Scarecrow is the star of this issue of Marguerite Bennett’s Batwoman, “Stay High”. And Prime continues to represent a nadir of character development and interest in my personal book of “failed mission sidekicks”. The two points together make for a bit of an uneven issue, but I’m going to say it falls well on the side of win for both the extent of Scarecrow’s terror-inducing Wonderland as well as Fernando Blanco’s rendering of said Wonderland.
Batwoman and Colony Prime have been lobbed into a virtual nightmare created by the infamous Doctor Crane with the intent of challenging them both physically and psychologically. Last issue I feel like we focused more on Kate’s issues whereas this issue Prime’s problems take precedent. Unfortunately, I feel like I don’t really care about Prime’s problems: he’s got a wife and child who were basically “fridged” to try to give him some kind of emotional complexity, but it’s honestly hard to care about these people and the whole “lost his baby daughter” thing feels sort of run-of-the-mill on the horror scale these days.
And yes, it honestly feels a little disturbing to say that the dead kid does absolutely nothing for me in terms of empathizing with Prime, but I also feel like the way it’s handled in this book is 9/10ths cliché and therefore regrettably dismissable.
Unlike monster Crane, who is terrifying as heck!
The pacing here is finally up to a good clip. There are some lengthy conversations, but nine-panel layouts actually help keep it moving and prevent the problem of large panel bubble overload. And even though I think Prime is a boring as a sidekick, the fact that they are trying to actively work out a solution to their dilemma mostly keeps this from sliding into long reminiscences and kvetchy self-pity (which it could easily do, if not careful).
We’re also making progress in the story rather than just having characters muddling about their circumstances. Together Batwoman and Prime are working out connections and we’re seeing more overt clues in the battles they have to fight (in terms of context). The closing moments are predictable but satisfying and again, the artwork helps to escalate the dramatic tension in a delightful way. I am kind of “done” with Wonderland though, so I hope this phase of the story is going to wrap up in the next issue. It just feels so far like it’s taken us too long to get to where things are starting to pay off.
Nothing is quite what it seems and all of it unseemly
Fernando Blanco’s work feels like it gets better and better with each issue, though certainly this particular book gave him so much more to work with than the last ones. I feels like John Rauch’s colors are less inspired, however, and though the muted, slightly rotten palette works in some areas, it’s definitely less interesting in the environment: the backgrounds just feel like faded mush to me, and Batwoman’s costume stands out starkly against everything: pulling focus in every panel, even when she shouldn’t’ be the central element.
It doesn’t help that in addition to just being a really boring character, Prime also has the most boring costume ever. At one point Batwoman “rescues” his helmet in a fight with giant arachnid-Crane. When he puts it on, the last vestiges of anything remotely interesting about him go right out the window. He just becomes a flat, faceless slate of grey armor. It’s absolutely apropos–only I don’t think that it’s intentional.
- You love these kinds of living nightmares full of monstrosities.
- You’ve been waiting for this story to gain some serious traction!
This has been the best issue of the current arc so far. A lot of that is due to the infinitely wonderful and macabre Scarecrow who brings his full bag of tricks into play with these lab-rat captives. The way Batwoman and Prime start to figure out how to navigate the virtual world they’re trapped in feels a little facile, but it’s entertaining to watch them work out the problems of battling their own physical and psychological nightmares. Artist Fernando Blanco especially shines throughout with both grim renderings of strange beasts as well as interesting wefts and warps on this world that make it feel gratifyingly unbalanced and off-kilter. We took a long and seemingly circuitous path to get here, but the journey appears to be panning out!