From the start, J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman’s Batwoman has been about fracturing narrative. Writ large, Batwoman is the singularity in the sometimes claustrophobic and bossy Bat-family. From issue to issue, this story often (but not consistently) reminds the reader that Kate Kane is ‘many things: estranged daughter, grieving sister, proud lesbian, brave soldier, determined hero … She is Batwoman.’ Kate Kane is prismatic. Prisms refract light, splitting it up into its constituent colors, the colors of the rainbow. J.H.W. III’s page layouts are renowned for their fluidity and for how they break up traditional comic book panel design. J.H.W. III goes so far as to change the style of his art to depict Kate as different from Batwoman to separate each character – while at the same time astutely playing with the superhero trope of maintaining a secret identity. Now, with issue #6, the narrative is being fractured further into six (coincidence?) individual stories as regards: Jacob, Maggie, Maro, Chase, Batwoman, and Kate. Creating multiple narratives is ambitious – especially in a monthly serial – but it is consistent with the tone of the tale being told.
Batwoman #6 marks a change in both artist and colorist. Replacing Eisner winners like J.H. Williams III and Dave Stewart is unenviable; to say the least, and to do so requires intestinal fortitude, chutzpah and confidence -- all of which shows in the work of artist Amy Reeder and colorist Richard Friend. No, it’s not the same as the previous five issues, so what? I don’t think Reeder and Friend lost a bet, nor are they the JV squad brought in to rest the varsity. They’re the real deal. Reeder’s work does show a confident hand, however, she may have been a bit too ambitious in the final page of Chase’s story. Reeder draws Batwoman vaulting across the page to take out some toughs. It’s a difficult image to pull off and I can’t imagine how one would go about drawing a body in motion like that in the first place, but I give Reeder credit for her attempt, which proves her fearlessness as an artist.
As much as issue #6 is a new story arc with a new art team, it opens with an in-your-face recall of the most dramatic moment in this series so far, the near-killing of Bette Kane. I’m sure J.H.W. III and Blackman had fun ‘hooking’ readers into this new arc with such a fantastic visual pun. This opening is a great example of how – what’s quickly become the book’s stock-in-trade – the two-page spread, is used to serve the story. Over two pages, Batwoman is attacked, she’s bloody, she’s beaten and she’s about to be gutted and then the page is turned and there’s Bette Kane still in the hospital, still comatose, a living reminder that actions have consequences. This is not Bette’s story, however, it’s Jacob’s. I really like the doubling in this scene as it goes from subtle – Jacob says he hopes Bette’s a fighter like her cousin Kate – to direct, Jacob reads Bette Ian Fleming’s ‘You Only Live Twice.’ Point taken.
Giving each character their own story is a very conventional technique, which when done well can be very effective, its success depends on the resolution. If I have one ‘nit to pick’ with this structure, however, it’s why the writers (editors?) chose to attach specific times to each character’s story; the scene with Batwoman occurs ‘now,’ whereas Jacob’s story happened ‘one month ago.’ It’s a further fracturing of the story, yes, and, yes, it does establish a timeline, but it also (to use an English phrase) ‘over-sugars the tea.’
This push-and-pull style does provide a marvelous bookend to the issue when the reader gets to see how working for the D.E.O has its perks, actions have consequences. ‘I’m a damn Superwoman,’ says Batwoman as she strikes a heroic pose. Indeed, she is. Batwoman is ‘many things to many people,’ above all; she is, perhaps, the most complex and compelling superhero of our modern, fractured times.