Wednesday, April 6, 2011

E is for Elegy

An elegy is a poem of mourning.

It is also the title of a 2009-2010 story arc of Detective Comics featuring the new Batwoman. In many ways Elegy is Batwoman's origin story,  but it is also the origin story of her arch-enemy and the secret connection they have.

After reading "52" I became a big fan of the new Batwoman.  She was a different character than either Batman or Batgirl.  You knew what motivated them, what caused this new Batwoman to don the cape and cowl?   Elegy tells you what motivates Kate Kane, what drives her and why she has to do what she does.

I'll let you in on a little secret, I don't actually read a lot of comics.  I pick up a collection every now and again, read some things that were popular years ago, or a trade paper-back, but I don't actually follow anything.  I am a bigger DC fan than Marvel by a long shot and I tend to watch any super-hero cartoon, TV show or movie that I can, but monthly comics, I rarely if ever read those.

I picked up Elegy since I was a fan of Batwoman.
I am very glad I did.

Elegy is not a story that could be told with the Batman or even any of the Batgirls.  It had to be Batwoman.

Before I go on I have to mention the artwork.
J. H. Williams III had been lauded for his work on this book, but I am not sure that even those do him justice.
The art work here is another layer of story telling above and beyond the great story by Greg Rucka. There are parallels drawn between the two foes that make you think that we have a rivalry to well, rival that of Batman and the Joker.  But that is the easy stuff to sell because it is so good.  The look on Kate's face when she is dumped by her girlfriend is tangible.  She says she is ok, but her look says so much more.   That is something you never see in the Batman.  Both characters are full of sadness and loss. Kate's though is closer to the surface, not beat down like Bruce has done, or she thinks she has done.  Kate is more vulnerable; not because she is a woman, but because her pain is still real to her, her multiple losses, all the reversals of fate.  She just wants to do the right thing, the honest thing, the just thing, but each time reopens a wound.  Elegy rips her old wounds open and drowns them in salt.

Ok on to the story.  Caution, Spoilers Ahead.

The story is told in flashbacks while the Batwoman is working on a new case.  The Cult of Crime is back in town and the Batman is giving his approval for the Batwoman to take it on her own.  She investigates and only turns up a few clues.
She returns home to where we meet her father, a retired Army officer, is helping her out via two way radio ala Batman Beyond.  Frankly it's a great idea, two heads are better than one.  She works out and has to rush to a breakfast date, only to get the aforementioned dumping.   With the Cult of Crime in town though she can't dwell on that.

We get flashbacks to her life at Westpoint.  She was then an up and coming officer with high marks.  Just past "Ring weekend" the young Kate Kane is brought into the Commandant's office where she is told she is under suspicion of "homosexual activity" and is asked if she wants to deny it, reminded that if she doesn't she will be expelled. Kate recites the Cadet Code of Conduct about not lying nor allowing others to do so. She admits to being gay and is kicked out of the academy.

Let me go back to the art for a second.  Look at the sequence of Kate's face. She is sad, angry and then finally resolved because she knows there is only one right answer the answer is the Truth she can't deny who or what she is.  She is a Westpoint Cadet and they never lie. Neither will she.

For the first time (we think at this point) Kate has no where to go and nothing to do.  She returns home to tell her Army officer father what happened and he tells her he is proud that she stood by her honor and told the truth.  That's it.  Kate struggles a bit.  She doesn't care for her new step-mother at all (we find out her mother was killed, but that is it for now).  A chance meeting with a mugger in the streets though changes that.  She is actually about ready to beat the thug into a bit of pulp, shouting at him "think I'm some victim? I'm a soldier!" till she (or rather the mugger) is rescued by the Batman.

I want to come back to this later.  Rescued is such a loaded word here, but I use it on purpose.  I want to get to why later.

Kate then decides (between tattoo sessions I am guessing) that her new purpose in life is to be a vigilante.   That is till her father discovers.  He helps focus her attention. She trains with people he knows for the next couple of years.  He tells her if she is serious then she is going to war and in war you define your objectives and your winning strategies.  She comes back and her father has decked out their version of the "batcave" with state of the art surveillance, urban combat weapons (but the "Batman Rule" is always in effect) and a new costume done up in red and black, the colors of war in her Jewish faith (I have to take Rucka's word on that one, never heard it before, but it sounds right).  Though she is not happy with the heels on her boots.  In newer parts of the story we see they have been replaced with proper bad guy stomping red combat boots.

More details are discovered with the Cult of Crime.  But frankly at this point those details are only a means to an end.  That end is Alice.  Alice is the new High Madame of Crime and she has a very personal interest in Kate/Batwoman. She is also Joker-level crazy.  This gets to my one real issue with this.  WAY too many bad guys know all about her "Secret Identity" for a character that was introduced as a closeted, lipstick lesbian, everyone seems to know her secrets.  Alice in particular knows a lot of them.

We get up to the final confrontation.  Alice has kidnapped Kate's father and wants to us his knowledge to launch some missiles (I thought he was retired.  Maybe still active??).  So the ruse of fighting Batwoman was just to get to her father. Or was it.  Reading on it seems that was just a ruse to get at Batwoman.  Alice and Kate fight. Kate manages to stab Alice, Alice stabs Kate.  They are over the Gotham river and in a rare lucid moment Alice, no longer talking in 3rd person, tells Kate that "she has our father's eyes". She then falls to her death (seemingly).

Kate goes back to the HQ, her father begging her to stop along the way.  She takes two blood samples, hers and Alice's.  She gets them analyzed and Alice is her twin sister that she had assumed was dead for years.

In one more flashback we see Kate's life when she was a little girl living with her mom, dad and twin sister.  Briefly, she is kidnapped along with her mom and sister by terrorists.  Her father does get an army team in to save her, but shots are fired and her mother and sister are killed.
Kate dedicates her life to service to honor her Army Officer mother and twin.

When Kate gets the confirmation she goes to the Cult of Crime and tells them that if they come for her father again she is going to kill them all.
The story ends with Kate still not talking to her father.


There is so much happening here and I didn't even get into the relationship Kate has with mer step-mother, her dance with Maggie Sawyer, what happened with her and Renee Montoya,  or how Betty "Flamebird" Kane is her cousin.   It has been said before and it is true;  This is not a female Batman.  Kate's Batwoman is also propelled by loss and grief and anger, but they are different.  She built her entire life after her mother's death on the idea that she would be the best officer she could be and serve to honor them.  When that is removed she was lost in a way that Bruce Wayne never was.

When I said before that she was "rescued" I meant it.  She was never in danger of that mugger.  The mugger actually had more to fear from a very capable and very deadly opponent with no outlet what so ever for her aggression, anger  and sense of loss.  The Batman showing up saved her.  Not the man, but what the man stands for. The symbol.  That is why she is the Batwoman and not some other new costumed hero.

The parallels in the art in the book between Alice and Kate are amazing. I am rather disappointed in myself for not guess who Alice was sooner.

I mentioned also that Kate is more vulnerable than Batman is. Again, not because she is a woman, but  because her pain is still so fresh and her choices still weigh on her.  Because of that her heroic actions are greater.  We know she can fail, we know she hurts (and sometime physically given her chest wound from 52 is still not 100% healed) and yet she still goes out there, every night.  The Batman goes out every night because that is what he is.  Kate chooses her life, the ups and the many downs.

Elegy manages to be poignant yet not preachy. Kate certainly is not a perfect character.  She is still brash, has a chip on her shoulder and even with out the Batwoman gig she would still have troubles in her relationships (as seen with Renee). But she is trying and I think that is the reason why her series would do well.

Elegy is the best comic I have read in a very long time.  I like Kate, I like Batwoman and I want her to do well. It would make a great movie.  Maybe when Nolan is done with Batman he can turn his sights to a Batwoman.

You can read more here:


Unknown said...

A fantastic comic and a great post about it.

Martin R. Thomas said...

"I pick up a collection every now and again, read some things that were popular years ago, or a trade paper-back, but I don't actually follow anything. I am a bigger DC fan than Marvel by a long shot and I tend to watch any super-hero cartoon, TV show or movie that I can, but monthly comics, I rarely if ever read those."

You just described me to a "T".