Everything. Okay, see you next month...yeah, I know it’s an old joke, but it’s MY old joke! Seriously, this book, top to bottom, is one of my highlights of the month so far (and for a week that’s brought us some absolutely amazing titles, it’s a true achievement to stand out). J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman cannot be stopped in their plotting and dialog. This is actually a very straightforward issue: Katherine feels incredible remorse for having dosed her lover with fear toxin, so she administers the same dose to herself to share in her pain. Meanwhile Bette Kane and her squad of hardened Crows track down the man who can lead them to Beth Kane, one of the final pieces of leverage the D.E.O. has over Katherine. This is one of the more intimate issues of any superhero book I’ve seen in a long time, we get to see Katherine’s fear-induced hallucinations, but it’s far from the usual of “here’s a giant version of the thing that I’m scared of.” Don’t get me wrong, something like that IS featured, but it’s much more like an extended metaphor on very, very bad hallucinogenics.
Bette’s B-plot is actually the more interesting to me for a very specific reason: there’s an usual device used in it. After the “asset” is acquired, the Crows all take turns trying to beat, shock, and burn Beth Kane’s location out of him, and he’s not giving it up no matter HOW hard they punch, but Bette has a different method. Despite telling her they don't have time to be gentle, Bette's method is far more interesting AND more accurately represents how actual interrogation techniques work. It’s a RARITY in comics, or any other popular media. I think this book deserves credit for breaking from tradition, even if it is a minor break.
Trevor McCarthy handles pencils and inks while Guy Major takes on the colors and both of them are absolutely perfectly suited for this issue of this title. I’ve always praised J.H. Williams’ art for its surreal, panel defying style, but this isn’t an issue that calls for that. This issue needs something a little more grounded, though the fear-toxin induced hallucinations certainly defy that as much they need to, and that’s what McCarthy and Major deliver. There’s nothing supernatural or magical going on here, and the surrealism accounts for less than half of the page count, so it’s good to see some solid, grounded art. I’ve always loved the colors in this book, particularly Katherine’s pale pallor contrasted against dark red hair and the fact that she and her sister are the only ones who look like that. It makes the character stand out so incredibly in every panel she occupies that you only need glance to see who the star is. And I don’t highlight this as much as I should, but Todd Klein’s lettering is just fantastic. It ties the emotional resonance of the hallucinations with the hard-hitting impact of the real-world portions beautifully and, again, the juxtaposition between the two communicates a great deal.
I got nothing, this is an absolutely amazing issue of an absolutely amazing book.
This issue balances the emotional with the surreal and supernatural in a way that makes it an absolute must-read. This very easily could have fallen to being a filler issue, but there are just enough great plot threads (did I mention the D.E.O. setting some of the most dangerous Arkham inmates free in Gotham to lure Batman out?) balanced with character development to transform it from a glance to a must-read. A truly great filler issue is still a must-read and this accomplishes that emotionally and even in terms of the events and action, though most of the action is in Katherine’s head. This is actually not a bad jumping-on point, so if you’ve been wondering about Batwoman, pick this one up and start reading one of the most under-the-radar books on the shelf.