Batwoman is getting a lot of attention recently with DC’s editorial changes and the current writers leaving the book. I thought this would be a great time to talk about the history of the character and how she went from the yellow and red of the 1950s to the modern day black and red. So who is this woman that is in actuality two women with similar names? Let’s find out.
Originally, Batwoman and Bat-Girl (yes, the original one had her name spelled that way, you can differentiate Bette Kane and all other Batgirls with that Spider-Man hyphen.) were brought in to Batman comics because of a man called Frederic Wertham, a psychiatrist who was anti-comics and gained a foothold in government, and claimed Batman and Robin to be in a gay relationship with one another. It being the 1950s, and the whole man-boy aspect of such a relationship which should have been the real concern if such a thing existed, but again it was the 1950s so their priorities are weird, DC introduced Batwoman and Bat-Girl as romantic interests for the Dynamic Duo. The characters were there to show the superhero team wasn’t gay, they had girlfriends! The characters were not only a comic book creation of “no homo,” but also not the most progressive heroes. They had nearly a decade of popularity, and then were wiped out along with Bat-Mite and Ace the Bat-hound in order to bring in Barbara Gordon and what would become a Batman that looks more like what you’d see on the TV show that premiered in 1966. I find Batwoman’s out-of-comics history very interesting, so I thought I’d share that. Now on to the in-comics history.
The original Batwoman was your standard circus performer and wealthy socialite, standard Gotham evolution. Like many who saw Batman take on protecting Gotham City, Kathy was inspired to help her city. Unlike many citizens, she did so by donning her own bat-inspired costume with her niece to become Batwoman and Bat-Girl. Both Kathy and Bette would fall for their respective analog; Batwoman would start fighting crime not just for the sake of what’s right, but to gain Batman’s attention (I told you earlier, this wasn’t a very progressive development). The two would constantly try to date Batman and Robin until they were written out of history to be brought back in at a later time.
Katherine Webb was an aspiring film director who married Nathan Kane, brother of Martha Wayne, thus making her Bruce’s aunt by marriage. As a gift, Nathan gave Kathy a circus which granted her the time to improve her athletic ability. Sadly, Nathan would die leaving Kathy alone, but not for long. She would be approached by a man called Agent-33 who worked for the spy agency Spyral to join their organization. Her first mission was to discover who Batman was. She decided that taking on the appearance of Batwoman would allow for the easiest access to such information.
This tactic proved successful, but Kathy did not plan on falling for Batman, thus keeping his identity a secret. Upon learning that the head of Spyral was a Nazi scientist named Dr. Dedalus who claimed to be her real father, Kathy would leave Batman for his own safety. Kathy is believed dead, killed by the League of Assassins, but this was part of her plan to allow her ease of movement. Kathy reappears just in the nick of time to save Batman from Talia al Ghul, and now that Spyral no longer has a Nazi in charge, two less supervillains threaten the world. It is unknown if Kathy exists in the rest of the New 52.
Katherine “Kate” Rebecca Kane was born along with her twin sister, Elizabeth “Beth” Kane, to their parents Jake and Gabi Kane. Both parents in the military, the Kane family moved often, until tragedy struck. Kate, her sister, and mother were kidnapped, and by the time their father was able to lead a rescue, her mother and sister were dead with Kate having witnessed the killings. Years later, Jake would remarry to Catherine Hamilton, a wealthy Gothamite, so Jake and Kate become Gothamites as well. While in the U.S. Military Academy, Kate is excelling in all subjects, but when it becomes known that she is a lesbian the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy has Kate kicked out. I wonder how future tellings of Kate’s story will get her kicked out? No longer pursuing her (her father’s?) dreams, Kate becomes known for her partying in Gotham’s wealthy scene.
Getting pulled over for her reckless driving one night, Kate meets Officer Renee Montoya, and soon the two begin seeing one another. Kate’s aimless behavior – it was believed that she was in college but had actually dropped out – of partying drove a wedge in her relationship with Renee, and they eventually broke up. Kate is a part of an attempted mugging, but with her combat training is easily able to handle the situation. Batman arrives to make sure she is okay and that the criminal is apprehended. This has quite the impact on Kate, as you can imagine.
Using stolen military equipment, Kate begins a life as a vigilante. Her father discovers this and tells her she needs more training. Kate goes away for two years, training under some of the best in a variety of fields. When she returns to Gotham, her father has a Batwoman costume and arsenal ready for her. They may have their issues, but that is some high-level support for your child right there.
Batwoman’s crime-fighting career is mostly in dealing with street level crime until she runs into Renee Montoya again. This time Renee is with The Question, fighting off the world-spanning threat that is InterGang. Renee and The Question are dealing with the revelations found in InterGang’s Crime Bible about a “twice-named daughter of Cain.” I wonder what that could mean for someone like Kate Kane/Batwoman?
Renee and Kate are able to rekindle some of their relationship as they deal with the Crime Bible, but it doesn’t last. They spend a year fighting against the Religion of Crime and are able to stop the organization from killing Kate. The Religion of Crime’s leader turns out to be a woman named Alice, who believes herself to be the character from Lewis Carrol’s books. Kate meets Detective Maggie Sawyer at an event, where she also meets her cousin Bette Kane (who is secretly the Teen Titan Firebird). During this event Kate’s father is kidnapped by Alice, forcing Kate to leave the party to save all of Gotham and her father. As Kate and Alice fight, Alice falls to her supposed death, but not before she mentions that Kate has “their father’s eyes.”
Kate is kidnapped and brought to London for another sacrificial ritual, but is saved by Dick Grayson, Knight, and Squire (the last two are the Batman and Robin of London). Dick Grayson was also there to try and revive the dead body of Bruce Wayne, but as Kate had pointed out, the Lazarus Pit could provide a newly resurrected and crazed Wayne who might kill them all. The revived Wayne did try, but was stopped by the united efforts of Kate, Grayson, Knight, and Squire. It was also deduced that this was not the real body of Wayne.
Back in Gotham, Kate is dealing with a killer, The Cutter, who dismembers his female victims for parts to create his ideal woman, when she is assisted by Firebird. FIrebird and Batwoman realize they are Bette and Kate, and team up to stop The Cutter. Bette then claims she is now Kate’s partner in crime-fighting.
In the New 52, Bette was training to be Kate’s partner until she was nearly crippled, but she is back in action while Kate is dealing with dating Maggie Sawyer. This relationship is tough, since Maggie is in charge of hunting down Batwoman for Gotham PD, and she has no idea her girlfriend is who she is after. Kate then has to deal with a new set of criminals who are straight out of urban legends, literally, as a mage has manifested creatures of lore to help bring about a new apocalypse. Killer Croc and Kate cross paths several times since he was augmented by this mage, and then joins a freak show and is tasked with killing Kate, but he decides to leave her be and live a life with the mother of his child.
Kate is able to stop this bizarre apocalypse from occurring, and then admits to Maggie who she is while proposing marriage. Maggie says yes, and the two move in together. Kate is then wrangled by the Department of Extranormal Operations in exchange for her father’s safety. The D.E.O. task Kate with bringing in the Batman, at which point Kate’s identity is revealed to her step-mother, Catherine, and the whole family unites to help Kate get out of dealing with the D.E.O.
What happens next, I’m not sure, as it hasn’t happened yet. All I know is it isn’t going to go the way it was originally planned, because Kate and Maggie were to be wed. Sadly, this is no longer the case. All I know is that the Bat-family is “not supposed to be happy,” so I guess we can’t be either. I’m sorry Kate and Maggie, I was really rooting for you. Maybe in the future. I do want it known that this is one of my favorite stories, the journey of Batwoman from a girlfriend to show Batman isn’t gay to a fantastic character of her own (gay or otherwise). Wertham wasn’t looking at the right Bat.
Dr. Alexander Bustos