Comics are often rigorous in their use of panels and page space. The shape the content takes through its panels has changed drastically through out the years, but a certain economic theory of panels has prevailed.
Rucka and Williams have crafted a comic that presses beyond this economy and creates a symphony on page. Even the first page works as a warning, a tuning up.
Opening we see a woman running through a black and white scene. There is nothing outstanding about the page which is a basic 3 panel set up. It is not until we move to the last panel do we get a color: a red bat symbol.
The reader turns the page and an explosion occurs.
Opting out of typical panels, Williams places a broken bat symbol at the top 3/4 of the page. Only inside each piece of the symbol is a different bit of the scene unraveling before the reader. Notice that the bat symbol all pulls your attention down and into the bottom panel which is an action shot of Batwoman kicking towards the reader, or the woman just chased.
It would be easy to say the panels are weird, perhaps even over done. But, this would be to miss some one of the best mysteries in some time. Instead of allowing the mystery to unfold through the dialogue, Williams has opted to develop clues via his panels and character rendering that could be used in an expert class on subtly and elegance in comic books.
If you have never read Batwoman:Elegy I would skip this article because spoilers will persist.
What seems to be a simple crime caper story unravels into one of the most haunting family mysteries this side of Oedipus. When we are first introduced to Alice during Batwoman: Elegy she appears to be another sick psychopath villain. Instead she is vulnerable in her insanity. She is also Kate Kane’s long thought dead twin sister Beth.
Obviously since she has blonde hair cut in a goldilocks style is it not hard to wonder how you never saw the clues of their being sisters. Looking below, if you examine the overall more cartoonish nature to the way Alice is drawn is starkly different than even her cohorts. Also she looks drastically cartoonish next to Batwoman.
If you flip to the pages where Kate Kane is with her father, don’t those pages looking eerily similar to the same style in which Alice is drawn? Williams is adopting a different style in drawing Alice in order to highlight the familial bond to who Batwoman truly is: Kate Kane.
Instead of relying on the usual economy and placement of panels, Williams is employing them as the story. The panels do not just simply move the story, they are as integral to the story as the dialogue and art.
If still in doubt to the overall mastery of Rucka and Williams, below is the ballroom scene. Eight pages that flow like music across the page.
As we notice that the top banner of the page is sheet music, our eyes drop to the panel below and we can notice that the people are also spaced as if notes on the bars of the carpet. The angels acting as the ends to this bar all the while the characters and words are scattered to also reflect the wax and wane of a symphony that is conceivably being played in the background.
The it is that Kate and reader meet Maggie Sawyer which gives way to a beautiful dance scene.
This should have been a boring scene. By all rights dancing scenes are typically dull unless you are a fan of dancing. But Williams is not content to simply show them dancing, Williams is set on bringing it to life. You can see the pair dance across the two pages, the music gliding behind them. To further highlight how the music punctuates the scene, Williams uses the inner circles of musical notes to hold panels. It is an ingenious move that will further draw the reader in with its artistry.
But Williams seems to enjoy the change in style between the scenes of Kat Kane and Batwoman. For Rucka and Williams they seem to have a deeper understanding of the character that comes across in the panels. For instance, readers may notice that Batwoman’s scenes all seem sharper, crisp, and realistic. Where as the Kate Kane scenes all seem to share a certain more comic book appearance.
While many of the pages and panels have given clues, it is perhaps this page that is most revealing of Kate Kane’s story. At the top we are shown Batwoman in his sharp, stylized more real version. We then see her body and scene blend into the scene and body of Alice. If you pull the book away a bit you can see that they are forming a ying yang shape.
While the first reaction is to declare this simply reveals Alice as her arch nemesis, it does more than that. It reveals Alice as Kate’s sister. Alice is a fiction, a reaction to a hard life while Kate is a realization and acceptance of a need to serve. This is also why the scenes as Batwoman have a edge of realism to them that Kate Kane’s scenes do not.
While Batwoman: Elegy is infamous for many reasons, it should be remembered also for its artistic mastery. A combination of script and art that coalesced almost as if a symphony.