Batwoman first appeared in the 1950s, at least in part to counteract claims that Batman and Robin were homosexual role models.1 When they reintroduced her in 52, they made it clear she was a lesbian, and certainly no in-costume romantic interest for the Dark Knight. She currently holds the lead feature in DC’s eponymous comic, and issues 858-860 finally flesh out her origins.
Title: Detective Comics #858-860: “Go!”
Writer: Greg Rucka
Artist: J. H. Williams III
After the death of her twin sister and her mother, a talented little girl begins a tortuous journey that will lead to her becoming a superhero.
Whatever minor criticisms I may make later about art or writing, they work very well together to tell their tale and craft a credible character—if, of course, one accepts the context of the DC Universe. Consider the moment in #858 where the simplified Silver Age style used to depict Katie’s childhood shows her father carrying her from the scene of a bloodbath. Darkened little girl eyes peer over his shoulder as she’s told, “you don’t want to see.” She does– and we see the horror that will spawn the future hero.
Rucka also does a great job of integrating the various aspects of Katie Kane’s established history into his own story.
I expected some elements of the story to be derivative, and took no issue with most of them. I dreaded, however, one revelation: that Katie’s twin remains alive, after all, and has become the villain “Alice.” The hero’s Evil Twin? It’s an unnecessary and predicable cliché.
Originality: 3/6. Batwoman’s starting point obviously echoes Batman’s, but she takes awhile deciding she wants to be a superhero. Before that, she becomes a military officer (ejected from West Point for homosexual acts), a bohemian party girl, a girlfriend to the young Renee Montoya, and a small-time vigilante.
Artwork: 5/6. The artwork can be dark and dramatic, and it often features echoes of comics past. I get that Williams wants a different style for each stage of the character’s life. It’s a clever touch, and Williams’ styles have undeniable power. Still, the deliberate inconsistencies—I’m thinking mainly of those within #860– don’t consistently work for me.
Story: 5/6. The chapters take place “Twenty,” “Seven,” and “Four” years ago, and we see Katie as a tough little girl in a Superman t-shirt,2 a talented but confused young woman, cut loose from the military, and a determined vigilante. The flashbacks occasionally lead to choppiness– especially when we see the present-day, reminiscing Batwoman—but Rucka has done a good job at telling this story in a few key episodes.
Characterization: 5/6. Katie Kane, Renee Montoya, and Colonel Kane have all been handled well. The relationships actually matter here, and they’ve been plausibly written. Rarely do we see a parent-child relationship portrayed in the context of a superhero comic, and here, real-life elements balance the fantastic ones nicely. Kane’s relationship with Montoya the comic handles without excessive prurience. Their break-up comes very quickly, but that is an inevitable result of the story’s episodic structure. Rucka blends the events smoothly with the award-winning Gotham Central
Most of the other characters remain sketched and (in some cases) clichéd.
Emotional response: 5/6. DC has given Batwoman a more textured origin than most heroes.
Overall: 5/6. The Question—now Renee Montoya—holds the back-up feature. It’s a passably entertaining tale, but very much a supporting feature, an afterthought. These comics also represent an interest cultural moment: currently, gay characters carry the lead and supporting features for DC’s standard-bearing book, the longest-running American comic.
In total, Detective #858-860 receive a score of 33/42.
1. My account of Batwoman’s peculiar history may be found here.
2. If we accept that Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne are in their late thirties or early forties and holding, Superman would have just made his debut during the first chapter.