Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Batwoman Begins In Spectacular Fashion

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[Danny Elfman Theme Plays]
Two weeks ago, I said that Batwoman Begins felt quite clearly structured as a two-parter. Nowhere is that more apparent than in, well, the second part of said two-parter. The set-up was there, with Simon infiltrating the Belfry, but the payoff could have been lacking. “Could” meaning “I’d eat my own hat if it was.” And I don’t even own a proper hat to eat.

So, I’d have to go to the store and buy a hat just to eat it to prove a point. But thankfully, I don’t have to buy a hat to eat because hot damn was this fantastic. I mean, just…holy hell.

Additionally, and this is a fun bit of trivia, it’s the first issue of a truly—I doubt I need to explain that qualifier—Kate Kanecentric comic that didn’t include a double-page spread. Two splashes, sure, but no spreads. At least, I think it is. I’m nearly positive. Honestly, let me know if I’m wrong on this one. I wouldn’t call it a break from tradition, or anything like that, but it’s definitely something I noticed.

Anyway, let’s dig in, shall we?

Noodles And (Not Exactly Welcome) Company

As always, when it comes to Kate, there’s a lot going on here in the opening to Batwoman Begins. For one, it’s kind of great to see her old home base again. I’ve really missed that tree since that time the Hydra destroyed it back in Batwoman vol 1 #17. Though, it showed up again early on in Andreyko’s run, so I honestly couldn’t tell you if she had the whole thing rebuilt or not.

I hope that’s the case. I always loved the design of it, and how it was a not so subtle reference to Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) in tandem with her own personal reasoning as to why her uniform is red.

But even cooler than that bit of nostalgia and explicit judaism is how this entire flashback, on so many levels, is just steeped in power dynamics. Not to mention Die Hard-style improvisational combat, which is so much my jam I kind of clapped my hands when Kate pulled this:

Noodles to distract her intruder, slinging for the face to limit visibility, and using that momentum to pivot out of her chair and shoot for the legs. To immobilize. We see in the next panel that she hit him in the leg, and also connected with the bowl. We find out later in the issue that shooting him was how Kate figured out Bruce and Batman were one and the same, and I for one think that’s kind of perfect.

Batman didn’t slip up, and Kate didn’t get lucky. She was just extremely observant and let the pieces click into place. After all, this is after her two year globetrotting Training From Hell montage, so for her to notice something like a limp in just the right place is far from strange.

What Is The Batwoman Without The Batman?

Anyway, there’s a rather rapid exchange of power between Kate and Bruce. At first glance, if you didn’t know these two were family, it looks like the other dozens of times Batman has tried to talk someone out of being a vigilante. But, it’s not. There’s a lot more to it than that.

It’s not about establishing that Kate’s a badass, or that she can tag Batman. It’s about her physical, meta-textual, and metaphorical distance from Batman. He moves into her space, she pushes him back. That’s how it was for quite some time. It’s only recently that she agreed to work with him on something bigger. Or, really, work with him in any capacity that didn’t involve Gotham being attacked by an army of Man-Bats or consumed by an inferno.

That also had the effect of bringing her closer into the DCU proper; fully integrating her into the that big open world. To me, this feels like a bit of a commentary on the fear that many readers, and writers, had about that kind of move. Would she vanish under the shadow of the Bat like Dick Grayson often does? Is there truly enough to distinguish her from Bruce? And, of course, the question that was asked last issue:

What can Batwoman do that Batman can’t?

Well, aside from curbstomping Bane with a rock, of course.

Williams and Blackman, the writer/artist team behind Batwoman vol 1 #0-24, wanted to carve out her corner of Gotham before even considering the idea of dropping her into the “big leagues” as it were. And they were wise to make that choice, since it was absolutely something that she needed. Initially, before the creative team switch, she grew and developed almost independently of the main line, dodging Batfamily Crossover events like Scott Snyder’s City of Owls and Death of the Family.

Bringing her in was always going to be a risk, but Tynion’s Rise of the Batmen proved that it could be done. And, to that end, exceedingly well. She’s still extremely distinct from Batman, even after working right alongside him for the past seven months of comics.

This also helps new readers who may not have read Elegy, but in this context it works since this is just one of those things Batman does.

But, back to Batwoman Begins here. Kate’s still struggling to figure out what’s missing from her mission. She knows why she fights, and why this is her only way to serve, but even so she’s lost. How is she different? How can she be if she doesn’t know why he does what he does?

What’s more is that Bruce isn’t so much trying to intimidate her, since he already failed at that, but more so parse all of this out for himself. That, and he called her Kate Kane, not Katherine Rebecca Kane, as is his typical routine when revealing how much he knows about someone.

Remember, his first question was “Who do you work for?” and her answer wasn’t verbatim to his own.

Spoilers: He’s not talking about Simon!

Even so, Kate’s still family, and he’s trying to track how the hell she got to this point. Sure, he’s got ideas, most of them right, but the point is that this is far more personal than trying to convince Stephanie Brown that she doesn’t have what it takes to be a hero.

This scene is revisited in a rather interesting way near the end of the issue, but we’ll get there.

“Tell Me.”

Kate is also asking a question without an answer. The wording of it is, of course, very reminiscent to two separate moments from Detective Comics #936. One with Renee, in the opening spread, and another with her father after he infiltrates the Belfry.

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In case you forgot, it was Renee’s advice that Kate went with. Being the soldier that she is, it makes sense that in times of crisis and uncertainty Kate would default to seeking orders from outside sources. It’s what she drilled and trained for. Of course, she’s removed far enough from all of that not to let it necessarily be her undoing.

The fact that Bruce didn’t tell her how do to “do this right” forced her to find her own path, and the events of Elegy pushed her even further in that direction. And y’know, he could have told Kate a lot of things. A few bits and pieces he’s learned from being Batman for so as long as he’s been.

But he said no, and yet, at the same time, he also didn’t tell her to stop. So, clearly, she must be doing something right if he’s not trying to shut her down instantly like he did with pretty much everyone else to varying success. Sure, “no guns”, but the way the scene is framed makes me think she never really listened to that or took it to heart. We may not have seen it, but considering what happens later in the issue, Bruce doesn’t seem the least bit surprised. No killing? Yes. That’s what the Bat means. But no guns? Heh. Doubtful. Her base is packed with military-grade rifles and other weaponry, and she wouldn’t have those if she didn’t intend to use them.

Anyway, on the other side we have Jacob telling her what’s best. I’ve gone over how deeply layered this moment was before, so I won’t repeat it now, but needless to say it manages to serve another purpose here.

The more Jacob pushes into her space, physically, meta-textually and metaphorically…the more likely Kate is to listen to him. Yes, he’s her father, but at the same time he’s lied about the most important parts of her life. Of course “listening” and “following orders” are far from the same thing.

Additionally, we get a counter-argument for bringing Kate into the greater DCU by none other than Simon Samuels. Colony Prime.

Ironically, he’s half-right. She does need to be a soldier to stand out in the DCU and keep herself away from Batman’s shadow. But, that isn’t mutually exclusive to being a superhero. I think we can all agree that Kate’s more than proven that she can do both. And if you’re not convinced yet, I’ve got a good feeling you will be once Batwoman Rebirth rolls around.

Call it a hunch.

You Didn’t Say “Simon Says”!

We flash forward to the present, and Simon is acting like one smug son of a bitch. He activates the Belfry’s defense systems, and Kate takes him on to buy Batman time to retake control of the base. He antagonizes her by stating he won’t go easy on the boss’s little girl, to which Kate predictably finds unamusing. So she kicks him so hard his fancy folding helmet flies off his face.

Then, gasp, Simon uses the Belfry’s systems against her and traps her!

He scampers off into the bowels of the Belfry towards the holding cells, blowing stuff up along the way while Jacob berates him in the ear. He manages to get all the way to Batman, who has somehow caught up with him, before ranting on again about how much better he is and how much smarter he is and how Batman always leaves an opening in his rib cage whenever he throws a punch.

Except none of that happened because he ran straight through the yellow-and-black marked door which, in an impressive moment of continuity, we know only leads to one place.

[maniacal laughter]
The Mud Room. What follows is truly a thing of beauty. And also kind of terrifying.

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Few blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moments here, since the actual sequence requires zero explanation. In the opening scene, Batman states that Kate’s mother and sister were killed. Here, she, due to the events of Elegy and Batwoman vol 1, amends that. Her mother Gabrielle was murdered, not Beth. And it’s nice to have a reminder of that once in a while, since we have no damn clue where she is or what she’s doing right now.

I Guess We’re Watching The Watchmen?

Also, there’s another Rebirth/Dr. Manhattan timeline shenanigans bit. There have been a bunch of these odd “changes” to continuity across the Rebirth line that don’t actually impact anything. For example, Batman #6 reveals that the Waynes were murdered when Bruce was ten years old, instead of eight. Batgirl and the Birds of Prey #6 renames the theater they were killed outside of from the Monarch to the Majestic.

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And no, neither of those are lettering or art errors. If they were, they’d have been fixed in the digital editions by now, and the Monarch/Majestic switch even had a joke tied to it. This time, Kate implies she was eight years old when she was kidnapped instead of on her twelfth birthday. Her being twelve does line up with that time she walked all the way to Arlington to visit her mother’s grave, which was shown in Detective Comics #938. Which was written by Tynion. She sure didn’t look eight and a half there, I’ll tell you that.

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Since Tynion and Bennett have been very vocal about how they’re not retconning a single thing, but rather filling in the gaps, it seems to me like this is a small, and interesting way, to tie every book in the Rebirth line into the larger mystery in a way that’s non-intrusive. Other books have been doing it too, aside from the two I mentioned, so it makes far more sense than anything else. Also, I’d imagine most readers simply aren’t going to catch this kind of thing, so I think it works pretty well.

Or maybe I’m reaching. I’d like to think I’m not, considering how well Rebirth has been going critically and in sales, so, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Katie, Get Your Gun

Moving back to Batwoman Begins, Simon-sans-Garfunkel pops a smoke grenade and high tails it out of there as fast as he can only to be stopped by Batman. Before he can be captured, he warns Jacob about The Many Arms Of Death—which just so happens to be the name of the first Batwoman Rebirth arc—have gotten their hands on the Monster Venom. And then he injects himself with some of it, turning him into a twelve-foot tall nigh-invincible monster.

And then Kate does something I’ve always wanted to see her do: Use guns.

Sure, she knew it wouldn’t kill him thanks to her experience with Monster Venom in Night of the Monster Men, but even so she must’ve been hoping to concuss him or crack his skull to some degree. But yes, more of this please. Because that is definitely one thing that Batwoman can do that Batman can’t (except when he does). And before you say “oh but Jason uses guns, too!” remember that he’s super limited in that regard since he does want Bruce’s approval. Even if he doesn’t admit it.

Anyway, the Giant Rotting Orange jumps out the window, which according to Tim means we have maybe one more set of self-healing glass before they need a refill if my math is right, and escapes.

Kate’s mind wanders back to what she was beating into Simon’s face, and reminisces about how she figured out he was Batman. And also reaffirming that she does have her own mission, despite what her father and Simon claim, and it’s really not that complicated. Curiously enough, the art here is almost exactly the same as the opening scene, but the progression and dynamics are, in a way, inverted.

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It’s still about self-discovery—as every great Batwoman tale is—and Kate’s mission, but the posing and staging of it really show how dramatically things have shifted between them since she first started out. For once, as I gushed in my review of Detective Comics #947, they’re equals now and it doesn’t seem even remotely forced. The guns, the orders—Kate has grown. She’s grown quite a bit.

And, thankfully, she’s grown enough to do another thing Batman can’t do. Talk to her father. Zing!

A Much Needed Talk

 As Jacob said way back in Detective Comics #940, and again in #943, he’ll answer any question he’s asked. As long as Kate is the one asking them. And, he stays true to that, which is kind of brilliant on this part. He’s able to parlay intel into a continued relationship with his daughter, even if it’s just on the surface since he knows—well, they both know that it’s only a matter of time before Kate lets him into her life again.

But, even deeper than that, there’s a palpable shift in the anger and hostility we’ve seen Kate feel towards her father since he “killed” Tim Drake. It’s…almost not even there at all. The moment he opens his mouth, you’d expect her to snap at him. Say something about what he did, but she doesn’t. She needs his help, and he wants to help her.

Pretty sure this is the part where Kylie collapsed into a pit of feels.

And, better still, you can’t help but wonder that maybe, just maybe, she’s been swallowing the idea that she gets where he was coming from. Sacrificing a thousand to save hundreds of thousands. It’s not a reality Bruce would ever accept, but Kate might. Not ideally, but I don’t see her saying no to that in a lot of scenarios. But perhaps that’s just me.

Final Thoughts

I’d be remiss not to mention that this issue did suffer a bit from inconsistent coloring from page to page. Sometimes Kate’s cape is black with a red interior (as it should be), and sometimes it’s reversed. Sometimes Batman’s outfit is deep black, sometimes it’s grey and light blue. The second team seemed to be using a much lighter palette overall.

Additionally, pages 10 and 11 were drawn by Szymon Kudranksi, though I didn’t notice until page 11 since facial features in page 10 were shrouded in shadow. He’s a fine artist, but that didn’t make it a less jarring transition from Ben Oliver’s style.

And I have good feeling that the reason for the fill-in art was due to this being a very meaty issue. Especially with this double-shipping schedule. Like I said before, no double page spreads, so the art is going to take a significantly longer amount of time to draw if there are more panels to pencil, ink and color.

Again, there’s nothing wrong with fill-in art; sometimes it’s inevitable no matter the circumstance.  All I’m saying is that I noticed and it took me out of the story for a moment or two. Nothing too major.

Anyway, now that that’s out of the way, yes, pick up this issue. I loved it, if that wasn’t obvious enough. Yes, pick up the Rise of the Batmen trade, which goes on sale February 7th. Yes, read this damn book. And, of course, read Batwoman Rebirth when it drops on February 15th.

Oh, and one last thing: a preview of Batwoman Rebirth #1.

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Don’t call it a comeback. Yet.


Writers: James Tynion IV and Marguerite Bennett

Pencils/Inks: Ben Oliver

Pencils/Inks, pages 10-11: Szymon Kudranksi

Colors: Ben Oliver, Gabe Eltaeb and Hi-Fi

Letterer: Marilyn Patrizio

All images courtesy of DC Comics

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