“Beyond a Shadow”
In two parallel narratives, Batman watches Batwoman going through her paces . . . but will he find her worthy?
Most of all, Batwoman, as illustrated (and co-written) by Williams, is a welcome return. Her run in Detective Comics faltered when a different artist filled in for Williams, and while Williams’s incredible detail and attention to page layout tends to fetishize the character with adornment beyond her initial impact, at least he now has an established character to work with.
We learned some things about Kate “Batwoman” Kane’s strengths and weaknesses in her run in Detective; she’s a hot-head, and she has some deep scars that haunt her. That’s not everything, but it’s enough to build new stories on, and thus we are ahead of the game that Batman (Bruce Wayne) is playing in this issue, coming in late and trying to get up to speed on the Bat-players who proliferated during his absence. Wearing an almost comical array of disguises, he takes note of her fighting prowess and her intense psychological motivators–or at least he sees hints of the latter. Her family dynamics are complicated.
The issue intriguingly divides his framing investigation into two parts: the Bat watching the heroine in action, and Bruce (in disguise) trailing the unwary Kate through her daily life. He suspects the two are one, but he is seeking to confirm it methodically.
Williams depicts the action narrative, and Batwoman’s moves are, as usual, a symphony of bloody scarlet and black leather. The civilian narrative is illustrated by Amy Reeder, who does a nice job with the help of colorist Dave Stewart of preserving the pale Goth skin and stylish red bob that have been established for the lesbian socialite in her civilian identity.
While Batman observes, Batwoman gets the drop on a furtive action by the Religion of Crime. However, we don’t learn how the activities of that cult (which wants to sacrifice Batwoman) will play into future stories. This tale is more of an introduction of the character to the Bat-world proper, and both artists manage some telling linkups in their parallel stories as the character’s identifying fighting style is described.
In the end, Batwoman seems to pass muster with Bruce; truly, her shallow façade as the jaded socialite is a role not dissimilar to his spoiled playboy. If Williams can keep sharing art and writing duties with this level of stylish execution, I’m definitely on board for her upcoming solo series.
I read Batwoman #0 three times, and my reaction to it changed with each reading. Oddly, though, my bullet score rating for it remained at three and a half with each reading.
After my first reading, I thought that J.H. Williams III and his co-writer, W Haden Blackman, did a commendable job in presenting two parallel narratives that were expertly illustrated and that didn’t have a single line of bad dialog. I was worried that the quality of the writing would decline after Greg Rucka left the character following her run in Detective Comics, but I didn’t find any writing errors; in my first reading, that is.
However, I initially thought that the issue was nothing more than a calculated (and clever) way to introduce Batwoman to new readers who hadn’t followed the character during her run in Detective but who might wish to sample her new ongoing series. I was enamored of the artwork and dialog, but I thought there really isn’t a “story” here. I considered the issue more of a sampler that would have been appropriate for “Free Comic Book Day,” or offered at a discounted price during the other 364 days of the year. Thus, I gave the book three and a half bullets for high quality art and writing in a “sampler” comic for which I had to pay full price.
However, upon my second reading I began to see that there actually was an error in the writing that I didn’t pick up on during my first reading. On the other hand, I also began to see that there was more of a “story” here than I initially thought there was. Thus, it’s a wash, and I still gave the comic three and a half bullets.
As a side note, I also read the credits during my second reading, and I discovered that Amy Reeder illustrated the narrative involving Kate Kane in her civilian identity. I went through my first reading thinking that Williams had illustrated both narratives using two different styles–the way he did in Detective Comics. It’s to Reeder’s credit that she had me believing that I was looking at one of Williams’s alternative styles–with Dave Stewart helping to pull off the deceptive art with his expert coloring, of course.
Finally, with my third reading I nailed down exactly what the problem is with the writing in the issue. The details in the two narratives don’t match up chronologically.
Most of the Batwoman narrative takes place in about 10 to 15 minutes of “real time” as Batman observes his female counterpart while she attempts to stop a Religion of Crime group from loading a sarcophagus on a boat. According to the log he is keeping of his “Batwoman Assessment,” these 10 to 15 minutes occurred on “Night 7.” The final scene in this narrative takes place on a different night hat is not specifically identified, but which had to occur after the final sequence in the Kate Kane narrative.
However, while the Batwoman narrative mostly takes place during 10 to 15 minutes of one night plus a minute or two of a second night, the Kate Kane narrative takes place over the course of about three weeks–from “Day 4” in Batman’s journal to an unidentified day that came after “Day 23” (probably Day 24 or Day 25, but Williams and Blackman failed to include the specific day in Batman’s journal entry for that last sequence in the “civilian narrative”).
There are obviously two separate books that Batman is keeping on Batwoman–one is a log of his assessment of Batwoman’s skill and the second is a journal of his investigation of Kate Kane’s life. I’m not sure why Batman wouldn’t record both investigations in the same log, but I suppose that’s one of his idiosyncrasies. Thus, “Night 7” in the log would not necessarily fall between “Day 7” and “Day 8” in the journal; it might very well fall between “Day 20” and “Day 21” since he could have been investigating Kate Kane for three weeks before he began assessing Batwoman’s skills.
Anyway, the chronology error has nothing to do with the date of the entries between the two books Batman is keeping–at least not directly. It has to do with the details in the Kate Kane narrative not matching up with the details presented in the 10 to 15 minutes of “Night 7” in the Batwoman narrative.
On pages 4-5, Batman notes in his log of “Night 7”: “Father is Colonel Jacob Kane.” This note occurred in the log for “Night 7”–at which time Batman only suspected that Kate Kane is Batwoman but had not yet confirmed it. Thus, it’s odd that he would note in his assessment of Batwoman that her father is Col. Kane. However, that’s not the significant e
rror. What’s important here is that he then observes Col. Kane on “Day 17” of his investigation of Kate Kane (also on pages 4-5), which means “Night 7” probably occurred before “Day 17” (perhaps between “Day 16” and “Day 17” but perhaps earlier, too).
However, on pages 12-13 a disguised Batman attacks Kate Kane as she leaves a store. This scene occurs during the undated entry that followed “Day 23” in the journal, though it’s not likely to be a continuation of “Day 23.” For the sake of clarity here I will call this undated sequence “Day 24.”
Thus, Batman’s faked mugging of Kate Kane occurred on “Day 24” or after. However, he notes in his log for “Night 7” that Batwoman used the same “precision” and same distinctive fighting move that Kate Kane used on Day 24 of his investigation of Kate Kane, which means that “Night 7” would have to follow “Day 24,” which was the last entry in the Kate Kane investigation journal. However, if “Night 7” in the log occurred after the last entry (Day 24) in the journal, then why would Batman have noted that Col. Kane is the father earlier in the log for “Night 7” when he had established in “Day 17” of the journal that Col. Kane was part of the investigation?
I suppose we could chalk it up to Batman’s idiosyncrasy of keeping two separate books on Batwoman resulted in the idiosyncrasy of him noting something in the log that he had noted at least a week earlier in the journal.
However, I chalk it up to the writers not keeping the chronology straight between the two narratives, and editors Janelle Siegel and Mke Marts not catching the chronological error and correcting it by simply moving the note about Col. Kane out of the Batwoman narrative and into the Kate Kane narrative. That simple shift of one caption from one narrative to the other would have corrected the problem.
This error in chronology is ultimately not a huge deal in the story, so I can’t really lower my bullet score rating because of it. Additionally, this minor error is offset by the fact that I finally realized that there is more to this issue than merely giving us a Batwoman primer for which readers have to pay full price. There are actually plot elements here that should be explored and explained in subsequent issues of the ongoing series–such as what’s the deal with the sarcophagus and what was being said between Batwoman and the leader of the Religion of Crime group (a conversation that Batman reports he was not able to hear).
I’ll be disappointed if we don’t learn more about this mysterious sarcophagus in a subsequent issue, but I’m certain we will. Thus, this issue really does work as part of the ongoing story rather than as merely a primer. Unfortunately, for the $2.99 cover price, the issue only provides 16 pages of story with four pages of preview art. However, DC’s normal $2.99 format provides readers with 22 pages of story. Thus, depending on how you feel about paying for “preview pages,” this issue is either two or four pages short on editorial content.
On the other hand, I will gladly pay the difference for Williams’s artwork. He has probably become my favorite illustrator currently working in comics–joining the ranks of Neal Adams and Marshall Rogers as the favorite illustrators from my younger days.