DC Comics, the company that brought you iconic superheroes such as Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman, recently announced that out superhero Batwoman will get her own series later this year.
The move is groundbreaking for DC Comics, which hasn’t introduced nearly as many gay and lesbian superheroes as some of its major rival companies. But the new Batwoman series is believed to be the first release by a major American comic book with a lesbian character in the title role.
This modern, openly gay Batwoman is a far cry from the version that debuted in “Detective Comics” — the series that introduced the world to Batman — in 1956. In the early 1950s, superhero and horror comic books were targeted by the conservative religious and family groups of the day as a source of juvenile delinquency. Ironically, Batwoman and alter ego Kathy Kane were brought in as a love interest for Batman to counter allegations that his character and Robin were gay, and to make the series more family-friendly.
Needless to say, the original Batwoman was a product of the times, a supporting character that had a “utility purse” and weapons disguised to look like cosmetics or jewelry. Batwoman was all but forgotten by the early 1960s, when DC Comics decided to take a darker direction to “Detective Comics” and introduced realistic and ultimately more popular characters like Batgirl.
In 2006, DC Comics reintroduced the character of Batwoman in the DC universe as Kathy Kane, a wealthy, gay socialite who, like Batman, takes to crime fighting as a way to work through her issues with childhood trauma.
She was introduced in the series “52” before becoming the main focus of “Detective Comics” after the disappearance and presumed death of Bruce Wayne/Batman.
Dan DiDio, former executive editor and current co-publisher of DC Comics, said the introduction of the new out Batwoman quickly drew praise from fans and critics and earned a GLAAD award this year for outstanding comic.
“We had a very strong positive reaction,” DiDio said. “We introduced her about three years ago. But there was also a very vocal minority that had a problem with it. But one of the things we went through great lengths to do with the character is really establish her as a hero first, and to explore her role as a hero inside the DC universe. In my early role, I was involved in the pre-production and the direction of the series in conjunction with the creative teams. When we reintroduced her into her role as a feature in “‘Detective Comics,’” we had nothing but positive response, even to the point where the series has been nominated for an Eisner Award, which are awards within the comics industry. And actually the demand in the industry for those series prompted us to put her in her own book. Now my role is to make sure that we get the book out there in as many hands as possible.”
The comic-book industry in general is driven by a predominantly young heterosexual male demographic. So who the hell was complaining about the presence of a lesbian superhero?
“I think there was a perceived sense of exploitation or a sense that we were doing it for publicity reasons,” DiDio said. “But the reality is that when we do a world like Batman’s world — where we have so many characters whose sensibilities seem to be coming from the same place, as they are not super-powered — really, what we want to do is create a sense of difference between them by exploring who they are in their past. By creating Batwoman, we really wanted to show a character with a different point of view, with a different sensibility, but also with the same goal in mind of trying to correct the wrongs of Gotham City.”
In giving Batwoman her own series instead of making her the focus of a series more associated with Batman, DiDio said the creative team, which currently does not feature any LGBT talent, will be able to explore and expand upon her character.
“In ‘Detective Comics,’ there was a particular arc and story that we were looking to tell. Now when you’re in an ongoing series, you can actually delve more into the past of the character and their back-story, along with setting up a supporting cast as well as a rogues’ gallery of villains she will be fighting. From day one, we always had hopes that this would be something we could break out. That’s one of the reasons why we introduced this character. The bat symbol carries a lot of weight and we have a lot of strong readership around Batman’s universe. We’re hoping to give her every opportunity to succeed. We put one of our top writers, Greg Rucka, on the book. He really took the character and shepherded her to this point. We put one of the greatest artists on the book, J.H. Williams. One of the reasons why it took a while for Batwoman to land in ‘Detective Comics’ wasn’t the fact that we were hesitant to put her out there. It’s just that J.H. is a meticulous artist and we just wanted to have enough books that we could put out on a monthly basis.”
In the DC Comics universe, Batman and alter-ego Wayne are heavy hitters as far as influence and the scope of their adventures. Bruce is one of the richest people on the planet and Batman is just as likely to save the world from terrorists as he is to stop a mugging. Most other characters in the Batman family play a lesser, somewhat subordinate role to the Dark Knight. But DiDio said that Batwoman/Kathy Kane were envisioned as equal counterparts to Batman and Bruce.
“She’s going to be integral to everything that has been going on in the DC universe and not just off in her own corner,” DiDio said about the scope of the Batwoman series. “She really is going to be an active member of the Superhero community.”
He added that fans shouldn’t expect to see her going toe to toe with the big Batman villains like the Joker or Two Face any time soon.
“There’s always a chance to see that, but one of our goals is to develop her own villains and her own rogues’ gallery, because we feel that she’s a strong character in her own right and she should be determined not by the characters other people have fought before, but by the characters that challenge her,” he said. “We want to play the socialite aspect of who she is but, more importantly, there’s a lot that goes on because she has a military background as well and how that comes into play. How her family is used for and against her will be a key piece to the storyline.”
So is having a high-profile lesbian superhero going to draw more LGBT readers to the series?
“I don’t see her any different than the readership we see for other books,” DiDio said. “It’s got to be the people who enjoy the Batman series and it’s also people who enjoy the comic-book series. The good part about that is we have a widely diverse audience that follows our characters, and I believe that’s the audience that’s reaching out and hopefully will be finding and enjoying her new book.”
And does Batwoman getting her own series mean that DC Comics might give a gay male character top billing someday?
“We do gay male heroes right now,” DiDio said. “None as prominent as the Batwoman character. We have a character called Obsidian who’s a member of one of our team books, ‘Justice Society of America.’ But we also are looking to expand at every level. So there’s always a good chance we’ll be exploring more character diversity in the future as well.”
The new Batwoman comic book debuts later this year. For more information, visit www.dccomics.com.