Batwoman: Elegy, by Greg Rucka (author) & J.H. Williams III (artist)
At this point the Dark Knight has so many sidekicks and associates that it’s difficult to keep track of them all. There have been five different Robins in the main DC continuity, and each of the superheroes who “graduated” from the title has stuck around under a new name (or did until DC rebooted the continuity last year). There have also been several Batgirls, Catwoman, a Catgirl (for a brief stretch), the Huntress, Batwing, and Azrael. Batman himself has had several different incarnations during that awkward period where Bruce Wayne pulled the patented “superhero-death-but-not-really.” In all of that kerfuffle, it would have been very easy for a character like Batwoman to slip through the cracks into relative obscurity in much the way Batwing has (did anyone even know there was a fellow called Batwing? Apparently he has his own ongoing series, but I had no idea he still existed until a few moments ago when I checked DC’s publication list).
The fact that Kate Kane, the Batwoman, entered onto such a crowded stage and has still managed to not only cement her place in the DC Universe, but actually become recognized as one of its better characters, is recommendation enough. She could have so easily been a gimmick character, but author Greg Rucka makes her — at least in Elegy — into a nuanced and interesting protagonist, assisted to an astounding level by the artwork of J.H. Williams III. From the first page, this graphic novel pops at the reader. Williams effortlessly switches styles for scenes involving Batwoman and scenes involving Kate Kane in her civilian identity. He lends the “normal life” a realistic, distinct flavor, with strong lines outlining each character and coloring just a little oversaturated. Kate Kane’s vision of Gotham City is structured and perhaps a touch drab. The world of the Batwoman identity, by contrast, is painted in lush, slightly surreal explosions of movement and color. The focus moves to wicked smiles in the dark, to reflection and shadow. The construction conveys information about the character and her state of mind in an extraordinary way.
For all I could gush about Williams’s art for another good while, Rucka’s writing doesn’t disappoint either. His characterization is splendid, his dialogue precise and demonstrative. His overall plot is not quite as strong, playing a few too many tired tropes, but without putting too fine a point on it, this genre has a problem with that fairly frequently, and I don’t consider it a major issue with the text.
Now, I should probably discuss (briefly) the elephant in the room. Batwoman is DC’s first openly lesbian superhero, and prior to her debut there was a good deal of speculation to the effect that the notoriously conservative DC would “handle it badly.” I don’t mean this as a blanket criticism of all DC authors, many of whom are quite good, but the company itself seems perpetually terrified that if they, say, gave Wonder Woman a pair of pants for too long, the readership would storm the printing houses with torches and collector’s edition replica batarangs, egged on by a jeering Marvel Comics. It wouldn’t be difficult to imagine DC pressuring writers to make any lesbian character less an interesting protagonist and more a publicity campaign (or worse, far worse, a vehicle for male titillation).
So is the issue of Kate Kane’s sexuality played a little too heavily? In all honesty, maybe just a touch, but on the whole it’s handled with respect to the character and her circumstances. Batman and Batwoman together have apparently embarked on a holy mission to get their batgloves all over every available woman in Gotham, but that’s a part of the superhero deal and always has been. For the most part, all the dire predictions were wrong, and the issue deepens the character rather than cheapening her.
In fact, I’d have to say that Batwoman is one of the better-written superheroes out there at the moment. As a newer heroine, she isn’t saddled with the baggage of Batman or Superman in that she’s entirely free of an awkward backlog of history from the days when comics were written primarily for ten-year-olds and the authors didn’t bother with continuity issues if they didn’t feel like it. Batwoman is constructed by the modern age and for the modern age, and her comic book comes off sharper and cleaner for it. Aside from a few clichés, Elegy is a great effort and well worth a look if you’re interested in a more offbeat side of the DC Universe.