BATWOMAN ANNUAL #1 (Marc Andreyko, Trevor McCarthy) is a study in compromise.
The legendary team of J.H. Williams and W. Hayden Blackman has cast a long shadow over Andreyko’s run, since the day they violently broke from DC after one editorial mandate too many— the men upstairs had forbidden Batwoman and Gotham Detective Maggie Sawyer to wed. Williams and Blackman made clear and public their intentions to leave BATWOMAN after finishing their current story arc at the time. Unfortunately, DC dismissed them before that could happen, and we left Williams and Blackman’s Kate Kane suspended in a climactic battle with Batman at the end of BATWOMAN #24.
When Andreyko began his tenure, gone was the fight with Batman. Gone was Batwoman’s sister, father, Director Bones, and practically all of Kate’s supporting cast. Understandably, Andreyko wanted a fresh start, to tell his own stories.
But, as Batwoman’s pre-Flashpoint flame Renee Montoya can attest, some questions demand to be answered. Months later, here we are at BATWOMAN ANNUAL #1, where Andreyko finally picks up where the old guard was tragically forced to leave off.
First of all, it’s immediately clear how much reverence Andreyko holds for his predecessors. One gets the feeling that this finale was delayed in part so Andreyko could muster up a satisfying conclusion, and he admirably attempts to address each hanging point in the 25 issues which preceded him in the New 52. You can tell he really cares about not only Williams and Blackman, but their devoted readers. This is a love letter to Batwoman’s history at least as much as it is good housekeeping.
Even in another writer’s words, it feels good to spend time with beloved characters again. Jacob Kane has been one of my favorite dads in the DC Universe, and if you’ve been following BATWOMAN, he’s one of yours, too. His explosively colorful troop, the “Crows”, were lamentably introduced too late to develop, but each of them gets their time in BATWOMAN ANNUAL #1 to say goodbye to the readers who, in some other universe, would have grown to love them.
But Andreyko has spent the most time with Batwoman and Maggie Sawyer, and it shows. Their scenes are the best in the issue, because Andreyko has gone through months of scripts to discover who they are. If you’ve never read an Andreyko BATWOMAN until now, when you get to their characters, for fleeting moments, it feels like Williams never left.
Fleeting moments aside, though, this is unmistakably one writer covering the work of another. One annual isn’t nearly enough ground to satisfactorily address all the hanging threads of Williams’ run— so Andreyko settles for addressing them anti-climactically. The Batman fight ends practically as the issue begins, and Director Bones reveals himself to be an entirely implausible part of the Kane family’s past. Andreyko does his best to make Bones fit in with a staggering admission of Jacob Kane’s in a previous Williams issue, but it doesn’t quite stick.
And what becomes of Jacob, Batwoman’s loving and supportive father, and Beth, her long-lost, sometimes dead, sometimes super-villainous twin sister? Their exit from the future of Andreyko’s run is hilarious in its inelegance. Without spoilers: Remember that Simpsons episode which ends with an unpopular Itchy and Scratchy character going back to his home planet, forever? This is barely less ridiculous.
But Williams and Blackman weren’t legendary for their story telling skills, competent as they were. The true hallmark of their run was the art. Trevor McCarthy is an admirable comic artist. He would be welcome on any title in the DC Universe, and perhaps short of the likes of Francis Manapul, could probably make it better. But Williams and Blackman are legends. If there’s any justice in the world, their work will be remembered for generations to come, alongside the likes of Ditko and Kirby. McCarthy’s work is certainly serviceable. But when it comes to BATWOMAN, anything short of exceptional is a disappointment.
BATWOMAN ANNUAL #1 is muddled, rushed, and frequently flat. But Andreyko is doing the lord’s work: he’s giving us closure.
Alan Moore’s SWAMP THING is remembered by many as one of the greatest runs in comic book history. People often forget it didn’t begin with a clean break— it began with Alan Moore meticulously and elegantly paying tribute to the team before him by bringing their work to a close. Here, Marc Andreyko attempts the same. While satisfying closure for Williams and Blackman’s run clearly demands more space, this annual is a thoughtful and unbidden gift. And if it weren’t my job to do so, I might not have looked so closely in its mouth.