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

The Story: If you’re gonna go after Batman, you might as well make it worth his time.

The Review: I’m afraid we can’t get down to business until we discuss to some extent the circumstances leading to Williams-Blackman’s impending departure.  After sorting through all the various accounts of what happened, the whole controversy boils down to this: frustrated by regular, oft-times sudden editorial interference and a mandate that Kate Kane cannot marry, Williams-Blackman chose not to continue a story that was increasingly no longer their own.

Since I don’t know the specifics behind the other editorial mandates reported of, I won’t comment on those.  At any rate, editor-creator tensions are old hat for mainstream comics, and by and large, it’s often impossible to tell exactly when and how they affect any given series.  Only on these rare occasions when a writer airs his grievances publicly do we get real evidence of how an intended storyline gets thrown off course or stonewalled by a decree from above.

In regards to the specific restriction on Batwoman, DC co-publisher Dan Didio justifies the decision to prevent Kate’s marriage on two grounds: to keep romantic storylines open for the still young character and because members of the Bat-family shouldn’t have happy personal lives.

I can understand, even support the first point.  Kate’s marriage proposal did seem to come from out of nowhere, especially given how brief her relationship with Maggie was in context of the title’s own history.  Nonetheless, Williams-Blackman made that choice and have made it a convincing one across subsequent issues.  I’d even say that the storytelling argument against marriage holds little water in a DCU where only Aquaman and Mera remain hitched.  There’s plenty of room for married folk to tell their stories.

Didio’s second point is, to put it in legal terms, arbitrary and capricious.  It contradicts in every way the rationale of the first in that it closes off and limits the storytelling potential for the characters entirely.  The rule is so broad that it makes you wonder how many recent events (e.g. Batgirl’s “murder” of her brother and the attack on new flame Ricky, the death of Damian Wayne, Nightwing’s capture and unmasking by the Crime Syndicate) are the result of that very edict.  Besides being pointless and nonsensical, the no-happy-personal-lives rule just seems cruel to characters who have given up so much already.

With all that in mind, no wonder Williams-Blackman decided they wanted off this title.  Why bother pushing Batwoman to grow as a person and a hero if she’s doomed to never be rewarded with any kind of lasting happiness?  She might as well die young at Batman’s hand now, since there’s not much else to live for.  Indeed, it does seem like Williams-Blackman have decided to throw reason to the wind as Kate continues to fight her counterpart even though the need to do so pretty much went away once Batman knocked out Bones with a well-placed Bat-grenade.  You can only imagine that she presses on simply to see if she can do the impossible and defeat him, but since she’s already resorted to “treachery” in this battle, her victory would be empty anyway

Besides that, she’s lost a great deal of her credentials as a hero by being the origin of Chase’s plan to unleash chaos on Gotham by unleashing a multitude of Batman’s rogues just to lure him out of hiding.  Even Williams-Blackman recognize the insanity of this whole affair, as Kate muses, “I’m going to owe Gotham a lifetime of service to make up for this stunt, but if anyone gets hurt or killed…I don’t think I could put on the uniform again.”  Sure, the other members of the Bat-family come out of the woodwork to staunch the damage, but that doesn’t mitigate Kate’s complicity in all this.

Now that you know Williams-Blackman are basically throwing up their hands as they finish out what has turned out to be their final arc, it makes you suspect every defect of the issue as a consequence of their exasperation: Maggie and Chase’s entirely too exposed and obvious confrontation in GCPD headquarters (with Bullock witnessing); Bette’s all-too-easy romp through the D.E.O. facility housing her cousin; the total absurdity of Batman threatening Bane with an anti-Venom laxative, dosing him anyway, but still getting the intel he needs even though Bane would never squeal if he’s already screwed as he is.

Even the usually superb art suffers, indicating that McCarthy probably had to whip up a whole bunch of new pages to serve the last-minute direction change in the arc.  This necessitates the first finishers we’ve ever seen working on McCarthy’s figures, which leads to some fairly weak-sauce visuals towards the end of the issue when Fridolfs takes over.  Instead of McCarthy’s confident, you get these fragile replacements that can barely bear the weight of Major’s rich colors.  The figures themselves look like rough outlines, more thumbnails than anything else; looking at the panel of Bette and Beth kneeling across from each other, you wonder if Major didn’t just receive a doodle to color over rather than a finished product.

Conclusion: Even ignoring the damning editorial mandates awaiting the future of this series, the current issue suffers from poorly sold scenes and slipshod art, though the general outline of the plot remains sound.

Grade: C+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – So tell me, Chase, does the pain a father inflicts on his daughter with his costumed antics outweigh the pain inflicted by the release of several homicidal maniacs and martial law?