Detective Comics Redeems Batwoman in DC’s Best New Team Book

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<i>Detective Comics</i> Redeems Batwoman in DC&#8217;s Best New Team Book

Batwoman famously got short shrift from DC when editorial pulled the plug on J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman’s planned run in 2013, refusing to let the pair release a storyline in which the lesbian super-heroine got married. The floundering series never recovered and was canceled in 2014. In DC’s surprisingly awesome Rebirth phase, the publisher is righting the course for one of their best characters; Batwoman may not be hitched or have her own series—yet—but she’s a key member of one of the best Bat titles as Detective Comics, written by James Tynion IV and illustrated by Eddy Barrows and Alvaro Martinez, lives up to its long, glorious 79-year history.

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The current Batwoman—created by Greg Rucka and a committee of creators in 2006 as part of the weekly series 52, but fleshed out by Rucka and Williams III—is one of the most significant and appealing new superheroes of this century. In a story that is now pleasantly dated, Kate Kane was kicked out of the military for refusing to lie about her sexual orientation. After some aimless times back in Gotham, the trained former cadet decided wearing the Bat symbol was the best new way to serve. The new Batwoman mostly avoided Batman and company, and her adventures often veered toward the supernatural (or mythological, as in a wonderful team-up with Wonder Woman against Medusa and a demon horde). Bringing Batwoman into the Bat-family was probably inevitable, but at least editorial is doing it right, making her a co-lead with Batman—and Batwoman’s backstory definitely drives the plot.

The deal: in the face of a new threat, Batman recruits Batwoman (who’s revealed to be his cousin on his mother’s side) to train a new team whose lineup both innovates and honors the Bat-family’s deep heritage. Three characters underused or outright obliterated by the New 52 return to action: Tim Drake (Red Robin), Stephanie Brown (Spoiler) and Cassandra Cain (formerly Batgirl, now Orphan). The wildcard and comic relief is Clayface, given a new spin that emphasizes the tragic nature of his accident/origin. When introduced in the first issue, the sad lump has chased people out of a movie theater so he can watch himself onscreen to remember being a handsome actor, rather than a gruesome, amorphous monster. This team lineup feels fresh and full of potential. Creator runs don’t usually last long, but Tynion has assembled characters whose interplay could carry 100 issues.

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Detective Comics #941 Cover Art by Yanick Paquette

The first arc is a masterful balancing of Batman and Batwoman’s narratives that suggests their stories should have intertwined long ago. The plot hinges on a brilliant idea by Tynion: if Batman existed, his methods and strategy would be copied by the military. As Tim Drake puts it, “He built a model worth replicating. A skill set that makes one person as effective as an entire platoon.” This is a terrific inversion of the Christopher Nolan Batman, who borrows expensive and out-of-production tech from the military. In this story, it’s the state, led by someone Paste won’t spoil, that wants their own squad of Batmen, and who can blame them? The dude gets shit done.

The spirit of Grant Morrison’s long run on various Bat-titles resonates here. Tynion, like Morrison, appreciates the almost limitless potential of Batman’s long, weird history (and Batwoman’s short, rich history). That means neglected characters such as Leslie Thompkins, Azrael, and Renee Montoya pop up. Also like Morrison, Tynion writes Batman as a seasoned, wise crimefighter, not a childish, angsty man-baby. Tynion’s Batman does more than punch clowns in the head: he sees a bigger picture beyond his own issues. This Batman recognizes the military experience of Batwoman and the heroic potential of Clayface, much as Morrison’s Batman built a worldwide army of allies in Batman Inc. and helped Ellie the prostitute get a job at Wayne Industries. Morrison established the “first truth of Batman” as “I was never alone.” This series reinvigorates that idea.

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Detective Comics #938 Interior Art by Al Barrioneuvo

Some of the nods to Bat-history would be at home in a comedy sketch. When some bad guys who momentarily defeat Batman examine his belt, they take an inventory. These goons list gizmo after gizmo after gizmo, including various antitoxins and a hunk of kryptonite, causing one flabbergasted hench-goon to deadpan, “We’ve catalogued about 30 percent of the utility belt.” Given the endless history of Bat-gadgets, of course Batman’s utility belt is somehow a Tardis full of more weaponry than most armories. Tynion adds plenty of other humorous touches, which make this one of the most tonally balanced Bat-titles in a long time. The author’s comedic talent isn’t a surprise; he did a terrific job writing the recent Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninjas team-up.

Since Detective is a biweekly book, the art doesn’t have a prayer of being as consistent as the story, but it’s been excellent so far. The main artist—Eddy Barrows—exercises a strong talent for page design, using jagged panels to make a scene as mundane as Batman talking to Alfred while driving the Batmobile feel fresh. He also continues the tradition (established mainly by Williams III) of making Batwoman look amazing. Give colorist Adriana Lucas an assist there, as the bold colors of her costume and the striking choreography of Barrows (like a scene in which she and Batman lay down the law for the new team on either side of the Bat-signal) render her the most striking, gorgeous and cinematic (hint, hint, Hollywood) hero in all comics.

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Detective Comics #936 Interior Art by Alvaro Martinez

Alvaro Martinez takes the artistic baton in the third issue, and the series doesn’t suffer: his art is a little reminiscent of an underrated Bat-artist, Patrick Gleason. Martinez’s first page is a particular treat: as Kate recounts a story from her military days for an unseen companion, each panel constitutes a layer in a glass, capturing the familiar experience of a beverage being consumed as a story unfolds. The story is also a terrific reminder of Kate’s military background, which makes her very different from Batman, a difference that’s part of a family feud. The team players (the Kanes) vs. the lone weirdos (the Waynes) forms a tangled history that gives the Bruce-Kate alliance depth.

A rescue attempt in the fourth issue (#938) shows that Tynion and company are good at not only exploring complex family dynamics and balancing multiple characters, but also unleashing cathartic action, as Batwoman leads the team on a mission to recover Batman. The Dark Knight is at first a tad grumpy, until Batwoman scores a sick burn: “Just because you’re not used to playing the damsel in distress doesn’t mean you can’t be grateful.” Batman ends up impressed, a feeling readers will likely share. In giving Batwoman the spotlight she deserves while portraying the kind of Batman anyone can enjoy, this is one Rebirth we hope stays young for years.

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