Much as I like having Batwoman Kate Kane in the DC Universe, it might've been interesting to see writer Greg Rucka write Batwoman: Elegy in an Elseworlds setting. That is, Rucka's Batwoman is such a perfect representation of what a Batman-type character would be like if it was introduced in the early twenty-first century and not the mid-twentieth that it would have been fascinating to see Rucka write Batwoman as the Bat(person) and not just as a member of the Bat-family.
But what we have from Rucka and artist J. H. Williams is more than good enough. You've no doubt already been told to go and read this book -- don't wait another minute.
In "Go," the second story collected in Elegy, Rucka finally tells the origin of Batwoman. Williams channels his inner David Mazzucchelli in these chapters with a touch of Michael Lark, such that one could easily mistake it all for Batman: Year One (and, as Kate gets closer to donning the cowl, is it Neal Adams that Williams riffs on next?).
There's the requisite family death, though this time involving terrorism and not a mugger in an alley -- but the greater change is that rather than Kate exercising her childhood away like Bruce did for the vague moment when she can become a vigilante, Kate does what any sensible person might do and turns her impulse to save lives into a career in the army. With amazing ease, Rucka sidesteps the 1940s holdover of Bruce Wayne as a child one moment and a superhero the next, and instead gives the newest Bat-character a good reason, for once, for donning cape and cowl over some other public service -- that she has to resign from the army rather than lie about her sexuality.
The rest of Rucka's updates are icing on the cake -- that Batwoman has her own Bat-cave, but above ground, with a tree growing inside it; that her Batombile of choice is a motorcyle; and that her Alfred is her tough-as-nails father; her Commisioner Gordon is Captain Maggie Sawyer, complete with a burgeoning love triangle between Sawyer and Kate's two identities; and her Joker might just be her long-lost sister. All of this turns the established Bat-mythos on its head in a way that makes the elements feel fresh again, and all of it, in just a few issues, suggests stories for Kate Kane for years to come.
The "Elegy" story that begins this book returns two of my favorite Rucka creations, both the Religion of Crime and the werewolf Abbott. I first became aware of Greg Rucka, after No Man's Land, in his work on Batman: Evolution with Shawn Martinbrough -- not only does this volume feature brilliant art and coloring, but it's a great Ra's al Ghul story and includes Abbott. Batwoman, therefore, brings my Greg Rucka reading experience full circle just as Rucka prepares to leave DC Comics. I won't even start on how much I enjoyed Rucka's Checkmate; you can be sure I'm eagerly awaiting when he comes around again.
As a continuity wonk, one aspect of "Elegy" I especially enjoyed was Rucka's inclusion of Bette Kane, whom we all know as Flamebird and who's apparently Kate's step-cousin. I hear there's more on Flamebird in the next Batwoman story "Cutter" (not yet solicited for collection, unfortunately) but with Grant Morrison having mentioned the original Batwoman Kathy Kane in Batman: RIP, I'm very curious to know now about all the family connections and what's still considered canon regarding the original Batwoman and what's not.
Frankly, during the tempest-in-a-teapot "controversy" about Batwoman's sexuality when the character first appeared, I was surprised there was less attention given to the irony that the original Batwoman first served the purpose of allaying fears that the public would think Batman and Robin were gay. With credit to Rucka, DC Comics does well in coming full circle from a Batwoman created out of fear of homophobia to a Batwoman whose sexuality is part of her origin, and in that way undeniable in any incarnation of the character.
There's little I can say about J. H. Williams's art in Elegy that hasn't already been said. It's beautiful. It sets a standard for what comics can look like. My favorite part, aside from when Williams vamps into Batman artist styles across the eras, is when he mixes what looks like line drawings and paintings. The scene where Kate meets Batman is exceedingly fantastic not just because of the power of the scene, but because Williams makes Batman glow, painted as something almost otherworldly in comparison with Kate and the scenery. I'm reading the deluxe edition, and some pages seem like something out of an illustrated storybook, and not just because of the Alice in Wonderland quotes spouted by the villain -- it's altogether just gorgeous.
Greg Rucka writes a brilliant reconstruction of the Batman concept of a whole in Batwoman: Elegy, and then J. H. Williams does him one better by drawing the hell out of it. I've already said it, and I'll say it again -- this one's got my highest recommendation. Go read it.
[Contains full and variant covers, introduction by Rachel Maddow, two script pages by Rucka with Williams's pencils, Williams's sketchbook]
That's it for today. More coming soon -- you know where to be!