I’m suspending the Fail Counter for this month, as Kate was barely in this issue and didn’t actually…do anything? This was about Safiyah, and the emotional context of the first arc. More or less. And, before we dive in, remember that piece I wrote about Epting not being a great choice for Batwoman Rebirth’s first arc? Hoping you see what I meant if you didn’t before.
Every issue I had with Epting’s unfortunately sanitized art and the rather frustrating dissonance it had with an otherwise stellar script, is completely thrown out the window with Stephanie Hans doing everything except the lettering. Every single panel is evocative, no matter how minor or small the moment is, and her pseudo-watercolor style (mixed with pastels, I think?) is the perfect amount of “heightened” for a Batwoman tale. It is, and I say this with complete sincerity even though it’s a pun, which is apt for Kate: breathtaking.
Seeing nearly every single location previously rendered by Epting and recreated by Hans grants us a rather curious perspective on how things were, I believe, supposed to look. How the story was meant to be executed, if it were under better circumstances. Coryana becomes a sort of dreamscape that slowly turns to waking nightmare, both for Safiyah and Kate, which is what the script seemed to be alluding to under Epting but never truly came to fruition. Not quite an inversion of Themyscira, aka Paradise Island, but definitely something close to it. Morally, at least.
Kate’s tattoos are present once again after a long and rather frustrating absence, especially due to how masterfully they were used in Batwoman #1. And this time, finally, their paradoxical combination is actually addressed. The naval star, harkening back to their 1940s/50s usage as a “signal” for other queer women by tattooing them on their inner wrist, and the Green Beret. Two things that cannot co-exist. Being openly gay, and serving in the military. Sort of like how Kate’s mere existence is baffling from just about every angle.
Anyway, the actual narrative of Batwoman #5 is one of the single gayest things I’ve ever seen. And I’ve like, read and watched a lot of queer media. Sorta comes with the territory of, uh, me being me and also this site? But yeah, this was so gay that it’s in the title of the review which means it’s technically not redundant! Sort of.
This is one of those issues where, if you read it, you already get about 90% of it. That’s not a lack of depth, but rather excellence in execution. Which…probably means I wouldn’t have had to write however many thousands of words I’ve written on this series so far if Hans had been doing the art the whole time. But I liked doing that so either way I’m good.
I’d rather not do a plot recap, since it would just be me repeating “Safiyah, Tahani, and Kate are gay” over and over again until I hit around 500 words. Instead, I’m going to dig into how this issue informs us of the emotional context of the larger arc itself, as well as what it may be hinting at or alluding to. And man is there some great stuff in here.
WEEE-WOOO WEEE-WOOO WEEE-WOOO
It’s…it’s a siren? Get it? Siren? Eh? Look, it’s a Batwoman book I’m gonna be making puns. That’s one of her things.
Okay, so, Kate being a “siren” isn’t new, but there’s some new context here to add on to. See, the process in which Safiyah heals Kate’s skull, kintsugi, is exactly how Tae-Ree described Safiyah back in Batwoman #2. Funny thing about that: I tried searching for what the hell that was and couldn’t find anything.
The gold, surprisingly, isn’t the most interesting part about this. It’s the fact that Safiyah put something of herself into Kate before they were even starting to be a thing…and this also means that Safiyah treated the island like she did Kate, which explains so much as for why things changed after Kate…apparently broke her heart? Or fucked her so well that she was ruined for other women? Not really sure what else it could be.
Either way, Kate lured Safiyah down her own personal path of self-destruction, as that’s what sirens do and it was Kate’s current state of mind, too. Safiyah had put so much of her focus on Kate, I’m guessing, (ironically proving totally-not-Charles Vane right) that when she left the island, well, it’s just as Safiyah said: Coryana couldn’t recover because Safiyah is Coryana.
You know what Sirens also do? Lure sailors to their doom. Rocky waters, storms, you name it. And that seems to be just what Kate did; upsetting the balance of power and control Safiyah had over the island by turning her “soft” on outsiders by making Kate an exception to the rule. It got so bad that, yes, Not-Charles Vane wanted to enact a coup and Tahani went out of her way to attempt to kill Kate, and that was all within a month and a half, at most. Imagine the damage Kate could do by existing for a year on that island.
Imagine what she could do without realizing it. I mean, this is why she had to stay out of sight in that flashback from Batwoman #2, right? Seeing Kate reminded the other warlords too much of how far Safiyah had fallen for Kate’s seduction. For the outside world, and the treasures it promised.
Of course, with Kate being a physical manifestation of colonialism, a fact that is explicitly touched upon by Safiyah, it’s rather interesting that she’s more a harbinger than the vanguard of their destruction. Oh, and also all those times that we saw Tahani creeping around was after everyone thought she was dead, apparently. So that’s really creepy.
Okay, here’s where things get very cool. At least it think they do. Remember my theory about Colony!Kate being from an Alternate Future? The lightning may have been confirming that…with a twist. I’ll explain. Thunder and lightning are two separate things. You see the lightning before you hear the thunder. Lightning is bright enough to mask a muzzle flash when firing a gun, and the thunder is loud enough to overpower the crack of a firearm being, well, fired. That is to say the CRK overshadows the CRACK of a pistol. See where I’m going with this?
We know from the final page of the issue that Safiyah murdered Sixth, but the how is not immediately apparent until you look a little closer. We see a panel of lightning, with the thunder “crk” and Sixth is gone. Next time we see him, he’s washed up on the shore, bloody and dead. Safiyah shot him. That may seem obvious, but consider why you thought that? It wasn’t just because it was the simplest explanation: she could have just as easily slit his throat.
It’s because Hans has done something extremely clever with her coloring, in tandem with the lettering. Take a moment to remember that the “red glass” filter is for memories—imperfect recollections from Kate’s biased point of view—while the black and white ones in previous issues were actual “historical” narrative flashbacks. The “red glass” fades into full color with Colony!Kate having just fired her pistol at someone below her ,and you can see the smoke from the barrel if you look close. All seems pretty reasonable, right?
Except, if those were memories, Kate’s life flashing before her eyes if you will, then how the hell is that Kate in there? And this is where the twist, twists even more: Colony!Kate isn’t technically an alternate future for Kate. She’s Kate if the New52 reality had continued to progress.
See, lightning, when tied into memory and timelines in the DCU, denotes both the end and a beginning. The Post-Crisis era ended with a lightning strike as Barry Allen went back in time to prevent the murder of his mother, setting off the events of Flashpoint and indirectly creating the New52 (sort of). The original Wally West returned to the DCU after being trapped in the Speed Force with a bolt of lightning, signaled at the end of the Titans Hunt mini-series.
This is the moment that kicked off DC Rebirth and formally ended the New52 era. What does this mean? Well, Rebirth changed a lot of things back to what they were…so it stands to reason that Kate’s New52 future (not to be confused with Future’s End) could be what we’re seeing here.
A darker, grittier, less hopeful reality that is very much in line with the New52 branding. Colony!Kate could very easily be a remnant of that timeline, having evaded the cascading change by being outside of the timestream as it occurred. Again, technically, she’s not an alternate Kate. She’s who Kate would have become if Wally West hadn’t returned. Which means that, at some point in the near future, Kate would have been outed as Batwoman and lost that avenue of service, which would more or less force her to join the Colony. Except, this won’t happen in the Rebirth reality.
She’ll stay the Kate we know and love. And ideally get back together with Renee and just like, be happy for once.
NEXT WEEK: Kate and Luke punch some robots, probably. Oh, and Legend of Korra: Turf Wars, as long as we’re on the topic of queer media. You’re going to want to keep an eye out for that one if you’re a fan, folks. Kylie and I have Feelings and Thoughts.
Writers: Marguerite Bennett and James Tynion IV
Art: Stephanie Hans
Letterer: Deron Bennett