Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Super-Powered Comics: Batwoman Elegy

I wanted to like Batwoman: Elegy. I really did. I loved 52 and thought, conceptually, that the new Kate Kane Batwoman could be a star in her own title. Years later, it finally happened, and I am left feeling less than impressed.

Don’t get me wrong. J.H. Williams III’s art is every bit as spectacular as the hype its given. He received Eisners for both interior and cover work for this book and it’s plain to see why. He pours his heart and soul in to every page, jumping from style to style, page design to page design, all with a fluid ease that never leaves the reader feeling lost. Dave Stewart’s colors ooze off the page and help to bring it all together in a near perfect package.

It’s the story and the characterization of Kate Kane and the people around her that really irk me. Her relationship with her father is fine, her initial arc with the villain Alice successfully sets up the character as her own woman apart from the rest of Bat-continuity. But when we go in to the flashback issues, I feel all believability and credibility of the story is lost.

First, her father is an army colonel, but one whose daughter was kidnapped and never found years before. Yet we are still supposed to believe that the United States Army would trust a military base responsible for holding destructive chemicals to a man whose security clearance could be so easily compromised. The Army is many things, but it isn’t blatantly stupid.

But the insanity of the book’s storytelling gets worse as we move forward to Kate’s time at West Point. He’s name checked both in the issue and the introduction by Rachel Maddow, so the story of Lt. Daniel Choi clearly has a play in this story. His coming out was a calculated move to challenge the wisdom of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. Kate’s coming out is either an act of sheer idiocy or self-destructiveness.

Here’s the setup: while studying at West Point, Kate has a liaison with another female student. A report is filed to the school’s commander and she admits to him she’s gay (and apparently gets immediately discharged). It might come off as a powerful piece of story-telling to some, but in reality it makes very little sense. She repeats in the issue more than once that her only dream is to graduate from West Point and serve the country like her father does. It’s her only desire in life (to the point that she becomes reckless and verifiably self-destructive in the aftermath). Now anyone familiar with the military and the terms of joining the service will be very aware of how Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell works. It’s been in place for well over a decade and is explained to any potential recruit multiple times. It’s made quite clear that the military has no problem with you being gay as long as you keep it away from the base and don’t talk about it. How are we supposed to believe that a lesbian woman, daughter of an army colonel, could enlist in the military without knowing straight up that she would have to lie should she ever be brought up on disciplinary action for such behavior? She clearly made that compromise with herself just to be at West Point, so why when confronted with the situation would she do anything but continue the fiction? The only viable explanation in my mind (and a rather preposterous one) is that she didn’t realize she was gay until West Point, despite her homosexuality being hinted at in just the previous chapter.

I know the immediate argument could be, “but how could she live with the lie?” And in response, I will again reiterate that if her repeated professions that being a soldier were her life’s only ambitions, she would have already placed that need to lie in her mind. And a few years later, she certainly doesn’t seem to have a problem lying to friends and family. Or does she just tell anyone that she meets that she’s Batwoman?

I am by no means a perfect writer. I wouldn’t even count myself as anyone near the league of Greg Rucka’s eraser shavings. But how can any writer let such an obvious gap in story logic make it on to the page? How can any editor just ignore the fatal flaw? How can so many readers just ignore it?

As it stands, I think this initial run has inadvertently set up one defining characteristic of the new Batwoman: her own need for self-destruction. Any writer really honest about this character (I’m looking at you, Haden Blackman and J.H.) will embrace that feature in upcoming story arcs. If not, you have successfully created a rather broken character, DC.

Still, for J.H. Williams’ art at its absolute finest, I will give the book a Mildly Recommended. I suggest everyone check it out and share their feelings with me in the comments section.

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