Even folks who have never entered a comic store (nary an Atomic Comics or Dragon’s Lair have they patronized) are at least familiar with the character of Batgirl. This is largely thanks to her presence in other Bat-media–cartoons, films, television, etc… But not many people, outside the minerdity of us that still purchase and read actual paper-based comic books, know that there’s also a character called Batwoman. In fact, there’s been a Batwoman since Detective Comics 233 (which was published way back in 1956) I know, can you believe that Detective already had 233 issues by the mid fifties? Dang. I haven’t done anything 233 times. Anyway, her name was Kathy Kane–a loving homage to Batman creator Bob Kane.
Today, I’d like to celebrate the reincarnation of that supremely excellent superheroine.
I should clarify here that I think her current incarnation is the one that’s deserving of the praise. I must confess that I haven’t read many of her 1950’s based exploits.
When Kathy Kane (that’s The Bat-Woman if you’re nasty), first debuted it was due to some shocking allegations made by one Dr. Frederick Wertham. An alarmist who blamed juvenile delinquency on comic books. Violent, sexy, cheap, delicious comic books. I’d like to call his allegations baseless…and for the most part they were…but one of the biggest bones he had to pick with comic book publishers was what he viewed as Batman’s unhealthy homosexual relationship with Robin. I think what Wertham did was wrong wrong wrong and the comic book industry is still reeling from the restrictions that he helped to implement. He’s the senator McCarthy of the publishing world! But, come on–look at this picture. The guy may have had a point. Homosexuality shouldn’t have been scorned or criminalized anyway, but truthfully, Batman did come off a bit gay.
Regardless of whether or not Batman was a chicken-hawk to Robin’s twink, Wertham went on about it that much that DC felt that they HAD to do something to salvage Batman’s reputation. So, they did what most Hollywood agents do, they got him a beard. Kathy Kane, like Bruce Wayne, was a socialite with seemingly endless resources and a penchant for dressing up to punch people. The comics will tell you that she did it all to get Batman’s attention (straight girls are nuts), but I think it was because she was bored. I mean, what else is a rich girl from the 1950’s supposed to do? She has staff to cook and clean, after all, so she’s not needed for chores or domesticity. It was either fight crime or take up drinking. She was a sort of Calamity Jane to Batman’s Wild Bill Hickok…very ‘anything you can do I can do better” in a very flirty way.
One of the best things about the Bat-Woman of olde is that instead of having an androgynous utility belt, she actually lugged around the more feminine utility purse! All of her gadgets were built to look like stuff you’d typically find in a purse, but with a vigilante purpose…like a lipstick that was a telescope, exploding hairnets and crap like that. This was obviously pre-cargo pants days.
At any rate, this saucy character enjoyed both popularity and some romantic attention from Batman until Julius Schwartz, then editor of DC comics decided to tidy up the ‘Bat-Family’ in the mid sixties. He got rid of all the second stringers, like Ace the Bat-Hound, Bat-Mite, and yes, Bat-Woman. She pretty much remained unspoken of until the 1980’s when ALL of the DC Universe decided that they needed to do some spring-cleaning with their wonky continuity. At this point, characters like Batwoman were labeled as being ‘from another alternate universe’ and pretty much frog-marched off the plane of existence.
Skip forward to two confusingly redundant continuity-fixing mega-events later, and we have a REintroduction of the Batwoman character. But, this time…get this…she’s a gay! Seems to be the ultimate justice doesn’t it? Suck it, Frederick Wertham! You don’t know how much my head exploded when I first caught wind that this character was coming back as a homo! Full disclosure time, I’m a massive Bat-fan. I also have a rich Walter Mitty-esque alternate life that runs through my head. Yes, when I was 13, I thought if I just worked a bit harder in my karate classes then I too could become a member of the bat-team (or possibly a ninja turtla), but, like in REAL LIFE! Yes, I practiced jumping off of furniture and landing softly. And yes, I’ve always wanted to carry smoke bombs around with me just in case I needed to make a quick getaway. Do you know what it did to me when I found out her name was going to be Kate? Kate Kane?! My name’s Kate! Granted, she’s a Katherine and I’m a Kathleen, but still…OMG, it’s like I really am Batwoman! Plus, I dated a girl named Vicki once! Batman dated Vicki Vale! Aaaaah! Crisis in Deluded Woman-child Brain Matter! I hope she gets a cool motorcycle.
The Batwoman of today is still a rich girl, like she was in her former incarnation (her stepmother is extremely wealthy). Why don’t all socialites fight crime? The rest of her back story is thus: Basically, she grew up a military brat. In early childhood she had to watch as her mother and twin sister were executed in a botched kidnapping. Her father, a colonel, had tried to rescue them. She was sent to a military academy but was kicked out after refusing to lie about a romantic relationship she was having with another female pupil. After fighting off a mugger, she witnesses Batman swoop in to help at the last-minute and is awestruck as he just as quickly vanishes into Gotham’s nighttime skyline. So, she does what ALL good socialites should do, she steals high-tech military equipment and starts fighting crime on her own. Her Dad, no dummy, quickly learns what she’s doing and agrees to help her in her missions (advising and providing further training and such).
Anyway, flash forward to almost two years later and the character is sooo popular that she’s going to get her own series. More exciting than that, Greg Rucka, who pretty much gave birth to her is going to continue writing her and the art will continue to be supplied by one of today’s most celebrated pencillers, JH Williams III. Pop open the champagne and throw the confetti! Whoop whoop! Let the parade begin! A lead lesbian character in one of the big two publishers? Free at last, we’re free at last!
And then, all of a sudden, it wasn’t happening anymore. Greg Rucka had some disagreement with whosey whatsey or needed to do another book or focus on his own creator-owned characters or something and for the last few weeks, I’ve been left to grieve what could have been.
The timing of this gushing write-up is due to the fact that I’ve recently learned that this character, who was created in the fifties, then shelved by editors that were sweeping unessential bat-characters under the rug, then erased from continuity, then revived in a new form, then almost lost to us again, is still alive! JH Williams III has, heroically, stepped up to the plate and agreed to write as well as pencil Batwoman’s solo title.
Speaking honestly, I am trying to lower my expectations for this book, just a wee teeny tiny little bit because right now they are unrealistically high. Greg Rucka is such a terrific comic scripter that I don’t know if Williams III will be able to reach the same caliber in his storytelling. It’s like taking the next lap in the pool after Michael Phelps has gone. But! There are a handful of pencillers that have been able to do both the drawing and the writing successfully in the past: Alan Davis for one. Plus, he’s going to get a bit of help from writer W. Haden Blackman AND penciller Amy Reeder when he needs it. So, I think all in all, she’ll be in good hands. Williams III certainly has respect for the character (he did get rid of those ridiculous high heels that she debuted in during his recent work on Detective–a good move.) What follows is an excerpt from a NEWSARAMA interview:
Newsarama: Back to Batwoman’s costume – as many folks have noticed – you took her heels away. While female readers are certainly thanking you, where did this decision come in at?
JH Williams: This falls into what I mentioned above about the “hokiness” factor. Heels are fine and all in the right context but that didn’t fit the context that Greg and I wanted for this character. It was also important to us to present a character that would appeal to both men and women. I don’t think the previous aspect of her really did that. It weakened her in terms of how much you could believe in her. It was not changed to dampen her sexiness in way, but rather for her to have a different kind of sexiness. A tough as nails attitude that anyone could believe in, but no one in their right mind is going to jump from rooftops with agility wearing high heels.
Here’s the interview in its entirety if you’re interested: Newsarama.
JH Williams II is no chump. The team also promises to continue focussing on her fascinating back story and expanding her rogues gallery as well as maintaining the intriguing balance of light and dark within the character. I won’t give anything away for folks who may wish to chase up the last story arc in Detective Comics, but the introduction of her first rogue was definitely worthy. Alice speaks only in Lewis Carroll quotes (fitting tidily into the Bat-Universe of villains).
Further mirroring Bruce Wayne, the character has already had the figurative snot beaten out of her and lived to tell about it. Whilst Batman may have had his spine broken by Bane, Batwoman has been stabbed in the heart by a cult hell-bent on sacrificing her to the God of crime. Badass! (Although, she might want to work on keeping those defensive hands up whilst engaging in the fisticuffs).
For further commentary on the lesbians of Gotham, check out an article that wrote up for Prism Comics recently. Prism Renee Montoya, the current face behind the mask of The Question, is an ex-girlfriend of Batwoman. Dyke drama! I’m just loving the mainstream success of this character. Sure, lots of idiots have protested her sexuality, but just as many folks have been way more than cool and were just as disappointed as I was when the Batwoman title was momentarily without a future. The only way that Kate Kane/Batwoman could possibly be any more awesomely gay is if someone put images of her (and of Batgirl too) in a photo montage with “You Were Always On My Mind” by The Pet Shop Boys as the backing track on YouTube. Oh, look! Unbelievably, someone has actually done that! Enjoy: