Welcome to another installment of Panels From Beyond the Grave, this issue courtesy of Bob. You might not think of Batwoman as a horror title, but as Sir Bob explains (that's what I call him in my head), this series offers plenty of bumps in the night.
I know at least some of you are thinking, “wait, isn't it Batgirl?” While there is indeed a Batgirl fighting crime on the streets of Gotham, that's not the character we're dealing with here. Batwoman is Kate Kane, a Jewish lesbian who got kicked out of military academy after being “outed.” Although the character made her debut during one of DC's big “event” comics in 2006, her first real turn in the spotlight took place in 2009 when she took over as the main feature in Detective Comics for about a year. What's most important about the character in the context of Panels From Beyond the Grave is the fact that those issues of Detective were overtly horror-themed and included supernatural elements like werewolves.
That tone of supernatural horror continues in issue #1 of Batwoman's own series, part of the much-ballyhooed DC Comics “relaunch” known as The New 52. The issue begins with a father recounting the abduction of his children by La Lorona, the “crying woman” of Mexican folklore. Our heroine arrives on the scene and tries to save the kids, but the spirit simply disappears, taking the children with her. Batwoman promises to save the children, but with few clues, it may prove a difficult promise to keep. The father has been telling all this to police detective Maggie Sawyer, who makes a more realistic promise; she can't guarantee that she'll find the children, but she will never stop looking. After this gripping and eerie set-up, illustrated by co-writer J. H. Williams III in typically stunning fashion, the issue begins to falter. Badly.
The main problem is that Williams and co-writer W. Haden Blackman try to do too much in one 21-page comic. They try to establish Kate's love life (and hint at a past flame that's still burning), introduce a shadowy covert government agency that wants to capture our heroine, bring in a sidekick with her own backstory and finally attempt to cram the entire Detective Comics storyline from 2009/2010 into two pages of clunky exposition. And then, just because there wasn't enough going on already, Batman shows up on the last page. Out of the last 13 pages of this comic, only 2 deal with the storyline we started with. Talk about killing the momentum.
Despite these issues, the book does have some things going for it. The first 8 pages that focus on the supernatural kidnapping storyline deliver on both traditional comic book action and genuine creepiness. And if there's a better artist working in comics these days than Williams, I don't know who it would be. But given that one of the stated goals of DC's New 52 is to make the company's characters accessible to new readers, it can only be said that Batwoman is a colossal failure in that respect. Simply dumping a ton of information all at once in the misguided notion that it will somehow get everyone up to speed does not make for accessibility. Rather, it makes for confusion. Better to simply tell a good story that will grab a reader and parcel out the important bits of backstory in a more natural, less hurried manner over the course of a few issues.
Batwoman became one of my favorite characters with her run in Detective Comics, and I've been eagerly looking forward to her own ongoing series ever since. Unfortunately, the guy who wrote those issues of Detective, Greg Rucka, is now writing for Marvel Comics. Williams may be a great artist, but he clearly needs some improvement in the writing department. Teaming him with someone else until he finds his legs is a good idea in theory, but if this first issue is any indication, Blackman isn't the right partner. I'm willing to stick around for a few more issues to see if things improve, but with so many comics on the shelf vying for my limited dollars, my patience can only hold out so long.