Saturday, October 27

Batwoman #6-11 (Apr-Sep 2012) – Unscrambled

"I'm sorry, dear,
I have a headache...."
The second story arc in the New 52 Batwoman comic, entitled “To Drown the World,” was pretty incomprehensible to me as I “read” the monthly issues. The cover to #6 fairly summed up my reaction most months, until by the end I wasn't even really trying. The problem is that the story, by J. H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman, was for the most part presented in a severely non-sequential manner from which it was well nigh impossible to interpret any kind of coherent chronological narrative. Of the six issues, only issue #11, the climax of the story arc, followed a chronological sequential narrative structure – and even in that issue, largely for effect, one scene appeared out of order. Otherwise, the first five issues, #6-10, looked more like someone had thrown them into a blender then left the top off so that story pieces plastered the walls. Luckily for the reader who would really like to make some sense of the story, each scene, of which there were generally about seven in each issue, each generally no more than three or four pages, always began with a time-stamp (as well as some indication of who the focus character was for the scene), for instance, “Kate's Story. Three Weeks Ago.”

I have now spent 'way too much time with this story over the past couple of days, basically (figuratively) tearing it apart (peeling the pieces off the walls) so that I could put it (them) back together in some comprehensible order. For the benefit of others who might be interested, here are the fruits of my labors.

First, I made a skim pass through the issues in publication order, extracting notes toward re-ordering the narrative, which are given below in the format “Issue#:page#s. Predominant-character time-stamp”. For example, my “for instance” above, “Kate's Story. Three Weeks Ago” in issue #6, pp. 10-11, is noted as “6:10-11. Kate 3wk ago”.:

Draft 1: Based on assumption that, given a time stamp, events happen in the order they appear over the six issues. Therefore something “1wk ago” in issue #7 happens before something “1wk ago” in issue #8. Obvious deviations are noted.

6:8-9. Maro 4mo ago

7:10-12. Maro 2mo ago

6:4-5. Jacob 1mo ago
8:4-7. Maro 1mo ago

6:10-11. Kate 3wk ago
7:6-7. Jacob 3wk ago

7:8-9. Kate 2wk ago
8:15. Jacob 2wk ago
9:8-9. Maro 2wk ago

6:6-7. Maggie 1wk ago
6:12-21. Chase 1wk ago
7:13-15. Maggie 1wk ago
7:16-17. Chase 1wk ago
8:8-9. Kate 1wk ago
8:10-14. Maggie “6nt ago” (but has to be before 8:16-17)
8:16-17. Chase 1wk ago (but has to be after 8:10-14)
9:6-7. Jacob 1wk ago
10:14-17. Maro 1wk ago

9:13-15. Chase 4d ago

9:16-17. Kate 3nt ago – before 9:10-12
9:10-12. Maggie 3nt ago

10:7-8. Jacob 35h ago
10:13. Kate 28h ago

10:4-6. Maggie 18h ago
10:9-12. Chase 2h ago

6:1-3. Bw Now
6:22. Bw now
7:1-5. Bw now
7:18-20. Bw now
8:1-3. Bw now
8:18-20. Bw now
9:1-5. Bw now
9:18-20. Bw now
10:1-3. Bw now
10:18-20. Bw now
11:1-5. Bw now
11:6-7. Jacob now
11:10-13. Maro now
11:14-15. Chase now
11:16-17. Bw now
11:8-9. Maggie now + 15m

11:18-19. Kate next day
11:20. Epilogue

I shared this initial map with a colleague who, although even more a fan of this title than I am, agreed that the story as presented made no real sense. He was able to jump on rereading the issues following that map and was finished even before I started, and emailed me immediate feedback that he understood and liked the story now. So I was able to begin my own rereading later yesterday with some assurance that my efforts thus far had not been in vain.

As I read, I made a lot of notes (using the Evernote app on my iPhone, my note-taking app of choice, and using a lot of my own abbreviations that are sometimes “autocorrected” by the iPhone with odd results, but that I have not cleaned up here) which are available below but only if you highlight them.

There were a couple of adjustments to story order that still needed to be made, where the assumption noted above proved not to be the case.

6:8-9. Maro 4mo ago. Maro drowns little girl as part of spell to create the Weeping Woman. Falchion present.Obv before prev arc.

7:10-12. Maro 2mo ago. Maro calls forth Bloody Mary, binds her to self, & sacrif 3 little girls. Killer Croc a henchman.

8:4-7. Maro 1mo ago. M cuts off Rush's L hand, repl w/Ashoth, sentient hook that talks. Must precede 6:4-5.
6:4-5. Jacob 1mo ago. J h/b vis comatose Bette in ICU ev day since she got there, talking to her, rdg frYou Only Live Twice. So Rush wasn't Hook for long before cuttg dn Bette in ish#?.

6:10-11. Kate 3wk ago. A "morning after" with Maggie, another confr re Kate's refus to discuss the past
7:6-7. Jacob 3wk ago. Jacob w/Bette, rambling ab Kate & Beth, culm in Bette's finger brushing his, indic to him she is s/h aware of him.

7:8-9. Kate 2wk ago. Kate & Maggie @ exclus rest for lunch (?), notices Abbott stalking her - confront - Abbott tells of Falchion & Medusa, rival magic, tryg to run Rel of Crime out - Kate sends him away.
8:15. Jacob 2wk ago. Dr Siddhartha resp to Jacob's rept, scoffs but says talking good at least for those not in comas...
9:8-9. Maro 2wk ago. Maro w/KCroc magicly rev Maria the Weepg Woman under pier (where Bw def her some ishes back?), extorts her cont help.

6:6-7. Maggie 1wk ago. Mother of a missing child (fr prev arc ish#1?) vents frust on Maggie, who thinks of own child for whom she was denied custody.
6:12-21. Chase 1wk ago. W/Bw tring to find lead to children, squabbling, Chase tryg to keep her on short leash. Bw learns how eff her DEO issue Bw-armor is - very!
7:13-15. Maggie 1wk ago. M & Harvey & GCPD SWAT confr KCroc & Medusa thugs, whose escape fr decimg some of Abbott's acolytes is enabled by Sune, who is capt by Maggie.
7:16-17. Chase 1wk ago. C outfits Bw w/new tech, gives her mission to snatch Sune fr pris transp to be headed by Maggie.
8:8-9. Kate 1wk ago. Cont of 7:16-17. Kate has taken off mask, being coerced by Chase to use rel w/Maggie to facil mission ... She does.
8:10-14. Maggie “6nt ago” (but has to be before 8:16-17). That night, Bw attacks Bullock's boat which doesn't have Sune - on Maggie's boat - stuns Maggie but accid hits her w/tranq when Maggie n/less jumps her fr behind, to Bw's horror
8:16-17. Chase 1wk ago (but has to be after 8:10-14). GCPD surv has comprom their esc w/Sune, Maggie improvisg, links back up w/Bw&Sune - Bw sucker punches C, decl will never ag hurt Maggie or her people - Sune offers coop for immun.
9:6-7. Jacob 1wk ago. Bette flatlines again, but resusc. What is USMA? [United States Military Academy, or West Point].
10:14-17. Maro 1wk ago. M magicly mutates KCroc into even larger, more fierce monster (w/mumbojumbo & virgin sacrif).

9:13-15. Chase 4d ago. W/Bw&Sune, case Falchion's hideout beneath Goth Harbor, as well as his yacht, on which there's a party tom nt to which Kate h/b inv - C orders K to att w/"gf" & Sune wd be there u/c too.

9:16-17. Kate 3nt ago – before 9:10-12. K & Sune steal away fr party & find plans linkg yacht to h/o.
9:10-12. Maggie 3nt ago. Immed after 9:16-17. M witn K&S ret to party.

10:7-8. Jacob 35h ago. J confesses to comat Bette that loved Beth more than Kate bec of the ways she was unlike him while Kate was too much like him. Int fact that J Kane Jewish [have they ever established these Kanes as related to Martha Kane, Bruce Wayne's mother?].
10:13. Kate 28h ago. Bw obs J still at B's bedside 7h later. Night.

10:4-6. Maggie 18h ago. At child murder victim crime scene w/Gordon. Strain of the long unsolv children case taking toll. G tells her to pretend Vic hers & find perp. M calls dtr altho it's "early."
10:9-12. Chase 2h ago. C&Bw&Sune&DEO attack giant KCroc in subway(?). Bombs. KCroc esc. C stays w/one agent left alive; Bw&Sune foll KCroc tow Falch lair

6:1-3. Bw now. Confr Falch & Hook in u/w lair, Hook attacks her.
6:22. Bw now. Bw ftg Hook.
7:1-5. Bw now. It's only been 4wk since Hook attacked Bette. Tears Hook fr hand - it starts screaming for its body, he transf into Rush whom she'd prom to prot - Falchion prof love for all his monsters as we see WW, Bldy M, & KCroc there too - the monsters of Goth.
7:18-20. Bw now. F holdg children in chains, revels in monsters of GC, wonders what legend will be made of Bw.
8:1-3. Bw now. DEO tech works ag monsters, but F forces her to shut dn by thr children.
8:18-20. Bw now. F's sword dipped in Amaz blood unexp cuts thr Bw costume, but then F is hit by hail of arrows fr Sune, whom F cries 'Traitor'. F bleeds blue.
9:1-5. Bw now. Sune deploys 'borrowed' DEO blkout bombs on F, intends to kill him but feigns submiss to Bw's ban on killg. Incrly flirty.
9:18-20. Bw now. F jumps them in dkness, inj Sune - Bw puts him dn, blindg him. Sune pulls her into kiss.
10:1-3. Bw now. Pushes Sune away - S kills F.
10:18-20. Bw now. Sune revls self as shapeshifter, Maro, "once F's warlock, now his successor."
11:1-5. Bw now. Maro/Sune m/mind of events - orders WW to atk Bw.
11:6-7. Jacob now. As drs talk to Bette's mother abt org don, Jac pleads w/B to come back, puts mask on face, prom to be her new mentor, she wakes up. Of c Bw#0 shows what she's got to look fwd to if he's gonna prep her like he did Kate. She's gonna wish she were dead!
11:10-13. (Bw+)Maro now. Maro leaving w/BM & Hook & children in column of light (Hook has reattached self to Rush) - Chase app, abt to shoot Maro but Bw stops her (why?), shot only wings him - Maro makes it to portal, chgg form, flingg back promise to meet ag at head of an army - lvs WW & Croc to deal w/Bw & Chase
11:14-15. (Bw+)Chase now. Lair floodg, Bw & C desp swim for safety
11:16-17. Bw now. Bw essentially dragging C behind her - Croc chases, alm gets Bw as C breaks surf (overlap w/11:8-9) Maggie pulls C onto boat, C enraged, Bw bks surf & hears end fr afar, vows to self she will get chilr back
11:8-9. Maggie now + 15m. (Dovetails w/11:16-17). Maggie rushing tow rep of massive disturb below GH, calling all units, stopped by Chase strugg ashore, raging abt Bw

11:18-19. Kate next day. W/Maggie, commits to her, opens up box w/her past, refs to Beth as dead sr, Maggie in turn reveals her dtr Jamie to K - lives in Star City w/fr & stepmother
11:20. Epilogue. Maro in wolf form, w/chilr (who seem happy) bef unseen "Mitera" (Mother? Medusa?), decl Bw killed Falchion - Last panel.....

Here are my own random comments and reactions. I'm pretty much in agreement with my colleague. Read in chronological order, the story is at least comprehensible and quite enjoyable. The non-sequential elements actually transcend just this six-issue story arc. The events at the very beginning, “Maro's Story. Four Months Ago,” would seem to me to precede the entirety of the first story arc, in issues #1-5. We get to see the “origin” of the character I'm calling “Hook” (“Scythe” would be a better moniker, actually), before he nearly killed Bette Kane during that story. And, of course, there are still a lot of unanswered questions – but we know that Batwoman is pulling in some “expert” help against monsters like “Medusa” in the story arc that took up in issue #12 – who better than Wonder Woman to help out with a monster from Greek mythology?

But the implication is that the events depicted in nearly a year's worth of Batwoman comics thus far took place in a period of about four months story time. I have no problem with that. “Comic book time” cannot match “real time,” without creating more problems than such an approach would solve for a long-term narrative. But a couple of questions do come to mind: How closely do the various titles of the New 52 line up with this? If the DCnU is overall about four months old at this point in story time, how can Black Canary have met an active Batgirl “one year ago” in Birds of Prey #0 which I just read a few nights ago? There are all kinds of other questions, I'm sure....

The “scrambled” nature of this story extended even to the covers. The images on the covers of this series are generally not reflective of anything specifically in the issue, being more symbolic than depictive, but I was struck by how the cover of #8 would have been very appropriate for issue #10, basically showing another perspective of a scene therein.

But my most important comments based on this experience is this: Comics should not be so hard to follow as were these six issues. There was a good story hidden in there, but I had to tease it out with a lot of grunt work. I'm not going to such lengths for other comics. It's a testament to how much I like the Batwoman title that I'm willing to put this much effort into it, but how many other readers just dropped the book sometime in the last few months in frustration? My advice, for what it's worth: DON'T DO THIS AGAIN. You're not Quinten Tarantino, and stretching out a non-sequential narrative over six months of comics is very different than presenting it in a couple hours of a movie like Pulp Fiction. There were too many pieces and parts, too scrambled, and by the time I got to the last issue in my monthly reading, I was too lost and just didn't care to be confused yet again. And frankly I could very well have never gotten back to spending the time I did the last couple of days, and consequently never really followed the story. That is not the way to keep readers.

As always, just my opinion, for what it's worth.


  1. Wow, I have just read the hard cover trade of the first 6 issues and had problems with that, I dont think I will follow it up with the second.
    My issue with the first is although the art is spectacular it detracts from the story, and I found myself going over and over pages to try and understand what was going on.

    Given your thoughts on the second arc of the book you may well have saved me some money, well not really as I will buy somthing else.

    Fantastic work as always Kent.

  2. Thanks, Rob. Driving away readers was not my intention - I actually really like this series and think it has very well-developed characters, and would hate to see poor sales lead to its demise. But I can well understand people dropping it! That's what I intended to drive home, on the vanishingly slim chance that anyone involved in its creation might happen across this post. As I see it, even the best selling titles really can't afford to be driving away readers.