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Art Beyond the Pretty Pictures – J.H. Williams III on Batwoman: Elegy

I first fell in love with J.H. Williams III‘s art with Batwoman: Elegy.

Before that, I read a few issues of the New 52 Batwoman series.  I started at issue #19, which was a terrible jumping-on point.  It was in the middle of an over-arching story.  I had no idea what was going on or who the characters were.  Someone suggested I read Elegy for a better introduction to the characters.  So, I borrowed a copy from the library.

And WOW was it good!Half the credit here goes to Greg Rucka for writing an engaging story and fleshing out my now-favourite superheroine.  The other half goes to Williams and his pretty, pretty pictures.  I bought my own copy at Fan Expo 2013 a few months later.  From that point on, I started to realize how much more Williams puts into his work.

Every time I pull the book from my shelf, I find something new and thoughtful in his art.  I can go on and on about the aesthetics, but what really gets me is his approach to storytelling as an artist.

Even as I write this article, I find something new in Williams' art.  Notice how Batwoman and Alice pose in the same way.  I won't spoil, but I can tell you that's foreshadowing.  (Cover of DC's Batwoman: Elegy by J.H. Williams III)

Notice the poses.  He’s foreshadowing something, but I won’t say what. (Cover of DC’s Batwoman: Elegy, by J.H. Williams III)

 

Every panel matters

Two-page Spread

From DC’s Batwoman: Elegy by J.H. Williams III and Dave Stewart.

First thing you’ll notice is Batwoman’s insignia composed of the bottom four panels.  Williams often combines panels to make art out of the page(s) itself, instead of making the industry’s standard mess of rectangles.  He’s famous for this.

Now, look at the poses and “camera” angles.  Notice how they compliment the symmetry of the spread.  I won’t spoil what happens, but Williams foreshadows a special connection here between Alice (in the white) and Kate (red hair).  Honestly, I only noticed this when I started writing the article.  And that’s what I love about this book.  There’s something new to see every time you crack it open.

Telling the story through style

J.H. Williams III and colourist Dave Stewart switch between styles throughout the book.  Each style represents a different component of main character Kate Kane’s life.

Before Kate became Batwoman, she was a cadet.  She was kicked out of the army for being a lesbian.  (From DC's Batwoman: Elegy by J.H. Williams III and Dave Stewart)

Before Kate became Batwoman, she was a cadet.  Then the army kicked her out of the academy for being a lesbian. (From DC’s Batwoman: Elegy, by J.H. Williams III and Dave Stewart)

Williams and Stewart show Kate’s (relatively) simple pre-Batwoman life with simple style.  They use thick lines, flat colours and traditional, rectangular panels.  Rather than use transitioning to darker colours, they use a strict black to depict shadow.

But when Kate dons her cape and mask, she and her world becomes darker and more intricate.

Batwoman's terrifying smile.  (From DC's Batwoman: Elegy by J.H. Williams III and Dave Stewart)

Batwoman’s terrifying smile. (From DC’s Batwoman: Elegy, by J.H. Williams III and Dave Stewart)

Look at Batwoman’s costume, mouth and skin.  Notice the gradients and the detail.  Notice how colours, rather than black outlines, define the shapes.  Kate’s life as Batwoman is complicated.  Things aren’t as strictly defined as the flat tones in the previous picture.  She encounters many moral greys and in-betweens, “moral gradients” gradients.  Her look reflects her night life.

These styles come together in a flashback.  When Kate meets Batman for the first time, he takes her hand and helps her to her feet.  We see Kate realizing her destiny.

Two worlds meet (From DC's Batwoman: Elegy, by J.H. Williams III and Dave Stewart)

Kate and Batman. (From DC’s Batwoman: Elegy, by J.H. Williams III and Dave Stewart)

Two worlds meet:  Kate’s simple flats and Batman’s complicated gradients.  She learns that she can still serve justice without becoming a soldier.  She can become a bat.

So what happens Kate’s look after this?

Batwoman Tux

From DC’s Batwoman: Elegy, by J.H. Williams III and Dave Stewart

She becomes a hybrid of the two styles.  Williams and Stewart still depict her with flat colours for the most part, but they use different shades to show shadow, rather than jumping from a colour to black.  They define shapes and creases with thin black lines, instead of thick lines or gradients.  Her life has both the simplicities of a citizen, and the complications of a superheroine.  She is both Kate Kane and Batwoman.

 

I probably haven’t spotted everything, but this sums up most of what I noticed so far.  Pretty cool huh?

Have you read Batwoman: Elegy?  What do you think of J.H. Williams III’s art?  Did I spoil too much of the story?  I hope not.  Let me know in the comments below!

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