Title: Batwoman: Elegy
Author: Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III
Publisher: DC Comics
Release Date: June 2011
Reviewed by: Steve Aryan
Batwoman battles a madwoman known only as Alice, inspired by Alice in Wonderland, who sees her life as a fairy tale and everyone around her as expendable extras. Batwoman must stop Alice from unleashing a toxic death cloud over all of Gotham City but Alice has more up her sleeve than just poison, and Batwoman’s life will never ever be the same.
This is the first collected edition of Batwoman, a new Batman-related character that appeared a few years ago. To begin with she had the odd cameo in other comics but this was the first time the character had her own storyline which appeared in Detective Comics. In preparation for the new ongoing Batwoman title as part of DC Comics new 52, I thought I should read this again and refresh my memory of who Kate Kane is.
A common complaint about mainstream superhero comics is that their long history makes it difficult for new readers to jump on board. Not only because they don’t know what has happened before and how it effects the present, but also because they don’t know who the characters are. I also think this is a fair comment for the most. So, having said that, if you intend to pick up the new Batwoman title, then Batwoman: Elegy has everything you need to know about the character in one volume. It’s very likely there will be some sort of a recap in the new series, but Elegy tells you in detail who the character is, how she was trained, what motivated her to become a crime fighter and what drives her. It’s the origin story of a modern superhero and by that I mean in the old days, toxic waste or an irradiated spider was all you needed to have superpowers. Nowadays we expect more from an origin story, especially for the more grounded street level superheroes, and Elegy has it in spades. There is no vague hand waving, magic or technobabble to explain away something the writer didn’t think of, everything is there. We know who trained her, how long it took and where the technology and money comes from to fund such an operation. Not everyone is a billionaire playboy with a corporation behind them to provide the means to develop the next generation in non-lethal weaponry and vehicles.
The other thing worth mentioning is that the new ongoing series will be written by J.H Williams III and he will be doing some art duties on the new book along with W. Haden Blackman. JHW is the artist on Elegy so he knows the character intimately since he and Rucka worked very closely to create her, so the new ongoing series is in excellent hands.
Elegy begins with a new insane villain who thinks she is Alice from Alice in Wonderland. She talks in riddles and sees the world around her in a way that doesn’t seem to make much sense. Also for an unknown reason, she has been given leadership of a major crime organisation and Batwoman is there to stop her from day one. As the story unfolds we’re told a little about previous events not seen in Elegy, but there’s enough information so that you are not left scratching your head and wondering what you missed. You could go back and find the other issues to get more info, but I don’t think you need to.
It’s also clear very early on that Kate is not doing well juggling her crime fighting with finding time to have a social life. She sleeps through a major portion of the day and this takes a toll on her relationships. But she is not a lonely brooder, she has a family and friends and Kate is a real person not the mask. There is some debate in comic circles if Bruce Wayne is just a mask for his real personality, the Batman, but Kate is a real person. Batwoman is just a costume she puts on but she is still Kate even when wearing the mask.
There are lots of parallels between Bruce Wayne and Kate Kane, but there are also a number of major differences. She wasn’t driven by the death of her parents to become a spectre that scares the criminal element. She had a plan and despite some tragedies which we see in flashback, she was not deterred and went after them with passion and dedication. Becoming a crime fighter is not something she planned or thought about until fairly recently. Kate is a fully rounded character with flaws like every human and we see her at her best and worst moments. But like Bruce she won’t be turned aside or distracted and she is dedicated to stopping mad Alice before she can unleash something horrific on Gotham.
There’s another aspect of the character I’ve not touched on until now because when Batwoman was first announced by DC a couple of years ago, the press latched onto this aspect and the story became about it and nothing else. It didn’t matter to them that this was a very well written and interesting comic, it was just a juicy headline to catch the eye. Kate is gay and while it is part of her story, this is still a crime comic and it’s not the whole story. Unfortunately that didn't matter to some people and they took offence, which is a real shame, as they're missing out on a great read. It reminded me of when some people burned the Harry Potter books because they claimed the novels promoted witchcraft.
Overall Batwoman: Elegy is a beautifully drawn and gripping comic that gives you a solid grounding in the character. After reading I think I understand Kate and what drives her to put herself in danger fighting criminals and I can’t wait to see the new ongoing Batwoman series. Highly recommended.