Saturday, December 24, 2011

GN Review -- Batwoman: Elegy / Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III

What happens when you have a personal vendetta against an organization?  Does it blind you to the facts that you otherwise would have seen coming?  What happens when that vendetta leads you to make a mistake that forces you to question not only what you do, but also the people closest to you?  The people who helped you get where you are and become the person you are?

These are the questions Kate Kane unwillingly confronts in Batwoman: Elegy.

Knowing the Religion of Crime, a cult she'd had an apparently near-deadly run-in with some time ago, is greeting their new leader soon, Batwoman plans a pre-emptive strike on her arrival.  After things go awry and she ends up watching their leader, a crazy woman named Alice, fall to her death, Kate can't escape the notion that Alice might have been her twin sister Beth, who had apparently died some time ago.

In investigating this possibility, we are shown in flashback Kate's childhood ties with Beth, along with the kidnapping they endured, which apparently ended in Beth's demise.  We go on to see her path to becoming Batwoman, including her discharge from the United States Military Academy for being a lesbian despite her stellar grades; her initial encounter with Batman; and her journey to put her training to use to become a crimefighter as her own personal call to serve.  Her father, who was involved in her rescue from the kidnapping, agrees to help her, providing training, contacts, and in some cases on the field assistance to her.

Finally, back in the present, she confirms that Alice was indeed her sister, prompting a confrontation with her father about Beth's ultimate fate during the kidnapping.  Claiming that Elizabeth had been warped or altered to the point that she was no longer the girl her family knew, he maintained that she was effectively dead, even if she had been the lunatic Alice.  Kate agrees that Beth is dead, but says that she killed her, after watching her sister fall to her death.

I've known of this Batwoman's existence for some time, but until recently, have only had the most tangential of glimpses into her life.  I'd read DC's 52 series a couple years ago, and knew she'd been romantically linked to Detective Renee Montoya, but aside from a few of her appearances there, I knew little else about her.  In Batwoman: Elegy, we get a good overview of who the character is, how she came to be Batwoman, and some of the things that motivate her.

We don't get everything, though, which demonstrates just how serialized comics are like serialized TV shows: you pick up in one place, and even if you catch on to what's going on, chances there are going to have at least a few unanswered questions.  What exactly did the Religion of Crime do to Kate before this story that's prompting her vendetta?  Who exactly are the shapeshifting humanoids that rescue her and her father when Alice gets the upper hand?  You can't help but ask some questions like that if you're a newcomer to the modern Batwoman.  Fortunately, they're minor enough not to detract from the overall narrative, and I'm sure are doubtless answerable by former volumes, fans, or possibly even the Internet.

Elegy is a powerful story that really saves the gut punch for later.  We get to see Batwoman's past and present, as well as a look at her military father's influence on it.  She's clearly a complex character with a lot of potential, and is given depth by Rucka's deft characterization.  I'm definitely interested in seeing where she goes from here.

The art is pretty good as well, particularly when you consider the switch-up in styles Williams employs when switching between the past and present.  Opting for a realistic yet slightly surreal style in the present, he then goes to a simpler presentation reminiscent of earlier comic book styles from the 60s or 70s to help narrate the past.  He does both styles well, and manages to play around and make each flourish to support the narrative.

Overall, I'd strongly recommend this for fans of Batman, fans of superhero comics in general, and anyone who wants to read a good story with good artwork.  I'm sure I've read Rucka's work before, but this is the first that'll stick with me for some time.  Highly recommended.

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