Saturday, June 03, 2006

Shadowing the Batwoman

Okay, I've been following this since got home Sunday night, and I have something very important to say to all of you:

DC really isn't making a big deal out of Batwoman being a lesbian.

It's everyone else who is.

Yes, I elaborate.Take the original, two-page, twenty-six paragraph article (which you should register and actually read before going off about).

Here are the Batwoman mentions, quoted for your perusal.

The articles starts with discussing the history comics and what cross-section of society they represented.

Second Paragraph:

But this year will be a banner one for diversity in the $500 million comic book business. At DC Comics, an effort is under way to introduce heroes who are not cut from the usual straight white male supercloth. A mix of new concepts, dusted-off code names and existing characters, the new heroes include Blue Beetle, a Mexican teenager powered by a mystical scarab; Batwoman, a lesbian socialite by night and a crime fighter by later in the night; and the Great Ten, a government-sponsored Chinese team.
(Emphasis mine -- and yours)

Later on, she does get her own paragraph devoted to her -- just as Jaime the new Hispanic Blue Beetle gets his own paragraph

Another effort to link old and new characters centers on Kathy Kane, the gay Batwoman who will appear in costume for the first time in a July issue of "52." Batwoman was introduced in 1956, but she was one of several, often silly additions to the Bat family, including Ace the Bat-Hound (1955), Bat-Mite (1959) and Bat-Girl (1961). In her latest incarnation, Batwoman is a wealthy, buxom lipstick lesbian who has a history with Renee Montoya, an ex-police detective who has a starring role in "52."

Please note that buxom lipstick lesbian is not in quotations. That is because the article writer is an idiot, but not necessarily Batwoman's creator.

Now, to be fair, it was followed immediately by a paragraph on gays in Gotham:

Even so, it's something of a surprise that there are any gay characters hanging out in Gotham City. Last year DC issued a cease-and-desist letter to a New York art gallery for displaying watercolors by Mark Chamberlain that depicted Batman and Robin in intimate positions. "That's not what this is about," Mr. DiDio said. "We're basically showing a different cross section of the world."

And the article wrapped up with an attention-hound writer saying idiotic things.

It also features the infamous costume with the high heels (Damn you, Ross), which is sexist as shit but more of a general misogyny complaint than specifically being objectified for her sexuality.

Almost instantly -- due to the Bat- prefix, the controversy of homosexuality, and mundanes mixing Kathy Kane up with Barbara Gordon -- this was picked up by the Associated press and it makes the rounds through newspapers, message boards, blogs, and watercoolers throughout the world. The New Batwoman is going to be a Lesbian!!!

So, naturally, Dan Didio does an interview in response. Which, not surprisingly, was based on having reconcieved of the decades-dead and erased-from-reality character as a lesbian.

Which naturally caused a lot of DC-bashing because now, suddenly, Batwoman was a lesbian as "Selling point" rather than a smart and unusual way to bring her into the 52 action. You know, 52, the comic in which she debuts? The comic in which Renee Montoya, a lesbian, is a main character? The one where she's coming off of a broken relationship, has a history of being in the closet and have secret lovers, and has recently been going through a bout of promiscuity and anger-issues? Where an easy way to link someone to her plotline might be to have a previous romantic involvement come back on her?

Not so much as case of "Of course the only two lesbians in Gotham know each other!" (a blatantly untrue statement, as neither woman has connections to Holly Robinson, Catwoman II, that I've seen on a number of blogs) as a case of cop's ex-lover is a superhero. Which we've never seen in a heterosexual relationship before, right? (Flash and Julie, Shade and Hope)

But no, we can't treat this as cute romantic awkwardness like we would if it were say, Harvey Bullock being featured in 52 and Batwoman was brought in with romantic complications towards him. Or if Renee were not gay, and a male hero that had a romantic history with her was brought in to complicate the plot. No! Because they're lesbians, so DC is automatically using them to pander to fanboy desires and not to, say, appeal to the large number of gay readers they have.

Here's the thing, I read the interview with Didio. I read the original article. Despite myself, I was intrigued by the story. She sounds pretty cool and interesting, at least from the start. And Didio's "I didn't realize it would be this big as deal" thing may be a lie, but I'm leaning towards truth here. They have other gay characters, have had gay characters for years. Batwoman is a relatively minor character. They were asked to produce a list of diverse characters for a New York Times article on diversity in comics. They gave up their history with Milestone, a Hispanic teenager, and a lesbian socialite. It's not that they're considering gay people a sudden novelty right now. It's that the article was specifically about characters that are not white heterosexuals, like we traditionally see in superhero comic books.

But the more they talk about being diverse, diverse they sound. (Get it, diverse, da verse, the worse.. *Ahem* Nevermind).

I see both sides condemning the character. The message boards and conservative misogynists are bringing their homophobia to the forefront, and then in response the gay-rights and feminist sites are calling her "Bat-bitch" (Yes, a gendered insult on a fucking feminist site. That pissed me off!!) and trashing her from the first sketch. The attention is good, the talking about it is good, and I know for sure a number of people'll pick it up without having intended to before. But honestly, the book's not out yet. Once it's out, we can see how she's handled. The high heels are a bad sign, yes, but the writing might yet be good. The character could be unique and interesting. The interplay with her ex-girlfriend could be fun. All we're guaranteed right now is a female hero who won't end up romance fodder for a male hero, which eliminates a pretty damned annoying convention right at the start.

And guess what, Newsarama asked Editor Stephen Wacker about her in their weekly after-52 Q&A session.
NRAMA: While she hasn't been in the series yet, the new Batwoman who will be debuting in 52 #11 was announced earlier this week, and she's literally been everywhere, with a lot of attention being paid to the fact that she's gay. We you in any way expecting the reaction she received? Has any writer "adopted" her, so to speak to give her voice and motivation, or is she a group project like the others?

SW: I wasn't surprised at all. I knew when the news was being released, so it's been a real countdown the last couple weeks. DC's publicity brigade of Stephanie Fierman, David Hyde, Alex Segura and Sierra Hahn, and many others, did a great job getting the word out and I hope people are interested in finding out more.

Look, you do anything with a Bat or an "S" on it and it makes a splash - see the Death of Superman hubub for an even bigger example of what these symbols mean to people outside comics. I also don't think it's too surprising that anything with the word "gay" attached makes news since it's a subject that really pushes people's buttons. Put the two together and suddenly I can't watch Anderson Cooper without a 36-inch image of Didio's face staring at me like some rogue DC Nation column come to life.
(This tells us the man's either smarter or more honest than his boss)
Creatively, the work is already done on the issue, so it was put together away from the spotlight. We're focusing on just trying to avoid the easy angles on the character and not make her story solely about being gay and, gee, how A) great or B) horrible it must be. Batwoman's appearances in 52 are decidedly not about the struggles of being a lesbian in today's crazy, mixed up world - that's my story!

Like most comics we do in the DCU, at its core, Kate's story is about someone putting their lives on the line for others and why they do it, it's about a offense...…

Anyway, no one's specifically adopted her yet, but in 52 her story does tie into Montoya's, so make of what you will.

Sounds to me like the lesbian angle is just a way to connect the dots to Montoya, a little romantic complication for the 52 storyline. Why, I'd almost go so far as to say they're treating Montoya and Kane's sexuality as normal, as opposed to an unusual circumstance.

So far, I only see two immediate and confirmed gripes -- impractical high heels and impractical long wild hair. (Oh, and that the guy who wrote the NYT article is obviously fetishizing lesbians.) Valid gripes. These may be specifically characterizing her as extremely vain and patriarchally influenced (which might be a nod towards her Pre-Crisis past life) -- personality traits which do not mean she won't still be a kickass complex character. But which would distinguish her from other female characters.

Although I have issues with trading a good-sounding name like Kathy Kane for the clumsy, blunt Kate Kane. Reeks of "women with cute names like Kathy aren't as intelligent or competent as women with serious names like Kate" which greatly annoys me.

Until I see more, I'm optimistic, at least willing to give her a shot. I'd like to see more women in prominent positions in the DCU, and knocking them down because they debut with high heels or in a romantic storyline doesn't help.


  1. Because I'm a horrible person who refuses to let things go I'll not that Cassandra Cain had short hair and *never* wore heels.

    Oh, and great post.

  2. Actually, I can think of one heroine who made high heels work as awesomely functional combat apparel. Sussido, from Scud: The Disposable Assassin. She had guns hidden in her heels, and she used them to kick one of Ben Franklin's zombies in the face and blow the back of its head off. Wicked cool. The series was weird as hell, but highly enjoyable for a high school junior - maybe I should reread it with a more critical eye this summer.

    Power Girl doesn't wear heels either, as I recall.

    Oh, right, the main thrust of the post - I totally agree. Media reaction made this story.

    So, who'll be the first to call her KK?

    And yeah, the long hair is stupid - could she at least wear a ponytail?

  3. I don't mind the long hair. Speaking as a guy with long hair, I know how annoying it can be, and how much trouble it would be in any kind of fighting situation. But sometimes I'm willing to accept little silly flourishes for the sake of a good visual. I think the combination of the mask and hair work for this character's overall look.

    The heels do piss me off though. I can accept them on flying characters like Wonder Woman (even though I still think they're a bit iffy), but they just look plain stupid on street-level crime fighters. I can suspend my disbelief pretty far, but you can't expect me to accept a woman jumping across rooftops in high heels.

    And as a little nitpick, I don't like the uncovered neck in the comic pages. I don't know why, but it bugs me.

  4. Good disection of the rampant news articles. Maybe I'm a bit dense, or open minded, but the only thing that really hits me about Batwoman right now is that her symbol seems to be taken from Batman Beyond and the color scheme taken from the Thrillkill elseworld story. Also, fighting and rooftop travel would be hard in high heels.

  5. Actually, I can think of one heroine who made high heels work as awesomely functional combat apparel.

    There's also American Maid from The Tick show, who kicked her shoes off at people, hitting them in the face and pinning them to walls.

  6. According to Didio, she's being "targeted as a supporting character," so now it seems even less of a big deal...

  7. Speaking of Cassandra Caine - Sorry for going off topic for a short while here - I think she has been a victim of Secondary character spring cleaning. Every few years, a big bunch of secondary characters in long lived franchises just suddenly get kicked out. Just recently in Batman Stephanie Brown, Robin's dad, Cassandra and Leslie Tompkins got kicked out. Before them Morpheus and Azrael and who knows who else. I don't really understand why all this happens, but I do find hard to care for secondary characters in Batman, Superman and books like that; cause I know they are most probably going to be kicked out as soon as the next writer comes along.

    Anyway, back on topic, is it so bad that she is wearing high heels? I won't argue that high heels are awfully impractical - not that I would personally know about that - but... so it's a lot of stuff about superhero costumes. I mean... capes? Costumes just have to look pretty, not make much sense I guess.

  8. Hahahaha! I haven't said a word on Batwoman!

    You can't pin anything on me, I'm like teflon!

  9. Good call on the "media buzz" on the new Batwoman.

    The only ones making a stink about this, are those who simply enjoy the sound of thier own voice (or sight of their text, as the case may be).

    Let's wait and see what they actually do with the character, before we start getting out the torches and pitforks.

  10. Long hair only really bothered me when it came to Aquaman. Though I don't know from personal experience, I've seen how incredibly impractical it is to have long hair flailing around in water...

  11. Well, I think it's sympathetic; lots of people know from first-hand experience how hard it is to run, let alone jump, in high heels.

    The pitfalls of fighting while wearing a cape are something that only fighters know about, and even then probably not first hand.

    It's a flourish whose silliness is TOO obvious... it's like having a superhero who wears a ten foot high hat.

  12. Hey, I think the costume is way cute! I don't see why everyone is complaining about the high heels **sniff**. It's a comic book, not everything has to be realistic. ;) My only problem is that she's wearing red, and as every redhead knows, wearing red is a bad idea (unless it's a tannish-red or something).

    Part of me worries that her lesbianism is being played for a gimmick, but part of me knows that DC will write her as, "Okay, I'm a lesbian, but that's only one aspect of me--look at all of my strengths and weaknesses, that's what makes me a good character."

    I'm also super-excited that she has romantic ties with Montoya. I've become obsessed with Montoya through 52. I mean, Montoya is sooooooo cool, and she wouldn't date anyone who wasn't cool herself.

  13. Nail -> Head.

    Thanks for the post, Ragnell - you've said almost exactly what I've been thinking about this whole "controversy" - there's no meat to it. The character hasn't been seen yet, there's no idea what the writers are going to do with her - there IS no character there yet.

    I'm actually quite interested in seeing where this is going to go - she could be quite a good addition to the Bat-family, or she could turn out to be a character that falls flat on her face out of the gate - but no one's going to know until the actual stories come out.

    And am I the only one who thinks that someone at DC was being tricksy making her a lesbian? Considering that as I recall, Batwoman was originally added to the cast around the time that Frederick Werthem published Seduction of the Innocent with the allegations that Batman and Robin were gay, it strikes me as oddly amusing that Batwoman would be re-introduced as a lesbian character now.

    (Oh, and you can blame Alex Ross for the heels. I normally like to use "blame Alex Ross" as a catch-all for a number of things, but in this case he really did design the costume and the heels were his idea, apparently.)

  14. I do think that DC had it in mind that it would be easier for them to get the public to accept a pretty lesbian than to accept a gay male. Of course, we don't know how prominent a character Batwoman is going to be; this could all turn out to be much ado about nothing.

  15. Excellent disection of the on-line frenzy this has seemed to generate. You are, of course, precisely correct. It's not DC who has made a big deal out of this, so much as it was a slow news weekend and people feeling the need to pontificate (and in most cases show off their homophobia and mysogyny as well). Like you, I find the connection to the Question/Montoya story-arc interesting, and it's clear that DC is posistioning her to be a supporting character (although, after all this attention, I'm sure they must be thinking of giving her a mini at least).

  16. "DC really isn't making a big deal out of Batwoman being a lesbian.

    It's everyone else who is."

    I wondered when someone was going to notice that...

  17. "Power Girl doesn't wear heels either, as I recall."

    Yep; in fact, she does. I dedicated an entire post to Power Girl's boots.

  18. "I do think that DC had it in mind that it would be easier for them to get the public to accept a pretty lesbian than to accept a gay male."

    First, there's already several (pretty) gay men in comics, both in DC and Marvel - and quite a few lesbians for that matter. Second, why should it be so surprising that Batwoman is an attractive lesbian, given that there are basically no ugly superheroes in comics?

  19. There are a few ugly superheroes in comics. I think there are probably more uglies than gays.

    The Doom Patrol and the X-Men have their fair share of uglies if anyone wants to count a few.

  20. Yeah, but those are dramatically ugly people, like Two-Face and Jonah Hex.

    Where are the just plain fugly people, with oily skin and male pattern baldness? The dumpy woman with pyro-kinetic powers? The horse-faced invulnerable brawler? The acne-plagued speedster?

    Where are the Sekowskis of yesteryear?

  21. "Yeah, but those are dramatically ugly people, like Two-Face and Jonah Hex."

    Exactly. You get superheroes like The Thing or Robotman or Beast, who aren't merely ugly but are actively inhuman-looking - which is the core of their appeal (it establishes their outcast status). You don't get much garden variety ugly: fat guys with receding hairlines who have to save the day from attractive, well-toned villains.

    And those are just the men. How many ugly female superheroes can you think of? The most I can come up with is She-Thing, who was eventually cured of her orange-and-rocky condition - telling in and of itself, given that her male equivalent is still big and blocky-looking despite decades of his genius best friend searching for a cure. In comics, even the female version of The Hulk is gorgeous.

    This shouldn't be all that surprising, given that superhero comics are still by and large an escapist medium - and who wants to escape to a world filled with ugly people?

  22. moose n squirrel: Yes, there are gay male characters, but how many in starring roles in their comics? I'm assuming, lightly, that Batwoman is destined for somewhat greater prominence.

    As for ugly superheroines... Monstress of the Legion was supposed to be ugly.

  23. The- there's a She-Thing? Really?

    Why did nobody tell me about this?

    (have we gotten off point?)

    Oh, uh, yeah, DC is making just as big a deal out of Batwoman being gay as they are out of Blue Beetle being Hispanic and living in El Paso, and are trying to make a BIGGER deal out of China's first superhero team.

    Everyone in the media needs to take a chill. It's not like DC is publishing a comic where a gay Batman and a gay Superman are running around killing people...

    what's that? Midnighter...


  24. Right on.
    Despite the fact her heels have TREADS on them ('cause, yeah, that'll help you stay steady when you're running and jumping and kicking, treads), I think I'm going to do my best and give the new Batwoman a fair shake despite her media posse.

  25. "Yes, there are gay male characters, but how many in starring roles in their comics?"

    Midnighter is about to get his own book. Batwoman, on the other hand, is being introduced explicitly as a supporting character.

    "As for ugly superheroines... Monstress of the Legion was supposed to be ugly."

    Once again, Monstress isn't merely ugly, she's inhuman-looking (compare with Hulk, Thing, Swamp Thing, Man-Thing, Beast, Robotman, etc.). It's different from just having, say, a superheroine who looks human but is simply fat.

    And even then you're missing the point. It's not that ugly superheroes don't exist, it's that when they do they represent a tiny minority of published superheroes. Superheroes in general are overwhelmingly thin, well-built and generally good-looking; any fat or ugly superhero is going to be incredibly rare (and most likely surrounded by super-hotties). Given that context, it's silly to complain about Batwoman being a "pretty lesbian"; Obsidian, Northstar, Ultimate Colossus, Apollo, Midnighter, Wiccan and Hulkling are all gay men and are all consistently drawn as fairly attractive. This doesn't reflect a pernicious plot by comicdom's gay mafia to sell books largely on the strength of hot, hot men (although that's always welcome); it reflects a general species-wide bias towards attractive people which becomes more obvious in a medium where you get to choose exactly what your characters look like.

  26. Scipio - you're right. And I was thinking of your post when I wrote that... I must be getting senile. I remembered the aggressive tread and platform, but not the heel.

    Of course, when you can hurl train engines around and fly, sensible footwear isn't exactly a huge problem when you resort to fisticuffs. When you're an unpowered socialite relying on kung-fu moves to dispatch armed men... yeah, heels are an issue.

    And Power Girl does NOT wear heels in Kandor.

  27. Monstress of the Legion was supposed to be ugly.

    Supposed? She WAS ugly. Man, don't tell me you fancied her... dude!

    Anyway, about Not Dramatically ugly people we got...

    Bouncing Boy: FAT!

    Gert from Runways: Not as fat, but she could use a low carb diet too. Actually she is not ugly, she is just fat and doesn't fit the supermodel body type.

    Wondergirl(Cassie): I know she is not ugly NOW, but back when Byrne introduced her into the series... Ugly Duckling!

    Waller: Another Fat.

    Stompa: Another fat girl, and she is a supervillain most of the time.

    You know... there are no "ugly" people, just fat people. Except for Cassie, and that didn't last for her.

    And there is Terra from Teen Titans. I mean, you could use her teeth to remove bottle caps.

  28. Diamondrock -- You do realize, that jsut because there's a Batwoman it doesn't necessarily mean that there won't be a Batgirl, right?

    Toby -- That sounds really, really over the top. I like the aesthetic look of long hair better than a ponytail myself.

    Anonymous -- Maybe they'll be characterization, or closer to cowboy boots. I've never noticed the uncovered neck msyelf. Purely aesthetic reasons I prefer that, actualyl. It looks better ot have a low neckline.

    Centurion -- I like the Batman Beyond thing myself. I remember when they first put that design out I thought it was a female character pretending to be male. I was so excited until the show debuted. It was still good, but you know how it is.

    JLG -- *nod* Even if she hit Birds of Prey, all of them, Nightwing, Robin, Oracle, they're all support for the Big Bad Bat.

    Batiduende -- I'm not sure we can write Cass off yet. Last page reveals are notorious for being misleading.

    But what happened to Leslie was a characterization crime.

    Mallet -- *Shoots a suction-cup arrow at you. Frowns when it slips off*

    James -- Hehehe. Well, it's not like there's a war or anything to cover!

    Diamondrock -- I know too much military history. There's a reason men have to shave and get a haircut.

    Christopher -- *Nod* And it's a big feminist issue right now, women's fashion ebing so impractical. It irks to see the impracticality in all media not just comics. That's why the radfem sites are being so hard on her, the heels.

    Sandicomm -- I don't see how it couldn't be cute with flats. And I get the trust in DC too, DC hasn't been bad about this stuff.

    Jer -- *Nod* Exactly. She's just a 5'10 lesbian bat in high heels as yet. I'm not sure they meant to be tricksey, but I lvoe the idea that they were.

    Dorian -- The idea of Montoya having dated a superhero is making her arc look ten times more fun, actually. (And hopefully she gets a good writer with that mini).

    Scipio -- Well, it seems obvious, but when peopel keep talking and no one points it out.

    Matthew -- Well, as Moose pointed out, they have a lot of male gay heroes running around. Pied Piper was outed years ago. It's the Bat-prefix thing that's attracting the attention right.

    Moose N Squirrel, Batiduende, STeven -- It's easier to draw the ideal than to draw ugly, I think. The artists are also trained that way, which is why good monster artists are hard to come by.

    Carla -- I didn't even notice the treads. *Rolls her eyes* We need to get some artists who have actually worn this crap.

    Steven -- But Apollo and the Midnighter are in an adult comic, and Batwoman's comic is all-ages.

    Toby -- At least in Batgirl they made fun of it. They made fun of the capes in Harley Quinn to. I'm thinking though, it'll be characterization.

    Batiduende -- Umm.. that's just how Byrne drew people. And I'm with Scipio, Waller's not fat enough anymore.

    And Messner-Loebs/Deodate put Etta Candy on a diet!!

  29. Scud was extremely over the top. The main character was a robot assassin who came out of a vending machine that, in the course of trying to kill his designated victim, discovered the big logo on his back that said "WILL SELF DESTRUCT UPON TERMINATION OF TARGET".

    Memorable quotes included such gems as "I'M JESUS WITH A LASER GUN AND YOU'RE ALL GOING TO DIE!"

    Fabulously kinetic and insane robo-future mayhem with Ben Franklin as one of the major villains, a robotophile with guns in her high heels, zombies, time travel, Voltron combat, robot fighting robots, and at least one of the Four Horsemen.

  30. I've never noticed the uncovered neck msyelf. Purely aesthetic reasons I prefer that, actualyl. It looks better ot have a low neckline.

    Yeah, but what's keeping her mask on? I can buy a tiny mask like Robin's sticking to the face with an adhesive of some sort, but that thing's way too bulky for that. It doesn't seem to have any straps or anything that would explain how it could stay on. I much prefer the cowl idea from the original sketch.

  31. I'll confess, I never made the connection between Batwoman's costume and the classic Batgirl.

    My gut reaction was to be reminded of the (animated) Batman Beyond, with the similar black & red motif.

  32. Oh, I know. Pretty people: easy to draw. Authority: NOT for kids. Neither stops people from making the odd complaint.

    I should have put a wink on both my comments. ;)

  33. Black Mold has like 6 HD and is immune to fire AND cold. And it eats metal. Nasty beast...

    Bob Hairstylebob and his cousin Haircutsbob are both 14th level Assassins. Muy dangerous...