Comics You Should Be Reading: Batwoman
There are lots of reasons we could give to argue that DC Comics' Batwoman is a Comic You Should Be Reading. But one of the first rules of writing is to never bury the lead, so we've got to address the obvious point up front: Batwoman mastermind JH Williams III is maybe the best artist working in superhero comics today.
Yes, that's a bold claim, and he's got some serious competition. But look at his pages. Seriously, look at his pages. How does he come up with this stuff?! Very few artists have his imaginative eye for layouts, and none of those guys are as good as he is at combining that with good old-fashioned drawing skill. His pages are beautiful. They look like paintings. If you bought an original page of art from this guy, it would probably set you back a small fortune, and he'd be totally justified in charging that much. Williams alone does not take credit for how amazing this book looks, of course; we must also recognize colorist Dave Stewart, who adds his considerable talents to making this book's characters and backgrounds look crazy real.
Okay, we're done geeking out over Williams… for now. Batwoman is the story of Kate Kane, the daughter of a US armed forces colonel whose mother and sister are (it seems) killed by terrorists. She vows to follow in her father's footsteps and serve her country to avenge her lost family, but she's driven out of West Point for violating Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Her life deteriorates into nothing until an attempted mugging turns into a chance encounter with Gotham City's Dark Knight, whose example shows Kate a new way to live. She and her father thereafter work together to set up a crime-fighting operation that rivals Batman's. Backed with the latest military technology and a drive to do what's right, Kate Kane joins Gotham's family of bat-themed guardians.
All of that's backstory to the current Batwoman series, which began six months ago when DC relaunched their whole line of superhero comics. As her new book opens, Kate's currently estranged from her dad and dealing with the revelation that her sister's still alive (and in fact is dangerously psychotic!). Meanwhile, a rash of supernatural crimes have begun to plague Gotham, including a ghost-like "Weeping Woman" who gets her kicks from abducting and drowning young children. As Batwoman investigates these crimes, she finds herself butting heads with a new criminal organization called Medusa that has its sights set on Gotham City. Meanwhile, given her connection to the military, some government officials are watching her pretty closely as well.
Currently on its sixth issue, Batwoman is one of the best examples of a monthly comic book that truly strings together multiple plots throughout each issues. There aren't just A-stories and B-stories; every installment of Batwoman has like four or five things going on with different members of her supporting cast, which includes her crimefighting cousin (the Teen Titan called Flamebird), her kind-of-girlfriend (Gotham detective Maggie Sawyer), her dad, a government agent named Chase and more. The story's not hard to follow, though, both because co-writers Williams and W. Haden Blackman are really good at moving the story forward in every issue and because Williams draws every character very distinctly. Like TV shows, monthly comics are by definition a serial medium, but only the best really take advantage of long-term storytelling. Things that happen in Batwoman #1 may not pay off til Batwoman #6… or even later! That kind of attention to detail rewards readers who pay attention, and it also makes the book feel more real (because the best literature, like life, is a total freakin' mess).
Though it only has 20 pages a month to tell its stories, Batwoman combines the best of a lot of different comics genres— besides the obvious superhero stuff, there are strong elements of detective fiction and even horror. (Since everyone Batwoman fights is basically some kind of monster—but as the series goes on, we learn why!) It's also a really strong exploration of a lesbian superhero character, really the first one to be embraced by either of the two big publishing companies. But honestly, it's the art that's going to sell this book. Even though Williams has handed over art duties to the mega-talented Amy Reeder for the book's second story arc, which begins in issue #6 (he's still around as co-writer), he'll be back, and it would be worth reading literally anything he draws. It just so happens we're lucky enough that the book around his art is pretty darn good. Your local comic shop should have copies of the first few issues of this series in stock, but if not you can grab the first five chapters of the series (the entire first story arc) for $1.99 a piece on Comixology. Not a bad deal for a Comic You Should Be Reading.
Are you going to pick up Batwoman?