Batwoman: the black sheep of the Bat-Family. No, not the character, the book.
Batwoman is a DC heroine who dates back to 1956, when the original Kathy Kane debuted in Detective Comics #233 as a means to dispel the rumors of a homosexual relationship between Batman & Robin. Nearly three decades later, the character was one of the many casualties of the continuity cleanup event, Crisis on Infinite Earths. Skip ahead to 2006. The new Batwoman, now Jewish, lesbian heiress Kate Kane, burst onto the scene in 52 #7, this time to fill the void left by an absent Batman. She then spent the next several years making scattered appearances throughout the DCU, most notably as the lead character in Detective Comics for 10 issues. Eventually, Batwoman was due to receive her own ongoing title. However, by the time it was ready to get off the ground, the New 52 were on their way. Enter J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman, the co-writers bringing Batwoman into the new era of DC Comics.
If you’re a fan of Bat-Family stories, you probably expect the usual gritty, urban tales of crime, corruption, and super-villainy in the seething cesspool of Gotham City. So far, Detective Comics #1 and Batgirl #1 seem to be in that vein. Batwoman #1, however, kicks off with a very supernatural feel, opening with a kidnapping perpetrated by, what appears to be, a ghost. Batwoman appears on the scene, fails to prevent the kidnapping, but promises the parents that she will find the children and bring them home. Sweet! A detective story with a supernatural twist! Right? RIGHT?! …… No such luck. What follows is a mess of overt sexual byplay, inconsistent art, and jumbled storytelling.
For the first step in her investigation, Kate Kane, who is portrayed as whiter than a bleached sheet and bears a striking resemblance to Batman Beyond’s Dee-Dee twins, stops in to visit veteran detective, Maggie Sawyer. However, instead of furthering the plot with a discussion of the mysterious crime, the two engage in a coy conversation that goes out of its way to remind you that both Kane and Sawyer are gay. (The last thing I want to do is sound insensitive, but there’s a fine line between addressing the fact subtly and tastefully, and beating you over the head with it.)
Kate then recruits her cousin, Bette Kane (formerly Flamebird of the Teen Titans) to assist her in her investigation. I’m hard-pressed to call it an investigation since the pair’s evening exploits consist of arguing about Bette’s new codename and costume, beating up some billiard-themed street thugs, and arguing some more as they return to Kate’s Bat-Penthouse. The only ones who seem to be doing any actual detective work are Maggie Sawyer and Jim Gordon. If the GCPD is actually doing some legwork to solve a case, you know the hero is slacking off.
Even the book’s art can’t save it. J.H. Williams III, who provided the pencils as well as half the story, and inker Dave Stewart seem to fluctuate between two distinct styles. One is reminiscent of Frank Quitely (All-Star Superman), minus the doughy-ness and funny mouths. The other is more detailed, featuring more prominent shading and texture. It is used primarily when illustrating Batwoman herself. These two styles are clearly evident in a spread that attempts to cram Kate Kane’s entire history into two pages. It’s a jumble of images covering her childhood, her time in the military, the alleged death of her deranged twin sister, her mother’s murder, and her career as Batwoman. For a reader unfamiliar with the character’s past, it’s a very confusing clutter of faces and events. Not the kind of thing you want to be throwing at your target audience of new readers.
Even the book’s cliffhanger falls flat. The final page finds Batwoman poking around a snowy riverbank, which is apparently a crime scene. Is it related to the child-swapping ghost? We have no way of knowing. Oh, and Batman shows up at the last possible second with a “proposition” for Batwoman. That’s the cliffhanger. The whole page seems like an afterthought.
I don’t see how anyone would want to come back for more from Batwoman. She’s angry, unlikable, and a really crappy superhero. If this book has to rely on Batman showing up in order to draw in readers, then it defeats the entire purpose of giving a solo title to a character who has a great deal of her own potential. Batwoman can make a great impact as both a socially-relevant character, and as a mainstream superhero, but she can’t make any progress if her custodians won’t give her the chance.