Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Batwoman Rebirth Is A Goddamn Grand-Motherf%#$ing-Slam

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Gonna need to disable the profanity filter for Batwoman Rebirth because holy fucking shit. Yeah, that’s right, no italics. Straight to bold. 

I mean, I had expectations. They were admittedly high. You build up this much hype over a long stretch of time, and that’s bound to happen. I read every interview over the past nine months, grinning wider and wider along the way as Bennett and Tynion gushed over Kate in much the same way we do here at the Fandomentals.

From her Jewishness to her queerness to her penchant for fucking up to her angry complicated familial dynamics, the narrative being constructed every two weeks was evolving. By Detective Comics (Tec) 938 (totally syncs up with Freebird), it wasn’t just a course-correction for Kate anymore. By Tec 940, she’d hijacked the bus she’d been thrown on. After Night of the Monster Men, she crashed it through the fucking wall. And by Tec 943 she’d jammed the parking brake. And then she pushed it off the Dixon Docks at Tricorner Yards.

So, yeah, I was excited. I was optimistic. Even more, I, and so many others, needed Batwoman Rebirth to work. Because we knew what would happen if it didn’t. There likely would not be a third chance for her for a very long time, if ever. But, I’m not sure anything could have prepared me for how raw and uncompromising Batwoman Rebirth is.

Or how goddamn perfectly the team of Bennett, Tynion, Epting, and Cox nailed it.

In short, Batwoman Rebirth needed to do four things:

  1. Recapture Kate’s emotional core, origin and pertinent history for a new audience
  2. Hook readers, both old and new, to follow the relaunched book
  3. Entice new readers to pick up her old stories
  4. Be unabashedly queer (and Jewish)

And it did those things. In fucking spades.

Don’t Call It A Comeback, She’s Been Here For Years

I once did the math on how old Kate needed to be in order for anything to make sense: twenty-nine to thirty-ish. You can thank West Point for being very strict in how they do things for that.

There were variables, of course. The amount of time Kate spent aimless and drunk had never been specified, so it was either short, meaning she bounced back after around a year, giving her about six years of experience as Batwoman or…well, if X is “Years Kate Was Fucked Up”—you get the idea.

As it turns out, Kate’s only been Batwoman for two years and as I’ve gone over before, I’m more than okay with that. If it took longer her for her to drag herself out of a cycle of self-destruction (well, mostly) then that makes her choice have a lot more weight. Everything was that much harder and emotionally evocative.

Now, imagine how I felt when I turned to the first page and saw this:


Twenty-seven when she started, and we’re at “Two Years Later”. Thus, twenty-nine. And here I was worried they’d de-age her to a permanent “Hollywood Twenty-Seven” when she’s always presented and read as a thirty-ish year old woman. Fears, unfounded!

Anyway, after the splash we revisit Kate’s twelfth birthday, also known as the day her mother was murdered and her sister was kidnapped. Though, this does make me wonder if I was right about the purpose of Kate’s “since I was eight years old” speech from Tec 949.

Moving on, this story, originally told in Tec 858 by Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III, can’t actually be conveyed better than it was back then. And our creative team, thankfully, knows this. Frankly, none of Kate’s original origin story from Go (Tec 858-860) can be improved or tightened up. It was flawless seven years ago, and it’s flawless now.

It’s one of Kate’s greatest strengths as a character. How tight her continuity is, even after more than a decade of publication. Yet, it is also major hurdle for new readers to vault over. So, it’s a trade-off. Consistency versus accessibility, and honestly that’s another thing that Batwoman Rebirth absolutely knocked out of the fucking park.

Especially since they needed to sell this to older fans as well, like myself, who know this story inside and out. But, that also means that I’m not really qualified to judge whether or not this book was “new reader” friendly, so I asked fellow Fanfinite Priscilla to check it out and let me know what she thought of it:

“…it [seemed] new reader friendly to me. I mean, it does reference a lot of events and people I have no idea but…it doesn’t do it in a way that is too confusing. It’s more like ‘okay, this character has a lot of history and we can’t cover everything in this one comic, but here’s an idea’. It did make me very curious to read other Batwoman comics, so I think it worked? She sounds [like] a great character…and I love how unabashedly wlw this is…”

And, completely unbeknownst to me, our fantastic Managing Editor Elizabeth also read Batwoman Rebirth (not shockingly, at Kylie’s prodding):

“I haven’t bought a comic book in at least a decade, and I know next to nothing about Batwoman other than what I’ve picked up from Kylie and Griffin gushing all over our site about her. But after reading this one, I loved it so much I had to drive to the comic shop and buy it. I have no idea what any of the events are that are referenced in this issue, but that really doesn’t matter; it hooks you in anyway and doesn’t let go. The art, pacing, and writing are superb. As a jumping off point for the uninitiated, this couldn’t be more perfect.”
She read it on Comixology first.

So that’s a checkmark next to, huh, to all four-ish points on our list? I’d say a hard four, but the Jewish bits aren’t exactly screaming out at you. But, rest assured, they are there. And they are fantastic.

Moving on, that doesn’t mean there aren’t gaps in her tight-as-hell history to be filled. Bits and pieces of those sequences that enhance the tale, rather than rewrite it. Some of these moments are small, but the most clever aspect is that the art is drawn from a different angle. This may seem inconsequential, but if you take a moment to consider the goal here, it’s rather brilliant.

But Epting and Cox go one step further than that. Epting manages to render the sequences we’ve “read before” in such a way that it looks like Williams himself actually redrew them with sharper shadows, and Cox tweaks the original color palette just enough for it to stand out.

No, I’m not talking about the strange ethereal glow and shading, but rather the minimalist flashback sequences depicted in Go and Batwoman #0. It’s easiest to see in the facial detailing, if you know what you’re looking for.

Here are two examples so you can see what I’m getting at:

[slide-anything id=”57568″]

As you saw, the truck that t-bones the Kanes in Brussels is shown from the other side of the car. Dialog is added between the panels of the kidnapping itself. Kate gets an internal monologue that she didn’t have before, and most interestingly of all: Gabrielle Kane implies that there may have been a deeper reasoning to that day than we previously assumed.

And honestly, for something so traumatic, it makes perfect sense that Kate would remember bits and pieces of this differently from time to time. Memory isn’t perfect by nature. We see what Kate remembers most, not the historical account portrayed in that of Go.

Now, the new stuff, what we haven’t seen in any capacity before, that’s rendered in the “modern” style. And, as you’re no doubt starting to put together, the effect is really fucking cool.

She’s Rocking Her Peers, Putting Cadets In Fear

Flash forward eight years, and we’re back at West Point, presumably a few days before the events depicted in Go. It’s not Ring Weekend quite yet. Sophie ‘Gimme’ Moore and Kate ‘Candy’ Kane (yes that is really what their call-signs were) are sparring in the gym and it’s almost like Kate is not even trying to keep it in her pants. I love it.

Great job, Kate. You crossed the “Gal Pal” event horizon. Nobody could actually justify that innuendo as anything else but that.

Back in Batwoman #0, Kate described Sophie as someone possessing the same unflappability as her father, which is something she tried to emulate. And honestly it’s kind of awesome to see a little more of Kate’s first love. I mean, they were roommates! That shit’s kind of important.

Oh, and, Kate drops some Yiddish. I’ve never actually seen “vey’z mir” written down, so it took me like nine read-throughs of this thing to even catch that. I honestly thought it was something french.

Anyway, this is a topic I’ve discussed at length with Kylie, who speaks so much Yiddish in regular conversation it’s amazing. Specifically, whether or not Kate had the family background for using Yiddish in everyday conversation to make sense. Thing is, many American Jews don’t really use it as they don’t have a family member who speaks it fluently. So they couldn’t, y’know, learn it. I’m an example of that, though my family does use some choice phrases every so often.

Since Kate’s father Jacob has never used a single word of it, we agreed that if Kate did start using Yiddish it’d have to have come from her mother. Who was from Boston—thanks Batwoman #0!—so that’d do it. And I’m pretty sure we were right:

This is so heartbreaking. Because that’s why he married Catherine Hamilton. She’s more observant, too!

Moving on, we also see that her BTO, Reyes, was watching them and seems to be aware of the nature of their relationship to some degree. However, for him to be the one to have actually accused her of violating Article 125, homosexual misconduct, would contradict the way in which that conversation took place in Tec 859.

Kate asks if she’s the only cadet being investigated, and he tells her that she is. Considering how he tries to give her an out, by allowing her to explain that it was all a “misunderstanding” and that it won’t ever happen again, as a sign of respect to the service her mother and father have given to the army, it’s doubtful that he’s lying. So…what does this mean?

Well, more likely than not, it means that Reyes was aware of this and didn’t say anything. Whatever his personal reasoning for that remains unclear, though it could be something as simple as respecting her family history of military service. This begs another question, though: who “named names”, as it were?

My guess? Nobody actually knew and Kate was the victim of random sexism and prejudice. She was the Brigade XO, meaning she was the literal top of her class. A lot of men probably wouldn’t be too happy about that. They also probably wouldn’t be happy that she wasn’t receptive to any of their advances. And maybe they were anti-semitic, too. Whatever the case may be, you have to admit that it’d be kind of perfect for this to have been random hate.

It’d further reinforce that there was nothing special about Kate in that moment. Which is sort of the point.

Making The Tears Rain Down Like A Monsoon

Two years pass, and now we’re on a yacht in Monaco. Kate is piss drunk, and if you look close at the ice sculptures you’ll notice that they look just like the Mad Hatter and Alice from Alice in Wonderland.

Which, of course, is an allusion to Beth’s eventual return as Red Alice. And then we get another Go scene being retold from a slightly different visual perspective.

I love this bit. The party goers basically call Kate a JAP (that is, a Jewish American Princess). Yes, it’s quite pejorative and so wonderfully appropriate. I doubt I need to clarify what krav maga is, but, in the unlikely case that I do: it’s an Israeli-developed “self defense” martial art derived from street fighting techniques used to literally beat the shit out of Nazis in the 30s.

It can best be classified as brutal, efficient and practical. Sounds like Kate, doesn’t it?

Anyway, we see the scene outlined above, where Kate refuses to lie about her identity, recontextualized with her complete and total lack of direction and focus. Kate, linking it back to the first line of dialogue in the one-shot, has no idea where she’s going. No idea what she’s doing. She might not even be entirely aware of where she even is. But, no matter how much she drinks, or how far she runs, she can’t escape her past.

Or the crushing reality that retaining her integrity and her honor means fuck all in her life right now. And may never again.

That’s not even getting into the pun section of this symbolism. On the straight and narrow? Straight as an arrow? Eh? Okay I’ll stop.

It is important to note, however, that Kate’s naval star tattoo is notably absent from her upper back. I was under the impression that she got that really soon after getting drummed out of West Point, but apparently not. The Green Beret on her right arm is also missing, though the timing on that one is often a little inconsistent. It’s one of the very few things that is about her history.

Over The Competition, She’s Towering

A year later and we’re finally in Coryana, a wretched “hive of scum and villainy.” What? That’s how Bennett described it.  This is the new stuff. The meat and potatoes to the very much initiated.

Kate’s sporting a new haircut that also includes a lightning bolt, making it impossible to mistake any scene where she has this hair for anything other than a flashback. Rather clever character design, honestly. Won’t even need the little “YEARS AGO” markers.

Anyway, if Bruce has his Zero Year, then Kate’s got her Lost Year. And no, they didn’t happen at the same time. Zero Year happened around the time Kate was discharged—okay we’re getting off track!

Kate wakes up from a recurring nightmare, the kidnapping in Brussels, and pulls a revolver out of the nightstand to investigate a disturbance with a tiny little cat by her heels. As it turns out, the empty spot in her bed is not normally empty!

Raise your hand if you’re surprised by the bondage. Hm? Nobody? Thought so.

Where to even begin with this giant pile of “oh God Kate what the fuck did you do”? For one, she’s a live-in trophy lover for what sounds like a de facto tyrant of a highly corrupt island nation. Or maybe just a step below that, and Safiyah is just a organized crime lord who more or less controls the economy with an iron fist.

At least we know her taste in women gets better from here.

Also we see a shot of Tahani, the woman who would become the assassin known as “Knife,” crouching in the windowsill. We know that’s who she is from the March and April solicitations. And, of course, this is alluding to the fact that yeah, Kate fucked up so badly with Safiyah that the moment she steps back on Coryana she’ll get an assassin sent after her.

Because Kate Kane is just a class act all around, you guys. Pbbth, no. No she is not.

Right. So. Here’s the thing about Safiyah: she’s named after, if I did my research right, the only Jewish-born wife of the prophet Mohammed. She converted to Islam, and became one of the eleven “Mother of Believers”. I’m not even going to begin to unpack all of that quite yet, as I have more research to do, but let’s just say that they both held considerable political power in their time.



Wrecking Shop When She Writes These Lyrics, That’ll Make You Call The Cops

Time skip once again, and Kate’s back in Gotham, trying to get into a bar that apparently still remembers her. Oh, Kate. What the on God’s green earth did you do to gain the reputation of “profligate prodigal”? No, seriously, I want to know that story. It sounds wonderfully insane.

Anyway, she goes inside, and looks positively exhausted from just life in general while who we’re meant to assume is Safiyah narrates over the memory rather ominously.

And, wouldn’t you know it, it’s not a lesbian bar! No, Kate actually went out of her way (because a phone call isn’t dramatic enough) to go to a cop bar in the hopes of finding her on-again-off-again girlfriend, Renee Montoya. Who is the best and also the world’s…seventh greatest detective, if we’re counting the original Question?

It goes Tim Drake, Bruce Wayne, Ted Kord, Ralph Dibny, Barry Allen, Vic Sage, Renee Montoya. Probably.

Right, so, Renee spots her through the crowd, implying that they did have a relationship before Kate left Gotham, thus making them even more of an on-again-off-again item. Which is so fucking great, because they were basically made for one another.

The shipper in me hopes that dedicating two full pages to Renee just so Kate could fuck Renee means that these two are finally going to get together in a way that’s healthy for once and doesn’t burn so damn bright. I mean, Maggie was stable—we’ll get to her—and their relationship was by far the most mature we’ve seen for Kate, and it was important for her to learn what that looks and feels like. So, thirty-ish year old Kate is capable of not fucking something great up all over again.

Since, well, that would be the thing to do. Top the team that came before by doing what they were barred from doing. Renee and Kate getting married, since, uh, last time Kate got engaged it didn’t work out so hot for anybody. And, damn, can you imagine the press DC would get if they marketed that after all of that “heroes can’t be happy” stuff? That issue would sell gangbusters.

Basically, I’m saying fucking do it.

Don’t You Dare Stare, You Better Move

One Year Later—hah—and we’re back in Go, with a rather clever reference to Batwoman #0 as well. Batman first showing up in that alley outside Molly’s, after Kate drunkenly broke a mugger’s face with a brick wall, has always been a turning point for both her and the story being told. The scene is compressed here, so we don’t actually see Kate defending herself from the man running away, but the key moment is there.

We’re gonna come back to this wording here. About the future.

She sees him. And that’s everything she needed to finally sober up. Which, as I mentioned above, is pretty much exactly how Kate described the feeling of beating the piss out of the dumbass who attacked her.

“Or when I beat the hell out of that mugger, even seven bourbons in. The rush of his bones breaking under my knuckles sobering me up, the adrenaline doing everything the booze had done for me and more.”

Again, I just love Batwoman #0. Such a phenomenal character piece and it really is the gift that keeps on giving. Y’know, just like this one-shot will be about six months from now when Kate fucks up again and inevitably burns the entire island of Coryana to the ground. Because she can do that and nobody would think twice about it.

Since, sometimes, it just really sucks to be her.

Don’t Ever Compare Her To The Rest, That’ll All Get Sliced And Diced

Now, this was clever. The dialog between Bruce and Kate in the opening flashback of Tec 949 felt almost too spot on to me, even though it made perfect sense in that context. And the reasoning for that is revealed: that little exchange is repeated here in captions over a splash page of Kate’s two-year training sequence—which wisely omits most of the living nightmare the Murder of Crows dragged her through again and again—and then…well, a recap of Elegy proper and World’s Finest, which was the culmination of the first three arcs of the original Batwoman ongoing.

I’d say it was interesting that the creative team opted to leave the rest of the book out, but it’s really not. The only thing that actually showed up from Andreyko’s run, because it had to, was Kate breaking off her engagement with Maggie and I’m going to stop this train of thought before I start ranting about vampires and mind control and apparently unintentional Rape As Drama.

Anyway, the narration serves, pun fully intended, a very key purpose regarding Kate’s motivation. Even as we move into Rise of the Batmen territory with a two-year time skip, making Kate thirty-ish, it’s (unlike Tom King’s body of work) not about the repetition, but rather an effective condensing of this:

Without that, there is no Batwoman. There is no driving force or foundation upon which her character can be built. Same goes for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. You toss either out, and Kate becomes nothing more than an entitled psychopath who punches people because she’s bored. And yes, someone did do just that in her last ongoing, which lead to its cancellation. I mean, I wasn’t concerned that Bennett and Tynion would ever, under any circumstances, make that same choice…

But that doesn’t mean I can’t applaud them for understanding who Kate is and what she represents on every goddamn level. Because I do, and am. I mean, you can’t hear it, but I am totally clapping.

Which actually does bring us to the single biggest difference between Kate Kane, Lena Luthor and Asami Sato. Unlike her two contemporaries in frighteningly similar suffering, aside from her surviving parent not actually being a supervillain: people don’t leave Kate.

She leaves them.

You deserved better, Maggie. Simon? Go fuck yourself.

It’s part of who she is and how she operates. A constant struggle of self-discovery and seeking direction. It’s not that she forsakes loyalty, quite the opposite. Hurting her family is one giant Berserk Button that often blinds her to any and all logic. Really, it’s just that she’s far too pragmatic for her own good.

If there’s a better path, she will take it regardless of the personal cost to herself or those around her. And sometimes that “better path” is actually the worst thing she can possibly do, but that’s kind of why we love her here at the Fandomentals. As I’ve said many times before in this piece, and others, she fucks up.

She fucks up with the people that love her. She fucks up with her friends. Most of all, she fucks herself up. I mean, I’m honestly having trouble remembering something bad that happened to her or those around her that wasn’t at least somewhat her fault in the first place.

Bennett said it best, to be perfectly honest: Kate’s her own greatest enemy.

Which means, well…

Competition’s Paying The Price

That high collar is too badass, holy shit.

I love this. I love this so fucking much, because I have been wondering what Kate would look like if she actually did join the Colony. What she’d be like. What could have been, since really it was just a matter of timing for Jacob. If Beth had never returned, or if Kate had never discovered Alice was Beth…hell, if Jacob had been honest about her surviving all those years ago Kate still would have joined up.

The events of Elegy are exactly the kind of thing Jacob had been waiting for in order to justify enlisting Kate as a free agent. A thwarted terrorist attack so big that it required a massive cover-up operation since lunatic cultists nearly drowned Gotham in cyanide? Yeah, that’s proof of her effectiveness as a soldier.

Why am I not concerned about that lady up there? Well, for starters, it’s not Beth. We already know she’s coming back from the final teaser page of Batwoman Rebirth, and she’s still mostly unstable, so not really the kind of person you want leading an army of Batmen. It’s also not Gabi because she’s dead. Even if she wasn’t dead by being shot in the head, Gabi’s a blonde. And has zero reasoning to steal her daughter’s uniform or dye her hair.

So, who is that woman up there, then? Easy. That’s Kate Kane.

From the future.

Okay, no, just hear me out. I swear, it makes perfect narrative and thematic sense. The first thing you should be asking yourself is “what’s wrong with this picture”?

  • Kate has seemingly aged a decade, at least. She has crow’s feet, her hair has lost some of its color and her lips aren’t as red either. That is not “Soon” for our Kate.
  • The Colony’s logo and equipment look rather different from the one we’ve seen. Their guns look more like advanced laser weapons than the FAMAS-style assault rifles they currently have. Additionally, Bruce himself said that the Colony has tech ten years more advanced than anything the military could possibly make, which includes DARPA. Some of that may be alien tech, like the teleporter, but other parts may be from the future.
  • Colony!Kate’s uniform is an adapted version of the one her father showed off in Tec 937, yet she still uses the old Colony logo. The lack of a helmet, cowl or wig means she’s abandoned her secret identity which isn’t possible if they want Batwoman to have any sort of longevity as an ongoing.
  • She is holding a bigass gun and she’s not smirking in the extreme close-up.

Now, consider this: why would this one-shot focus so much on the passage of time and specific ages, but suddenly become vague in the bottom corner of the opening splash page?

That’s the same scene as Colony!Kate, no question. Additionally, why would Safiyah’s narration focus so much on her future? Why would Sophie specifically talk about the future? All of this is about where Kate’s been, where she is and where she’s going. Past, present and future. So, why can’t that be more literal? Consider the implications for a moment.

If Kate’s greatest enemy is herself, what’s more perfect than taking that to the most logical extreme? It’d be the ultimate fake-out. “Soon” meaning that Future!Kate would arrive soon, not that Kate would become her “Soon”.

Say something very bad happened in the future, and Future!Kate has been sending back advanced technology in an effort to indirectly avert a major disaster or catalyst for something horrible. And it doesn’t work. She takes her army and they all go on a one-way trip to fix what once went wrong.

And whatever that is, well, that’s not okay with our Kate. So she’s got to go up against a smarter, faster, more experienced, infinitely more lethal and better equipped version of herself. Literally. Not a dark twisted mirror like Beth or a whiny dude expy like Simon, or even her own father.

Just her, but better.

But Griffin, you may be wondering, what other evidence do you have that time travel/continuity weirdness could possibly be involved? Welp. Here’s the thing about Red Glass Memories. Once you see it once, it’s kinda hard to forget that you’ve seen it before. Especially when it comes to continuity-related events in the DCU. Things like Rebirth or, say Infinite Crisis? 

Little reminder about that: the center literally fills in the gaps. Of time. Eh? Yeah, now you get it!

Holy shit, I think I just hyped myself up. Damnit.

Yes, I did pace this entire review to LL Cool J’s “Momma Said Knock You Out”!

Yeah. It’s gonna be a loooooong month.


Writers: Marguerite Bennett and James Tynion IV

Pencils/Inks: Steve Epting

Colors: Jeromy Cox

Letterer: Deron Bennett

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