By: Marc Andreyko (story), Trevor McCarthy & Moritat (art), Guy Major (colors)
The Story: Behind every good Batman is a Batwoman—ready to take him down.
The Review: Considering how sudden and dismissively J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman were shooed off this title last October, the least DC could do was offer a resolution to their long-invested storyline, which was also cut off when Williams-Blackman left. DC did one thing right in committing this annual to that task, but their inability to bring back Williams-Blackman for this special occasion almost guaranteed the annual’s failure.
Without Williams-Blackman, Andreyko basically has to guess how his predecessors would’ve ended their own story and execute it as best he can. Andreyko’s very capable of course, but this is asking too much of any writer, especially when Williams-Blackman had set up conflicts that require a careful, delicate touch to untangle. There’s simply no way Andreyko could’ve divined Williams-Blackman’s intentions to wrap up their plotlines as planned. Even so, that’s no excuse for him to throw sense and integrity out the window just to get the job done.
Kate’s dealings with Batman, for example, come across like Andreyko simply dozed through the scenes. Her resistance to working with Batman made sense while her sister remained in D.E.O. captivity, but with Hawkfire and the Crows on a mission to free Beth, why not accept Batman’s repeated offers to take on the D.E.O., which she clearly hates, together? Unable to come up with a rational reason herself, she falls back on meaningless generalities: “You just don’t get it, do you? This is about my family!” As a result, it’s Batman who seems like the hero in control here while Kate plays the emotional chump.
But shallow character work seems to be the rule in this issue, with the exception of the unshakeable Maggie, whom Andreyko treats almost like a stand-in for his pet character, Kate Spencer (a.k.a. Manhunter). Everyone else sounds like Andreyko’s working with only a rudimentary understanding of the characters, particularly the ones affiliated with the D.E.O. From the incompetent bottom-rung agents (“Uh, what do we do?” one of them asks when Harvey Bullock fakes CPR; “I dunno. Do you know CPR?” another replies in what you imagine to be a derp-a-derp voice) to Chase’s sudden transformation into a penitent mess (“Batwoman, I—I didn’t want this!”), you certainly don’t need presidential inquiries to question the D.E.O.’s effectiveness.
But the most problematic character of all has to be Andreyko’s handling of Bones, who used to be one of the most interesting characters in this series, until Andreyko turned him into a shrill, hysterical madman. The red flags are there from the beginning of the issue, when he screams at Kate’s hesitance in fighting Batman: “What are you waiting for?! Unmask him!!” You can only imagine how much more unhinged he becomes once the whole thing about his being Colonel Kane’s son comes out—or, at least, the whole thing about his believing he’s Kane’s son.
I can’t know, but I’m pretty sure even if Williams-Blackman had planned to make Bones’ relationship to the Kanes a misunderstanding on his part, they would’ve treated it with a lot more nuance than Andreyko does here. As it is, the meeting between alleged father and son has the melodramatic vibe of Luke’s Empire Strikes Back encounter with Darth Vader. “D-dad?” Bones stammers at the sight of Kane. Moments later, as Kane tells Kate to get her sister, Bones shrieks, “I knew you’d choose them over me!” Even worse, this whole thing comes about apparently because Bones wasn’t mentally all there from birth and, for no reason at all, simply believed Kane was his dad after reading his name in passing. Thus is the compelling director of the D.E.O. transformed into a commonplace, raving lunatic in Batwoman’s rogues gallery. That’s character development for you!
The art is something of a mixed bag. Even though I’m a pretty big fan of Moritat’s work, his perky, straightforward style is at odds with McCarthy’s sleek figures, a contrast that’s noticeable throughout the annual. To make it even more obvious, Moritat makes no attempt to emulate McCarthy’s lavish paneling designs. It’s an artistic jumble through and through, and not even Major’s colors can bring any unity to it. If anything, the colors only further highlight Moritat’s flat linework to McCarthy’s more dimensional shapes.
Conclusion: What appears on the surface to be a belated attempt to do right by the title’s predecessors only tarnishes their legacy even more with a conclusion lacking any good-faith effort to capture intent and spirit of what came before.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: – Colonel Kane asks Kate if they can trust Batman. Really? Can you trust the man whose brand you stole to follow his torch?
– Apparently, Beth has decided to strike a middle ground between Wonderland-mad and sweetly lucid by being simply a sarcastic jerk: “Well, cousin Bette—I mean ‘Hawkfire,’ are you here to rescue me from the big, bad D.E.O?”