‘Batwoman’ #1 Delivers A Globetrotting Gay Adventure [Review]
Today sees the launch of the new Batwoman solo ongoing series, scripted by Marguerite Bennett, co-plotted by Bennett and James Tynion IV, with art by Steve Epting and colors by Jeremy Cox. At least I'm counting this as the launch, even though Batwoman Rebirth came out last month. That book was a great prologue to this series, but it's immediately clear that the new book is where the story really gets moving.
Batwoman #1 spins right out of recent issues of Detective Comics, although I don't think it would be hard to understand if you haven't kept up. What matter here is that there's a serum that turns people into huge monsters, the serum is being sold on the global black market for use in terrorism, and Batwoman is on a mission to find out who's selling and put a stop to it. Meanwhile in Batwoman Rebirth we learned about Kate Kane's lost year, in which she drank her way across this globe after being booted from West Point. It's not hard to imagine how the connections made then will resurface now.
The first big chunk of this issue is a big fight between Kate and a Monster Man in the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul. It's a great action sequence, but we're also learning more about what's going on all throughout it, and how it ends sets up more mysteries going forward. Fortunately, Kate's not alone on this mission. Julia Pennyworth is on Kate's nearby yacht, providing tech support and maybe a little light butlering. Julia is always a fun character to have around, and she makes the perfect partner for Kate, mirroring her father's work with Batman, but in a less hierarchical and overtly more queer and female manner.
Steve Epting is in fine form here, bringing the same strengths to this book as he did to his now-legendary Captain America run with Ed Brubaker. The human beings Epting draws always look so distinctive and real that you feel like you might have met them in real life, but his artwork is too dynamic and exciting to ever fall into the stiffness trap that so many which captures so many other similar artists. His action scenes are exciting but easy to follow, and he draws a good monster, which is clearly key to this storyline.
He also draws a Kate Kane who's recognizable from her previous portrayals, but distinctly his own. I do still miss the fun, punky style that J.H. Williams gave the character, but Epting puts her in a kind of athletic under-Batsuit that's pretty cool, and we've yet to see present-day Kate in street clothes, so maybe there's stylishness yet to come.
The incident in the Bazaar leads Batwoman to a small Mediterranean island, and it's one she remembers from her past, specifically from the "lost year." We don't know how long she spent there, but we know she spent it in the company of a mysterious woman named Safiyah. Safiyah's clearly tied into the monster serum trafficking plot, but the nature of her involvement remains to be seen.
What already excites me is the way that the introduction of Safiyah makes Kate's queerness integral to the story. In stories about globetrotting male adventurers, including Batman, finding a woman you once loved at the center of some present mystery or crime is a narrative trope so common it's almost invisible. In the still-too-rare instances where straight women are given the adventurer role (including the current Batgirl comic), male love interests are treated similarly. But with queer protagonists, it often feels like writers are still walking on eggshells to some degree.
We expect the queer protagonist's only love interest to be the idealized, committed partner they come home to at the end of an adventure. Or else the smiling comrade they're fighting alongside. And those are usually the best you can hope for, because the opposite is something regressive like seduction by an evil queer vampire, like Kate was in her previous solo run.
But this story establishes Kate Kane as a lesbian adventurer whose history of relationships with women can play the same sort of dramatic role in her stories that a straight male adventurer's romantic history plays in his. Kate's queerness isn't just about who she's dating (which at the moment, as far as we know, is nobody), it's about a complex web of connections she's made over the course of her life, any of which may again become relevant in the future. Fundamentally, it's about who she is, and we don't have to pretend otherwise.
So if it's not clear, I'm looking forward to seeing where this story goes, and also what comes after. In this era of "ongoing" comics with very short runs, I always wonder, about books that start with the protagonist going on a trip, will the run end when the trip ends? But Batgirl has weathered a return to Gotham, and hopefully Batwoman will as well. Because I want more of this team on this character. I want a lot more.
Batwoman #1 is out today from DC Comics.