Women In Comics: Batwoman Relaunched

15 Sep

Batwoman was originally conceived for the worst of reasons. In response to the pressure brought to bear on the comic industry in the early 1950’s, DC comics created Kathy Kane, aka The Bat-Woman, as a female counterpart to and potential love interest for, Batman. Having Batwoman (as her name compressed to fairly quickly) around supposedly defused the “homosexual mystique” around Batman and Robin. It should be noted that this bleak period in Bruce Wayne’s career also featured the first “Bat-Girl” as Kane’s sidekick, the horrific sprite Bat-Mite, and (wait for it) Ace the Bat-Hound. Really.

When Julius Schwartz took over the editorial helm of the Bat-books in 1964, he jettisoned most of the peripheral characters and refocused the books on Batman and Robin as crime-fighters and detectives. Batwoman faded away, popping up a few times over the next forty years as DC continuity re-re-re-booted. After the Crisis on Infinite Earths, she was brought back, totally re-invented.

Katherine “Kate” Kane is a Jewish socialite in Gotham City. She also happens to be a lesbian, a nice twist on the reasons for the original Bat-Woman’s creation. Her Batwoman is a strong character in her own right (not pulling exploding lipsticks and the like from her “utility purse” like her predecessor). In the five years since her debut, she has built a solid fan following and generally positive critical reaction. When DC announced its total recreation of its universe with this fall’s New 52, Batwoman was given her own title for the first time (having featured in Detective Comics most recently). Having seen the many changes served up for Barbara “Batgirl” Gordon, how does Batwoman fare?

Amazingly well, actually. Perhaps because she lacks the lengthy history and iconic status of some of the other characters, the reinvention of Kate Kane seems pretty minimal. The first issue does a nice job of (re)introducing the character and her supporting cast while introducing an intriguing (and creepy) new plot. The art is breathtaking. From a purely artistic standpoint, this issue is worth a look. J.H. Williams III serves as co-author and penciller and does an outstanding job of stretching what the page can do without overwhelming the reader.

Batwoman also remains a lesbian in this reinvented DC Universe. Given some of the less-than-delightful changes some of the female characters have experienced (the ridiculously skimpy new costume for Starfire and the apparent radical weight reduction of Amanda Waller, for example), this is a very good thing. More importantly, her sexual orientation is treated as a simple fact rather than a bludgeon. That’s true integration and good storytelling. I’ve had a good look at about half of the new DC titles so far, and Batwoman stands cowl and shoulders above the rest. Let’s hope DC can keep up the good work on this surprisingly innovative and interesting character.

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