The Cultural Gutter

geek chic with mad technique

"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars." -- Oscar Wilde

Batwoman: Elegaic

Carol Borden
Posted November 11, 2010

batwoman 80.jpgIn this time of uncertainty and dread, with Batman dying and Dick Grayson taking up the cowl, with dead Robins returning all crazy or replacing Batgirl, with Bruce Wayne taking a global crimefighting initiative Batman Inc. public, there’s one thing I am sure Gotham that has going for it: Batwoman.

In my first Gutter article I wrote about loving Ed Brubaker’s Catwoman. I might love Greg Rucka’s Batwoman as much, but slantwise. I’m not sure I like Kate Kane, but I do kinda like a character who I don’t entirely like. It’s part of Manhunter Kate Spencer’s appeal and it’s part of Kate Kane’s. She has a lot in common with Bruce Wayne, who can also be difficult to love. Batman’s superpower might, in fact, be stubbornness and Kate Kane is stubborn. She’s also difficult, rigid, wounded, loyal and probably oh-so-secretly romantic, all traits Bruce Wayne shares. There’s a nice moment between them in Batwoman: Elegy (DC, 2010). They’re on the rooftops of Gotham. (Where else?). Batwoman corrects Batman on a case detail. Batman responds, “Do something about the hair.”

Batwoman made her first appearance in DC’s, 52, but I didn’t connect with her or her high-heeled crime-fighting boots. DC puts the denial in comics for me these days. So, for me, Batwoman begins with Batwoman: Elegy, which collects Detective Comics #854-60.* Greg Rucka writes fully-formed, complex and engaging characters. J.H. Williams III’s art is gorgeous, with exquisite splash pages and inventive panels (bats!). Dave Stewart’s colors are somehow both delicate and deep. Their art demarcates Kate’s life as expelled West Point cadet/drifting playgirl and as Batwoman. Incidentally, I like her red boots and their bat-treads. (Yes, boots are synecdotal to me). In short, Elegy is a perfect union of story and art. The single issues include a second feature by Rucka and artist Cully Hamner starring Renee Montoya, the new Question (also Kate Kane’s ex).

Actually, that history’s not entirely accurate. Batwoman first appeared in 1956. According Les Daniels’ Batman: The Complete History, (San Francisco: Chronicle, 2004), Kathy Kane might not have been a direct response to Fredric Wertham’s criticisms of the Dynamic Duo, but she certainly straightened up the place.

[Batwoman] was Kathy Kane, a former circus acrobat who used an inheritance to fulfill her dream of imitating Batman and began showing up in answer to the Bat-Signal….Even while fighting crime, however, she displayed signs of conventional womanliness. She carried a purse rather than wearing a utility belt, and armed herself with such ‘flashing feminine tricks’ as a lipstick filled with tear gas and a compact containing sneezing powder (91-2).

Heteronormativity abounded. There were marriages (clever ruses), declarations of love (also a bat-ruse) and chaste kissing. But Batwoman was gone from Gotham and Batman’s life by the mid-Sixties. In 1979, Batwoman was “rather gratuitously stabbed to death” (99).

batwoman alice cover 250.jpgThere’s an ironic satisfaction in Batwoman’s return as Kate Kane, a West Point cadet expelled for refusing to lie about being a lesbian. That frustrated desire to serve drives Kate to become Batwoman. So, most of all, I appreciate that she is a fully-realized character and that the book is well-grounded. Rucka and Williams went to Lt. Dan Choi for background on West Point as well as his experience of being gay in the military. Choi also appears in Elegy. And, despite Kate’s active love life, the book’s not salacious. I do wonder how her nipples show through her body armor, though. There must be some darting. Still, it’s no visible pantylines situation.

It’s hard for me to wrap my brain around the fact that Batwoman ran in Detective Comics. With its mature content and themes, I expect the comic to carry DC’s “mature” Vertigo imprint. And I don’t mean “mature” as a euphemism for, “sex.” I mean, mature like 1970s police dramas. Elegy is intense, character-driven, adult. It looks—and often feels—psychedelic as Batwoman is poisoned by Alice, the High Madame of the Religion of Crime. Alice takes after in Alice in Wonderland, but a grown-up freaky, kinky one. Her outfits alone are Vertigo. Williams and Stewart’s art is particularly inspired when Batwoman’s through the looking glass. Her second Detective Comics arc, “The Cutter” (#861-3), is similarly adult, dealing with obsession and horrific violence while Batwoman trails a criminal who escaped Batman years ago. Batwoman’s run ends with Detective Comics #863. There’s a final, cliffhanging panel with Kate’s cousin Bette Kane saying she “wants in” on the crimefighting. And that’s it.

Batwoman was successful enough that DC planned a new monthly title under Rucka and Williams. But now Rucka has left DC. Williams will do both the writing and art for Batwoman 0, which comes out this month. But even though Williams worked with Ruckka and on Alan Moore’s very lady-positive Promethea, I can’t help worrying about Batwoman and the Question. DC has amazing characters, but they don’t always seem to know it. There are only a limited number of titles each month and DC is cutting their second features. And while Kate Kane and Renee Montoya are heroes who happen to be lesbians, the heroes who happen to disappear, be displaced by Silver Age predecessors or die are often characters who happen to be like Kate Kane and Renee Montoya. And so I am uneasy.

*I was just reading about Batwoman and Batgirl at Kelly Thompson’s blog and DC Women Kicking Ass. I can’t seem to find the posts mentioning that if DC was going to retcon so are they, but that’s pretty much how I feel right now.

~~~

Carol Borden is high-speed, low drag all the way. And the Batman Rule is always in effect.

Comments

Leave a Reply





  • Support The Gutter

  • The Book!

  • Of Note Elsewhere

    Actor, director, writer and artist Leonard Nimoy has died. Nimoy was most famous for playing Spock in Star Trek, but he also appeared in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), In Search Of…, Ancient Mysteries, Columbo, Fringe, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Faerie Tale Theatre, Mission: Impossible, Dragnet and Bonanza.  Nimoy directed Three Men And A Baby (1987), two Star Trek films and an episode of Night Gallery (“Death on a Barge”) among others. The New York Times and The Guardian have obituaries. Here are some tweets from William Shatner’s online memorial for Nimoy. George Takei remembers Nimoy. Zachary Quinto remembers Nimoy. EW also has other remembrances, including one from President Obama. Code Switch’s Steve Haruch discusses Spock’s importance as a biracial character. Nimoy talks about his work at the Archive of American Television. You can see some of Nimoy’s photography here. And a reminder that Nimoy had an Etsy shop.

    ~

    At Graveyard Shift Sisters, Ashlee Blackwell considers Jonathan Demme’s Beloved as a horror film as part of their Black History & Women In Horror Month series. “Beloved takes us on one journey of the Black American experience of slavery through the body of a Black female protagonist.”

    ~

    Watch Nigerian writer and director Nosa Igbinedion’s Oya: The Coming Of The Orishas here.

    ~

    At Bitch Media, Sara Century wonders why Michonne isn’t in charge and considers which medium is better for the ladies of The Walking Dead: comics or tv. “As I was thinking about the numerous questionable writing choices made with these could-be-so-great female characters, I got to wondering, which medium is better for the ladies of The Walking Dead: the TV show or the comic? In other words, which one is less sexist?

    I wrote up a short list of the main female characters that appear both on the show and in the comic to decipher the differences in how these women are written. These descriptions contain spoilers through season five of the TV show, because it’s impossible to write about The Walking Dead without talking about how people die all the time.”

    ~

    Vixen Varsity shares Olufemi Lee-Johnson’s tribute to Milestone Media and Dwayne McDuffie. “For the first time in my life, I was around comic writers of color telling stories that mirror or surpassed the storylines of America’s favorite heroes. Icon dealt with being the ultimate immigrant and not understanding current black culture. Rocket (Raquel Irvin) was his guide, but also aspired to be more than just a woman in the projects. Static (Virgil Hawkins) was just a normal teenager dealing with fitting into school and then was put into this extraordinary circumstance of being a hero. Hardware (Curtis Metcalf) wanted respect from his mentor, but later learned about the bigger picture when it came to being a hero and the characters from Blood Syndicate…they were just trying to make it day by day and maintain their respect as a gang.”

    ~

    At Soundcheck, John Schaefer talks with Jim Jarmusch about “making music for someone else’s films, and a penchant for walking the tightrope between narrative and abstract art in his own movies. And if you thought his C.V. was looking a little thin, Jarmusch is also working on an upcoming opera about the Serbian-American inventor Nikola Tesla, with Robert Wilson and composer Phil Kline.” (Thanks, Kate!)

    ~

  • Spilling into Twitter

  • Obsessive?

    Then you might be interested in knowing you can subscribe to our RSS feed, find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter or Tumblr.

    -------

  • Weekly Notifications

  • What We’re Talking About

  • Thanks To

    No Media Kings hosts this site, and Wordpress autoconstructs it.

  • %d bloggers like this: