Review: BATWOMAN #21

BATWOMAN #21
Written by J.H. Williams and W. Haden Blackman
Art by Francesco Francavilla and Todd Klein
Release Date: June 19, 2013

BW_Cv21_tw64tsuhi4_Batwoman reaches its third interlude (following similar stories from #0 and #15), this time focusing on Killer Croc in the aftermath of his transformation by Medusa in the last story arc. Waylon Jones, the man with the scaly skin and crocodile features, is sent on a mission by the remaining cult of crime, and his future happiness and security depends on its successful outcome. He counted on Batwoman’s interference, but not her partners…

Williams and Blackman deliver yet another poignant one-shot that delves deep into the psyche of one of the series mainstays, although this time focusing not on Kate or her lover, but one of her antagonists. It’s been a very long time since any writer portrayed Killer Croc with the humanity behind his grotesque appearance with which he was first depicted — perhaps as far back as thirty years ago. Croc, repeatedly self-referenced by his birth name Waylon Jones, becomes much more of a tragic figure than run-of-the-mill monster, capturing a bit of that old school pathos that used to run through monster movies of the black-and-white era. It’s a perfect analogy for the type of writing this book frequently employs, a darker, more psychological feel to so many modern super-hero crash-bang fantasies and big budget action epics. No character here feels two-dimensional, least of all Waylon and his newfound lover, and the writers transform him from stock monster to a deep hero of his own narrative in the span of only 20 pages.

Francavilla was clearly the perfect choice to come in and illustrate this moment, as his style — so frequently engaged of late in pulp reenactments on the comic page — lends the precise style and tenor that this tale needs to elevate Killer Croc to the level of a Frankenstein’s Monster or Phantom of the Opera. His layouts mirror Williams’ style from previous issues sufficiently without losing what makes Francavilla’s clean, toned renderings so unique. Francavilla may not exhibit the detail work that previous art teams have presented, but where he excels beyond measure is in his ability to tell the story in feeling, not just line. Tinted space between the scale-shaped panels, shifting Croc’s face ever so slightly from humanesque to monstrous and back again, the juxtaposition of warm and cool palettes — all combine to make a magnificent story-telling experience that lends itself to frequent and leisurely viewing. It’s worth noting too that letterer Todd Klein, always an exceptional talent in his own right, just utterly nails the perfect mood for the narration. It’s a small thing, perhaps, but so critical to complete the picture of the perfectly executed comic story.

Ultimately, the story turns to Batwoman and her fiancée Maggie Sawyer, who is treated under Williams and Blackman’s pen as every bit Kate’s partner and equal — moreso perhaps than somewhat wedged in Hawkfire, Kate’s erstwhile street sidekick and cousin. Maggie’s presence in the series has been a welcome stable balance to Batwoman’s own determined recklessness, and continues here to be the one who thinks decisively, but doesn’t leap headlong into danger. She’s the control to Kate’s wild, but dark abandon, and only adds another layer of satisfaction to the already fascinating character piece of the monthly ongoing.

As a single issue, Batwoman #21 stands as one of the most sophisticated of the series to date, and is by far an exceptional example of what is still possible to achieve in the super-hero genre today that’s fresh, challenging and still satisfying to all types of readers. There’s not a creator-owned or off-beat title this series next to which this issue would wither, and that’s a significant achievement for all the creators involved. Kudos.

Verdict: 10/10

 

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