THE PITCH: In Gotham City, Kate Kane is one of the many people to take up the mantle of the Bat.
HOW WAS IT: A solid to very damned good effort out of the gate for Williams and Blackman, hampered slightly by the need to hammer what appears to be an existing plot into the New 52. When I initially began this review, it was with something along the lines of "pretty good, needs a little work," but as I revisited it (about three or four times at this point) to discuss some of the finer points of the issue, I realized that it's a much stronger book that I initially thought, inviting multiple readings and analysis to sift through all of its finer detail. This is kind of advanced comics, and I think the visual complexity of it, its richness of detail, might be just the thing to put off some new readers.
But let me back up. First off, this book is pretty dense--both in the context of the narrative and visually. I'm not sure how much of this book was put together before the New 52, but all indications are that a lot of it was probably intended for Batmwoman's originally-planned February, then April release, before getting shuffled into the relaunch. Williams and Blackman provide two pretty content-heavy pages in in the issue that detail some of Kate Kane's recent history (particularly the "Elegy" arc with Rucka) as well as folding in call-outs to the new shape of the universe.
The book's current creative team should be credited with making the introduction to Batwoman relatively seamless, with an opening that's primarily focused on the mystery (child abductions being carried out by something that's taking on the appearance of La Llarona), alternating with the GCPD investigation of the case by Detective Sawyer, a potential new love interest for Kate. The story then takes a detour to introduce Bette, Kate's cousin and former sidekick, Flamebird, who wants to team up again with Batwoman fighting crime as we get hints that things aren't so great between Kate and her father, Colonel Jacob Kane. So in the course of this issue, we get a mystery for the hero, an introduction to her supporting cast, and later--with the inclusion of Mr. Bones and the DEO--possible antagonists/obstacles.
It's all clear and easy to follow, but it's kind of hampered by the occasional clunkiness and infodumping. Williams and Blackman sidestep any sort of obviously expository dialog, but visually the book is so dense with information at times, arranged in such extravagant, virtuosic ways, that it might not be 100% easy to follow for the new comics reader. Even I had to take a moment to go back and reprocess a couple of double-page spreads that had curving/elliptical panel layouts cutting through a central image or being cut through by a central image. In particular, there's a bit where Sawyer and Gordon are walking through a new development in the case where the first set of panels is read down and to the right while the second set is read down and to the left, and I had to catch myself for a moment because I thought the layout was supposed to be read in its entirety counter-clockwise.
It may sound like I'm nitpicking (and I am a little bit), but Williams is such an incredible artist who's very deliberate about his layouts that's all the more noticeable when things go off the rails a little.
What I'm really curious about--and what I hope will be most exciting for new readers--is seeing the variability of style used in the book. Williams' art style is chameleon-like and he's able to deploy it to convey new moods for each scene. By my count there are what feel like five distinct styles used in the book--from the painterly inkiness of the La Llarona sequences, to the gritty, ultra-detailed police procedural stuff--and he not afraid to deploy multiple styles on the same page (or even within the same panel). One of the most interesting things he does is to seemingly render Batwoman with a consistently painted style (with a little bit of a 'Shopped sheen) while everyone else is visualized in the more typical pen and line style. I think I recall him doing the same in "Elegy" but don't hold me to it.
It's a gorgeous book, is what I'm saying.
BEST BIT: Where to start? The art in the sequence with Mr. Bones and Chase at the DEO? The opening attack of La Llarona? I just said it's a gorgeous book and you should definitely be checking it out.
WORST BIT: I'm struggling to think of a "worst" element, but if I was pressed for the least successful element of the book, I'd have to say the way the chronology seems to jump and the La Llarona case falls out of focus for Batwoman a bit until the end of the issue. But then, we learn that it's tied up in so many other potential things that feels like a thread in a broader tapestry.
EASTER EGGS: Call-outs to Renee Montoya (a former Kate Kane flame), and the purple lady hanging at the crime scene.
ACCESSIBLE TO NEW READERS? Yes, but they're going to have to wade through a LOT of new information.
WILL YOU BE PICKING UP ISSUE 2? I have no choice--it's a compulsive read at this point.