Created by: Greg Rucka, JH Williams III
Published by: DC
ISBN: 1401226922 (Amazon)
Genre: Super Heroes
On Monday I read two comics. One was pretty great and the other was Batwoman: Elegy. This is not to say that Elegy was bad. Unfortunately, it never actually gets better than pretty good.
The Rucka-penned adventure comic certainly has some worthwhile moments and Williams’ art is varied enough to impress, but the book has several problems that prevent it from being better than it could be. But let’s put the problems on hold for a moment to focus on what the book gets right.
I suppose some caveat should be interjected here. I am pretty much entirely unacquainted with Batwoman or Kate Kane (who plays Batwoman in the comic book adaptation of her life). I’ve read a couple Batman books over the years, so I have a tacit understanding of his mythology. I know enough about Cassandra Cain and Barbara Gordon to know about their relationship as Batgirl and Oracle (though I don’t know if they’re still maintaining those identities). And I remember a couple years ago there were some news items about a Batwoman who was a lesbian and that she was somehow involved with Renee Montoya, a lesbian Gotham cop that I vaguely recall from the animated Batman series from a few years back. So there. That’s the vantage from which I’m approaching the book. Those thoroughly embroiled in the Bat-universe might have appreciated the book a lot more than I did.
So yeah, the good. Well for one, J.H. Williams III is quite evidently a talented illustrator and designer. The page layouts are sometimes wild and abstracted and sometimes tame and straightforward. Which I imagine is meant to reflect the mood or era of that portion of the story. Which mostly works. Mostly. More on this later.
What else is good? Rucka’s story (somewhat), as well as the section on—
You know what? No. *sigh* I’m sorry. I… I can’t do this. The book was crap. It had moments that weren’t, but those were smothered under the sheer weight of the rest of the book’s abject silliness. It was a frustrating experience made more frustrating by the praise the book had received. Okay, so I’m going to talk a little specifically about some things that might count as spoilers (even though its their inclusion in the book at all that spoils Elegy), so be forewarned. No seriously, don’t read any further if you don’t want the mid-book Plot Twist exposed. Alright, good?
Kate Kane has an evil twin whom she thought was dead. And is the book’s villain. And speaks only in quotations from Through the Looking Glass.
Okay seriously? I really shouldn’t even have to continue this review. I’ll grant that I’m not really familiar with the kinds of stories that Batman fans have to put up with, so maybe this kind of thing is commonplace and readers have long become dead to the sense that what they’re reading is stupider than Twilight or even The Da Vinci Code.
To be fair, Rucka tries really hard to build some emotional resonance into the twin thing, even if he doesn’t do anything to make it sound even remotely plausible. He doesn’t quite succeed, but at least he put the effort in.
So yes, Batwoman’s dead sister comes back to haunt her dressed as an adult lolicon version of Alice. She keeps a poisoned razor blade under her tongue, but you wouldn’t know it for how much she talks. And amusingly enough, we’re never given the slightest indication of a) why she’s alive, b) why she’s attacking Gotham/Batwoman, or c) why she quotes Through the Looking Glass incessantly. If Rucka was going to include a dead twin who quotes Alice, then those are really the only three things that I, as a reader, care about. Even if they aren’t answered in this book, I at least want to see it hinted that the answers are out there.
And you know what? As much as I’ve read people praise Williams’ art in Elegy, his heavily designed pages actually work to hinder the reading of the book. Especially in the segments when Kate Kane is doing her Batwoman thing, there are a number of two-page spreads. The problem is that Williams often leaves no indicators as to the order in which a reader should approach the panels on these pages. He’s not consistent and so I often found myself reading the book in the wrong order. Which, as you can imagine (probably), is obnoxious.
*sigh* Okay. Let’s end this on some positive notes. Here are a list of the things about the book that worked.
• Scenes in which Kate Kane mills about in the civilian world, interacting with a stepmom she resents or a society she feels at odds with. If Rucka and Williams wanted to do an indie comic about a lesbian woman in her early thirties and the day-to-day trials of life she’d have to go through, this would make a good start.
• Kate’s dismissal from military service for her homosexuality under don’t ask/don’t tell is rather well done and is perhaps The emotive moment of the book. More so than even the flashback in which we witness the death/supposed death of Kate’s mother and sister.
• Kate’s relationship with her dad. This was fairly well done for a superhero book and we get to understand just how a father could assist his daughter in becoming a masked vigilante.
• Batwoman’s nipples presenting through her bulletproof and knife-resistant body suit. Just kidding. That was as stupid as it sounds. Though not as stupid as the twin thing.
Good Ok Bad features reviews of comics, graphic novels, manga, et cetera using a rare and auspicious three-star rating system. Point systems are notoriously fiddly, so here it's been pared down to three simple possibilities:
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