Batwoman relaunches for the Rebirth era with first arc The Many Hands of Death.
Spinning out of the events of Detective Comics, Batwoman travels the world to track down rogue doses of Monster Venom, with Julia Pennyworth along as her technical support/Batman-appointed minder. The trail leads to Coryana, a small Mediterranean island that’s a notorious outlaw haven. Kate Kane spent a “lost year” on Coryana, where she had a romance with the beautiful Safiyah, who kept the fragile peace on the island. Batwoman runs afoul of the titular terrorist organization and their agent, Knife, with whom she has a tangled past. Batwoman allies with disreputable old acquaintances on Coryana in a bold confrontation with her enemies. Additional stories flash back to Kate and Safiyah’s romance and flash forward several years, where Batwoman prepares to do battle with a new Batman, one who’s become the dictator of a militarized Gotham City.
Marguerite Bennett joins with Detective Comics scribe James Tynion IV to write this new Batwoman run and the duo gets things off to a decent start. Kate Kane remains one of the more compelling creations of the past twenty or so years and her return to DC’s forefront is welcome. The characterization of this arc is strong, showing off the more mercurial aspects of Kate’s personality that differentiate her from her more famous cousin. The writers reference the various traumas that shaped Kate and put her onto the path to becoming Batwoman, but don’t hit that too hard. Bennett and Tynion do a nice job of playing Kate off of Julia and the thematic resonance of a Pennyworth supporting a Bat-hero is a nice touch.
Bennett and Tynion do some world building for Batwoman, expanding her rogues gallery and supporting cast with The Many Arms of Death, Knife, Safiyah and Coryana, referencing classic Bat-touchstones that tie Kate’s story into the larger Bat-universe while giving the story room to roam on its own. Delving into Kate’s unique past is a good idea, but the dual timeline narrative can be a bit cumbersome at points. The flashback issue is a pleasant, albeit unessential, diversion, while the flash forward foreshadows events unfolding in Detective Comics; forward glimpses are always unreliable in comics, so devoting an entire issue to a future that may or may not happen someday is an odd use of valuable storytelling space, but again, not unentertaining.
Drafting the great Steve Epting for the opening arc was a strong bonus for fans. The artist’s “scratchy meets realism” approach is always welcome. He keeps the action moving, even infusing the slower parts of the story with some interest, via shrewd page designs and panel constructions. He gives the appropriate “a pirate’s life for me” feel to the action and effectively uses perspective to keep the reader slightly off balance, in a good way. Colorist Jeremy Cox is an effective partner for Epting, giving the proceedings the muted, minor key notes that serve the tenor of the plot. The only downside is that the series couldn’t hold onto Epting beyond the inaugural arc. Stephanie Hans steps in for the flashback installment, using dreamy, water color-inspired visuals that blur the edges and produce the intended shimmer and fade. After Epting and Hans, the cleaner, more conventional approach of Renato Arlem for the flash forward winds up feeling like the outlier.
The Many Arms of Death isn’t a homerun, but it does an effective job of re-establishing Batwoman as a solo attraction, distinct from her ongoing role in the Detective Comics cast, and creates interest for the character going forward.