Is this the big Batwoman finale Marguerite Bennett had planned all along? She’s an excellent writer and the perfect fit for this series which makes me wonder whether it was editorial pressures that forced her to turn out such a lacklustre ending to her Rebirth epic.
A large part of the Rebirth storyline has been the foreshadowing of a big showdown between Batwoman, Safiyah and Tahani. Neither the Knife nor the warlord of Coryana make an appearance in issue #16 and from solicitations, it appears unlikely we’ll see the resolution of their story before the series ends in August.
Instead, a few issues ago it was revealed that the Mother of War that Kate has been chasing is her sister Beth, a.k.a Alice. I previously bemoaned Alice’s dull supervillain plan which was executed in issue #14 and solved with ease in issue #15. Now, at last, she’s making it personal by pitching Kate against her cousin, the Batman.
Batman v Batwoman could be a promising battle if there were lasting consequences and a good reason for them to fight. Unfortunately, the conflict in issue #16 isn’t the result of a long enmity born of the combatants’ opposing views on how to deal with criminals. Because the story has to be resolved in a single issue, Batman is given the alternative motivation of…being a jerk. At the beginning of the issue, Kate tells him that Beth will never heal if she is sent to Arkham because it’s more of a prison than a hospital (a point which should leave us concerned for the many inmates who might have turned their lives around if left in better surroundings). Despite this, and evidence that Beth hasn’t entirely disappeared into her alter ego, the world’s greatest detective decides to fight Kate so he can incarcerate her sister in the infamous asylum. It’s not unusual for Batman to be callous with his family but this unnecessary cruelty feels like an uncharacteristic contrivance.
Kate is treated much more consistently. As with so many issues lately, she spends a lot of time thinking about what a destructive disgrace she is; I know this is intrinsic to Bennett’s Batwoman but I wish she’d forgive herself and move on. At least Kate doesn’t let her low opinion of herself slow her down; she’s strong in deed throughout the issue, rescuing Alice and Batman from each other at times and holding her own against each of them.
A few other matters I feel compelled to address:
- Throughout the issue, Kate builds up her confrontation with Bruce by telling the reader that it marks the end of her good relationship with him. Then, at the end, Batman informs her she’s merely lost another ‘strike’ and can continue on as Batwoman. It’s exactly as anticlimactic as I expected (‘that’s what she said’).
- The argument Kate uses to change Bruce’s mind at the end of the issue is almost the same as the one she tried to use at the beginning of the issue. Why did it work the second time and not the first?
- Kate distracts Bruce with the sound of a gunshot reminiscent of the shots that killed his parents. Though I don’t think that this would really stop him for long, I enjoyed this element as it shows Kate can be a cold-blooded badass with clever contingency plans as well.
- Batwoman believes that Julia summoned Batman and seems to consider this a betrayal. This bothered me because she has no evidence of this (though we know Julia was spying on Kate for Bruce as far back as issue #4) and maybe Julia just thought Kate might need some help? Or maybe Batman saw a huge cloud of plague-ridden bats over Kane Industries and decided to see what was going on?
- Kate concludes that Alice got what she wanted in the end. This doesn’t seem right to me; would the Alice persona really want to be caught and suppressed by Beth receiving medical help again?
Dan Panosian has given the world some amazing artwork over the years but that cover is incredibly ugly! For a start, Batman’s proportions are all over the place and Batwoman appears to be standing on her own cape. It’s not Fernando Blanco’s best issue either; in fact I had to check the credits to make sure it was him because his work here doesn’t compare favourably to previous issues in the series. I do like the use of the incinerated plague bat as a symbol of Kate’s potential loss but Kane Industries is somehow both simultaneously plain and a bizarre mish-mash of architectural styles, while all the other buildings in this issue appear to be made from corrugated cardboard. Alice continues to appear shadowless but this may be purposeful as it lends her an otherworldly quality. At one point, the frames are splayed like a hand of playing cards; a technique that would make sense in a Joker story but seems inappropriate when used here to show Batman delivering a piece of dialogue with an expression that barely changes across the three frames. Finally, Anton Chekov advised that if you see a gun in the first act of a story, it had better be fired in the second; in Batwoman #16, the eponymous hero stands on top of a massive gun turret which is frustratingly never used.
- You never really cared about Safiyah or Julia; you just want to know what happens to Alice.
- You need to complete your Batwoman collection.
- You don’t mind a showdown between icons that has a thin premise and a lot of shots of escalators.
Overall: Even Batman couldn’t save this forgettable arc which started strong but ended with a whimper rather than a bang.