With a sleek hardcover boasting an introduction by Rachel Maddow, Batwoman: Elegy speaks to the inner-geek girl looking for an edgier alternative to Wonder Woman. The new anthology by writer Greg Rucka and artist J.H. Williams maps the origins of Gotham’s female protector, a brazen redhead vigilante named Kate Kane. A kind of Nancy Drew/ Olivia Benson hybrid, Kate occupies her underdog roles with the bold-as-brass attitude that’s de rigueur among the superhero set. We learn Kate’s pre-Batwoman history in fragments: She was once a West Point cadet well on her way to becoming an army officer but bowed out of the service in response to a “don’t ask, don’t tell” allegation.
Williams’ illustrations flare across each page in rangy, splintered sequences, rendering the drama of Batwoman’s escapades with cinematic élan. The novel’s present action shows Kate-as-Batwoman fighting covens of malfeasant underworld types, chiefly “Alice,” a doll-faced villain of Lewis Carroll provenance. Overdrawn both visually and textually, Alice appears in each graphic sequence framed by spiraling red borders, looking like an uncanny cross between Shirley Temple and Marilyn Manson. Her hallucinatory dialogue and absurd costume add to Elegy ’s undeniably campy feel (a side effect that is sometimes grating but mostly satisfying, like watching your favorite old-school horror flick).
Campiness notwithstanding, the drawing power of Batwoman: Elegy -and the reason for Maddow’s stamp of approval-lies in Kate Kane’s continued quest for moral justice in spite of her dismissal from the military. When confronted by the accusing colonel, the gay cadet refuses to lie as a condition of “don’t ask, don’t tell”, reciting her school’s code of honor: “A cadet shall not lie, cheat or steal, nor suffer others to do so.” That a young woman should want to don the Batwoman mask and serve her country even after being told she couldn’t do so on the basis of her sexuality-doesn’t that in itself make her worthy of superhero status?