This is an extremely beautiful issue. It’s also an extremely disturbing issue. Some of the parts don’t sit that well together. I’m still not quite getting the place of Kate Kane in the Batman universe. Batgirl makes more sense. Flamebird even makes more sense, or used to, until she hooked up with Kate.
We move slightly closer to solving the mystery of the female ghost who likes to drown children. The inevitable encounter of Betty Kane and a knife-wielding psycho (not so much foreshadowed as literally promised to us in previous issues) occurs. And Kate and Maggie Sawyer finally get some alone time, which couldn’t be more tastefully, sensually, attractively presented.
Only Williams intercuts the tender, sepia-toned love making with the scenes of Betty getting horribly sliced up. All black and white and red in the bedroom, while red and yellow and more red and white (in the blood on snow variety) at the wintry docks. Such juxtaposition makes Kate look negligent with her Robin-like charge (she did tell Betty that she lacked the requisite killer instinct, that she wasn’t really a Gotham-caliber pro last issue; but like that trick ever works, from mentor to mentee), and makes the artful lesbian-lovemaking seem like a decadent distraction when Kate should really be on the job, protecting women from slashers.
Slashing is really the major foe in Kate’s life, and has been since her debut in 52 (where she was ultimately captured and meant to be sacrificed with a deep knife plunge to the chest on an altar). I get it, cold icy Bat-queen, threatened by all kinds of penetration of her shiny leather veneer. The slashing definitely looks better under Williams’s endless visual creativity than it did under Jock’s hack-marks in her Detective run, but can we find some other method of attack than sharp blades? That metaphor is getting played out.
And, c’mon, for all her easily-mocked bravado in her street fight, Betty has been doing this for years too. She was a Teen Titan more than once, and they face serious foes. You mean to say she can’t handle a goon with a hook-hand? The level of violence visited upon her is usually reserved for a Robin they want to get rid of; as I said, the storytelling this issue sits uneasily.
The most interesting part is Detective Chase (as mysteriously older as Maggie Sawyer is mysteriously younger from previous appearances; can I get my vote in now for a Lotte Lenya type to counteract all these lipstick lesbians, J.H.? I don’t even care if she’s evil or good, I’d just prefer some butch!) using Betty’s injury to hoodwink her into giving up some Bat-data. That’s slimy and cop-like, and it’s interesting to see Chase realize that Betty is somebody in the Bat-family; the major tension in the issue is wondering what she’s going to do with that knowledge. Or what Batman might do about it.
Notice I didn’t say Batwoman, even though this is her title. She’s still about two steps behind on the whole drowning ghost thing, though I expect her to spring into action when she learns about Betty next issue.
Shawn Hill knows two things: comics and art history. Find his art at Cornekopia.net.