DEEP CUT #1: Batwoman: Rebirth #1

Welcome to the first installment of the Deep Cut! This is a new weekly article where I take a new comic book release and break it down to the Nth degree. This article will be in-depth, lengthy, and hopefully insightful. The objective is to take a hard look at the components of a comic and break it down piece by piece.

Every volume of the Deep Cut will be brutally honest. I will give you my brutal opinion every time. That’s an unspoken contract between me and you. You come here for the unfiltered, un-sanitized, and non-corporate view; and I’ll be sure to give you a take-no-prisoners look inside the latest mainstream releases.

So enough chit-chat! Let’s start cutting!

First up on the chopping block is…

Batwoman: Rebirth #1
Publisher: DC Comics
Story: Marguerite Bennett and James Tynion IV
Art: Steve Epting
Colors: Jeremy Cox
Letters: Deron Bennett

I promised to be brutally honest, so let’s just hit that nail right on the head at the opening of this article. Here is what I know about Batwoman: She’s a woman, she’s part of the Batman family, and she’s gay. The end.

I understand that a summary like that smacks of narrow-mindedness, I have to be honest! There isn’t really much more to the character at this point; at least not in the eyes of the average comic fan. If you want more proof, then ask anyone at your local comic shop, “Hey name two original Batwoman villains!” I bet 90% of comic fans couldn’t do it.

The character traits that DC has pounded into their readership’s heads are just what I stated at the opening. She’s a woman and she is gay. Those are the two factors that they want you to hold onto. It’s not because that’s all that there is to the character of Kate Kane, but it’s damn revealing about the lack of depth and work that DC has done with her.

She doesn’t have a memorable rogue’s gallery like her male counterpart.

She doesn’t have a really memorable run within her previous releases. (I’m sure that Batman fans will happily point out that I’m wrong, but I’m talking about the average comic fan.) Batwoman has not been blessed with a “Court of Owls” run of issues. She doesn’t have a Dark Knight Returns in her past for fans to pull from. Sadly right now the character at its most basic is viewed simply as, “She’s a woman, she’s part of the Batman family, and she’s gay.”

I keep referring to the character’s sexuality because DC rarely lets an issue go by without making mention of it themselves. Either Kate is kissing another woman in every issue to reinforce this fact about her character, or she is dealing with the breakup of another lover. (With a flashback to her kissing another woman)

In today’s highly sensitive and politically correct media, I sadly have to point out for everyone reading that I am not a sexist or a bigot. I openly support everyone who lives an alternate lifestyle and hope that one day we can all share the same exact rights and freedoms. (It’s sad that I even have to write that. I’m writing an article about a fictional character’s sexual habits, not giving a dissertation on the social impact of homosexuality on the human population)

So back to the Bat, I’ve established that Kate Kane is a flimsy and almost two-dimensional character that lacks any serious depth. One would think that with Batwoman getting such a high-profile roll in the Rebirth launch that DC would seize the chance to really flesh out Batwoman and build up her character.

If Batwoman: Rebirth #1 is any indication of what is coming down the pike… well, we might be waiting a while longer.

The creative team on this issue does a bang up job on building an interesting narrative that is fun and entertaining to read, but its junk food; all filler and no substance. We are treated to a non-sequential series of flashbacks that pick up important moments from Kate Kane’s life. We start off very strong with the kidnapping and murder of her mother and sister.

This could have been the crux of the issue right here. How many times have we seen Bruce Wayne’s parents shot dead in Crime Ally? Is anyone else seeing pearls bouncing on the ground right now? It’s been beaten into our subconscious! The details of Batman’s origin are now nerd-101 fodder. You learn it the moment you apply for your nerd card.

You also learn that Clark Kent and Superman is the same guy.

Spider-Man’s uncle is dead.

And that Aquaman’s powers are the lamest superhero power EVER!

So why is it that I have no clue to how Batwoman got her start? What is her backstory? I picked up issue number one, isn’t someone going to clue me in as to the who, what, where, why and how of this character? Isn’t that the normal procedure for an issue number one?

I was genuinely taken in with the beginning of this comic. The reader is thrust into the narrative of a kidnapping at gun point of Kate, her mother and her sister. It’s during the first four pages that this comic has all the promise in the world. There is a chance here to build up the mystique of an origin that could rival Bruce Wayne. The torture of hearing Kate’s mother pleading for her life as Kate is blinded by a hood is the stuff of real world nightmares.

The money shot of this issue is a young Kate looking over the shoulder of a rescuing solider, looking back at the corpse of her mother, bound and bleeding from a gunshot to her hood-covered head. The emptiness in her eyes is the loss of a childhood that had barely began. It’s there in that moment that we as readers need to stay.

That is where the heart of the issue is and yet for the sake of poor narrative we are shoved into the future, where we watch Kate age in flash forward cuts. It is this story choice that I disconnected with the comic. I was only four pages in and the opportunity to tell an amazing story had already been squandered.

I understand that the writers of this comic have to speed up the tale of Kate Kane; to rush through her established backstory as quickly as possible to tie her character into the modern Batman mythos, but they miscalculated. A slow burning story with heart and heartbreak would have served this character far better than the rushing through of pivotal moments in her life.

We make it ten pages before Kate is lip locked with another woman. This is DC reestablishing the same tired troupe on this character, because it’s one of only a handful of memorable things about her. She’s homosexual remember? At least in this comic the moment is used to drive the plot forward, which is refreshing. I have read far too many comics over the last couple of years where a character’s sexuality is used more like a marketing tool than a plot device. Here, while the character trait is under-explained and under-developed as usual, at least it has a purpose.

I want someone in the mainstream comic writing community to just once tackle the issue of homosexuality with some real heart. There have been attempts, but 99% fall short. I want to see Kate as a young woman discovering this about herself, dealing with the pressures of society, going through the motions of young love and getting her heart-broken. This is the meat and potatoes of life. Why not bring them up here?

Once Kate gets in the costume this re-launch falls into the same pitfalls as the previous Batwoman series. Batwoman comes off as too cold, too distant, and since we have no real reason to invest in the character; it becomes just another superhero comic. It falls apart. We care about Bruce. We have seen him outside of the costume… some of the most impactful moments in Batman history happen when Bruce is not wearing the cowl. We get to know the man behind the mask… why can’t the same be done for Batwoman? Until someone comes along and injects some heart and depth into this comic, it will continue to be unimpressive.

The writing of this issue has been taken to task. Maybe I’ve been too harsh on Marguerite Bennett and James Tynion IV. Readers have seen stronger offerings from both writers so I don’t feel too bad for calling them to the mat on this particular comic. I hope that they can right the ship before it’s too late, but they are off to a bad start.

As for the art in this issue, Steve Epting has always been a favorite of mine. From his days working at Cross-Gen to his run on Captain America, he has been a top shelf talent within the industry. While his work is still better than average in this comic, I still longed for the artistic styling of J.H. Williams III. Williams made this character his own during his previous stint on the title. While Epting is one hell of an artist, he lacks the panel design and page layout that Williams was critically praised for.

There are pages in this issue where you can tell that Epting is trying to recreate the dynamic panel layouts of Williams, more so in the final pages, but much like the rest of the comic the attempt falls short.

I also have to point out that there are a few faces in this issue, more female than male that come off looking generic… which is a problem when the lead of your comic is a female. I’m not throwing Epting under the bus here, but I know that the man can do better work, we’ve all seen it.

One last nitpick on my part is the coloring of this issue. While the coloring remains consistent throughout, there is a lack of a dynamic touch that really could have made particular scenes “pop” more.  A large portion of the book takes place at night, but with the muted palate that the colorist, Jeremy Cox used that missed the opportunity to really play with the aspects of shadow and light. Instead the artwork was digitally “inked” and the potential mood for certain settings were lost.

Final Thoughts: This concept had a ton of potential at the start. Rebuild Batwoman from the ground up; and let a pair of talented writers really delve in deep into a character that fans still know little about.  DC needs to invest in Kate Kane. There is comic gold there; they just have to be brave enough to go after it.

Final Grade: 2 out of 5 Stars.

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