Batwoman readers have been waiting quite a while for the return of Alice and though she’s demented as ever and gets plenty of page-space this month, issue #14 left me a little underwhelmed.

There aren’t any flashbacks this issue, which is a relief as I think we’re all ready for the story proper to begin. Instead, this issue takes the form of one extended scene, albeit with an omniscient perspective. Because of this, it feels very short indeed. And though there are highlights including a rather graphic death and a couple more dramatic twists in the tale, there are also low points this issue, such as when Kate and Julia decide to have an unnecessary conversation about Batwoman’s jet planes. I’m pretty sure this discussion was a device for showing us something that will be important to the plot later but it made for dull reading and was a bit confusing because the artwork at this point was showing a different vehicle, the Vorpal Blade (which belongs to the Many Arms of Death and is, like Alice herself, named as an allusion to the works of Lewis Carroll).

The issue remains a wordy one even once the aircraft chat is over. Tahani packs a lot of exposition into a fight scene but this is a comic book and we should expect plot and punches to share pages by now. The fight itself is quite satisfying in that the fortunes of both combatants rise and fall. I checked Volume One of Kate’s Rebirth adventures because I couldn’t remember Tahani being as proficient as her on the battlefield but found that the Knife has actually had the upper hand in most of their confrontations so my doubts of the series’ consistency were unfounded (the only problem I did find with the fight is that it appears that Kate gets her left arm broken but moments later it seems to be working fine).

The chief reason I suspect Tahani keeps getting the drop on Kate is that she lets her heart overrule her head. In issue #14 this makes sense as Beth is involved and she’s kind of Kate’s weakness. Still, I can’t help but share Julia’s frustration at Kate for a decision she makes this issue; hasn’t she learned anything in the past year? Though I understand no hero can be flawless, I like to see them grow whereas currently I expect Julia and/or Safiyah will have to come to Kate’s rescue because of her stubborn failure to listen to reason.

My main concern, however, is Alice’s plan. I’ll go into more detail in the spoiler tag below, but I feel it’s a bit of a standard maniacal plot. This makes me concerned for this arc as it’s meant to be the momentous culmination of a year in Kate’s life. We know from solicitations that Batman will show up later in the series as an antagonist but that isn’t very promising either as he and Batwoman must surely share the same goal when it comes to Alice; stopping her and getting her mental help. Therefore, it’s not likely to be a long or interesting conflict. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Spoiler

Alice’s return is a big deal so I expected her attack to be devious and personal. Instead, she releases a load of poisonous bats on Gotham City (not dissimilar to Raptor’s plan with birds in Nightwing #33-34). Though she dresses it up as an attack on Kate, it’s really yet another attack on the citizens of Gotham City, which must surely have the highest mortality rate in America by now. Hopefully this is just Alice’s opening salvo and she has something more interesting in mind for later in the arc.

Speaking of the poisoning plan, Tahani tells Kate that she too is infected with Alice’s concoction. To begin with, I thought she was speaking metaphorically (in the same way she speaks of her relationship with Safiyah) but then she tells Kate that the Many Arms of Death instructed Scarecrow to give her the formula in the ‘Fear and Loathing’ arc. If she’s carrying an infectious disease, shouldn’t Safiyah, Julia, Jacob and Professor Pyg now be dead from exposure to her? If she has to bite someone (like a bat!) for it to work, what was the point of giving it to her? All they’ve achieved is that she now has the disease in a benign form and can synthesize an antidote from her own blood.

Despite the dreadfulness of her plan, I did enjoy seeing Alice again this issue thanks to the ethereal, insane way she speaks and the added complexity of her kinder side still existing. Beth is to Alice as Harvey is to Two-Face and the Ventriloquist is to Scarface; a fair, considerate personality overwhelmed by a dominate, evil side. Beth promises to be intriguing, both as a hostage to Alice and as an exploration of duality (as the caped crusader says in Batman Returns, ‘We’re split, right down the centre.’).

Where Blanco and Rauch thrived in the darkness last month they struggle in the bright lights of the airship Vorpal Blade. With the exception of Tahani, the characters and backdrop seem robbed of their shadows, which makes them appear less realistic; the always pale Alice looks like a paper puppet. Especially later on in the issue, Blanco succeeds in making her look manic though; her eyes get wider and her grin resembles that of the Joker. There are some trippy, striking visuals on a spread featuring large animal representations of characters in Kate’s life surrounded by floating DNA strands and bacteria. The perspective work in this scene is amazing: unless it’s created by a computer, I can’t work out how it’s done. There’s also a magnificently detailed and warped shot of Gotham City at the climax of the issue and I’d be remiss for not mentioning Deron Bennett’s creepy lettering, as demonstrated in the image below.

Recommended if…

  • You’re done with flashbacks and are ready for some hostilities and mayhem!
  • You want to know what Alice has in store for Gotham.
  • You like your action with a side of exposition (don’t they ever get out of breath?).

Overall: Though it’s a slightly lacklustre issue, it’s fun to see Alice again. The set-up isn’t promising but maybe I should have more faith in Bennett; she’s a talented writer and it’s perfectly possible she’ll land an excellent conclusion to the arc in issues #15 and 16.

SCORE: 6/10