As “To Drown the World” comes to its visually stylish conclusion, some — but not all — of the plot threads are tied up, maintaining a central mystery to lure us into the next arc.
Written by J.H. Williams III & W. Haden Blackman
Illustrated by Trevor McCarthy
– The conclusion of “TO DROWN THE WORLD”!
– BATWOMAN, CHASE, and the D.E.O. battle Gotham City’s URBAN LEGENDS in hope of finding the missing children.
“Writing for the trade.” I’m not sure if that’s a term of disparagement or not. Surely it’s not a bad thing to keep the trade in mind when putting together a series, making sure that the story works on a macro as well as a micro scale. But then, if a series doesn’t hang together unless you read it all at once, you might say it’s doing the single-issue format an injustice by failing to bait and engage the reader according to the usual rhythms.
I wouldn’t go so far as to proclaim the latter about the second arc of “Batwoman”, but re-reading the series in preparation for this review I felt like I was taking in an entirely different story from what I had encountered in the single issues. The character arcs — and this is a character-driven series — are just that big, relying and building on plot detail after plot detail until you find, as is the case at the end of this arc, that it’s all amounted to a complex and satisfying tale. That said, the issue-by-issue experience does suffer, particularly when (as is the case in this issue) the writing doesn’t always hold up.
This issue picks up at Falchion’s underwater lair, where Sune — a member of the Medusa crime organization who had agreed to help Batwoman and the D.E.O. — is revealed to be Maro, the mysterious figure who orchestrated the La Llorona phenomenon of the first arc. A shapeshifter who now plans to take over Medusa, Maro is able to turn folklore into reality by harnessing the power of people’s beliefs. At this issue’s end he plans to take over Gotham with the help of his mysterious “mother” — and she has welcomed the kidnapped children of Gotham with open (scaly) arms…
Meanwhile, Colonel Kane watches at Bette’s bedside; near-fatally wounded by one of Falchion’s minions, she’s now in a coma, and the doctors are contemplating cutting off life support. This, I’m afraid, is the moment where the issue’s writing shows its seams. In a bathetic moment that mars an otherwise strong issue, Colonel Kane acually wakes her up from the coma by begging her to “help herself”. To be fair, the implication seems to be that he’s spent these last few issues working through his emotions by talking to her, and that it’s taken him some time — as well as a turn for the worse in Bette’s condition — for him to come to this magical ultimatum. Still, the “Wake up! You have so much to live for!” cliche is an unforgivable one, especially since Williams and Blackman made a point of subverting it back in #8, when Bette’s doctor reminded the Colonel that nobody’s brain can be jump-started like a car. All and all it’s an awkward way of getting Bette back into the game, even if it did afford us a look at the Colonel’s emotional side for a couple of issues, and it feels like a rushed attempt to wrap up some of the arc’s loose threads.
As for the doings at Falchion’s lair, the turn things have taken feels credible enough. That “Sune” was attempting to manipulate Batwoman isn’t much of a surprise (her obviously feigned inability to understand English in previous issues was indication enough), but her true identity sure is. And since “Batwoman” as a series seems to be keeping to the supernatural side of things, the shapeshifting explanation fits right in. Most importantly, this issue isn’t without emotional payoff, with Kate and Maggie Sawyer’s conversation at the end bringing a real touch of warmth to the conclusion of this arc. Maggie’s secret — nicely foreshadowed in early issues — highlights the discrimination that she has faced as a lesbian mother, adding a hint of compelling backstory to an already well-rounded character. And that Kate is finally revealing something of her own past and talking about her father gestures toward the important character growth that has slowly — very slowly — been occurring over the course of previous issues.Continued below
Trevor McCarthy’s art, while it doesn’t hit the same highs as J. H. Williams’s work during the first arc, is clean and compelling throughout, and it hits all the right emotional notes — particularly in the conversation just mentioned. When Kate asks about the fate of Maggie’s daughter, and in context it’s obvious Kate’s assuming she died, her reluctant, half-embarrassed wince is remarkable for being just the kind of awkward moment you see between couples who are early in a relationship. McCarthy also lends the action sequences some flair by means of some unconventionally laid out double-page spreads. These make a grand visual impression while still guiding the reader’s eyes through the sequence of events. The best example of this in this issue is an underwater scene, where Batwoman and Chase make their escape from Falchion’s lair. The panels — set off from one another by watery wobbles of ink — sell the sequence of events as disorienting and ultra-slow, and jump back into crisp differentiation as Chase and Batwoman reach the surface. It looks like J.H. Williams will be back on board for art in the coming arc, and while it’s definitely his work that defines the Batwoman aesthetic, Trevor McCarthy’s work — nicely exhibited here — has merit aplenty of its own.
At the end of this issue we’re no closer to getting the kidnapped kids back, and this might be frustrating for readers who were expecting more closure — particularly since these kids have been missing since issue one. But we’ve been getting a pretty nice look at the supernatural side of Gotham, in a series that uses a slightly slower pace to sell the underlying motivations of its characters, and the balance achieved between the campier antics and the emotional dramas is solid. “Batwoman” is still going strong, and with the added punch of J.H. Williams’s art future issues should be worth a look.
Final Verdict: 7.5 — Buy… or wait for the trade.