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Batwoman Is The Best Kind of Trippy

Griffin

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[Danny Elfman Theme Plays]

Well, damn. Those five weeks between Batwoman #1 and Batwoman #2 were torturous but it’s finally here! The question is, however, was it worth that wait? Uh, yeah. Yes. Absolutely.

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.

In other words: How many times can Kate Kane completely and utterly fail in just twenty pages? Her record is 12, so let’s see if she can beat it!

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.

Who eats honey like this?

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.

Did you know that in Judaism, the number 13 is considered lucky?

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.

You always stand at 17, right? Or is that 16, but only if the dealer…is part of the casino? I can’t remember how blackjack works.

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:

  1. Song Tae-Ri, the Black Flag. Leader of a pirate fleet that “captures and acquires pharmaceuticals”. Drug running. Also fluent in ASL.
  2. Deadeye Dick, who, uh, well we don’t know. But there was probably no way to soften this guy up, which says a lot.
  3. Bruno Bwana Brewster, the Bruiser. “Human Transporter specializing in refugees”, ie human trafficking. Also mute? Apparently?
  4. 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.

In Hebrew, 18 is synonymous with life! Or a good life! Maybe luck? Can’t remember; it’s a big thing at Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. You bring a check for $18 or some multiple of that, and that’s your gift.

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.

I don’t know why these are PSAs now.

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…

Bat-Family Property Damage isn’t normally intentional, Kate

Tahani proceeds to kick Kate through a wall and onto the very same field they once lounged—

The House Always Wins

—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.

I love that we made these analog. It’s so much more fun!

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.

G through Z were probably all Sondheim-based musical escape routines. Kate and Julia have A LOT of free time on that boat.

Just gonna lump all those together for sanity’s sake…

I bet Julia did the nose-art. That sounds like something she’d spend time doing because how many things are there to do on a boat when you’re not banging your partner?

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.

What dirties a martini glass faster? Shaking or stirring? Asking for a friend.

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.

Were you expecting a joke? PTSD’s not funny.

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.

Kate, are you even trying at this point? Do you just not care who knows?

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?

Fireside Chats

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.

If it turns out you for sure don’t know ASL that’s gonna be another one.

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.

Stop wasting Julia’s time! Even if she has a ton of it, that’s just rude.

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.

They have such punchable faces, though!

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.

Why are you so bad at this

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.


BATWOMAN #2

Writers: Marguerite Bennett and James Tynion IV

Pencils/Inks: Steve Epting

Colors: Jeromy Cox

Letterer: Deron Bennett

Images courtesy of DC Comics

Griffin is an Entertainment Writer operating out of the Chicago area. He likes puzzles, deconstructing other puzzles, and talk show branded ice cream flavors.

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Greg Rucka Is Being A Poopy-Doopy Dude About Batwoman

Griffin

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[Danny Elfman Theme Plays, Despite Your Protests Greg]

For the uninitiated, Greg Rucka is the name of the guy who modernized the character of Batwoman. Well, him and Mark Waid, Grant Morrison, and Geoff Johns came up with basic idea (e.g. she exists and is gay and jewish) in 2006, but really it was Rucka who would go on to write what is unanimously considered to be her foundational and character-defining text: Batwoman: Elegy. For eleven months back in 2009 and into 2010, Kate Kane took over Detective Comics. Everything from her relationship to her father, to the way in which she outed herself, to DADT, to Sophie, to her drunken stupor, to her training; everything Kate has done in the decade and change since that eleven month run stems from those same stories. Well, mostly. I’m obviously excluding the short-lived Andreyko era.

Anyway, I was surprised to learn the other day that Greg Rucka and Michael Lark (the primary artist on Rucka’s seminal Gotham Central as well as their creator-owned Lazarus) were doing an AMA on reddit. I actually found out about it after it had already happened, because I’ve been in the middle of moving and haven’t really had a chance to sit until kind of right now. I read through the thread and was…surprised at what I (and by “I”, I mean friend of the show @talkingbatwoman on twitter) found.

…what the hell? What does “not my Kate” even mean? Also, what in God’s name was your original intent with Kate, because buddy, let me tell you, if it wasn’t “angry queer Jewish woman screams for right to exist/justice/purpose” then it probably sucked. Not only that, but to go out of your way to say that the folks who continued Kate’s story made some stupid decisions and now everyone else has to cover for them is…wow. That’s so mean for no reason! I get that maybe seeing a character you have a strong personal connection to that you created being written by someone else can be uncomfortable, but your standing rule for working at DC Comics is, and has been for some time: “I’ll always come back for Kate and Diana.” And he did with Diana. Twice.

Yes, you’re the guy who made Kate Kate. Credit where it’s due. And you’d come back for her. Except you wouldn’t, because who she is now isn’t who she’s “supposed” to be, so, uhm, in what way, exactly? I’ve been trying to figure out what fundamental change Kate has undergone that is a strong deviation from Elegy, but it just doesn’t seem to exist. At all. I thought at first maybe it was the whole “Bruce Wayne is Kate Kane’s cousin” thing, even though that was an Andreyko idea and not a J.H. Williams III/Blackman idea, but it’s clearly not. While that change could have swallowed her, it clearly hasn’t because Jacob and Beth are still around. If anything, it further contextualizes Bruce more than it does Kate.

So, what’s different from Elegy to now? Superficial stuff. Kate used to fight lots of supernatural things, but now she doesn’t. Now she goes after her most logical unwinnable/undefeatable foe: the war economy. It’s infinitely more interesting and a far greater fit than the occult, even if that was a fun thing to watch and opened up a lot of kabbalistic possibilities should someone choose to go that route. Plus, the military industrial complex won’t ever stop existing, so a timeless foe is always a good thing. Especially when it is perpetually poignant! Plus, that means she’ll always be fighting literal terrorists. You know, like the people who kidnapped her family and murdered her mom.

What else? Hmmmm, well, she used to refuse working with Batman. Except for all the times when she did and was super chill about it.

Okay, fine, that time it was technically Dick as Batman, but she did work with Bruce Pre-Flashpoint as well.

Is it that they brought Beth back to life? I kind of thought that was a weird example where ressurection offers far more avenues for narrative than keeping her dead ever would. Kate’s heritage is one of her greatest character strengths, so having her twin sister and her father around makes more sense than just her dad. The trauma is still there, since Beth was brainwashed or something for twenty years, but hey, they’ve got each other. I find it hard to believe that that’s the thing Rucka think fucked Kate up. Since, y’know, he left it ambiguous in Elegy if Beth survived the fall or not.

What about Kate proposing to Maggie? Aside from the fact that it didn’t actually happen (kinda glad it didn’t because that means Renee still has a shot, but that’s another conversation), Rucka was the one who suggested they could have a relationship in the first place within Elegy itself. They met at a GCPD fundraiser, both wearing tuxedos and acting gay as hell.

Really starting to grasp at straws here. Maybe it was her involvement with the D.E.O.? That didn’t actually change her character at all, but…y’know, it was a thing that happened. Was it that she chose not to feel guilty about Beth’s death anymore when she was facing the Weeping Woman? I guess it could be that, but that’s not really changing any fundamental aspect of her character. That’s just…how grief works. Also it wasn’t her fault in the first place? Which is what Rucka wrote.

Look, I meant it when I said you could trace everything back to Elegy. That’s just how phenomenal a story it is. People haven’t been writing from the New52 series of Kate these past few years, Greg. They’ve been trying to capture and expand your Kate. The one who chose integrity over the closet and drank herself half to death because she had zero purpose in life. The imperfect, snarky, almost comically hot mess of a woman who wore a uniform, not a costume. You wrote that, Greg. The Williams and Blackman stuff almost never comes up, like at all, and if it does it’s mostly Batwoman #0, or something to do with Bette or Jacob or Catherine. Not because it was bad, far from it, but because it wasn’t the foundation of her character.

You can claim that they changed Kate so fundamentally that you can’t even read her anymore, but even if that’s true it doesn’t make you look that great. It means that what others saw in Kate, Tynion and Bennett most recently, were thrown in without thought or were the result of a “misinterpretation.” Which means Elegy isn’t nearly as great as we all think it is. On the other hand, if this is just a bruised ego and you feel bad that you didn’t get to write all this cool stuff with Kate because you poured your heart and soul into making her who she is…grow up, dude.

The mark of an excellent and lasting character in this industry is that another author can pick them up and use them to a far greater effect than the creator could have ever conceived. Which is something you should know, because you literally did that with Renee, it’s why we all love her so much.


Images courtesy of DC Comics and @TalkingBatwoman

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Will Cathy Yan’s Birds of Prey Cure the Testosterone-Poisoned DCEU?

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Are men canceled? The jury is still out. But it may be that their once assured grip on all things comics has finally slipped. And one can look no further than what has happened at Warner Bros. and DC with the DC cinematic universe. The dark and gloomy film nerd pandering schlock of Zach Snyder seems to have finally run out of steam after the failure of Justice League, and not even the outdated comic geek quips of Joss Whedon couldn’t save them. Finally taking cues from the success of Patty Jenkins and Wonder Woman, DC has added, of all things, women to their creative teams. First, Ava DuVernay was placed in charge of Jack Kirby’s New Gods, then Batgirl replaced Whedon with Christine Hodson. Now, Deadline has announced that Cathy Yan will be directing the upcoming Harley Quinn vehicle Birds of Prey. Not only will she be the second female director in the DCEU (Birds of Prey will precede New Gods) but will be the first Asian woman to direct a superhero movie.

Yan is a relative newcomer to the film world, but she’s not unaccomplished.  Born in China and raised in Hong Kong and the US, Yan has studied at Princeton and NYU, where she got an MFA from the prestigious Tisch School of the Arts. Before getting into film-making, she wrote for the Wall Street Journal. She wrote and directed multiple shorts before making her debut with Dead Pigs, which received rave reviews at Sundance.

Birds of Prey, which will use Christine Hodson’s script, has been a long-awaited addition to the DC canon. Long tied closely to writer Gail Simone, who made her name writing for it in 2003, Birds of Prey has stood out as a mostly-female team of heroes operating adjacent to the hyper-masculine Batman family of books. Its membership has revolved around Oracle (Barbara Gordon), who finally found her footing post-Killing Joke as a hyper-competent hacker and information broker, and Black Canary, who gets a break from Oliver Queen by acting as Oracle’s main operative. Other major members include former “mafia princess”  Huntress and the time-displaced Blackhawk, who acts as the team’s pilot. Many of the biggest female heroes in the DCU have passed through the ranks of the Birds of Prey, including Big Barda, Vixen, and Katana (her katana traps the souls of its victims.)

Margot Robbie’s production company LuckyChap is co-producing the film as a feature for Margot’s Harley Quinn. While Harley herself has never been a member of the Birds, her girlfriend Poison Ivy has (albeit as a ploy), and the team acts as a foil to Quinn and Ivy’s Gotham City Sirens as women in the Bat-universe.

This won’t be the first foray onto the screen for the Birds of Prey. It comes after a short-lived WB series starring Dina Meyer, and a disappointing (as always) attempt by Arrow to base an episode on the series. The film adaptation will be produced by Robbie, Sue Kroll, and Brian Unkeles and their respective production companies. Robbie was instrumental in Yan’s selection, as she was firm in her conviction that woman should direct the film. Other Quinn-centric films in the pipeline include an Ayer-free sequel to Suicide Squad, some unfortunate “rom-com” called Harley vs. The Joker, and Gotham City Sirens. Birds of Prey will enter production this year, as soon as Robbie finishes work on Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.


Image via DC Comics

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Analysis

The penultimate issue of ‘Amazons Attacked’ is as bad as everything that came before it

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On a very superficial level, issue #44 of James Robinson’s Wonder Woman series gives us a lot of what I’ve been asking for: Wonder Woman is fighting Darkseid one-on-one since she’s the supposed star of the series, the human foot soldiers of A.R.G.U.S. are overwhelmed by the forces of Apokolips since they logically can’t compete with superior alien powers, and Jason’s contributions are minute and easily mocked.  Looking at just the surface, this is exactly what I would want out of a Wonder Woman-titled comic book.  So, with all that said, we need to recognize just how bad this series is when even when they give us exactly what I ask for, it’s still an unmitigated pile of hash.

That’s not easy to do.

Recap When does it end?  WHEN DOES IT END?!?

We pick up in the Amazon jungle, where Darkseid has just used New Gods technology to transport the A.R.G.U.S. HQ building to the jungle.  He and an enraged Wonder Woman are engaged in personal combat, and when Grail tries to intervene and attack Wonder Woman she is herself taken down and carried away by Jason swooping in from the side.

The comic cuts over to Steve Trevor and the Oddfellows, who are being swarmed by Parademons.  Steve verbally recaps what has happened and tells the A.R.G.U.S. troops that they don’t have time to help their wounded or dead, they need to break through the Parademons at once and get to Wonder Woman.  Wonder Woman in turn tells Steve not to worry about her, and instead focus on fighting what’s in front of him right now.  As Wonder Woman and Darkseid go back and forth, the Female Furies that Diana had freed and armed in the last issue break through the A.R.G.U.S. troops and steal the relics which Darkseid had wanted for his machinery.

It sure is a good thing that Diana released these two and gave them back their weapons…wait…

We switch back to Jason and Grail going at it, where Grail tries to guilt him from the fight by reminiscing how they used to be lovers. Jason, however, isn’t suckered by the attempt and dismisses their past as lies and deception.

Ultimately Darkseid’s minions are able to finish their work, and a Stargate is opened connecting to Themyscira. Diana attempts to fly through to warn them of what’s coming, but she is violently rebounded from the portal. Grail, however, can go through, and she attacks the Amazons with a ray device that she and Darkseid had built from a smattering of different sources. The Amazons are transformed when struck, and come back through the portal as monstrous creatures.

Review Can we just say “this blows” and leave it at that?

I’m honestly a little stupefied at the way that James Robinson can take the elements that I have been specifically asking for — Wonder Woman back as the primary actor, Jason literally sidelined and mocked, and Steve Trevor no longer inexplicably triumphing over super powered aliens — and still produce pure drek like this issue.  It’s almost impressive.  I’m even tempted to compare it to an Ed Wood masterpiece as “so bad it’s good”.  The only problem with that comparison is that it isn’t so bad it’s good, it’s just bad.  Again.

Let’s start outside of the issue itself, and focus on the cover.  This is where the “it’s almost what I wanted, except horrible” truly begins.  The issue caption is “Wonder Woman, alone…against Darkseid!” and that’s a suitable dramatic caption.  It’s especially nice with the promise that Diana will (finally) take front-and-center in her comic again.  Except…Diana isn’t alone.  Steve Trevor is there fighting against the Parademons and Female Furies, and Jason is fighting Grail, who was likewise attacking Wonder Woman.  They’re all interlocked in the giant battle and the comic is frequently cutting back and forth between them, including dialogue between the entire group.

She is truly alone except for all the pesky friends and allies by her side throughout the entire issue

Diana isn’t even alone in the philosophical sense, let alone actually being physically isolated.

Into the comic itself, we run headfirst into problems with the bridge between the last issue and this one. Issue #43 had closed with the lead-up to the final showdown between Wonder Woman and Darkseid, with dramatic pronouncements by both of them as Diana decreed “No quarter asked for.  None given”.  Taking the time to speak like that sets up the fight as between controlled, earnestly deadly warriors.

In the opening of this issue, however, Wonder Woman is practically in a frothing rage as she screams and hammer-fists Darkseid with wild abandon. If I didn’t know better I would have assumed that there was an entire scene we didn’t see where they had already fought, and this change was what happened after Wonder Woman had lost control due to what happened off-panel. How did she go from ‘making speeches’ to “YOU MANIAC!”?

I don’t deny that this is a very cool shot — one of the only cool shots in the issue — I’m just saying that you lose points when you go from speeches using the historical meaning of the word “Quarter” to just shrieking rage

It doesn’t connect between the issues, and that is a basic level of tradecraft in writing a multi-part story. Forget all my other criticisms of the story and characterization, since for those you could at least make the argument that James Robinson was trying for a different angle (You’d be wrong, but you could at least make the argument). This is just failure at the elementary creator level, and for somebody who’s been writing comics for as long as James Robinson has it’s simply unforgivable.

Now we’re going to get into the actual story itself, and on its own merits it’s just a flop.  As they fight, Darkseid talks about the ways that Wonder Woman has beaten him in the past, and that her pathetic showing now doesn’t compare.  This is probably a reference to Justice League: Origin storyline, which was adapted into the animated film Justice League: War, and the problems here are threefold.

Number one is the fact that this story explicitly has not happened anymore; that is a New 52 story (The new origin of the Justice League after Flashpoint) and is no longer canon in Rebirth.  Number two is the fact that even if this story was in continuity, it didn’t happen in this series.  It happened in the Justice League title, so even longtime readers of Wonder Woman who have been reading the series since the New 52 won’t know what these events refer to unless they’ve read a completely different series.  Number three, and this is the biggest problem, is that it is James Robinson himself who is writing Wonder Woman as being unable to challenge Darkseid, and then having Darkseid mock her for it.

Dear all authors everywhere: If you feel that this is a weak representation of the character, THEN DON’T PRESENT THE CHARACTER AS WEAK

This isn’t clever or meta dialogue, and you don’t get points by having the characters themselves point out that what’s happening is poor writing. It’s just proof that your writing is poor, because you can’t even compensate for the story continuity that you yourself are trying to force into being.

Then we get to the way that Jason distracts Grail to keep her from interfering in the fight between Wonder Woman and Darkseid.  First off, I did not need to learn that Grail and Jason were lovers during their brief alliance.  Not only has this been completely unmentioned and unaddressed beforehand, without even the barest hint or reference to a past relationship when Jason was explaining to Diana why he sided with Grail, but it’s another example of the sexist nature of James Robinson’s writing on this series.  I might really hate the character and how she’s been used in the series, but Grail is a superpowered evil half-Amazon/half-New God warrior, she doesn’t need to be relegated to the role of femme fatale who seduced away Wonder Woman’s brother to their side.

Then there’s the fight itself and the incredibly awkward way that Jason literally flies in from the side, tackles Grail, and flies her away from Wonder Woman.  It’s almost comical.  This strikes me as James Robinson deciding that he needs Wonder Woman and Darkseid to fight one-on-one, but he couldn’t actually think of a way to keep Grail and Jason out of it so he had them literally fly away from the scene together.  Similar to the way that, on the next page, Steve Trevor announces that he’s coming to help Wonder Woman and she tells him to stay and deal with his own thing instead, when they are not shown with any kind of radio equipment that they could have been speaking to each other with.

This is Jason literally just carrying Grail away from the fight

Throughout these fight scenes Lashina and Mad Harriet are running around A.R.G.U.S. HQ collecting the relics that Darkseid needs, and I feel the need to scream at this point because the reason these two are running about is that Diana freed and armed them in the last issue.

This issue doesn’t even contain an oblique reference to these events, not a single thought-bubble of grief as Diana says to herself “Curses, if only I hadn’t let them go” when they kill somebody or help Darkseid launch his invasion of Themyscira.  It’s simply not addressed at all that Diana freed the mass-murdering enemy soldiers so that she could beat them for information.

Steve Trevor’s scenes are just as bizarrely incompetent as the rest of the comic.  When he first appears he gives a verbal recap of the events to the people around him, even though they are in the process of experiencing the very events he is describing.  This would have made perfect sense as a thought bubble or a narration box, two comic devices which were specifically invented to convey information to the reader that can’t be contained in dialogue, but instead Steve decides to start monologuing.

…This isn’t even “stilted” dialogue, it’s downright inhuman.

In what world do people talk like this while in the middle of the event they’re describing?

The frequent cuts back to Steve and Oddfellows fighting Parademons and the Female Furies are practically copy/paste sequences, as each one is just Steve saying “We’ve got to win!” with a background of people fighting.  They don’t contribute anything to the issue and don’t advance (Or even hold back) the plot.  It’s just that James Robinson had put them into the story and couldn’t think of what else to do with them.

This entire issue is a mess in a whole new direction from the the preceding comics.  It’s just shoddy any way you look at it.  Even trying to get back on the rails for what a Wonder Woman comic should be — with Diana fighting the main villain one-on-one and at the center of the action —  the execution is just bizarrely clunky and halfway twisted so that a lot of it doesn’t make any sense.

Where can this possible go from here?


Images from Wonder Woman #44 courtesy of DC Comics

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