Sunday, April 21, 2024

Batwoman is a Triumph Built Upon the Failures of Kate Kane

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“For Gotham, Kate?” “No. For me.”

This is it. This is what we’ve been waiting for. Ever since Williams and Blackman left the original Batwoman ongoing, and the subsequent extremely questionable narrative choices by the replacement creative team, Batwoman fans have been justifiably guarded. The last time they followed her solo adventures, they got burned. Burned so badly, in fact, that they in turn literally set fire to two very specific issues of Batwoman. There are videos, so you can google that if you wish. I’m not going to link them.

Point being, there would always be doubt surrounding any attempt to make a Batwoman solo book all over again. Even if the creative team behind her relaunch is basically perfect for the job—and holy crap they kinda are—there’s simply no avoiding that trepidation. Greg Rucka himself could have spearheaded this whole thing and I’m not convinced it would have made people feel any more confident.

So, I guess this is a long-winded way of saying that, hey, stow your fear. Drop your guard. I’ve said it before, but I’m saying it louder now since this issue is overflowing with incontrovertible proof of something totally inescapable:

Batwoman is back. Every panel of every page oozes Kate Kane. Every line by Epting, every methodically colored inch by Cox, every word scripted by Bennett and co-plotted by Tynion, every expression, every action; it’s all Kate. It’s all a triumph.

To quote Bennett:

“She fights, and she fails, and she splits her lip and bruises all the way to the bone and she claws up through the mud and keeps going.”

Perfectly apropos to describe the meta-narrative surrounding her return, don’t you think?

Bond, Bats, and Monsters

The overall tone here is Bond. Back when the cover for #1 was revealed, that was my first thought. It looks like a 60s spy movie poster, but without the misogyny. Or racism. Or obligatory christian heteronormativity. So…I dunno, all the theoretically badass spy parts of Bond, including the cheesy one-liners? Sounds about right. Regardless, when I first saw it, I was blasting the 007 theme on a loop while trying to figure out if I should wait for prints of the damn thing to be available (if they ever are), or just get it printed and framed myself. I have yet to decide, but I want it.

Now, truth be told, I have not actually read Brubaker and Epting’s Velvet in its entirety, but others have told me that Batwoman‘s “International Woman of Mystery” aspect is pretty similar to which I responded “Okay yeah but…is she gay and Jewish?” They said no, and that’s the end of that.

Seriously though, if Epting and Cox (whom I must sincerely apologize to for accidentally omitting him in my tweet regarding a topic we’ll get to in this review…total space cadet moment) managed to replicate something that was already awesome, and apply it to someone as objectively amazing and impossible as Batwoman, what’s there to complain about?

Excellence is excellence. Brilliance is brilliance. Plus, it’s an established fact that Kate loves spy novels. One of her favorites being Ian Fleming’s You Only Live Twice, so it’s rather perfect.

Remember that time Bette was half-dead and yet still characterized to an insane degree due to Jacob’s unbearable guilt? Jacob does every time he thinks about the time he “killed” Tim Drake. Probably.

Anyway, on to the present. Kate’s internal monologue is a rare thing. Outside of a single instance, it didn’t exist in her 10-issue run on Detective Comics, and it very briefly appeared in short bursts during the Williams/Blackman era of the New52. Typically, we don’t really get to live inside of Kate’s head. Her actions have always spoken louder than anything else ever could, but when we did know her thoughts it was damned effective. Batwoman #1 is no exception.

We start with pain, Istanbul and searching for a name in a rather clever homage to Kate’s very first solo outing, way back in Detective Comics #854:

[slide-anything id=”54770″]

Turns out, every target she’s tracked so far has been rather indiscriminate in how much suffering they wanted to cause with Monster Venom.  Her mark this time, a Dr. Martine, doesn’t necessarily look like your run-of-the-mill white supremacist looking to slaughter hundreds, if not thousands, as gruesomely as possible, but then that’s sort of the point, isn’t it? If the League of Shadows can operate the same way, it stands to reason that Batwoman will be punching entire dental records out of any and all modern nazis that she comes across. Much like her Bombshells counterpart.

Which she explicitly states that she did, and we all just know that there’s no way in hell she’s complaining about that part. Maybe not the sleepless nights, but hey. Sometimes you gotta break a few fascist faces to make a honest omelette. Or something.

Dr. Martine monsters up, because Kate screwed up and didn’t manage to get the actual bioweapon away from him (this is a glorious running theme) and calls for backup: Tuxedo-One. Which is so perfect. And who should that be? Why, none other than Julia Pennyworth herself, hiding out on Kate’s mobile bat-base yacht that has a helicopter Kate still presumably can’t fly! British SAS operative and daughter of the one and only Alfred Pennyworth. Last we saw her was back in Snyder’s Superheavy arc, and it’s great to see her again. You put her and Kate together and there’s so much snark that it just makes sense.

Well, the exchange rate there is about $20. So, yeah, Kate. Just burn cash that sounds productive.

The call signs, by the way, are callbacks to Snyder’s run on Batman, wherein Alfred was Penny-1, Julia was Penny-2, etc. They make a lot more sense in context with Batwoman than they ever did with Batman, in my opinion, but it was cool then and it’s still cool now. Except like, now it’s about 50% cooler. Because Batwoman.

Kate and Julia exchange extremely domestic banter (Kylie and I have already concluded that they are not banging but that’s like another two thousand words so just trust us, or debate us) while Kate strangles the monster’d up Dr. Martine. With chains and lanterns. He goes back to normal, which reminds me so much of that time at the end of Go when Kate punched Abbot so hard he literally un-werewolf’d, and after screaming about The Many Arms of Death (title drop!) he’s killed by a knife to the forehead.

Kate gives chase to the assassin, whom she totally-doesn’t-at-all recognize as Tahani, but she gets away…leaving her fancy Knife behind. I should keep a counter on how many times Kate just really screws something up. Not in any malicious sense, of course. Her fallibility is explicitly why we love her so damn much here at the Fandomentals!

You know what? I’m gonna do it. We are currently at four failures, and counting. One: failing to stop Dr. Martine from monstering up. Two: failing to stop the assassin. Three: failing to catch the assassin. Four: failing to get the name she wanted. At least, at first. Oh, and I guess…five? She lost that bet. Let’s go with five. Put it up on the board!

Goddamn, I love this book.

Boats, Bette and Brooding

Kate returns to her motor yacht, the Sequoia, which is thankfully not the same boat her family skedaddled onto at the end of Batwoman Annual #1, with Julia making snarky comments about how ridiculous their cover is for all of these trips out of the country. It’s rather well-established that Julia isn’t a fan of her father serving the Waynes for reasons she cannot fathom (because raising their son is hard to wrap your head around?), but I guess she’s willing to go globetrotting with someone who doesn’t brood instead of breathe.

Also, interesting note: Kate’s first ops center was a giant tree. Her yacht is named after a tree. S’kinda neat.

Anyway, Kate slips out of her uniform and, gasp, actually has practical attire underneath it?! And it’s still correctly color schemed?! And she’s not tiny and skinny? Epting and Cox, we salute you. I really shouldn’t have to call attention to doing things right, but even Williams drew the “larger-than-life-glowing” sequences of Batwoman in a way that was anatomically exaggerated. Though, that was purposeful and effective. Others, just had her naked under there, which makes no sense.

Also Kate shaved her head again, but I imagine that’s because it’s really damn hot in the Middle East and her uniform is almost pure black. It wouldn’t be the first time she’s been sweating like a pig in that thing, after all.

I love how her absurd speech pattern makes perfect sense. Raised as an army brat, base to base all over the world. Bound to pick up some super weird and old references and idioms as her standard. Or maybe she’s just trying really hard.

Moving on, Julia makes a rather important remark that I would typically describe as “blink and you’ll miss it”, but then again, if you’ve heard the name “Bette” before in context with Batwoman, I doubt you could actually miss it. Even if you did blink like, a ton. Like, even if you fell asleep while reading that panel, I’m not sure you could actually miss it.

Challenge is still in play, creative team! I want to see Kate actually laugh. It’s never been done. Not even in Bombshells. It’s humanizing, just trust me on this.

First of all: that’s six on the counter; she didn’t get Bette anything from the Bazaar that she kinda trashed. Coulda grabbed something in the confusion, you know.

Second: so that’s where Bette’s been this entire time! Oh, man, and it couldn’t be more perfect. After all that time looking up to Kate as this inspirational figure—which she failed to live up to every single time despite that not actually discouraging Bette at all—she finally found something to fight for. The family name. And also honor and all that jazz, which sounds super familiar, for some reason.

Regardless, I’m even more psyched to see her again, now.  She’s really not just a kid anymore. I love it.

Also, if you take a closer look at this entire undressing sequence, you’ll notice that Kate’s skin actually transitions from stark white to her normal tone. This clever little piece of art direction, thanks to Cox’s stellar color work, cements that this story is explicitly through Kate’s eyes. Not just a basic POV, but more of an unreliable narrator. Which is kinda great, if you think about it. All the more ways for Kate to set an entire island on fire.

I mean, she totally will. Not on purpose but, it’ll happen.

Moving forward, Julia says that fancy…tech stuff is…tracking the…jesus christ, just look at this abomination:

I—okay, that’s seven for the counter now because that is the single most impractical monitor I have ever seen.

Not even gonna say it

I know everything needs to be kept Bat-themed to keep everything on brand, as Raptor would say, but good lord! The text strings are getting cut off the edge of the screen! Why would anyone build this?! Was this Tim’s idea of a personal challenge before he “died”? Try and create an OS that intelligently adapts to the ludicrous shapes of the monitor it is using? Did Harold Allnut ask Bruce what kind of batcomputer Kate would need and he was just like “go nuts”?

Epting, I swear, this is…brilliant. Just beyond brilliant. Seriously, neither Kate nor Julia seem particularly pleased with it so it just tells a story all on its own. One of stupid and/or ambitious design goals. Seriously, not even Batman would have a computer monitor shaped like his symbol. He might have like, an shell around with that shape, but never the actual screen. I hate everything about this and yet I love it because it is exactly the kind of unintentional extra that Kate exhibits by more or less breathing. Rather than brooding, of course.

Even though she totally does that, too. Just not as intensely. Or without reason.

After Julia is all coy about Kate having never heard of the island nation of Coryana, Kate has a mini internal swearing fit and goes up to the deck to relax and think about that year she spent as a trophy lover for an international crime syndicate’s leader. Guess she couldn’t really forget Safiyah, huh?

Julia joins her on the deck with martinis in hand, because of course she does, and teases her about the presumed brooding. And also about how Kate is super focused on “doing what Batman can’t”, which means she’s been talking about that this entire time instead of it just being this personal goal of hers that she doesn’t verbalize. This is both hilarious and apt.

The short answer, so far, to that question is “operate in broad daylight in a way that doesn’t look ridiculous”. Which is pretty impressive, since meta-textually, there’s a damn good reason that Kate would prefer to work in the light. It’s about not having to hide who she is, both as a Jewish woman and as a lesbian. And as someone who suffers from PTSD. The shadows are effective, but not when you want to make a statement that needs to be loud.

Things like, well, Bennett already wrote a great example:

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If there ever comes a day when DC Bombshells isn’t relevant, that’ll be a miracle.

Anyway, Kate cuts through all of Julia’s charm and asks her what the hell she’s really doing there, helping Kate. Is she Kate’s babysitter, her Q, or Bruce’s spy? Julia responds by not…responding. Because she’s a giant snarky troll and knows her reaction can be read about two thousand different ways.

“If that’s a veiled criticism about me, I won’t hear it. And I won’t respond to it.” —Lucille Bluth Julia Pennyworth

And failure to get a straight answer out of her super-spy handler. That’d be number eight.

Julia skips the part where Kate gets to ask follow-up questions and tells her that the Belfry’s entry regarding Coryana was more or less the same as the Canary Islands but also labeled, presumably, by the “late” Tim Drake as a wretched hive of scum and villainy. Which is a “twist of the knife”. Twist of the…oh. Hah! I get it. It’s because of the plot twist that Tahani is the assassin known as Knife. Stop reading the script, Julia! Kate is a master at puns and cheesy one-liners, so she’ll figure out what happens next!

Then, Julia asks Kate what Coryana is, which means that she failed to keep her past as tightly held a secret as she thought. Ding!

 Hiding in Plain Sight

This is, by and large, the single most powerful moment in the issue. It’s also one of the best Kate Kane moments ever. And no, I’m not talking about that bit about her burial at sea, or her the fact that she didn’t care if she lived or died anymore since she couldn’t find a new sense of purpose. Those are poignant and evocative, too. Very much so. But this? This is…different. This is a whole new level of savvy that, well, to be quite honest, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like this. Neither has Kylie.

And it’s not like we aren’t on the lookout for this level of awareness—we are. We once tried to name all the primary media characters not written by Larry David or Woody Allen that spoke Yiddish as something that wasn’t exclusively for a joke/actually made sense and we came up with…the grandparents from Rugrats. That’s it. That’s all we could find or remember. Though that was before Snapper from CW’s Supergirl did it, so that’s three instead of two I guess.

Look, the point is that there really aren’t all that many Jews in media. 99% of the time, it’s “half-Jewish” (which is not actually a thing but that’s a whole other conversation), since only the father of the character is Jewish due to jewishness being passed matrilineally, because that lets the writers say they’ve got a Jewish character without actually doing anything or addressing it like it normally would be literally every day of their lives.

Think Annie Edison from Community or Felicity Smoak from CW’s Arrow. That’s just how it is, so when we’re confronted with something so drastically different due to its accuracy and appropriate understanding of an all too familiar sense of dread and fear…it’s rather shocking. Because people don’t get it. It’s weird for Jewish people to see themselves represented in a way that is both organic and displays a deep, empathetic understanding of what it actually means to be a Jew living in the world.

So, when something like this suddenly appears it’s…well, it kind of seems impossible.

This is scary. It’s real fear, much like last week’s white supremacist meta-narrative becoming all to clear. Kate is a Jewish woman and she is very far from home. There was an interview many months ago where Tynion talked about how he and Bennett wanted Kate to be so well known across the world, due to her partying and drinking and “scandalized” removal from the Army, that she could walk into the dingiest back alley bar in Cairo and they would know her drink of choice.

At the time, I thought this meant “they know she’s gay and rich.” Not “they know she’s gay, rich and Jewish.” But that’s what this is. Rafael patches Kate up, shaves the side of her head so she can get stitches, and reminds her that she’s not an unknown right now. She is not truly hiding who she is, though part of Kate clearly understood this. Of course, Rafael makes two false assumptions about Jewish people that tell us just how smart Kate was about this.

And boy, oh boy, was she smart.

The first is rather simple: “All Jews keep Kosher”. Yeah. Not true. I don’t. Have you ever had crab? Or burgers? Crazy! Tons and tons don’t keep Kosher, but plenty keep a Kosher kitchen which basically means they keep Kosher at home, but not when eating out. Middle ground because that’s like, our thing. Even so, this is an extremely common misconception that is very deeply ingrained into the cultural consciousness when it comes to what non-Jews know about Jewish people. As such, many assume that Jews cannot eat or drink something unless they know for sure that it is Kosher…which is sorta true for the people who do keep Kosher, but not to some intense degree that Rafael is implying. Which is honestly part of what makes this so perfect: he has no idea what he’s talking about.

Second, though, is a lot more subtle and far more impressive.

Kate’s a target, and a big one. Terrifying enough that she’s queer in an area that no one would call safe (not that Gotham particularly is…), but she’s also a woman. And to top it all off, she’s Jewish. The amount of hate she suffers through…well, I can empathize with two-thirds of it, let’s go with that. Question is, how can she shake people from her trail that would want to do her harm? How can she up her chances of survival and hiding who she is? Exploit the hell out of her tattoos. It’s not why she got them, but she’d be a fool not to use them to her advantage. I’d bet good money that any and all flashbacks we see will have Kate wearing something sleeveless or with a very low-cut back so they are always on display.

See, it’s a common misconception that Jews cannot get tattoos. Since, if they do they can’t be buried in Jewish cemeteries as it is considered self-mutilation. There was a time when this was true, but it hasn’t been for quite a while, at least in the vast majority of Reform and Conservative sects. Even some Orthodox sects are starting coming around to the idea of dropping that rule, since if tattoos are a form of self-expression, why would that also be considered self-mutilation?

Kate knows all of this. Rafael, along with pretty much everybody she could ever possibly meet on her years long booze-cruise, do not. So yes, it would normally “throw people off” that she’s Jewish, as it apparently did rather well. After all, according to Rafael…it’s just a rumor, even though it’s true. His comments about blood and pain and scars require no explanation.

Kate is who she is, no matter how hard she tries to hide it: an angry Jewish lesbian woman. Who is sometimes out for justice. Occasionally with a gun. But not like, crying for Justice—okay, I’ll stop because you can’t hear the drum snare.

So, yeah. That’s what that is, and it’s going to stick with me, and many others, for a long, long time. More than that, though, is that this was written by two non-Jewish people. And if I didn’t know that for damn sure, I’d assume they were. That’s how perfect this is. That’s how spot on. I know Bennett did exhaustive research into Judaism when developing DC Bombshells, but I never imagined that she’d get it on a level this deep. Bombshells didn’t need to be subtle; its Jewishness is front and center and a big focus.

But this? This is so far beyond that. This is different. This is something else. This is phenomenal.

Sure, queerness and Jewishness have a decent amount of things in common. How the world reacts and treats both groups, and the suffering along the way, but—well, Kylie said it best when we discussed this at length: it’s all about the language of the oppressed. Neither James Tynion IV nor Marguerite Bennett are straight, so with enough research, hell, apparently anything’s possible.

Right. Anyway, moving on from that. Just gonna kick the counter up for failing to hide her full identity from strangers and keep on going. Or for cracking her head into a rock while being a drunken dipshit. Take your pick.

Loose Lips Sink Ships, Kate!

After Tahani reenacts the ending of The Godfather, where Safiyah is apparently Michael Corleone and Kate is…whoever the hell his wife was, and Rafael ominously narrating about finding things, we snap back to the present as the Sequoia approaches the coast of Coryana. We’re back in Kate’s head again, and it seems like she’s ready to burn the whole damn island to the ground.

She reminisces about pain once more, focusing on the emotional and psychological kind rather than the physical. Then she considers what one would have to do to cause themselves more pain, which is just par for the freaking course for her and that other lady who she keeps reminding me of. And then she…gets off the ship by using a random chain to swing across—seriously, Kate? It’s the middle of the day! If you keep doing crap like this your supposedly perfect stealthy approach is going to mean nothing. Well, even if that does happen, at least nobody remembers who—

It took you thirty seconds and you’re already screwing it all up. Classic Kate.

Okay. Okay, that’s fine. You coulda tried to, y’know, not respond to him but I guess you got caught up in the moment of seeing an old friend. It happens. To you. Pretty much only to you, but that’s what happens when you don’t dissociate with a persona. Regardless, he seemed nice. You remembered him fondly. He’s an ally, then. He can help you…

Dying. Because of something you did. Dying because of something you did. In a comic published on The Ides of March. Goddamnit, Kate. You and your dramatic irony.

Welp. Guess we’re in for one hell of a ride, huh? But, uh bad news about that, friends. Batwoman #2 won’t be out until April 19th. That’s five weeks instead of four.

But not the counter! That’s gonna keep going.

NEXT WEEK: We get to find out if Kate survives getting stabbed with magic swords! Again! Doesn’t that just sound exciting?

Oh stop being so dramatic. You’ve had bigger swords in worse places! Tough it out.

Well, I think it does.


Writers: Marguerite Bennett and James Tynion IV

Pencils/Inks: Steve Epting

Colors: Jeromy Cox

Letterer: Deron Bennett

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