We all remember DC Wedding-gate, right? When DC’s editorial department decided that Batwoman and her girlfriend Maggie couldn’t get married out of some misguided belief that marriage makes characters boring? When they seemed to believe that forbidding a same-sex marriage had the same weight as forbidding a straight one, and their Eisner-winning creative team walked off the project, citing irreconcilable creative differences? I stuck with the series for a while after that out of a desire to not be unsupportive of DC’s only queer headliner, but it finally broke me. I dropped the ongoing comic a few months ago as the storytelling drooped from fascinating down to mediocre and episodic.
Just recently, however, my birthday rolled around, and I found myself missing Kate Kane. It being my birthday and all, I decided it was time to treat myself: I bought Batwoman: Elegy.
You know how there are some pieces of media that come with a reputation in fandom? The things that are considered classic, genre-defining, or in some way required reading? I’m talking about your Fireflys, your Sailor Moons, your Buffy the Vampire Slayers, and your Captain America: The Winter Soldiers (the comic version)? As a fan of Batwoman, I have often heard the Batwoman: Elegy trade collection upheld in this way as the quintessential Kate Kane story.
And damn, does this comic not disappoint. First of all, the art is gorgeous—amazing colors and beautiful two-page spreads abound. I’ve seen J.H. Williams III’s art in other books, the New 52 Batwoman included, and it’s just as stunning here as anywhere else. It’s well deserving of the two Eisner awards he won for it.
The story, written by Greg Rucka, first follows Batwoman as she squares off against an insane cult priestess who calls herself Alice (after the Carroll character) and who wants to drop a toxic bomb on Gotham City. Kate saves the day, but at a cost: it turns out that Alice, whom she dropped out of an airplane at the climax of the battle, was her long lost twin sister Beth. The story then travels back in time to the defining points in Kate’s life: losing Beth and her mother, being expelled from West Point under DADT, her tumultuous relationship with Renee Montoya, and finally, taking up the cowl to defend Gotham.
Elegy is so well-paced and engaging that I sped through it in a way I haven’t read since first picking up Saga. The story isn’t complicated, but it isn’t boring either, and the characters are all three-dimensional. From Kate’s shapeshifter quasi-allies, to her father (and her mother, in the flashbacks that feature her), to Kate herself, everyone is well-rounded and interesting and has their own unique motivations. I’d say that this would be the perfect DC property to be adapted directly into a movie, except that the idea of Hollywood greenlighting a film about a lesbian superhero and the meaningful, mainly female relationships she depends on sends me into paroxysms of bitter cry-laughing.
As far as standalone reading goes, your mileage may vary. The plot does refer to events that happened in the previous story arc, but I didn’t find them alienating; I think they strike a good balance. I felt like they explained enough of what had transpired in the earlier arc to keep me in the loop as a new reader without making it tedious for a more seasoned reader. And given that the story makes a point to include those vignettes of Kate’s most important character moments, I think this would be a great introduction to the character for a new reader.
I also really appreciate the interactions between Kate and her father. I think it’s really cool that he acts as her eyes and ears when she’s out in the field, and that he not only supports her as Batwoman but went out of his way to help her create the persona when she decided that was what she wanted to do. Also, even out of context, I’ve always found the scene where she comes out to him touching, and reading it as part of the story it belongs with might have brought a tear to my eye.
I personally came into comics around the time the first hardcover trades of the New 52 were coming out, and the reboot’s trade hardcover was the first Batwoman story I picked up. Because of that, I was spoiled for a few things in Elegy (like Alice’s identity), but it was honestly a breath of fresh air to read this story after being dragged down with the wilting plot of the New 52 ongoing.
If I did have one complaint, it’d be that I’ve never read a comic with Renee Montoya in it (she was one of the many characters of color erased from the DCU post-New 52) and I was kind of hoping that she’d be featured more prominently in this book. However, the main love interest is actually Maggie Sawyer, whom Kate meets for the first time in this story at a fancy benefit dinner in Gotham.