“Batwoman” is easily the most beautiful book in DC’s entire lineup. If you love comics more for the art than for the story then you would be a fool to not buy “Batwoman Vol. 1: Hydrology”, it’s as simple as that. J.H. Williams and Dave Stewart take special care to make every panel a memorable work of art that any fan would love to have blown up and framed on their wall. There are so many different styles used here, the panel layouts are highly stylized in wonderfully creative ways, and for an added touch all of the women of this book are illustrated and colored differently to reflect their personality and role in the story. However, as lovely as this book SHOULD look, a complaint I’ve had about all of the hardback New 52 graphic novels rises yet again: tight binding. Much of the impact of a two-page spread is lost into the spine and there are far too many occasions in which speech bubbles or thought boxes are pulled into the spine as well. It’s a shame to see so many gorgeous pages presented in such a frustrating way.
As for the story, you’re getting issues #0-6. Issue #0 was originally published back in January of 2011 so many have likely forgotten about it or never even seen it so it’s great to have it collected here. “Batwoman”, besides Batman showing up in a cameo in one or two issues, feels nothing like a bat-title. This is a book that deals heavily with mysticism and none of its events have any impact on the stories taking place in any of the other numerous bat-books and none of the other bat-books seem to affect “Batwoman”. Even “The Night of the Owls” event didn’t touch Batwoman’s world. And that’s a big part of why I’ve stopped reviewing the monthly issues and have instead moved to doing the graphic novels only. Also, the series reads far, far better in a collected format! Much like “Justice League Vol. 1: Origin” Batwoman’s adventure is a greater, more fluid reading experience when taken in a single sitting.
Beyond a Shadow
What an excellent beginning. I missed this issue when it was first released in January 1st of 2011 and I imagined many others who started reading Batwoman’s adventures with the New 52 reboot overlooked it as well. This is what her New 52 issue #1 should have been and I’m very pleased that they included it here. This was fantastic and if I had to give it any score it would be a 10/10. The whole thing is narrated by Batman who is investigating Kate Kane and if she is indeed Batwoman. It’s a brilliant way of illustrating her connection to the rest of the Batfamily and giving new readers a rundown of her back story. Although you never get that sense of connection to the Gotham of other Bat-titles in the following 5 issues, this chapter was a delight and my favorite part of the whole graphic novel. 10/10!
This is where the real story begins and for those of us who were reading “Batwoman” for the first time in the New 52 without issue #0 “Beyond a Shadow” for a reference, it was all a bit much to take in at first and the first couple of issues of the series featured quite a few elements that were no longer considered canon. See, this series was supposed to start way back in January with issue #0 but when DC new they were going to reboot in September, everything got postponed. Some of these retcons are pretty noticeable (like in issue #2 where entire characters are washed out of the page) but it’s never too distracting. Thankfully you graphic novel readers are getting “Beyond a Shadow” to kick things off! Now, with “Leaching”…it’s not your typical tale of Gotham City crime. It’s about a ghost who is stealing children. It makes for some stunning and creepy visuals throughout the rest of the book, but if you look past how damn pretty it is then I don’t think it’s a very engaging story. In fact, the most fascinating stuff in this entire book actually comes from the day-to-day life of Kate Kane and the rest of the supporting cast! The Batwoman stuff isn’t that intriguing to me, but witnessing the development of her relationships outside of the cape and cowl makes for a great read. I gave this issue a 6/10 because I found the art to be of far greater value than the actual story being told. But again, I can’t stress enough how much more enjoyable of a read it is when issue #1 is part of a greater whole. As a single issue, I’ll stand by that 6/10 but here it’s a piece of something much bigger and better.
A cool opening with x-ray panels mixed into a fight scene to show the kind of damage being dealt is a thrilling way to illustrate the action and pull you into the story. The colors also have a very “bang!” “pow!” Silver Age feel that also works well and shows just how versatile this art team is. But there’s a two-page spread that follows that shows off some of the New 52 retconning and proves how this issue was made before the reboot was ever thought of. Again, seeing Kate Kane fall for the detective who is trying to hunt down Batwoman is really interesting and a weeping ghost that’s abducting children isn’t. I think that if you’re more into the supernatural and you don’t really care about ghosts and goblins showing up in your Batman comics then I think you’ll enjoy this. But for me, seeing super heroes, detectives, and the feds investigate a crime scene filled with dead Minotaurs and squid-men was just too silly for me. I guess it wouldn’t have been if the book wasn’t trying to be so serious about it, but it is and it just seems kind of ridiculous to me and isn’t my cup of tea. I gave it a 5/10.
The weeping woman storyline gets put on the back burner for a bit and we get more of the stuff that I think makes the book great: the strong characters and their strained personal lives. I gave it a 7.5/10 back when it was first published, but like everything else here it works far better in the graphic novel format. Beautiful to look at and a fast read, “Gaiing Stream” is a wonderful and vital chapter of “Hydrology”.
My 2nd most favorite chapter of “Hydrology” and the most tastefully done sex scene of any comic I’ve seen in some time (the folks at Catwoman could learn a thing or two). And the art is so far ahead of any other book out there that it doesn’t even seem fair to compare it to anything else. My only complaint about this book that kept it from getting a 10/10 (I gave it a 9/10) when it was first published was how brief it is. Here, in the graphic novel, it is perfection.
“Hydrology” is really only half of the saga. This chapter starts out silly, and it focuses heavily on the ghost plot that I couldn’t care less about but it is loaded with plenty of other surprises that will leave you excited for what’s to come in the following 5-part sequel titled “To Drown the World”. I gave this a 7.5/10 in my full, monthly review.
I’m always surprised by how what little detail there is to many comic book scripts, but since W. Haden Blackman and the book’s artist J.H. Williams III worked together on writing this book the script is incredibly intricate. Everything is described in staggering detail from the placement of specific panels to the contents within. But it’s not just complex instructions on how to arrange the page, it’s rich prose as well that enhance the imagery that is shown on the opposite page for you to compare and contrast. Also included with bonus goodies is a character design for the character called “The Hook”, and the original design for four of the covers as well as the boathouse set piece. It’s really interesting bonus material but at 6 pages there simply isn’t enough of it.
Alright, so you’re getting the far more attractive hardback quality book. That’s a plus. You’re also getting six books valued at $2.99 a piece (not including tax) so that’s $17.94 worth of comics in a handsome $22.99 package…if you buy it at full price. Amazon has it for $15.63 which is cheaper than buying the floppies and well-worth the price of admission to own such breathtaking art.
The plot is contrived, but the characters are terrific and the art is the very best in comics. Some supplemental material is also included and although it’s quite fascinating, it’s also very limited. “Hydrology” comes in hardback so it’ll look great on your shelf, but the binding is so tight that you lose a bit of the imagery and some of the text to the spine of the book which is a real hindrance on a book that’s so dependent on its illustrations. If you’re already a fan of Batwoman from her “Detective Comics” run, love the supernatural, or you simply want to marvel at some of the most jaw-dropping imagery the medium has to offer then “Batwoman Vol. 1: Hydrology” is a must-buy.