Since its debut, Batwoman has been, I believe purposefully, difficult to categorize. Many might want to make it about the hero’s gender, others about her sexuality. Having a strong female lead, both in terms of physical strength and depth of character, knocks some off their axes. Kate Kane does not fit the traditional, archetypal roles we expect from female characters. She combines the effortless grace of Wonder Woman with the physicality of Batman. Even when, pre-Batwoman, Kane is at her most vulnerable, she is not the helpless damsel in distress, nor is she some stereotype to be categorized, pinned down like a butterfly in a collection. Kate is beautiful, determined, loving, firm in her convictions, and stronger than many give her credit for.
The first five issues of Batwoman: Rebirth follow a dual narrative of Kate’s year lost at sea and her return to the isolated island of Coryana as Batwoman. In each narrative, she searches for something beyond herself, some meaning in the chaos. After being rescued from the sea and having her fractured skull repaired and sealed with literal gold, she slowly grows to admire and love her rescuer, the Lady of the Island, Safiya. Kate sees purpose in the vigilante justice perpetrated by the warlords of the island, all under Safiya’s leadership. Her interference with the Lady and the isolation of the island’s wild paradise upsets Safiya’s lover and bodyguard Tahani who plots her revenge against the interloper she sees as the island’s future downfall.
Meanwhile, in the present, the hunt for terrorists using a chemically-induced giant monster to murder civilians leads Batwoman back to Coryana, tracking an assassin who killed her only chance of finding the mysterious supplier of the drug. While there she must confront her past and her own contributions to the corporate colonization of Coryana, led by the mysterious Kali Corporation. Kali is led by two creepy twins who fill in the “Creepy Twin Bingo” card held by Kate’s partner in Batwoman-ing, Julia Pennyworth. There are a few fun Easter Eggs in the card for fans of creepy twins in film.
While nothing is ultimately resolved in Kate’s successful bid to save the island from being blown to atoms by Kali Corp, it does set the story on track to return, we assume, Safiya to Kate’s life. The issues recap moments in Kate’s history, including her outing at West Point and eventual dismissal for violating the now-defunct “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. When Batwoman first re-premiered in 2006, this event and the openness of her sexuality and relationships was a watershed moment in all of comics. While this part of Kate Kane’s life has been presented in an uneven fashion over the past 11 years, it is a central part of her story and in the forefront of the Rebirth relaunch. Her relationships are part of who she is as a person and as Batwoman.
With everything to unpack in this book, I would be remiss if I didn’t spend a paragraph on the art of Batwoman, especially that of Steve Epting and Stephanie Hans. I absolutely love Epting’s covers, but what struck me most was the style and beauty of the final flashback in issue #5, drawn by Hans. There just aren’t any other mainstream comics that can come close to the style of this book. How many books out there have interior pages that could pass for covers on their own?
I haven’t mentioned issue #6 in this and that’s purposeful. While #1-5 reference Batwoman’s past, #6 deals with a future where Bruce Wayne is dead and the new Batman has turned much of Gotham into a police state controlled by Bat-thugs with rifles. The quality storytelling from Marguerite Bennett and James Tynion IV continues as before, demonstrating Batwoman’s strength and conviction. My quibble, however, is that this issue feels so unrelated to the previous, self-contained story, that I’m not sure it should have been included in the book without some type of connection. It really comes out of nowhere and, while a good story, feels like it could have been put into the next volume, leaving the beautifully told “The Many Arms of Death” as a solid piece.