Bombshells and Batwomen: An interview with Marguerite Bennett

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Jun 15, 2017

In a medium that is low-key, pulling off a level of representation still largely absent in most mainstream films and TV shows, Marguerite Bennett is on my short list of comics writers who continually excite me with narratives that speak directly to LGBTQ folks, especially those of us who identify as women.

In honor of Pride Month, I was excited to sit down with Marguerite to discuss the opportunities and triumphs that come from writing queer narratives within a popular established line of comic characters like the DC universe, as well as in worlds of her own creation.

Well, to start off, at what point in the development of the Bombshells comic did you decide to just go for it with how boldly (and kind of adorably) queer it is? Was that always the plan?

You know, I don't want to give the illusion that I had some grand tactical plan heading into Bombshells – I might just not know how to write anyone straight. [laughs]

Kate as Batwoman was ALWAYS our lead heroine – it was actually a huge surprise and caused a bit of confusion when we first launched. Folks hear World War II, and Wonder Woman is DC's most prominent heroine, but – and I say this with nothing but love for Wonder Woman – Diana is an Amazon, not a human being. She's from an isolated island, not a place embroiled in war. She was crafted from clay, not from a people who've faced persecution for several millennia. She was born to a land of women, and never had to live in defiance to express her love. I adore her for all of these things, but – if you're fighting the literal frickin' Nazis, the battle will not be intimate for a clay-born Amazon from an isolationist paradise.

This, sure as frickle frackle, was a fight for a Jewish-American lesbian.

With Batwoman as the center and heart of the world of Bombshells, everything else unfolded. Love between women was the momentum that bore the story – Kate's loves and losses, Wonder Woman's love of humanity, Supergirl's love for her sister, the friendship and love affairs and inspirations between women. I got to rejoice in it. Queerness was as natural as the sunrise.

There's moments for me as a gay lady reader when I get giddy reading the book because I'm so familiar with the characters, but they've never been in stories so specifically for me. I get to go, "Wait, I can just have all this!" Do you have moments like that writing it? Do you ever feel like you're pulling off a heist or something?

I DO! Seriously, every time I sit down to write, it feels like the gift-giving winter holiday of your choice. But DC Comics has honestly been nothing but supportive – they are so encouraging, so generous, so receptive and so enthusiastic about the line and the comic and everything that Marguerite Sauvage, Mirka Andolfo, Laura Braga, Ant Lucia, editor Jessica Chen, DC Collectibles'Jim Fletcher and everyone on it has done. I continually boggle at my good fortune and I am endlessly grateful for the opportunity we've been allowed, and for the overwhelming love and kindness from readers and fans.

Focusing in on Harley and Ivy for a second, this was a "ship" that was decades in the making, with essentially a whole generation of queer girls having felt it was there even in the "Harley and Ivy" episode of Batman: The Animated Series, but the kiss in Bombshells #42 last year made it real. What made you decide "enough with the teasing it" and go right for it? Is there anything different to you about Bombshells' Harley and Ivy that made it easier on them as characters to find and truly identify that connection versus in the "prime" books or on screen?

Here's the dumb answer: I had no idea it hadn't already happened. I had (evidently false) VIVID MEMORIES of them kissing in the cartoon as a child, or in SOME book, SOMEWHERE, and I had NO IDEA we were evidently the first to put it on paper. (And -- are we, actually?? I keep looking and looking and asking folk for this kiss I SWEAR I REMEMBER – if someone does, will you let me know?) For so long, and not for lack of creative teams trying, Harley and Ivy's relationship has been winks and nudges and waking up in bed together, pecks on the cheeks and breakfasts the morning after, to the point that when we finally got to the characters in Bombshells, I got pulled up short because the very first scene I got to write with them couldn't be a kiss scene, because it was the first time they'd met and even for someone as forward as Harley, that miiiiiight be a little indecorous. It never occurred to me that we wouldn't be telling that story.

Let's put it this way: If you write stories that tell folks that queer people can live without shame, they just might grow up believing it.

Your love of Batwoman as a character is fairly well known. What's it like to be writing for two different versions of her at once? How do you approach the Rebirth version of her differently than you do the Bombshells version?

Bonkers. My cup runneth over with my favorite heroine. Fortunately, the two timelines are so different, I never fear any overlap, and frankly, I could write 10 years of Batwoman stories in either verse – dare me to! (Please, dare me.)

Each universe allows me to tell stories that examine who Kate is at her core, the unflinching, inherent elements of her conscience and personality, while each series then lobs entirely different crises in her direction, which then alter her accordingly.

In Bombshells Kate's battle experiences were fighting fascists during the Spanish Civil War; in Batwoman, she was trained at West Point. In Bombshells, Kate has felt orphaned and isolated but for her superheroic friends like Wonder Woman and Vixen; in Batwoman and Detective Comics, Kate's father Jacob is alive, kicking, and two handfuls of trouble. Yet in both, she has conflicting relationships with Renee Montoya and Maggie Sawyer; in both, her stubborn, ferocious conviction in fighting injustice makes her one of the most striking and memorable heroines in the DCU. In both, she isn't an aspirational heroine, but a real, flesh-and-blood person – she screws up, she learns, she grows, she pays the price.

Alysia Yeoh is one of the Gotham City ladies who take up the Batgirls mantle when Kate Kane is off in the war. Yeoh is a trans woman and is friends with Batgirl in the "prime" universe, but was there a conscious choice to shift her into an actual vigilante hero within the Bombshells universe for young trans readers to look up to, or was that just a happy accident when mining the ranks of female Bat-adjacent characters who might be around to take up bats?

It was both, really! I had Alysia on my short-list of superheroes, and when I first pitched the idea of the Batgirls, she was always front and center. In a lot of ways, the desire to make sure Alysia was an undeniable heroine of Gotham was part of why the Batgirls were formed, and retro-engineered to find, through the happiest confluence, an origin in Batwoman.

In addition to your work on Bombshells, Batwoman, Batgirl, etc., you've also done several books of your own, like Animosity and the more adult-oriented Insexts, the latter having a pretty firm foothold as lesbian erotica. How different is it crafting queer narratives within a world entirely of your own making versus within an established set of characters with a following, continuity and baggage that pre-dates your involvement?

Haha, bless. It's a mixed bag, honestly! In Bombshells, I'm beholden to the fictional histories of characters, but the alternate history of the world can be altered – sort of obviously, there's been some sort of proto-Civil Rights Movement and early Women's Lib in our timeline, while in Insexts, I'm holding to a more realistic timeline and social mores, but the characters and their backstories are my inventions.

In Insexts, one of the truly pleasant things was not getting into obscure, handwringing agonies in dissecting queer stories to an atomic level and explaining them until they're bloodless for the benefit of frowning straight audiences. (Straight audiences that are not frowning, you can chill, we're good.)

I was driven to something between "distraction" and "shouting angrily at my laptop" at the complaints and interrogations of "how could queer people exist" in either of the historical circumstances, so let me be explicitly clear: Queer people were not invented in the 1980s. Somewhere, someone lied to you about this.

The ButHows are the bane of my career. "But how could they be lesbians if, but how could they be accepted, but how could they take the risk, but how if there are no hormones, but how if the first surgery was in the '60s, but how if she's never—"

Shush. Just shush. She's not going to date you. Stop.

Are the ButHows so vain that they think the past hundred years is where all things have ever been conceived of, let alone invented? We've been around as long as you have. We knew who we were, we knew who we loved, and we survived.

We were there in WWII. We were there in The Count of Monte Cristo and The Tale of Genji and Gilgamesh and Enkidu, from the Chevalier d'Eon to We'wha of the Zuni. We have always existed.

It's an honor and a privilege to write from the heart, and continue to shout, "Dear God, but we are here."