Comic Book Review - "Batwoman"

Posted on June 22, 2013 at 2:10 AM

By Paul Johnson

I’m a recently converted comic books nerd, but I’ve quickly become a big fan of the genre. So much so that I now want to share the fun by writing reviews. Batwoman is the first comic series I ever read, and I definitely made a good choice to start with that one. The lesbian relationship at its center adds an uncommon touch, especially the way it’s handled. More on that shortly.

First off: JH Williams III’s art. I spend 40 minutes on my first read through of a new issue, just blowing up each tiny panel to full iPad-screen size and admiring the work put into every detail. There's the super villain Weeping Woman, who turns the panel borders into water whenever she appears. There's the stark contrast between the darker, more realistic streets of Gotham and the flatter, more comic-book-looking scenes in Kate's apartment, showing the struggle between Kate's desire to just live happily with her girlfriend Maggie and Batwoman's duty to help Gotham City.

My favorite scene in the whole series comes at the beginning of issue 4, where Kate and Maggie have sex for the first time. Comics aren't exactly known for doing tasteful lesbian sex scenes, but Williams manages to pull it off with a series of sparse black-and-white pencil sketches intercut with Batwoman's sidekick Flamebird getting gutted and nearly killed on the more realistic streets of Gotham. For context, Kate is romancing Maggie because the constant stress of being Batwoman, especially in light of her near-death experience earlier that night, are driving her to the breaking point. For her, Maggie is her refuge from the world of Gotham - and yet the very first time she allows herself to retreat into this refuge, her cousin/sidekick gets brutally stabbed in a slum. It's a shocking, powerful moment for all the characters involved, and a turning point in the series. It's when I first realized that comics could actually have things like emotional depth and symbolism.

Second: Batwoman isn't a Very Special Lesbian Superhero. As opposed to Glee's nonstop message of "LOOK AT HOW OPEN AND ACCEPTING WE ARE, YOU GUYS!", Williams and co-writer W. Haden Blackman have simply let Kate and Maggie act like every other comic book superhero/civilian-who's-hunting-a-hero-while-unknowingly-dating-them couple ever and let the romance speak for itself. Hell, I don't think the actual words "straight" or "gay" have been used once in all 13 issues, and yet that hasn't stopped the authors from making the duo's dates and sex life and breakups a central point in every issue.

Third: There's actual character development. Batman and Superman have been around since the 40s. Their characters' status quo is pretty well set. Anytime a writer tries to change things by killing a secondary character or breaking the hero up from his love interest, you know it's just a matter of time until some other writer changes things back to "the way they should be."

Batwoman, on the other hand, has only really been around in the DC universe since 2009, when Williams got the rights to change flagship title "Batman in Detective Comics" into "Batwoman in Detective Comics" for ten issues. There is no status quo yet. Williams has stated in interviews that that's part of the appeal of writing for him, and he plans to make sure every arc in his run of the series includes at least one major change in Kate Kane/Batwoman's life that affects every arc after it.

The only real flaw? For a superhero comic, Batwoman's fight scenes never really pop the way her talking interactions do. Maybe it's just because her only power - "being able to punch and sometimes kick things really, really hard" - isn't exactly unique within comics. The only truly badass moment I've seen from the series so far came in issue #7, when Batwoman got revenge on the Hook-Handed Man for nearly killing her sidekick a few issues earlier by first breaking his back and then PULLING OUT HIS HOOK WITH HER BARE HANDS. It's hard not to cheer for that.

Categories: Other Voices

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1 Comment

Reply Cole
10:12 AM on June 22, 2013 
I'm not into comics at all, Lucas, but your review gives me a good glimpse into a totally new area. The artwork you feature here is pretty stunning. I am pleased to read that the relationship is such an integral part of the story and not played up just to prove a point. I would love to see more reviews like this that discuss the genre from a gay perspective. Maybe you will make some of us into new converts as well! Thank you!