Monday, January 10, 2011

Best comics of 2010: No. 7: Batwoman: Elegy (spoilers!)

There are spoilers in this post. The story's been kicking around for a while, but a caution seemed apropos.
An elegy is "a poem of serious reflection, typically a lament for the dead." That's the dictionary definition.
In Greg Rucka's stunning work, it's a lament for lost career, lost love and lost family, all lost to a gay woman's integrity.
But like all deaths, each implies the possibility of new life.
Kate Kane's relationship is lost to her nocturnal activities as Batwoman, a role she undertakes out of a sense of moral necessity. The first death. This is in itself a departure, as most who associate with Batman's mission do so in response to some sort of violation.
Kate's sister is lost to terrorists, the price of her father's military career. The second death. However, the sister resurfaces as the insane villain The White Queen, a sort of female Joker (though that description does not do her justice).
Kane's own military career is truncated by her honesty about being lesbian. She chooses to honor the cadet's code: a cadet will not lie, cheat or steal, nor suffer others to do so.  Like Margarithe Camameyer before her, she chose honor over career.
The last death.
Her choices were always moral, never easy.

Following her discharge, Kate meets Renee Montoya, closeted Gotham cop at the time of their meeting, who later assumes the mantle of The Question.
Like Bruce Wayne's parents, Kate is attacked by a mugger. Unlike them, her attempt at self-defense succeeds. Declaring herself a soldier, she looks up after her assailant has departed, sees a silent Batman, then the Bat signal, and knows what her next uniform will be.
This is strong on so many levels. It avoids the standard saw of a woman becoming a hero after being attacked. I agree with the late Kate Worley. Rape-based origins are insulting and unimaginative.
Most male heroes have something taken away from them- parents, family, career, home. Most female heroes have their bodies violated in some way. Seeing this tawdry trend reversed here is refreshing.
Greg Rucka is no stranger to writing realistic, strong women. His work on Whiteout and Queen & Country are exemplary. I even liked Countdown to Infinite Crisis. And I loathe most of those sprawling, galaxy chanign events storyline.
And the sexuality is not played for shock value. It's simply an important part of who the character is.

I must comment on the art. I've admired J.H. Williams' work since I first became overtly aware of it in Promethea.  Here's his cover art for Absolute Promethea, book 3.
Williams' work has that photo-realistic aspect, but coupled with a strong and highly informed design sense (his Promethea covers included homages to Parrish, Warhol, Peter Max, and the Superman/Spider-man crossover) and an incredible imagination.  Along with Haden Blackman, he's writing and drawing the new Batwoman: Zero series.
The page designs of this book are remarkable, not just for their clever and effective visual elements, but for the successful integration of those elements into the narrative. Anyone with technical skill can toss around pretty pictures and shapes. It takes storytelling talent to not let those elements get in the way.
Most significant and least discussed visual element of Batwoman: Elegy: her costume.
For decades I've been playing with a superheroine costume that's functional as well as aesthetic. I mean really. Look what Saturn Girl "gets" to wear for a fight.

And Phantom Girl...

And Dawnstar!
I'm not talking about politics as much as I am strategy. Imagine flying through the air with huge portions of your body exposed, to say nothing of the difficulty of fighting in such unlikely togs.
Batwoman has designed her costume more as a military uniform. Every part of it is geared towards its combat capacity, from the materiel used to her hair!
And those boots! Finally, a superheroine who doesn't wear CFMs to fight!
Granted, the costume of Andreyko and Sale's Manhunter from 2005 was also built around function, but not BY the heroine.

Kate Kane is strong, smart, resourceful, impassioned, beautiful and gay. Batwoman: Elegy is a great read.

Tomorrow: Best of 2010 No. 6. It's all about the writing!

1 comment:

  1. I'll have to check this one out, "Half a Life" the story where Montoya is outed is one of my favorite comics of all time...

    And as for the rape origin I think that's what really bothers me about the rebooted Jessica Drew Spider-woman (who is one of my favorite heroes).

    In the original comics, Spider-woman became sick as a child because of uranium poisoning, and it took years for her father's partner the High Evolutionary to cure here... so what she had taken away from her was her childhood and her family.

    But when Bendis brought her back (and I was so happy at first to see her) her origin was changed so her father was a Hydra scientist experimenting on her in the womb, and then it turned out that he hadn't brought Jessica Drew back at all, the real Jessica Drew was a captive of the Skrulls who stole her life...

    It still makes me mad, even though I'm glad she's in comics again.

    I think there's a number of superheroic women who don't have rape stories... but I can deffinitly see your point.