I’ll tell you something straight away – those who’ve been waiting for Batwoman’s ongoing series probably have a patience to rival those who waited out Duke Nukem Forever. It’s been over two years since Batwoman’s last adventure and while author extraordinaire Greg Rucka has quietly stepped out for other projects his artist collaborator J.H. Williams has stepped up to the plate to not only pencil the next Kate Kane tale but also co-write with doomed Star Wars alumni W. Haden Blackman.
Now, out of the plethora of New 52 titles that I’m actually bothering to cover this was one of the ones I was looking forward to the most. Elegy left a very good taste in my mouth, and I was eager to dive straight into the following story, but I’m forced to remind myself about my as-yet-unwritten policy regarding comic books that are authored (or co-authored) by someone who is primarily an artist (see also Tony Daniel and David Finch). It’s become apparent that anyone at the big two companies who’s majored in art for several years then decides to take a crack at writing their own script often leaves me with a story that’s either lackluster or absolute dross in a drip-feeder. The fact that Williams was being assisted by the writer of failed multimedia franchise The Force Unleashed only made me more wary as I stepped into the 2012 Batwoman offering.
In the end, though, I was pleasantly surprised. Just.
The story picks up a short while after Elegy‘s pulse-pounding climax after SPOILER ALERT resident occult mad person Alice falls to the bottom of Gotham River after announcing her identity as Batwoman’s presumed-dead sister. As we enter the slightly-rebooted-but-not-really universe of Kate Kane and her hard-partying, porcelain-skinned world of lesbian love and religiously-devoted evildoers we find that Kate is still at odds with her father, has teamed up with errant cousin Bette Kane – AKA Flamebird – and is being tracked by a sinister government agency that’s run by a guy whose head is nothing but a cigar-smoking skull and whose agents operate out of an establishment unironically called “The Lipstick Building”.
It might sound like I’ve just announced the death knell of a story that appears to have jumped the shark a little – especially since it’s still very much in its infancy – but it actually turns out alright. I feel that the Hydrology title is a little misleading, since the supposed main villain – an evil enchantress named La Llarona, whose MO involves drowning her victims – isn’t really the central antagonist focus, but rather the government agency is. One of the things I dislike about the book is that the much-touted evil horrible wretched villain is barely involved, only appears in a few scenes and is eventually vanquished in a rather haphazardly fast manner. It’s almost as if Williams and Blackman decided they couldn’t just have a personal exploration story with no villain involved, so they threw her – and a strange hook-handed fat zombie bastard thing who slices Flamebird into mincemeat – in at the last minute to appease DC’s marketing board to make sure the unspoken rule of “at least one fight scene per issue” still applied.
Part of what made Elegy so enjoyable was its exploration of Kate Kane’s character, and especially the relationship with her father. In Hydrology we do get some of both those things, including some really great character development between Kate and her latest cop crush and a masterfully-executed single-scene wonder towards the end the underscores the entire Kate/father relationship, but on the whole I feel like both these elements were neglected a little. It’s also a little incongruous to have Flamebird randomly appear, having been brought along as a protege by Kate somewhere in the interim, and I felt this too was an element they added last-minute because it isn’t given particular focus. Bette’s near-death experience at the end was interesting, but she largely felt superfluous. The title is Batwoman, not Batwoman and her Meat-Shield Friend.
The art is everything Williams has produced in his career and more; abstract, beautifully detailed and colourfully layered throughout. There’s a great art shift between the parts where Kate is Kate and when Kate is Batwoman, giving the latter sections an almost otherworldly artistic quality that fits well with the supernatural theme that prevails throughout Batwoman’s books. The art does lose a mark or two for some confusing passages here and there where speech bubbles are in odd places, leading you to read the wrong one next and mucking up the flow a little, but on the whole it still succeeds quite well. And come on – who doesn’t like seeing a white-faced woman in red beating the crap out of occult gangsters?
The dialogue is average – nothing too good or bad. There are some good one-liners between Kate and everyone who isn’t Flamebird, but on the whole it’s just fairly unremarkable. I feel that losing Greg Rucka as a writer has affected the quality of the narrative both story and dialogue-wise, and it really shows here. Plus anytime government agenct Cameron Chase opens her mouth I feel like giving her a forceful haircut and drenching her in cow’s blood. Don’t ask me why.
On the whole, I did enjoy Hydrology but nowhere near as much as Elegy. It feels kinda like what Quantum of Solace felt like to Casino Royale; it’s not entirely bad, but it ain’t at the level of its predecessor. I am glad that it was enjoyable – rather than the pile of fetid carcass that most artist-written work I’ve read is – but it could’ve been much better. Too many in-focus elements were superfluous, too many out-of-focus elements should’ve been given more scene time, and the cigar-smoking skull guy feels like a very two-dimensional, cardboard cutout villain at this point. I guess in some ways I’m being a bit unfair because Elegy was written much like a self-contained story while Hydrology is obviously the start of a bigger arc, but I still liked the former way more.
One final note is that Hydrology suffers the same problem Sinestro had in that it’s not a proper Volume 1; it’s the continuation of a story that began before The New 52 started, and assumes prior knowledge of Elegy. While I do understand that all these new series need to start with a Volume 1 it does get kinda frustrating when people read these stories, who’ve not touched the character before, and cry foul when it makes no sense and is completely inaccessible to newer readers. I’d respect the book a bit more if they made Elegy a Volume 0 or something, but I guess now I’m just nitpicking.
Read it, enjoy it, and move on. Or, y’know, burn it instead. Whatever works.
BEST QUOTE: “Agreeing to take orders from Batman? I don’t even want to think about all the daddy issues that might imply…” – Batwoman