Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Review: Batwoman: Elegy

I first came across Batwoman: Elegy about a year ago when I saw a photo roundup of Read Comics in Public Day.  Someone in one of photos was holding a copy of this very comic, and the cover totally caught my eye. Yes, I judge books by their cover.  That's why they put a fucking cover on the damn things, so it'll catch your eye.  Anyway...the cover to Batwoman got my attention; There was something about the stylized layout that screamed for a closer inspection.

During my next trip to the comic shop, I tracked down a copy and gave it the ol' flip-check.  And my mind was blown.  The art was, as they say, off the chain.  A couple people noticed my bulging eyes, and slack jaw and acknowledged my awe.  Yes, they assured me, Batwoman: Elegy was a sweet fuckin' comic. Not just the art, but the writing as well.

Unfortunately, at the time, the book was only available in hardcover, and out of my price range, so I filed it away in that part of my brain that can unfalteringly  remember band line-ups, 90's baseball team rosters, and titles of books I want to read, but mysteriously cant remember shit I try to memorize for a mid-term or final. When the book finally came out in softcover earlier this year, I picked up a copy and waited for the right moment to give my eyes a glorious treat.

That moment came a bit sooner than I expected with the big shuffle and relaunch at DC.  A Batwoman series had been planned and delayed for some time, I'd even picked up and read the #0 issue to whet my appetite.  When the relaunch was announced, I knew it was time to give Elegy read so I'd be all caught up when the new issues started hitting shelves.

My recent read of Stumptown gave me high hopes that writer Greg Rucka would be able to deliver the goods with an interesting and engaging Batwoman story.  Boy did he ever.

The story is equally about Kate Kane, the woman behind the mask as it is about Batwoman and her battle against a psycho named Alice who quotes Lewis Carrol and aspires to unleashing a toxic death-cloud over Gotham city.  While all the crime fighting business is taking place, Rucka intertwines the story with scenes that depict Kane's past in the military, her complex family situation and childhood, and her struggles relating to her sexual identity.  All these elements work together to create a character who is intensely real, highly engaging, and downright fun to read about.

I was incredibly impressed with the writing effort here.  I got the feeling that Rucka had really set out to make Batwoman/Kate Kane a believable and realistic character, and I feel like he pretty much nailed it.  There were a few plot elements related to the Alice versus Batwoman story line that felt like they were dropped into the story without any supporting information, but this was minor and didn't really take much away from the reading experience.

As great as Rucka's writing was, and it was quite good, the art of Batwoman: Elegy, handled by J.H. Williams III, was astounding.  Simply put, Williams is one of the very best artists in the business and Batwoman is (in my opinion) his crowning achievement thus far.

Not only does JHW3 display his talent in Batwoman: Elegy, he also displays his versatility. He uses different styles of art to depict various aspects of Kate Kane's life.  When she is Batwoman, he uses an almost photo-realistic art approach, a more vintage style for her military days, a cartoonish style for her childhood, and a clean, crisp art style for her current day, out of costume scenes.

While each style is well done, impressive, and displays Williams' talent, my favorite art sequences were the Batwoman ones.  I loved how Williams used non-standard panels to break up the page and used a much more stylized iconic approach to portray the action.  This made the fight scenes seem much more realistic, as they captured the chaos of the fight, yet displayed Batwoman's prowess and skill, and made it all look fancy to boot.  Williams' ability to create beautiful, dynamic art that makes the action leap off the page is an amazing skill and a quality that only makes me love this comic more.

If judged solely on art, Batwoman: Elegy would receive high marks, but Rucka's writing is equally great.  The character development work he put in makes Kate Kane one of the more interesting characters I've read in any form of writing lately, and she especially stands out as a female comic character that isn't just about gigantic breasts and skimpy clothing.  It's sad that she stands out for that reason, but you can either lament that fact, or enjoy the fact that Batwoman/Kate Kane is a shining beacon in the industry of how good comics can be.

For the relaunch, Batwoman will be co-written by J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman, and JHW3 will handle the art as well.  The #0 issue which hit shelves early in the year was handled by the same team, and I enjoyed it, so I feel like the title is in capable hands.  The writing will probably suffer a bit, but the seeds that Rucka planted should continue to bear fruit down the road.

I can easily recommend Batwoman: Elegy, and in fact, have already loaned my copy out and successfully recommended to other folks around the interwebs.  A great lead character, great writing and great art make this one a slam dunk/homerun/hole in one.  If you have even the slightest interest in reading an awesome comic, give this one a shot.

Grade: A+

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