Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 252 (10/13) -- Batwoman: Elegy by Rucka & Williams

Superhero comics today have no beginning and no end. Every story is the inevitable result of past stories, and only leads onward. In fact, to call them "stories" is to twist the term almost beyond recognition -- the Big Two publish sequences of moments, some more interesting than others, relentlessly moving forward and proliferating at the greatest speed possible. Writers try to craft things that look like beginnings and endings, but they're never more than an illusion for any costumed character, since they're all inevitably tangled up in past continuity and will be rebooted and killed and revived, turned evil and female and male, depowered and alternatively powered and repowered, over and over again.

Batwoman: Elegy is a collection of such moments, involving the title character, reprinted from a run in Detective Comics last year, when that title's usual flagship character was briefly dead. From the "bonus material" -- sketchbook and script pages -- at the end of this book, it's clear that this story was something of a relaunch (at least in style and aim) for the Kathy Kane Batwoman, who was still a pretty new character. (But of course -- isn't the whole point of superhero comics to have everything changing in "important" ways at all times?)

Elegy is also explicitly a sequel to a previous story -- exactly where it appeared, or if it's been collected, is never made clear here; superhero fans are expected, as always, to do the homework before reading a book -- in which Ms. Kane was captured and stabbed in the heart by an evil religion based on "the crime bible." (Which is either one of the least subtle anti-Islamic metaphors I've ever seen or just another bit of tone-deaf superheroing; I can't quite tell which.) Somehow, the previous head of the Religion of Crime was removed (probably killed), but, like a bad penny, a new one has turned up.

So Elegy begins with an obligatory beating-up-lowlifes-for-information sequence -- though most of those lowlifes are drawn to look pretty meek and harmless, so Batwoman appears to be just rampaging around Gotham City and kicking people in the face at random -- which leads into the first, inconclusive confrontation with that new female Pope of Crime. (Oddly, this person -- who calls herself Alice -- is just called the "head" of the religion, which is a singular failure of imagination considering the titles she might have had.) The rest of this volume runs through flashbacks and shocking (and, I expect, completely retconned) reveals, with the requisite several fight scenes before the Big Finish. That Big Finish has its shocking aspects, as required, and they're well-deployed, though they're also at least as old as Shakespeare.

It's all very stylish and slick -- artist J.H. Williams III has a fabulous design sense, and his gorgeous pages are well-served by Dave Stewart's colors (which add marvelously to the moods of the scenes here) -- but it's just one more in a very long line of "let me tell you why my character is Wicked Cool" superhero origin stories, and I'm afraid I had my fill of those sometime in the mid-90s. Writer Greg Rucka does everything possible right -- he's good with strong women characters, good with dialogue, good with melodramatic backstory that's perfectly timed to ratchet up the tension one more notch -- but this still is, at bottom, the story of a young woman in the freelance kicking-people-in-the-head business who battles a crime religion with the last-second aid of a small army of half-human, half-animal creatures [1] and who manages, in her off-hours, to have relationships with every other famous lesbian in the DC Universe. And it's far beyond me to take that seriously for even the time it takes to read this very stylish, but inevitably deeply silly, book.

[1] These are, if I figured out the implications correctly, the ex-minion army of the crime religion, now schismatic and working up their own First Reformed Church of Christ, Burglar.

Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

1 comment:

Paul D said...

This sounds almost identical to Rucka's Question reboot.

Post a Comment