, or something even stronger.  I wish I was still on the good drugs.”) than saying anything helpful.  Still, between the lines, you can grasp a few hints of what Batwoman’s getting out of these otherwise useless exercises: Batman’s rigid moral code, and the recent death of his young partner.

Kate may not have learned anything too specific about Batman in this issue, but one thing we know for sure is that Bette’s assistance will be crucial.  Of all people, Bette has undergone the most growth on this title, as seen during her training with Colonel Kane’s old war buddies.  The “Murder of Crows,”* at least, feel confident that Bette’s ready for the big-time—although you should note this doesn’t necessarily mean facing the Dark Knight.  Notice the scenario she’s prepping for is infiltrating a D.E.O. facility and extracting her “cousin,” she states ambiguously.  Remember, Bette has two cousins.  Do I see a double-cross coming on?

Bette’s training ultimately takes up the bulk of the issue, although that’s not to say Williams-Blackman do nothing productive with it.  We get fairly in-depth briefs on each member of the Murder of Crows (“Obsessed with prog-rock.”  “Believes his Irish accent makes him a ladykiller.”), though not enough page-time to get a sense of their individual personalities.  That’s fine, for now; we can expect to see more of them when the Kanes put their plans into action, and at any rate, the Crows are not established resources that we can always return to one day.

All in all, Williams-Blackman get you pumped for the big showdown, convincing you that this isn’t any half-assed attempt to get a hit on the goddam Batman.  The thing is, though, as interested as you are in seeing how Batwoman and her family fares against him, what you really want to see is how he surpasses all their expectations and preparations.  I mean, it’s the goddam Batman.  One thing’s for sure: it’ll be a good fight when it finally does come.

Even though Williams-Blackman are operating on the same reduced page count as most of DC’s books, they always manage to deliver a dense reading, and that’s partly due to McCarthy’s efficient use of space.  Every panel is the logical progression of the one before, inexorably advancing the plot and giving us information at the same time.  Although this issue isn’t quite as visually ambitious as those prior, McCarthy is constantly finding creative ways to shake up the arrangement of his panels, keeping the whole issue engaging.  Major’s colors are striking, even when working with a dull palette of military grays, greens, and browns, and he adds just the right amount of gloss and sheen to make McCarthy’s figures look convincing instead of cartoony.

Conclusion: A solid transition issue to the big fight with the Batman himself, though we get little insight into how Batwoman plans to do it.

Grade: B

-Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * I must say, I don’t know if Batwoman has much of a future left at the D.E.O., but I hope she’s taken the time to reverse-engineer all their goodies, because nearly all of them have been pretty sweet—Python Coil included.

* Terrible name, unless you’re a heavy-metal group.  It just makes you visualize roadkill on the street, which is hardly inspiring for a high-class special-ops group.