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Looking back on Marguerite Bennett's Batwoman
Though the version of Batwoman best known to modern audiences only first came to be in late 2006, that is long enough for her to have survived not just one but two company-wide continuity reboots at DC. The New 52 saw much of her origin established, but when Rebirth came along in 2016, a new direction was needed for all of DC’s many heroes — and that included Kate Kane.
Continuity is an ever-changing beast in most mainstream superhero comics, but Kate is a character who has mostly remained intact on a conceptual level. When the entire Batline underwent the Rebirth reimagining, Kate wasn’t so much redefined as re-established. Revisiting it now, it reads like one of the highlights of the character’s history, as well as that entire era of DC comics.
I Am Batwoman
When she was introduced in the ‘50s, Batwoman was significantly different than the character we know today. Kathy Kane was a freewheeling circus owner who got into the superhero business mostly because it looked like fun and she had a crush on Batman. This isn’t meant to be reductive, because, despite the general sexism of the era, she was one of the most entertaining recurring characters in the Batman line. Regardless, it was that bad old editorial sexism that eventually did her in, as she was dropped from continuity, only to return in the ‘70s just to be fridged. We wouldn’t see Kathy again for many years, though she did pop up again, briefly but notably, in Batman Incorporated in 2011.
In the near-decade and a half since the name was reintroduced to DC continuity, Kate Kane as Batwoman has mostly thrived where her predecessor had struggled. Sporting an infamous red and black design that has lent itself to some of the best double-page spreads in comics and a whole new origin story and direction, Kate turned out to be a relative of Kathy; both are part of the infamous Kane family, from which Bruce Wayne’s mother Martha had hailed.
Introduced in 52 and established through Detective Comics’ Requiem storyline by Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams, Batwoman remains one of the most exciting new characters of the time. Of course, there have been highs and lows along the way, but among the highest of highs, we have Marguerite Bennett’s contribution to the Rebirth series.
Rucka had given readers a solid backstory for Kate already — she was a rich girl whose mother and sister were murdered. Though she was reunited with her father, they were both understandably troubled. Kate eventually joined the military, from which she was discharged when she was brought up on charges of homosexuality and refused to lie to save her career. This sent Kate spiraling into alcoholism and general bad behavior for a while before ultimately choosing to become Batwoman.
James Tynion IV and Marguerite Bennett took on the task of not necessarily creating a new origin so much as fleshing out the one from before. Here Kate spies on Batman until he eventually notices her doing so and comes to threaten her with a shutdown if she crosses any lines. Kate shrugs it off, and that leads into the first arc of Rebirth, also co-written by Tynion.
The general concept behind the Batwoman: Rebirth run involved undertaking an exploration of Batwoman’s lost years, post-military and pre-Batwoman. This disjointed timeline, bouncing between modern-day Gotham and Kate’s troubled past, gave an almost David Lynchian tone to the new ongoing. The surrealism of revisiting one’s buried mistakes did a lot for the vibe of Batwoman and established Bennett’s run as being unique right out of the gate.
The series also established what set Kate’s methods apart from the rest of the Batfamily. At the start, Batman tells Kate that the Batfamily does not use guns, to which Kate somewhat flippantly responds that she was trained as a soldier and will use whatever weapon she has available to her. This is only one instance among many where she and Batman fundamentally disagree. Kate is loyal but not unquestioning, and by poking at Batman’s inflexibility she gives us a more interesting Batman while defining her own morality.
Going into Batwoman #1, the excitement from the creative team was obvious. Though Tynion would depart after the first handful of issues establishing the character, the wholehearted love the creative team has for the character was palpable throughout the series. According to Bennett, in an interview with CBR, “I still remember where I was when Batwoman was announced. I was still in high school when it was announced that DC was going to have a lesbian heroine. I've known I was queer since I was a little kid, so that was just an overwhelmingly significant moment.”
For many queer fans of the character, this is no doubt a familiar sentiment. Another benefit of having a queer writer at the helm was Bennett’s ability to give us an immersive look at sometimes problematic queer relationships. Kate’s flaws and how she works around them and struggles to overcome them are the main focus of much of the series. As we get glimpses of Kate’s past, we see her bad behavior, but we are also introduced to former lovers turned villains and all the emotional complexity that would entail.
Unfortunately, this series had bafflingly poor sales throughout its run, and ended up closing after #18, leaving fans to groan and speculate as to why people weren’t buying this book. There are feelings from a lot of queer readers that only specific (i.e. male and straight) creators are generally acclaimed for writing stories about lesbians, while queer creators are often given less focus. However, Bennett’s work on DC Bombshells can be considered a success, and generally enjoyed better sales. As with many things, this is just one of those unexplainable moments when the creators absolutely brought their A-game to a character that everyone loves, and it just didn’t translate to good box office.
To put it mildly, it's a huge bummer, because the end of this series is a masterpiece. The entire series had featured top-notch art, beginning with the now-legendary Steve Epting. Even the couple fill-in artists did gorgeous work, and when Fernando Blanco ultimately took over as the regular penciler, the entire game was upped in a way that didn’t even seem possible. Each issue of Batwoman looked amazing.
Besides that, the character moments are incredibly rewarding. The introduction of the mysterious Safiyah gave us an intriguing new Batfamily villain. Kate is drawn back into revisiting her past again and again, but in the end she walks out of the mistakes that have haunted her, saying, “I choose now.” When her sister Beth reverts to the villainous Alice and Batman attempts to imprison her in Arkham, Kate completely defies him and refuses to let him take her. Their individual methods are a point of stress often, but this scene demonstrates that Kate’s loyalty is forever with her sister. Also, fans who ship Renee Montoya and Kate Kane were rewarded with a gentle ending in which the two estranged lovers finally found one another again after years of pining after each other on the sly. This is a book full of fantastic character moments that make us see the inner workings of Kate’s heart in a way we hadn’t before.
In the end, there are only so many ways to say that this was a brilliant comic, and you’ve got to pick it up. Though it did mark the end of Bennett’s work at DC, at least for a time, it is well worth going back to read it if you missed it the first time around. Though it is not our work to pit epic stories against one another, for this reader this is the iconic Batwoman run, and it remains a must-read for Bat-fans, queer comic fans, and anyone who loves beautiful art and a surreal, dreamy, yet ultimately definitive story.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.