Batwoman is trippy, with the work of Steve Epting and Jeromy Cox harkening back to the character-defining art of J.H. Williams III. And yet, at the same time, Bennett’s scripting grounds it in almost subtle grit. There is real pain and pathos within these pages. A carefully crafted tale of self-destruction and the things that burn around one who falls down that hole. What happens when you can’t stop punishing yourself, rather than finding a way to make peace with your actions and move on.
Hah, oh my God, I just really love this book. The only thing that could make it better is Renee. That’s not a joke.
Once Upon A Time In Dreamland
There’s something unsettling about the fully colored panels in the opening flashback. Those that are only black, white, grey and red appear “real”, while the rest appear to be out of some sort of fever dream or delusional euphoria. Seriously, it looks just shy of “flower crown” levels of schmaltz. The fact that Kate’s time on Coryana is called “The Lost Year” most likely means that this isn’t random (nothing ever is), so I have to applaud Cox’s coloring and Epting here for making color feel incredibly out of place.
Also the friendly little critters? And the rose bushes around the Desert Rose, something that I’m all but positive isn’t supposed to be taken literally? And the weird honeycombs? I want to draw the easy connection to the fact that bee stings really hurt yet honey is sweet but…c’mon, we’re all smarter than that. Probably has more to do with the fact that Safiyah is the “queen bee” in a “hive of scum and villainy”. Also it just looks super creepy for some reason.
Anyway, the muted color palette, to me, appears as if those are the moments that Kate is being fully honest with herself. She was contemplating suicide, to what degree is unclear, and she was so far gone in her drunken walkabout that she ended up in a place that would only inevitably encourage her self-loathing and apathy towards basically everything. The black and white and red only feature Safiyah’s lips, while the rest are either snapshots of Kate narrowly avoiding death or fighting herself over the morality of her situation.
Waking up in a “hive of scum and villainy” and rationalizing it as a good place for her to be had to have taken an…inordinate amount of denial. Considering how Kate mentions selling her soul to stay with Safiyah, that seems to be what the Batwoman creative team is going for.
Immediately afterward, we’re greeted to a double-page spread of Kate and Safiyah lounging in a field, with Tahani creeping up in the trees when there’s talk of things, or people, being replaced. Looks like, so far, I was right in my prediction that flashback scenes would feature Kate wearing exclusively sleeveless/low-cut top clothing. We can’t see Kate’s tattoos from this angle, but the scar is more poignant. The point was made.
Anyway, Kate and Safiyah share a conversation that Rafael aptly describes as “the darkest pillow talk”—
—which it really is yet somehow Bennett’s script reads as uncomfortably lyrical as well, and we get formal confirmation that Safiyah is basically the Godfather (I would say Godmother but that sounds pretty silly) of this island. And that Kate needs to be out of sight for some reason. Weird.
Cradle of Life and Death
I swear that will sound more clever later on. Anyway, I couldn’t help but notice something interesting about this staging.
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Safiyah cradles Kate, who then cradles Rafael. In both instances, Tahani is creeping just off to the side. Watching and waiting. This, to me, suggests pretty powerful things about the narrative. First, that Kate was, figuratively, dead or dying during her time in Coryana aside from the head wound. Safiyah “nursed her back to health” (though something tells me that’s far from the truth) while Tahani watched. Of course, that would mean that there’d have to be a knife in both scenarios, not just the present. The knife in Kate’s back could be the military kicking her to the curb, or something else entirely. Perhaps a betrayal of her own ideals? That would make sense for Kate. And Tahani screwing with her head by pulling a tactic like this, not to mention luring her back to Coryana in the first place seems to suggest that though they may not be close…they know one another pretty damn well. But we’ll come back to this in a bit.
Kate tells Julia that she’s going dark, which obviously is a pretty stupid idea and will only lead to bad circumstances for everything Batwoman related. Which it absolutely does, and Kate should know a thousand times over by now that going at it alone is not only foolish but something her instincts actively fight against. She was never trained to be a solo act, after all. So that’s, 15 for failing to safe Rafael (he wasn’t completely dead last issue) and 16 for, ironically, emulating Batman. Y’know because her whole thing right now is doing what he can’t. Oh, and 17 for clearly not being honest with herself about her time in Coryana even after all those years.
Julia reveals herself to be the mole (and also her babysitter? technically?) and launches some bat-drones to follow Kate around just in case she gets into trouble. And by “just in case” I mean “inevitably.” Kate, meanwhile, ruminates on the destruction of the Desert Rose as she climbs the hill towards the bar. Her memories of the warlords that worked through Coryana are…almost adorably childish.
Even when carrying a dead man to a place he once called home, she still holds on to what I’m fairly certain are overly optimistic misconceptions of what Safiyah told her about her associates. Or, rather, the sugar coated version of the truth that Safiyah told her, or quite possibly the one Kate created for herself to rationalize that, once again, Coryana was just misunderstood instead of a haven for some really nasty dudes. Bennett’s scripting betrays the truth with an interesting balance of sincerity and mental gymnastics:
- Song Tae-Ri, the Black Flag. Leader of a pirate fleet that “captures and acquires pharmaceuticals”. Drug running. Also fluent in ASL.
- Deadeye Dick, who, uh, well we don’t know. But there was probably no way to soften this guy up, which says a lot.
- Bruno Bwana Brewster, the Bruiser. “Human Transporter specializing in refugees”, ie human trafficking. Also mute? Apparently?
- Adelaide Stern, an assassin infamous in India (Asansol) Israel (Ashdod) and Eritrea (Asmara). We should probably remember these.
Safiyah kept everyone in check, which alludes to her namesake, and everyone else made sure that the outside world stayed out of Coryana, but…how exactly is that a good thing? There’s this curious dissonance here with what Kate did to destroy the island’s state of being (whatever that turns out to be) and what Coryana actually is. It’s a bad place for bad dudes. A place where terrorists, human traffickers, assassins and drug running pirates can congregate safely without fear of international prosecution.
To be honest, this feels like a modern Nassau, the early 18th century failed pirate republic of the Bahamas. Except this one succeeded, unhindered, for God knows how long due to globalization and the loopholes of international law. There seems to be no governance other than a loose code of conduct that probably isn’t any more complicated than “fuck the world, not us”.
So again, why would Kate feel particularly guilty about destroying a place like this aside from her self-martyr complex? Guess we’ll have to wait to find out. Also 18 for the mental gymnastics, which is somehow very different from the other form of denial she’s all but drowning in right now.
Trauma Center: Under The Knife
Kate arrives at the Desert Rose and quickly realizes, due to the looting and smashing and dust, that Safiyah is gone. She rests Rafael on the bar, because apparently that’s the appropriate ritual for mourning your old warlord queen lover’s right-hand man, and Tahani leaps at her from the shadows wearing a…mask? Anyway, Kate fell for the trap, so 19.
Kate easily counters her with those launchable throwing knife things we haven’t seen her use in a really long time, and gets back up against the wall with a knife to her throat. So she does the only reasonable thing anyone would do in that situation.
Superheat her glove and try to melt the assassin’s face.
Which she can…apparently do? That feels like a DEO-holdover than an upgrade Harold installed. Not really Batman’s style to melt faces. Most the time. Kate then proceeds to grab some hard liquor, tear a chandelier out of the ceiling, spin it around like a helicopter blade and swing it at Tahani because why not? That’s kind of what she did last time to the giant monster except the fire was part of the package deal. And also she added a one-liner. However, she did miss and further destroy a bar that held a special place in her heart, so…
Tahani proceeds to kick Kate through a wall and onto the very same field they once lounged—
—mounting her and removing her mask to reveal that she is…Tahani? I feel like this is an art mistake. Last issue Kate got a very clear look at Tahani without her mask being the assassin who killed her target, and now she’s surprised that the woman behind the mask, whom she already identified as one that got away from Istanbul, is Tahani.
This honestly reminds me of what happened in 52 #9, where Kate Kane’s first appearance as Batwoman was spoiled two weeks early. There’s a moment when where she’s spying on Renee and Charlie, and due to a miscommunication she was fully rendered instead of being drawn as a totally blacked out silhouette of something that looked just like Batman. Anyway, mistakes happen, and this one just happens to be pretty funny, but until I know for sure it’s a mistake…that’s gonna cost Kate. 22 for not recognizing Tahani in the first place, and 23 for not smashing Knife over the head with the bottle. Feel like that would’ve been easier.
Anyway, Tahani claims that she is now known as “Knife” since Tahani was “Safiyah’s plaything”, which again begs the question: was Safiyah the kind of warlord queen bee that kept a harem, or does she just discard those she’s done with? That doesn’t explain why Tahani appeared to be involved in Safiyah’s business, despite Kate’s presence, but what she says later, about Kate being a “siren”, really supports the whole “you stole my lover” thing. Which would be cool and intensely personal. Just feel like there’s something more to that going on here, though.
But, before that bit happens, Kate, instead of A.) melting something else of Tahani’s with her molten gloves B.) using her other arm to block the knife thereby stabbing Tahani in the forearm C.) using her taser gloves on Tahani’s exposed skin D.) detonating a flash grenade in her face E.) punching her in the throat/nose/face F.) breaking Tahani’s other wrist or G.) a few other dozen ways of getting out of that hold, the Batwoman decides to call in her bat-drones. Like that thing with the bottle-to-the-face I mentioned earlier.
Just gonna lump all those together for sanity’s sake…
Which are awesome, because they have cool WWII style nose-art but at the same time…coulda just given her some second to third degree burns or knocked her out with a taser instead of all the melodrama.
Then again, this is Kate we’re talking about. It’s why she grabbed the liquor in the first place. Oh, and now she has to do all the dishes. And owes Julia another drink. Y’know, when I was wondering if Kate could break her record, I was half-kidding. This is just amazing. Though it does beg the question of just how many dishes could two people possibly have to do? Are they cooking five course meals every single day? Do they just…not clean them? For two women who possesses extreme levels of discipline to order, that seems pretty farfetched. I guess they just make that many martinis all the time.
The lantern gets lit, which means that Kate did do the smart thing by actually briefing Julia on a decent amount of what Coryana is and how it works, otherwise she couldn’t have possibly known what she needed to do with the booze. Tahani begins mocking Kate for trying to summon the warlords. Then she tries to suffocate her, leaving herself open for the exact same things I listed above when Tahani first tackled Kate, which once again she just sorta…doesn’t do any of them. Though this time there’s probably a good reason for it. Still, it counts.
Suffocation seems to be a common theme for Batwoman more than you might think. There are a few other examples (like one that involves a certain vampire), but I think you’ll get the idea. In reverse chronological order, of course.
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Keep that one about cyanide in your brain pocket. It’s gonna come back. Yes, this big trip down memory lane probably puts Kate in a state of emotional and psychological vulnerability. This is too specific for Tahani not to have planned for, as she’s clearly trying to exploit that crack in her armor now that she made it. Not enough to kill Kate, but enough for Tahani to, presumably, trigger her PTSD and gain the advantage.
But Kate’s been dealing with this for a long, long time so whatever coping mechanisms she has would probably have kicked in had the warlords not showed up to break up their reunion. Which also subverts that whole Kate-gets-stabbed-again thing, so that’s pretty cool.
Tahani runs off like a spoiled child who can’t understand why everyone doesn’t think she’s the best, cutting a dude and stealing a motorcycle before doing one last thing. Telling everyone on the hill that hey, that weird masked lady? That’s Kate. Awkward, so let’s add two more to the board! 28 for Tahani getting away, and 29 for even more people finding out about her secret identity.
As for how the warlords got their so quickly, that one is pretty easy. Kate was slowly walking up the hill towards what was basically a throne. Dressed as a bat. In broad daylight. Yeah, if these people have any sense at all considering the battle they’ve been fighting against corporate invaders they’re going to have an eye trained on the harbor looking for literally anything out of the ordinary. Things like a fancy yacht with its own helicopters and a one of Gotham’s famous vigilantes hopping off of it being visibly shaken by Rafael, a guy they also all knew, dying in her arms. It wouldn’t have been hard to watch what was happening from a short distance away, considering how deep Kate was in her own head, and how Tahani only cared about killing Kate.
Actually, on that note, lighting the torch is more likely something Kate intended to do in the first place. It’d be the most direct way to test exactly how much had changed since her departure. To find out if old loyalties and routines still applied, even with the dilapidated Desert Rose. It’d also piss Tahani off, and make her do the stupid thing of strangling Kate instead of killing her in a far easier manner. Like, I dunno, with knives?
And now it’s night, for…some reason. I think the idea is that they buried Rafael, but I don’t see a headstone. Or shovels. They can’t have just stood around and debated whether or not to just kill Kate for about six hours. Or maybe they did? Beats me.
Either way, their bikes are gone, as are the rest of the mooks, so it’s just the important people standing with Kate. Somehow, she convinces them not to kill her, despite the fact that she killed their home. But maybe the fact that she had the guts to return at all is enough to show them that she’s not the same lost, stupid girl who washed up on the shore all those years ago. Or maybe it’s just that they’re also trying to serve something greater than themselves, even if what they are trying to serve is kinda not so great?
Also everyone is super vague about why Kate left the island, so they must really hate talking and thinking about it. Anyway, Kate quickly learns that the warlords have never heard of the Many Arms of Death, but hey, things are about to get a whole lot worse? Sort of. It goes back to the whole “why is this island a good thing?” question but I assume there’s an answer to that question we just haven’t gotten to yet.
Brewster, by way of Black Flag because I guess Kate doesn’t know ASL (which is super weird when you consider that Kate had to have met Harold at this point who is also a mute and speaks with ASL; maybe she didn’t want to interrupt the woman who uses swords and guns?), explains that over the past year a bunch of corporations have been buying up all the land through legitimate means and due to the warlord’s infighting (I think?), they didn’t listen to Safiyah. And then she left, which is also apparently Kate’s fault since the old Safiyah, before whatever Kate did changed her, would have been able to solve this problem.
The Taming of Coryana is being carried out by the Kali Corporation which Kate is clearly aware of. She asks Julia to give her a visual of the Kali Corporations CEOs, which…also projects a hologram in front of her that the warlords can see? Seriously, first the monitor, and now this? I mean Adelaide recites the logline at the bottom of the screen—look, Kate knew that there was more than one CEO. And she wanted to see their faces, not financial data or intel on their off-shore illegal holdings or really anything remotely tactically useful in a larger sense.
Of course, the cameraman filming that interview is having just a terrible day since he placed it directly behind the CEOs, instead of at an angle where we could see their faces. They are so fired.
Anyway, we zip on over to the Kali Corporation, which is relatively close to Coryana since it looks like it’s the same level of…night. I think. I want to say Dubai but I honestly have no idea. The scene plays out as if the final reveal of the CEO’s faces is meant to be shocking, but it’s…not? I’ve never seen these people before, so it’s just really creepy. Though, that is most likely the point.
These continue to repeat one another’s sentences as they entire the big fancy door, revealing a sanctum for the Many Hands of Death with a fancy logo featuring ten hands and an eye. Also Knife is there to remind us that everyone in this story knows who the Batwoman is.
Also these guys are clearly nazis so that’s kind of fun. I guess it’s either Nazis controlling Coryana, or not Nazis. Think I’ll go with the ones who aren’t Nazis.
All Of The Other Stuff
You’re probably wondering what all of this religious symbolism means, since as everyone knows Kali is the Hindu Goddess of—okay, I’m going to be honest and say that I can’t figure this one out yet. Safiyah, the whole “the nazis perverted the swastika from its ancient Buddhist and Hindu origin”, the “third eye” of the evil logo, the ten hands of said evil logo, the Mahakali (Kali, but with ten arms just like the evil logo and also even more hardcore) imagery on Batwoman #4’s cover where Kate subs in for Shiva (no not that one) as the one beneath her boot despite that being contextually wrong, Tahani’s mask made to look like Kali, “Kalimah!” with the still-beating-heart stuff, Kate fighting modern nazis both explicitly and figuratively… There’s something here, but for now I can’t quite put my finger on it. There are a lot of pieces here and they add up to something a whole lot bigger than the sum of their parts. As for what that is, I can’t help but think that the final bit of information just hasn’t been revealed yet. Or maybe I missed something super obvious, which is entirely possible.
I mean seriously I’m jumping from parallels to the Jewish Diaspora to just…so many things. Just can’t quite connect the dots. Yet.
But aside from that, did you know that both sarin gas and Zyklon B specifically target the respiratory system to kill? Or that Zyklon B isn’t a nerve agent (to be fair, that line beats accuracy via Rule of Cool by about forty miles), but rather a chemical weapon most famously used in the gas chambers of Auschwitz?
Well, that all just links back to suffocation and—there’s no reason to sell Zyklon B other than to ask if the client would like their terrorism in modern flavoring, or classic Nazi. There are more effective forms of airborne cyanide to kill mass amounts of people. Like cyanogen chloride. Yeah. You really do not want to think about Beth’s plan during Elegy too much. Focus on happy things! Like the fact that the bad guys don’t want Kate’s literal heart this time around.
Just for her to be dead! Which is way simpler. Okay, maybe that’s bad.
I guess that brings our total to 32, meaning Kate beat her previous record by 8! Wow! That is…one per page. At this rate, we could be in triple digits by Batwoman #6! But, that also means that it’s time to wait another four weeks. Which is kinda funny, since the last time I did one of this reviews, I was saying that we’d find out if Kate survives getting stabbed or not, and we still don’t know! Well, we don’t know specifically how. But she totally did.
Four weeks until Batwoman #3, so that’s not as bad. Hopefully.
NEXT WEEK: I dunno, like…Cass Beats Up The World? Something like that.
Writers: Marguerite Bennett and James Tynion IV
Pencils/Inks: Steve Epting
Colors: Jeromy Cox
Letterer: Deron Bennett