September 22, 2011

Minorities in comics and animation: Batwoman

Minorities in comics and animation: Batwoman
Batwoman #1 (May 2017)
“Batwoman” #1 (May 2017). Art by Steve Epting.

This week’s minorities in cartoons entry is Batwoman (real name: Katherine Kane). She first appeared in “Detective Comics” #233 (July 1956). Writer Edmond Hamilton and artist Sheldon Moldoff created Batwoman.

The original Batwoman

Batwoman was originally introduced as “Kathy Kane” (vs the modern version slightly renamed “Kate Kane”). Kathy fought crime in Gotham City, albeit treated in a typically-sexist-for-the-time fashion. For example, she carried around a “utility purse,” versus Batman’s utility belt.

Batwoman was dropped from the comics in 1964, when DC editor Julius Schwartz took over the Bat-books. Through the late 50s and early 60s, the Bat-books had a goofy sci-fi theme, with Batman engaging in various encounters with odd aliens, etc. Much of this formed the basis for the “Batman: The Brave and the Bold” TV series.

Still, the “wacky space aliens” era isn’t a particularly popular one among many Batman comic fans. Even in its time, this shtick (imitating DC’s high-selling Superman line of comics) wasn’t enough to boost sales.

Thus, Schwartz, upon taking over the books, opted to put more emphasis on Batman’s detective side. However, he also ditched the various supporting characters introduced in this era, including Ace the Bat-Hound (Batman’s pet dog), Bat-Mite (an extra-dimensional imp and Batman fanboy), and Batwoman herself.

Kathy didn’t appear again until the 1970s. Her comics disappearance was explained with her having retired from crimefighting. However, she was soon killed off by a member of a group called the League of Assassins, a group with ties to Ra’s al Ghul.

The early 80s also revealed that Batwoman also had a counterpart on Earth-2. This is despite that Kathy should’ve fallen exclusively on the Earth-1 side of the general Earth-1/Earth-2 cutoff. Usually, anything introduced after November 1955, the Martian Manhunter’s first appearance, was considered Earth-1-only. I wonder if it was an attempt to ignore or downplay the pre-1964 “sci-fi era” elements.

The modern Batwoman

After the 70s, Kathy mostly stayed ignored until the 2000s. DC decided to revive the idea of a Batwoman and revamped Kathy for modern readers. Now named “Kate Kane,” Batwoman was re-introduced in “52” #7 in 2006, with the revelation that Kate’s a lesbian.

Kate’s been well received by fans and critics. She’s also become popular enough to get her own comic.

Like the Ardin family of “Edge City,” Kate’s also Jewish.

Kate’s modern backstory reveals that she was once in the US military, but was discharged after coming out. I imagine this plot point in the future will either be retconned somehow or be dropped completely. As of September 2011, “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” was repealed. Thus, it’ll become a dated topical reference as time goes on, plus DC’s floating timelines.

Kate’s love life initially saw her dating Renee Montoya. Recent stories have seen Kate dating Maggie Sawyer, who’d moved to Gotham from Metropolis. The creators of Batwoman’s book had planned on having the two get married. (Yes, I’m sure at the time Gotham was in a state with legalized gay marriage.) Unfortunately, DC’s head honchos stepped in and told them they couldn’t get married, for adolescent and inane reasons. The creative staff of the book promptly quit in response.

Finally, if you’re wondering: while the original Batwoman had a sidekick named “Bat-Girl” (her niece; note the hyphenated spelling), there’s no connection between Batwoman/Bat-Girl and the modern, familiar Batgirl (Barbara Gordon).

Other media

Characters named Batwoman have been featured in other media. However, few of them until recently were based on the comic book versions.

“Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman” centered around the concept of a Batwoman, albeit not either version of Katherine.

“Batman: The Brave and the Bold” featured a Batwoman closely modeled on the Silver Age version, though with some stark differences.

The modern Kate Kane version of Batwoman has finally appeared in recent spin-off media, such as the direct-to-video film “Bad Blood” and the “Arkham Knight” video game.

(Updated 2/24/18)

Tags: BatmanBatwomancomics triviaDC ComicsJewishKate KanelesbianLGBTQMediaminorities in cartoonstrivia