What can Batwoman do that Batman can’t?
That’s the question set before Marguerite Bennett, James Tynion IV, and their readers as DC relaunches Batwoman.
For many the question is sort of a reflection. Those unappreciative of Batwoman might see it as a matter of what Batman does that Batwoman doesn’t. Save the city, fight iconic villains, have a memorable supporting cast; in these areas Batman has generally held the upper hand. Perhaps that’s why they’re the first things that Bennett and Tynion prove Kate can do with this issue.
Tynion has said that where Batman wants to end crime, Batwoman wants to end terrorism. The first advantage that the creative team take advantage of is setting. Beginning in Istanbul and ending in Mediterranean waters, Batwoman #1 offers fantastic new settings for classic action and opens up a literal world of possibilities for her. Gotham City is great, but Bennett and Tynion almost instantly demonstrate the power of bringing the Bat out of its comfort zone, creating tension out of reality and mystique out of the unknown.
It’s also notable that Batwoman’s most prominent supporting cast member is currently incarcerated. Jacob Kane, Kate’s father, ran afoul of the Bat-clan in Tynion’s Detective Comics. Colonel Kane served a similar role to Batman’s ‘father’, Alfred Pennyworth, and so it’s only natural to fill that void with another Pennyworth, Alfred’s daughter Julia.
It’s admittedly strange to see Kate and Julia enter the series in a seemingly serious relationship when, to my imperfect knowledge, the two have never shared a panel before, but it’s hard to argue with the results. There’s immediately something very intriguing and true to character to have Kate care for and dependent on an exceptionally capable woman who may very well be a mole.
Julia is Kate’s present and, perhaps, a future for her, but we are not entitled to all the specifics yet. That’s very real in a way that I don’t know that comics are really used to but it also represents an important paving of the way for future events. This series is not only dealing with Kate’s present but her past and, just the same, there are many secrets to be discovered within “The Lost Year”. Batwoman may have an uncanny knack for running into the most dangerous women in the world, but her missing adventures on the island of Coryana are already shaping up to be a worthy origin story all on their own.
To be honest, as intriguing as Kate’s mistrust of Batman’s metaphorical hand on her shoulder is, the necessity of it is unfortunate in my view. While some will appreciate the natural flow of continuity or be pacified by a quiet reassurance in Batman, I found most of the the moments that reminded of him the issue’s least interesting. It feels a little like editorial didn’t trust the character, or at least the general audience, enough to let Batwoman stand completely on her own and, while it’s not a terrible drag on the issue, the time spent connecting the two cousins steals valuable seconds from an issue with a very specific pace.
And pace will be a big part of a reader’s enjoyment here. Bennett, Tynion, and Epting are not afraid to get into a moment, but that can make some transitions rather sharp, a quality that some will love and others will tolerate. Likewise, it’s interesting to note that, while this isn’t a light issue by any means, the plot is very easy to summarize. It’s not what happens in this issue but what possibilities it opens up that make Batwoman #1 such an engaging read.
As is often the case, Marguerite Bennett’s uniquely poetic rhythms punctuate the issue. Thoughtful, purposeful musings propel the story from one moment to the next, fading out and returning with striking timing and cruel echoes that don’t so much reveal the writer’s hand at work as revel in it.
But before you can assume this to be an overly wordy issue, the book contrasts these musings with several nearly silent pages, held aloft by Steve Epting’s narrative sense. It’s odd to see both of these in one issue, but, to its credit, Batwoman never feels like it’s prioritizing the writers or artists over one another, merely working together in different formations.
Speaking of the art, Steve Epting’s style is pretty perfect for this story. From Noir-tinged – perhaps soaked – flashbacks to stark character moments to dramatic monster fights, Epting delivers exactly what the script demands. Especially when combined with Jeromy Cox’s inks and Deron Bennett’s colors, Epting’s panels range from a flat, matte style in Kate’s out of costume moments to intricately detailed realism in moments like an assassin’s reveal. Perhaps what’s most striking is the degree to which the transitions between these looks is completely natural. It makes moments where the artists intentionally contrast them all the more potent.
Isolation is a powerful part of Epting’s panels and he seems to enjoy communicating connection or the lack thereof in most of his compositions. It not only hints at the emotional state of the characters but gives readers another level to analyze each scene on and presents Batwoman with an intellectual power worthy of the Bat.
To write, draw, or color Batwoman is to step into some very big shoes. Perhaps even more than her cousin Bruce, Batwoman has been handled almost exclusively by some of the comic industry’s best and her fans are desperate for stories that present her incredible power and distinct humanity accurately. In this regard, Batwoman’s Rebirth will not let them down.
Focused on tone and tearing open a place for Kate Kane within the greater DC Universe, Batwoman #1 proves a thoughtful and beautiful introduction to the series, checking all the boxes it needs to as it goes about its real task of setting up a mystery that will bring readers back month after month. In fairness, this means that much of what makes this issue great only exists as potential to be realized by future issues but not only does this creative team make a strong case for their reliability, but they clearly understand how to use the monthly release schedule of modern comics to their advantage.
Providing a different take on the Bat-family, showing us new corners of the DC Universe, and proudly establishing Batwoman as a major league hero and an out LGBT icon, Batwoman #1 does all it needs to do and does it with a welcome sense of style.