Saying Goodbye to Batwoman

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This week I received some really unfortunate news, via the omniscience of my Facebook news feed. The creative team behind what is literally my favorite comic book in the entire world, “Batwoman”, has decided to call it quits, citing “editorial interference” from DC as the reason behind their departure from the title.

The team includes W. Haden Blackman, who has been with Batwoman since its relaunch back in 2010 with introductory issue #0 as part of DC’s New 52 lineup, and artist/co-writer JH Williams III, a long time Batwoman veteran from her 2006 revamp Detective Comic debut days. Williams is honestly my favorite artist in existence; his page layouts are absolutely breathtaking. He’s worked with many notable and influential writers in the comic industry, such as Alan Moore, Warren Ellis and Grant Morrison.

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For those who are unfamiliar, the character of Batwoman was originally created in the 1950s as a part of the Batfamily in the DC Universe, to offset the accusations that the original Batman and Robin were homosexual lovers, made by psychiatrist Fredric Wertham in his book Seduction of the Innocent. The original Batwoman, Katherine (Kathy) Kane, appeared alongside Batman throughout the late 50s and early 60s, before being replaced by Barbara Gordon in 1964, AKA Batgirl.

Kathy was out of commission for about 15 years, with DC’s editorial staff not wanting to bring her back due to the fact that she was specifically created to be a love interest and not a superhero in her own right, and with the existence of crime-fighting Batgirl and Batman’s heterosexuality established, they didn’t feel they needed her anymore. In the late 70s, fan outcry caused DC to bring back the character for a special appearance as a “guest”, but she was subsequently killed in Detective Comics a short time later. She appeared a few more times after that, mostly in alternate universes and during infamous DC writer Grant Morrison’s run on the “Batman Incorporated” title back in 2011, which was mostly made up of flashbacks to help explain some of the continuity during her run.

batman_141_30 Here is a little bit of DC Comics comic book background information for you: In the mid-eighties, comic books underwent a huge shift meant to act as an overhaul between the Silver/Bronze Ages of comics and the darker, more socially relevant storylines of the later Modern Age. These included such titles as Alan Moore’s Watchmen and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, among others. The comic industry began to shift toward plots and characters being more psychologically complex and, with 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths, the entirety of DC’s continuity was laid bare in an attempt to simplify the previous 50 years of comics. Crisis inspired four other spin-off comic titles, including 2005’s Infinite Crisis and 2008’s Final Crisis.

Infinite Crisis introduced the current DC Multiverse, and was followed by the One Year Later story line, which was then prequeled by DC’s original 52, a weekly comic book depicting the events that happened during that lost year between Infinite Crisis and One Year Later. In 52 #7 (2006), the newly redesigned Katherine Kane was introduced — This time, going by the name of Kate instead of Kathy. Sporting a Huntress-esque mask and a new black and red ensemble, Kate was depicted as having reddish/brown hair and a lust for the ladies — One of the most advertised features of the newly redone Batwoman was that she was a lesbian.

Although not the first homosexual in comics, Batwoman became the highest profile lesbian superhero in the industry, taking over as the temporary main protagonist in Detective Comics #854 with a back story involving hot political issues such as the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. Her origin story arc spanned from #854-860, was written by Greg Rucka with artwork by JH Williams III, and gave insight about her character’s romantic relationships, including her romance with Gotham detective-turned-The-Question Renee Montoya, and her familial relationships with her father, her cousin Bette “Flamebird” Kane and her twin sister, Beth. This arc was later made into the trade paperback titled Batwoman: Elegy.

Amidst all of this origin stuff was an underlying theme of the supernatural, which isn’t typically introduced into the Gotham/Batfamily storylines, and along with the superb art and intriguing characters, these deviations from the norm of superhero comics propelled the new Batwoman into the high profile status that called for the November 2010 launch of her very own self-titled series debut with the relaunch of DC’s New 52, with W. Haden Blackman filling in for the roll of co-writer for Greg Rucka.

Are you impressed yet? This strong, intelligent, complex lesbian superhero literally came out of nowhere, and her originality as a character coupled with the awe-inspiring art from Williams and her compelling plots and storylines from Rucka warranted enough of a fan following that they gave Batwoman, a character who was made up initially for the purpose of proving that Batman and Robin weren’t gay and then killed and reintroduced with a completely different costume and purpose, and her own ongoing monthly comic book series.

And it’s done WELL! Referenced as one of the most impressive and best titles of the New 52 relaunch, “Batwoman” has gone on to win the GLAAD Media Award in 2012 for “Outstanding Comic Book”, and Issue #1 sold over 72,000 copies! Kate Kane is an astoundingly well-represented character, speaking for not only lesbians, but for women everywhere. She is the ultimate feminism underdog — A character created specifically for the purpose of being a sexual and romantic interest to a man, whose “weapons” were compact mirrors and other silly girl items, who was removed (AND KILLED!) when she was no longer needed for his character development, only to be reborn as an ass kicking lesbian with her own agenda. Despite also being based in Gotham, her comic book series has very little to do with Batman, opting instead to focus on her development and interaction with her own plots and story arcs.

Untitled-16 Kate thrived. She became involved with her new girlfriend, Maggie Sawyer, who works for the Gotham Police Department, and when the secrecy of her superhero identity threatened to disrupt their relationship, she revealed herself as Batwoman by proposing to Maggie while still in costume in Batwoman #17, and fans everywhere rejoiced! With the subject of marriage equality being so high up on the political debates popularity list this year, having a same sex marriage in the DC Universe would have been a MONUMENTAL event, especially after Marvel had already paved the way with their Astonishing X-Men gay wedding back in June.

So it should come of as much of a shock to you as it did to me, and the rest of Batwoman’s loyal fans, that DC refused to allow readers see Kate and Maggie get married — Not just on paper, but in general. And this, paired with other differences in how they wanted the character’s story to go, created a rift between DC and Batwoman’s creative team that, ultimately, is resulting in their departure from the title.

When a comic book as visually astounding, as adored and as well written as Batwoman gets deserted by the very people who have put the most into it, it’s expected that a few opinions will pop up as to what was truly behind the events leading up to Williams’ and Blackman’s decisions. It was revealed that an editorial edict stating that DC prohibited them from “from ever showing Kate and Maggie actually getting married” was released, among other prohibitions, and that the “eleventh-hour nature of these changes” left Blackman and Williams feeling “frustrated and angry — because they prevent us from telling the best stories we can.”

Here is the explanation from the creative team themselves, from Blackman’s blog in an entry aptly titled “Heartbroken”:

Dear Batwoman readers –

From the moment DC asked us to write Batwoman — a dream project for both of us — we were committed to the unofficial tagline “No Status Quo.” We felt that the series and characters should always be moving forward, to keep changing and evolving. In order to live up to our mantra and ensure that each arc took Batwoman in new directions, we carefully planned plotlines and story beats for at least the first five arcs well before we ever wrote a single issue. We’ve been executing on that plan ever since, making changes whenever we’ve come up with a better idea, but in general remaining consistent to our core vision.

Unfortunately, in recent months, DC has asked us to alter or completely discard many long-standing storylines in ways that we feel compromise the character and the series. We were told to ditch plans for Killer Croc’s origins; forced to drastically alter the original ending of our current arc, which would have defined Batwoman’s heroic future in bold new ways; and, most crushingly, prohibited from ever showing Kate and Maggie actually getting married. All of these editorial decisions came at the last minute, and always after a year or more of planning and plotting on our end.

We’ve always understood that, as much as we love the character, Batwoman ultimately belongs to DC. However, the eleventh-hour nature of these changes left us frustrated and angry — because they prevent us from telling the best stories we can. So, after a lot of soul-searching, we’ve decided to leave the book after Issue 26.

We’re both heartbroken over leaving, but we feel strongly that you all deserve stories that push the character and the series forward. We can’t reliably do our best work if our plans are scrapped at the last minute, so we’re stepping aside. We are committed to bringing our run to a satisfying conclusion and we think that Issue 26 will leave a lasting impression.

We are extremely thankful for the opportunity to work on Batwoman. It’s been one of the most challenging and rewarding projects of our careers. We’ll always be grateful to everyone who helped us realize 26 issues: Mike Siglain, who brought us onto the project originally; Greg Rucka for inspirationally setting the stage; our amazing artists Amy Reeder, Trevor McCarthy, Pere Perez, Rob Hunter, Walden Wong, Sandu Florea, Richard Friend, Francesco Francavilla, Guy Major, Dave Stewart, and Todd Klein; Larry Ganem, for listening in tough times; and editors Mike Marts, Harvey Richards, Rickey Purdin, and Darren Shan.

And most of all, a huge thank you to everyone who read the book. Hearing your voices, your reactions, your enthusiasm every month was such a joy, so humbling, so rewarding. You guys rock! Because so many of you embraced the series, we were able to complete four arcs, and your passion for Batwoman encouraged us to push ourselves to do our best work with each and every issue.

Thank you for loving Batwoman as much as we do.

Goodbye for now,

Haden & J H

There seem to be two theories on why DC decided to take this route, although, since DC themselves haven’t spoken up about their reasoning behind refusing to allow a union between the two characters, it’s hard to know for sure which is more accurate. They have been quoted as saying that it has nothing to do with the sexual orientation of the characters, both directly and via Williams’ and Blackman’s Twitters, but haven’t divulged much more than that.

Theory #1: With the semi-recent addition of anti-gay essayist and activist Orson Scott Card to pen the new “Adventures of Superman” digital comic, originally slated to make its debut next April, many outraged DC fans started a petition asking DC to drop Card from the title. Even the artist set to illustrate the comic, Chris Sprouse, dropped the project, saying in a statement released to the press, “The media surrounding this story reached the point where it took away from the actual work, and that’s something I wasn’t comfortable with. My relationship with DC Comics remains as strong as ever and I look forward to my next project with them.”

Despite DC originally touting the revamped Batwoman character as “the first LGBT character to stay in an eponymous series published by either of America’s Big Two comic book publishers”, many fans are claiming that their refusal to allow a marriage to take place is a result of their desire to please Ender’s Game author Card, so that he will stay on with them for the upcoming Superman title.

Theory 2: DC no longer wants any of their heroes to be married. Period. Batgirl writer Gail Simone (who had her own issues with DC last year), Tweeted in response to the conversation on the topic that she felt that the decision of DC was “more of an anti-marriage thing in general,” implying that they just may not want any of the superheroes to be in wedding-based relationships.

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Anyone who knows me, knows how Batwoman-crazy I am. I have statues, posters, original art done by local (and some not so local) artists. I have a collector’s chess figurine, a statue made of lead, original 52 action figures and ALMOST every single comic with the Kate Kane version of Batwoman in it, even if she only makes a single panel appearance. I have an entire section of my bedroom devoted to my fandoms, and she takes up a large part of my wall.

Personally, I’m a little more aligned with theory 2, although that doesn’t lessen my disappointment in the slightest. When I discovered that Greg Rucka would no longer be working on Batwoman, I was a little put off but I insisted that I’d followed Williams to the ends of the earth — And he did not let me down. He and Blackman, as co-writers, stayed true to the Batwoman I grew to love in Detective Comics, after learning more of her story and how she came to be. I related to her, as a character, which is a difficult thing to do when the character you’re reading about wears a mask and fights spirits and monsters while protecting the citizens of Gotham.

I related to her weaknesses and insecurities, her strength, her determination in the face of adversity and above all else, her humanity. And it’s with a heavy heart that I say that it’s very unlikely that I’ll be following her comic after issue #26, which will be the last that Williams and Blackman work on. I just can’t follow a story so close to my heart with a character that literally won me over on comic books as a whole, knowing that the arcs I’m following are not the ones they had planned.

While it is true that many superheroes change creative team hands over the course of their superhero lives, it is also true that the specific vision that has been cultivated for the development of this character will be altered by DC’s editorial edicts, and that isn’t something that I’m willing to compromise on. The only thing that I can see that will keep me purchasing a new issue month after month will have to be a miracle — Like DC recanting their ridiculous decision, or maybe Greg coming back to write for her. Although I’d still be dismayed by Williams’ and Blackman’s departures, I feel Rucka would stay true to who she is — And JH Williams III is going to be working on the new Sandman prequel with Neil Gaiman this October, which is fantastic and looks beautiful from the bits I’ve seen.

They’ve promised to go out with a bang and, just like before, I will follow JH Williams III like the fangirl I am: With my head held high and the original vision of who Kate Kane really is — and what she deserves — in my heart.

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