As much as I can’t believe it, 2021 marks the ten year anniversary of the DC Comics publishing initiative known as The New 52. For a variety of reasons, DC made a clean break from the previous continuity by blowing it up and starting it all over from scratch — except when they didn’t. Over the course of a year, I’m going to go back and re-read every single debut issue from The New 52 line-up to see how much it changes things from the way they were before, how much of this new status quo stuck around and just how well the comic holds up ten years later.
Batwoman #1 was an incredibly anticipated comic when it finally released in September 2011. The character had debuted five years earlier in 52 and had her own starring role in Detective Comics in 2009, but DC promised a Batwoman series would follow shortly afterwards. It didn’t. The first sign of Batwoman came in late-2010 with the release of Batwoman #0 which recapped the events of the Detective Comics story from Batman’s perspective as he investigated the identity of the new hero, but then nothing for nearly a year, until finally with the dawn of a new DC Universe, Batwoman finally got an ongoing solo series.
Batwoman #1 is written by J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman and I mean no disrespect to either of them as writers because it’s a very engaging story and we’ll talk about it later, but it is Williams’ art that is the absolute star of this issue. Williams first came to prominence in comics with work on cult-favourite titles like Chase before cementing his place as an industry titan on Promethea with Alan Moore and later collaborating with Grant Morrison on Seven Soldiers and Batman. Williams had drawn the aforementioned Detective Comics story written by Greg Rucka but Batwoman was his first time taking over writing and art duties and to no-one’s surprise it remains one of the most beautiful comics of The New 52 era.
As an artist, Williams is known for innovative layouts and the ability to seamlessly incorporate different artistic styles within one page or even one panel and he’s someone that takes charge of a page in a way few artists are able to do. It’s only to be expected that his artwork levels up considerably when co-writing the story as well and there’s a synergy between the writing and the art that even the greatest of writer/artist teams would struggle to achieve.
The double-page spreads in Batwoman #1 are masterfully structured and despite how much is going on and the ways the art style and layouts interrupt each other, there’s a clarity of storytelling in every single detail that makes it impossible to not follow. Additionally, Dave Stewart deserves way more credit than he’s ever received for helping establish and build the feel of a Batwoman comic. His bright, flat colors pop in the civilian Kate scenes while his lucious and moody palette compliments Williams’ art perfectly during the superhero sequences. One small issue I have with reading it in 2021 is that reading double-page spreads can be somewhat of a frustrating experience on a tablet. It’s not the end of the world and it doesn’t affect the comic, but it does interrupt the immersion having to switch between reading in portrait and landscape mode.
In many ways, Batwoman #1 is several different comics at once and Williams and Stewart’s art does the heavy lifting at establishing which comic you’re reading at any moment. It’s not just Batwoman’s story, it’s Bette’s and it’s Maggie’s and it’s Cameron Chase’s story as well and the shifts in art whether subtle or overt are part of the storytelling on display. Batwoman is a comic about how lives intersect and overlap, which you can see displayed literally as panels from Maggie Sawyer’s interview with the parents of missing children literally overlap with Batwoman’s sequence where she tries to save them. The most interesting use of this, at least to me, is the short suiting-up sequence featuring Kate and Bette as the comic slowly shifts from a rigid structure with panels and gutters to a free flowing double page spread that is Batwoman’s short-hand for “superhero stuff.”
The actual story of Batwoman #1 builds on the previous events of Kate Kane’s life but not in a way that’s overly alienating to anyone that’s coming in cold without reading those stories first hand. Luckily, Batwoman was mostly unharmed by the change in status quo brought about by The New 52, as long as you don’t think too hard about where 52 fits into everything. One thing I do really like about this volume of Batwoman is that it sets up Kate as the Bat-Family member who deals with supernatural threats, with her first “villain” being a take on the Mexican legend of La Llorona or The Weeping Woman. It ties in nicely to Kate’s already established history with The Religion of Crime and gives her a niche in Gotham that sets her apart from everyone else.
Batwoman #1 serves as a great introduction to the character, her supporting cast and her mission in Gotham City and served as jumping off point for one of the best runs of the initial New 52 era. Unfortunately, the run was hobbled at the last stretch when DC refused to allow Kate Kane and Maggie Sawyer tie the knot due to a mandate against superheroes getting married. This restriction resulted in Blackman and Williams walking away from the title at the end of the “This Blood Is Thick” arc with Batwoman #26 but DC scrapped the end of their run, with their final issue being #24.
Marc Andreyko took over with Batwoman #25 and tied up “This Blood Is Thick” in Batwoman Annual #1 but it unfortunately cast a pall over both the end of Williams/Blackman’s run and the start of Andreyko’s run. Andreyko had previously written Manhunter for DC Comics which featured characters and concepts that appeared in Batwoman, like Cameron Chase, Director Bones and the DEO. I can only speak for myself, but I actually stopped reading DC Comics for a year because of this; not really because of the marriage thing but because DC refused to allow Blackman and Williams to finish the story that I had invested time and money into seeing play out.
It’s a shame that the end of the run casts a shadow on everything else because Batwoman #1 is a stunning debut issue in every sense of the word and one that I absolutely recommend going back to check out if you missed out on it ten years ago. Not only was it groundbreaking in terms of LGBTQ+ representation, but it’s just a damn good superhero comic that sets itself apart from the five or six other Bat-titles on the stands at the same time. In terms of the comics I’ve covered so far, Batwoman #1 is up there with Action Comics #1 right at the top of the list and I just know I’ll be begging for a comic this good when I start to get into the dregs of The New 52 down the line.