Friday, January 25, 2013

365 Comics...25: Batwoman #16 (2013)

The title of this third story arc in the Batwoman series, "World's Finest", is a reference to the classic Batman/Superman team-up series of the same name.  Often, when a Bat-family member meets up with a Super-family contemporary, they use the "World's Finest" moniker for such a meeting (Superboy/Robin, Supergirl/Batgirl, that sort of thing).  But that to me seems like a dilution of the phrase.  If Batman and Superman are truly the "world's finest" then it kind of stands to reason that gender-alternates and junior versions are more like copies of the world's finest.  But here, with Batwoman pairing with Wonder Woman, it feels truly appropriate, not analogous.  Batwoman, more than any other member of the Bat-family, does not feel like just a member of the Bat-family, but a truly autonomous hero.  Greg Rucka, and J.H. Williams III, ensured that Batwoman's origin and development wasn't at all dependent on Batman or Bruce Wayne.  Keeping her independent of Bruce Wayne's Batman, Inc. initiative (likely Morrison's nod of respect to his "52" co-creator) served to further increase her distance, and the bulk of Batwoman's stories -- in Detective Comics prior to Rucka's departure, and the lengthy wait for Batwoman's return with the New 52 -- she's been defined as her own character, never measured up to her counterpart.  To me, she's the most interesting character in the DCU, and has been since her inception.  A thoroughly complex character, written by Rucka and continued by Willams and W Haden Blackman as exceptionally grounded, fallibly human.  There's been little trace of myth building that typically accompanies superheroes.

So it's definitely a wonderful dichotomy to put the most grounded of heroes beside one of the most infamous and powerful, and have her face down an ever expanding roster of monstrous enemies, leading to this issue where Medusa and her cadre of freaks lead a full fledged assault on Gotham, upping the stakes dramatically with a hydra... sorry, THE Hydra.  Williams, the genius illustrator that he is, along with Dave Stewart, the brilliant colorist that he is, fade the Hydra into the background, like looking at a mountain across a vast distance.  It's true enormity a mere concept, but still incomprehensible.  It's wrecking the city, and having destroyed Batwoman's home and headquarters, she feels the effect of this monstrous invasion intimately.  The fight she's in isn't just a job, this isn't like being in the military, this isn't following orders, this is something she's committed to, the motivation coming from within.

Williams and Blackman construct this issue as a hybrid comic and illustrated prose.  Each two-page spread wavers between a look inside the thoughts of the books players -- Batwoman, Wonder Woman, Maggie Sawyer, Medusa, Chase, Flamebird (in her particularly triumphant return) -- in prose, with an elaborate mural illustrated by Williams, and more conventional word-balloons sequential art.  Williams is ever pushing the comics medium in visual storytelling also seems to be doing so in his scripting with Blackman.  

I was just commenting on how Brian Azzarello is slowly laying out Diana's character in the pages of Wonder Woman, building her myth by making her largely a character of action and intelligence, with hints at her compassion.  In the pages of Batwoman, Williams and Blackman provide some of the humanity Azzarello has willfully restrained from showing, and yet equally maintaining her image as a woman-of-action, intelligence and compassion.  We're in a Wonder Woman renaissance, with these three writers.  I've been ignoring Justice League since the first are, and Wonder Woman made little to no impression on me during that time (characterization doesn't seem to be a focal point of that series), but I've heard tell that Geoff Johns doesn't quite adhere to the same template.  If so, it's a shame, because she's better than she ever has been right now in Azzarello, Williams and Blackman's hands.

The Thor's Comic Column gang had an email discussion today about why DC seems to be floundering and Marvel succeeding.  One of the points Adam made was that in his opinion "DC's universe is the one that's set up to emphasize standalones and relegate continuity to the backburner, plus it's more obviously kid-friendly, and yet Marvel's the one that's acting the way I think DC ought to be acting."  I heartily agree with him, but these two books are the rare and strongest exceptions in the New 52.  With Azzarello and Cliff Chiang (and alternate artist Tony Akins) on Wonder Woman and Willams/Blackman here on Batwoman, DC is doing what they should be doing, giving premiere creators largely free-reign to tell their own stories and not worry so much about what the larger picture of the New DCU is supposed to be or care so much about continuity.  I *could* ask whether Wonder Woman's appearance in Batwoman predates her receipt of her gauntlet-swords (a gift from Hephaestus) or not... but it doesn't really matter and is irrelevant to the story at hand.  Continuity itself does not make good storytelling and DC editorial in grand sweeps seems intent on cramming it down its writers throats as if it were all its readers demand.  I'm glad to see these Marvel-like oases in their lineup.

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