Following hot on the heels of the 2010 epic ‘Batwoman: Elegy’ comes another majestic masterpiece in modern comic-book storytelling by talented artist/writer JH Williams III, through his fabulous follow up ‘Hydrology’. Williams was almost single-handedly responsible for plucking the long forlorned female Superhero Batwoman out of an imposed limbo with his successful run on her modern reintegration back into the DC Universe.
Williams managed magnificently to breathe new life into a character who had rarely been seen since the 1960’s, captivating the dedicated comic book fan with a newly resurrected member of the Bat-family, who, even though she shares many similar traits with her male counterpart, does indeed still feel a unique and fresh character, this is all thanks to Williams’ almost incomparable talent.
Hydrology collects together issues #0-5 of Kate’s ‘New 52’ run. JH Williams once again stuns us into near silence with his breathtaking artwork, the panel layouts are, as always, astounding, Williams loves to experiment with visually impressive splash pages, these stylistic image choices immerse the reader even further into the tale, with Batwoman effortlessly leaping from the panels themselves, with the beautifully rendered colours also assisting to achieve this overall impressive visual effect.
This tantalising tale finds our curious crimefighter investigating a disturbing case involving the mass disappearance of children across Gotham, which ultimately leads her to the supernatural entity known as La Llarona (The Weeping Woman). Throughout this harrowing investigation, Kate also finds time to re-train her cousin Bette in crime-fighting techniques, with the notion that the one time Superhero (Bette was once known as Flamebird, member of Teen Titans West) could eventually become a valuable aid in her unwavering war on crime.
The poignant parable also finds Kate dealing with dramatic social matters outside of her red and black clad vigilante persona. Her ongoing tangled love life with Detective Sawyer, recent estrangement from her father and unremitting feelings of loss from the tragic events surrounding her twin sister (read Batwoman: Elegy for the full story, fact fans). And just to make life even more complicated for our fiery haired heroine, she is the subject of an intense investigation by Agent Chase of the Department Of Extranormal Investigations, who has vowed to unmask her.
Williams constructs a striking, emotionally compelling and haunting tale that contrasts beautifully between a hardened and capable crimefighter and an emotionally confused young woman, with the visual style juxtaposing between a beautifully bold and effervescent painterly style when Kate becomes the Batwoman, and a simpler rather less embellished (yet no less gorgeous) technique when she is merely Kate Kane. This artistic approach speaks volumes about Kate’s feeling of worth in and out of the Bat suit, the vivid and bright colours during the Batwoman sequences really does emphasise her love of the freedom and anonymity that her alter ego allows her to have, giving her a sense of merit and standing in the world, plus helping to masque and cast aside her real life trauma.
JH Williams III once again shows why he is one of the most sought after artist/writers in the comic book medium. His visual style is almost unmatched, his writing is in equal measures intelligent, haunting and enthralling, realising characters that are both credible yet also otherworldly in their existence. Hypnotic, lavish and addictive, a must buy for fans and newcomers alike.
In 1967, at the behest of the producers of the classically camp sixties Batman show a new Superhero was born, Barbara (Babs) Gordon, better known as the feisty flame haired vigilante – Batgirl!
Bab’s creators – Julius Schwartz, William Dozier, and Carmine Infantino called for a female analogue to the Caped Crusader, who could be simultaneously introduced into both the comics and the popular television series. Technically though, Batgirl wasn’t a new character, she was a variant of the original Bill Finger and Sheldon Moldoff created persona from earlier that decade. The original Batgirl appeared in Batman #139 in April 1961, the niece of Kathy Kane aka Batwoman.
Batwoman and Batgirl were originally created to be romantic interests for Batman and Robin, as well as costumed crime-fighting associates. In 1964, Batman editor of the time Julius Schwartz erased Batwoman, Batgirl (and other supporting characters – Ace the Bathound and Bat-mite) from the timeline on the grounds that the characters were “too silly”. Both Batwoman and her niece Betty (now known as Bette) Kane eventually and triumphantly returned to the DC Comics timeline, with Kate Kane reprising her role as Batwoman (with a few fundamental changes to her character) though Bette returned not as Batgirl, but as Flamebird, a role that had previously been inhabited by several other DC creations that included Jimmy Olsen and Kara Zor-El.
Babs Gordon though has always been seen and celebrated as the Batgirl by her millions of adoring fans, debuting in Detective Comics # 359 in a story entitled “The Million Dollar Debut Of Batgirl” by Gardner Fox and Carmine Infantino. Babs was introduced as the daughter of long time Batman aide – Commissioner James Gordon, she retains a doctorate in library science, is employed as the head of the Gotham City Library and possesses a photographic memory and genius level intellect.
Aside from being a popular recurring character in many DC publications, Babs didn’t get her first starring role until the “Batman Family” comic series in 1975, where she took centre stage alongside other members of the bodacious Bat clan including original Robin, Dick Grayson.
Bab’s continued her well loved run as the masked avenger up until Alan Moore’s Eisner winning one-shot “The Killing Joke“, where, in a controversial sequence of events, she was shot through the spine by the genocidal jester himself, The Joker, ultimately causing paralysis from the waist down, with the paraplegia signalling the end of her crime-fighting career… or did it?
A subsequent storyline by John Ostrander and Kim Yale established Babs in a new role, as the wheelchair bound Oracle. Forming a formidable team of female Superheroes (that includes amongst its members – Black Canary and The Huntress), Babs became a behind the scenes leader and information collator as her Birds of Prey fought crime and corruption on a global scale. During this time two other ongoing versions of Batgirl took over the mantle – Cassandra Cain and then later Stephanie Brown, both had a modicum of success as the character.
In 2011, DC Comics heralded a comic wide reboot of their entire Universe of characters known as “The New 52“, the major revamp followed the “Flashpoint” paradox which brought extensive changes to their classic cadre of characters, including Batgirl/Oracle. Babs was eventually given back the use of her legs after receiving experimental surgery at a South African clinic and through rigorous physical rehabilitation. The decision to allow Babs to regain her mobility was seen by some fans as somewhat of a shame, as she had become one of the few very prominent disabled heroes in comics, but most fans were (myself included here) ecstatic to see the Batgirl prowling the rooftops of Gotham once more.
And so “Happy Birthday Babs” and here’s to another fifty years in your awe inspiring presence, oh and “hey DC Comics, how about some live action love for Babs huh? the only actress who has ever done her justice onscreen was the lovely and very much lamented, Yvonne Craig, I think it’s about time… Batgirl Returned!”