Sunday, May 26, 2024

Three Issues Of Batwoman, And I’m Already An Idiot

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[Danny Elfman Theme Plays]
Last Friday I gave Batwoman #3 an 8/10, citing that something was missing from the book that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. After revisiting the previous issues of the Rebirth series over the weekend—which is what I normally do, but was unable to do so last week—I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was dead wrong. I’m amending my score of Batwoman #3 to be that of a 9/10, as it does a lot of increasingly clever and inventive things with everything. It’s really gonna support this book extremely well in its transition into paperback, that’s for damn sure.

But before we dig into that, I want to apologize to Bennett, Tynion, Epting and Cox for being so damned sloppy. And also to the people who read these things I write and typically expect, as Ian once put it: a dissertation. I will do my utmost to be more diligent in the future, and I thank you for your patience and understanding on this matter.

Now, without further ado, let’s dig into all of the stuff I missed because I was being dumb. A lot of this will circle back to things I also missed in the other issues of Batwoman, so….yup. We’re gonna be all over the place, so buckle up.

Sobering Up

Safiyah’s haunting monologue in the Rebirth one-shot followed Kate as she found Renee once again after returning to Gotham, but also continued into that fateful night in the alley where she was falling over drunk and beating up a mugger. The night she saw Batman.

“You think you’ll be able to forget me. And perhaps you will, for a time. Trade one addiction for another. Trade one self-destruction for another. Until someone…something…sobers you up. Do you like this future, Kate? Do you like where you’re heading?”

Aside from setting up the major theme of self-destruction within this book, which should not be discounted or forgotten, especially when the concept of both “self” and “destruction in this context are rather…nebulous (we’ll come back to that), this moment is perverted in Tahani’s flashback. It’s not just about paralleling the memories and layout of the opening of Batwoman #2, but showing that both Tahani and Kate had that same moment of seeing a light in the dark in very similar ways.

It’s raining in a dingy alley. Kate is drunk, desperate, and lost. She smashes a mugger’s teeth into the brick wall, and Batman leaps down in front of her while the mugger gets away. He helps her up and vanishes into the night, the bat signal acting as the literal light. For Tahani, this scene is more or less repeated…except Safiyah is late.

That’s the key here. Not necessarily how different Kate and Tahani’s lives are, though both were seemingly thrown out onto the street with only Kate having the cash to survive it. Rather, this is about the fact that Safiyah was too late to be of any real help. The man was already dead, making Tahani a murderer, and Safiyah’s light is a lantern that she controls…rather than a call to arms in the sky. It’s not a symbol of hope, fear, or resilience. It’s just a method of control over Tahani. Exactly the same as the Lantern of the Desert Rose.

In a way, Kate lighting that torch is an odd sort of merging of those two nights in the alley. It’s a signal made from a lantern, ignited via alcohol. Almost as if Kate and Tahani are fighting over the right to exist in this life and on that island. The fact that the warlords came at all tips the scales much further in Kate’s camp, as it’s exactly what would happen in Gotham: Batman would answer the call.

Hell, in Batwoman #1 Kate even uses a pair of lanterns to burn and choke a monster’d up terrorist in order to neutralize him. Which likely parallels her destruction of Coryana by using the lantern as a weapon, thus extinguishing it.

Additionally, Safiyah’s “apprenticeship” offer is particularly troubling. If you recall, back in Detective Comics #949, and then repeated in the Rebirth one-shot, Kate asks Bruce why he does what he does. And he refuses to tell her. The importance of that cannot be understated, since it forced her to find her own methodology and fill in the blanks. I wondered why this was repeated in the one-shot, despite it fitting, but now I see explicitly why.

They’re talking about Tahani!

Tahani was never independent of Safiyah after finding new purpose. She was always, as she herself states, “a plaything”. A “beaten dog”, as she calls the remaining warlords. She truly is a perversion of Kate’s origin. Her inspiration and mentor come from the same place, which deludes her sense of self and individuality if she only identified as another aspect of Safiyah for so long rather than her own distinct person.

Which means that Tahani eventually did “sober up” after Kate left Coryana and became Knife. But, having lived her life as a tool for others, it’s all but impossible for her to see herself in any other way. Her refusal of her given name, thereby attempting to abandon her past is emblematic of yet another aspect of how messed up Tahani’s “version” of Kate’s origin truly is. Kate forged herself into a weapon, while Knife seems to believe herself to be nothing else.

I don’t think her obsession with Kate is to murder her, as she had plenty of chances to do so already, but rather to hurt her as much as possible, similar to that of Eobard Thawne’s approach to Barry Allen. Batwoman #2 opens with Safiyah saying that pain is part of the healing process, and that there is no shame in it. So, what if Tahani, in her quest to cause Kate as much pain as possible, be it emotional, psychological or physical, she is trying to drag her down to her level of suffering. Because she simply will not allow herself to heal, or is otherwise unable to.

Wait, does this mean that Tahani sees Kate as America’s military interventionist strategy? Because that…is not entirely inaccurate. Except for the self-interest part.

Because, as the end of Batwoman #3 suggests, Kate did create her in a very intimate way by destroying Coryana. Kate destroyed parts of herself; the island being one of them. Burying them and burning them, but they came back like a bad memory or even a nightmare. She’s her own target of pain. Self-destruction, remember? Memories are corrupted or deluded. And by attempting to save the island like she is now, Kate is saving herself in a lot of ways.

Forcing herself to remember her past and accept the horrible things she did, and all the people she hurt. That it’s all a part of her, and denying that would make her a lot like Tahani. An abandoned name and history, believing herself to be a literal weapon instead of forging herself into one. Tahani is a physical threat, but also a psychological one. Kate can see how far she could lose herself, if she were more like Batman. If she dissociated enough to create a Batwoman “persona” instead of it being a uniform. A way to serve.

Corporatized Warmongering

So, where is Kate going? At the moment, to her own past so that she can attempt to make some peace with that future. Her present. This ordeal on Coryana, and the circumstances surrounding her return, is a subversion of her typical pattern of self-destruction. Specifically, the Kali Corporation. I’ve already gone over the curious Hindu imagery there, especially when paired with Safiyah’s namesake, but what I didn’t catch at the time was just how much of a destroyer Kate truly is in the history of this tale. And how Kali, the goddess, being a destroyer of evil, having her symbols reappropriated by a terrorist organization that are not-so-subtly modern Nazis is…a lot.

Every villain believes themselves the hero of their own story, so the “twins” trying to “tame the wilderness” is, in their eyes, a liberation. A reclamation, even, which they explicitly say in Batwoman #2. It’s useless, dead land with all of the inhabitants there. The infrastructure is rotted, hence the garden is not being maintained. Except, Kate already destroyed this place once, and created this entire circumstance. Which means this a second chance for her, especially considering what, apparently, her larger, mostly impossible goal is as stated in Detective Comics #949:

It’s more possible than Bruce’s war on crime, though…

War takes many forms, but in the present day you’d be hard pressed to find one being fought that wasn’t directly influenced by private corporations. No, I’m not a conspiracy nut. The military industrial complex is a real, terrifying thing that Kate is gonna have to go up against every step of the way. I’m just a little embarrassed that I didn’t catch that this was why Batwoman had her fighting a mega-corporation at first.

Here’s how it works: thanks to the modern military industrial complex, war is one of the most profitable businesses out there. For arms dealers and weapons manufacturers, not the countries or groups themselves even though they often back said dealers and manufacturers. The Kali Corporation, while serving as a legitimate front for the Many Arms of Death, most likely has no real political agenda other than their bottom line. Whoever they sell their weapons too doesn’t matter, as long as they can pay. But that’s not really the messed up part. That’s just…y’know, simple. How else would terrorist organizations get the weapons they use?

No, the messed up part is that most of an arms dealer’s business is perfectly legitimate. That is to say that the Kali Corporation, just like every single other major arms dealer ever, made their mint through legal channels. The vast majority of the actions they take are not criminal…though they are nowhere near ethical. Arms dealers often more or less decide the outcome of a war, and thus the resources up for sale after things settle down and another government is put into power. A government most likely amenable to buying more of that arms dealer’s inventory because if they don’t, well…they’ll take their business to the opposition and the whole thing starts all over again.

And guess what: as long as they don’t sell them nerve agents or nuclear weapons or anything else that would raise eyebrows at the U.N….it’s all 100% legal. Devoid of ethics, but not something you can really stop. So, it’s likely that, eventually, Kate will be butting heads with a perfectly legitimate business lead by a truly monstrous person. A person who is, in the eyes of international law, completely innocent of any wrongdoing. Kinda makes you ask that question, right?

What can Batwoman do that Batman can’t? Aside from speaking to her father (which he just did in The Button), it might be how far she’s willing to go to correct injustice. It’s one thing to go vigilante and take a guilty person down, but to do that with someone who slithers through the legal system without mistake? Kate may want to talk to Superman about how to deal with that. That’s kind of Lex Luthor’s MO, though he also relies on nobody ever being able to prove he did what he did.

Which brings us back to Coryana and the Kali Corporation. They’ve been trying colonize the island by purchasing land rights and cutting it up for foreign interest groups. Politicians and the like, including U.S. Senators. So, if they bought the land because the Kali Corporation was “taming it”, thus creating some sort of giant private resort for people like that sitting smack dab in international waters…why would they want to blow it up?

If I had to guess, it’d be to force a spike in military spending. If they destroyed the island with a majority of those important people on the island, say for a grand ceremony of some kind, it wouldn’t just kill those in power. It would also wipe out the pirates. Pirates who lorded over a lawless island for God knows how long, so it would be extremely easy for the Kali Corporation to blame that “horrible tragedy” on the pirates who would have rather seen Coryana burn to the ground than be taken over by the outside world. Which, once again, sure does sound a lot like Black Sails.

See, they make you THINK it’s just the pirates at risk…but the Many Arms of Death wouldn’t be a good terrorist organization if they limited themselves like that!

And of course, this all loops back around to another quote of Safiyah’s from the opening of Batwoman #2:

“Land is the only thing that can’t be replaced, after all. Everything else can be stitched and soldered back together.”

Whatever that bargain Knife made with the “Twins” has got to be something particularly special if they’re willing to raze Nassau Coryana to the ground for it. But, we’ve still got another four weeks before we get another chance to figure out exactly what that is.

So, on that note, thanks for taking the time to read about all the stuff I was too stupid to notice the first time around. Well, most of it. I could have, among many other things, gone deeper into how Tahani is constantly on the outside looking in, hiding in the shadows as a contrast to Kate’s “loud and proud” mentality towards…existing, but who’s got time for that?

Kate and Julia, apparently. They have so much free time, you guys.

Images courtesy of DC Comics

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