Tag Archives: women in comics

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.

Women In Comics: Batgirl Returns

11 Sep

Barbara Gordon Back In Action

September 2011 marks DC Comics undertaking their biggest reinvention ever. The company is relaunching every character and starting 52 new ongoing series with issue #1. Although the company has engaged in various reboots of its continuity over the past twenty-five years, this is the most serious overhaul, truly re-inventing all the characters. As we noted here at TSM last month, the relaunch is missing a valuable opportunity to involve more women creators and characters in the new universe. (Prime example: the new Justice League features seven heroes, six of whom are men. How’s that for bold reinvention?) This week, we got a taste of one of the major exceptions as Batgirl #1 was released.

The classic Batgirl was Barbara Gordon, daughter of Gotham City police commissioner Jim Gordon. A librarian by day, she took on the role of Batgirl to fight crime, at first in parallel and eventually in occasional partnership with Batman and Robin. Added almost simultaneously to the campy 60s TV show and to Detective comics, the character was always something of an afterthought (a four-color example  of the glass ceiling). Barbara had a loyal if limited fan base, but never significant sales as a lead. Her fate changed dramatically in 1988 with the publication of The Killing Joke. In that story, the Joker shot Barbara Gordon to punish her father, not realizing she was also Batgirl. The bullet lodged in her spine paralyzing her. Over the following two decades, Gordon has operated from a wheelchair as Oracle, a nexus of information and organization for the superhero world. Critics have rightfully lauded this presentation of super-heroics from a disabled person. During the same period a couple of other people have worn Batgirl’s cowl, having solid (if limited) fan bases and decent critical success.

When DC announced the new 52, one of the most controversial announcements was the return of Barbara Gordon as Batgirl. What happened to Oracle? Did DC remove the shooting from continuity? The one bright spot was that Gail Simone, one of the strongest female voices in comics today, was announced as the writer. Simone also has a long history of writing Barbara Gordon as Oracle in the book Birds of Prey. She had long resisted taking Barbara out of her chair. When told that this was an editorial fiat, however, she looked at the history of other characters since 1988 and refused to give up one of her favorites.

[With other characters,] arms and legs get ripped off, and they grow back, somehow. Graves don’t stay filled. But the one constant is that Barbara stays in that chair. Role model or not, that is problematic and uncomfortable, and the excuses to not cure her, in a world of purple rays and magic and super-science, are often unconvincing or wholly meta-textual. And the longer it goes on, the more it has stretched credibility. But now, everything has changed. If nearly everyone in the DCU, not just Batgirl but almost everyone, is now at a much earlier stage in their career, then my main objection no longer applies, because we are seeing Barbara at an earlier starting point.

So how is the first issue? Amazing. [SPOILER ALERT]  Simone keeps the shooting in the story. Barbara is finally mobile after three years. The injury haunts her, and has a clear impact on her heroics. While I might have preferred that we keep Oracle, in Gail Simone’s capable hands we get to see the honest aftermath of a horrible injury as seen through the eyes of someone whose avocation demands physical excellence. Brava, Gail, well done!

My biggest criticism is retaining the name BatGIRL. Barbara Gordon is a professional woman. The name is at least as derivative as it was in 1967. Sadly for Barbara (but good for the comic-reading public), DC also reinvented another weak Bat-character recently. Batwoman, originally a lame Lois-Lane-in-spandex character during the 50s silly Batman comics, was rewritten as a gritty detective and a lesbian starting in 2006. DC is launching a new Batwoman #1 next week, so we’ll see how well they do with that character in the new 52. Sadly, it left Barbara Gordon with the lamer name.

Overall, however, the relaunched Batgirl is brilliantly handled. It’s action-based super-hero comics with a heart and conscience, just as we would expect from Gail Simone. Farewell, Oracle, but welcome back Batgirl. As a rare female lead in the new DC Universe, you are a bright spot of feminist strength. Long may you run.

%d bloggers like this: