Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sunday Comics: Batwoman: Elegy

Batwoman: Elegy
written by Greg Rucka, illustrated by J. H. Williams III
DC Comics, 2010

Last week I reviewed a rather obscure comic in a foreign language so I thought I might review something a little more mainstream this week, and you can't get much more mainstream than the family of superheroes that surrounds Batman. Batwoman is a recent addition to this family, vaguely based on a character that hasn't been seen since the early 1960s, yet very, very different. The most glaring difference? Batwoman is an out and proud lesbian.

Batwoman: Elegy collects the first six issues of Batwoman's adventures -- they were first printed about two years ago as Detective Comics #864-#870. There are two stories in the book. The first introduces Batwoman in the present day, and introduces a nemesis with a big connection to her past. The second story flashes back to Kate's youth, and we see what drove her to become a superhero.

Batwoman's sexuality is a big part of the buzz surrounding her character, and since this is a blog about sexuality, that's what I'm going to be writing about here. But while the fact that her alter ego, Kate Kane, occasionally finds time to date women is not the central part of the comic book. Batwoman is a superhero crime fighter first. She's cut from the same cloth as Batman, but while the Dark Knight fights psychopaths and gangsters, Batwoman has her own niche battling a coven of witches and magicians that are part of a relgion of crime. The addition of magical creatures to the noir world of Gotham City is weird and creepy, but it works. The contrast in genres is driven home by the fact that Batwoman is an ex-Marine who, with intel help from her Marine colonel father, has a very nuts-and-bolts, military approach to battling magic.

With all of this going on, Kate Kane doesn't have much time to date. There seems to be a romance with a Gotham police detective simmering on the back burner, but not much has happened in that subplot so far. Where Kate's sexuality is really important is at a key moment in her origin. Like Bruce Wayne (Batman), Kate Kane lost family members to violence at a young age, but lacking a billionaire playboy's perogative for eccentricity, her first thought isn't to strike terror into criminals by dressing as a flying rodent -- instead, she follows in her father's footsteps and joins the Marine Corp. Kate becomes a model cadet, even becomes friends with Dan Choi, future leader of protests against Don't Ask Don't Tell. Choi's cameo is apt, because Kate soon finds herself accused of fraternizing with another woman. It's Kate's word against her accuser's -- all she has to do to keep the career she wants more than anything is lie. Her commanding officer invites her to do so, ready to look the other way. But she's a Marine, and Marines are nothing without honor, so she tells the truth in spite of the consequences.

For a major comic book company to introduce a prominent lesbian character to headline one of their longest running, most important series (the "DC" in "DC Comics" stands for Detective Comics) is cool enough. But for them to forego a bunch of scene of Kate making out with women and instead make the injustice of DADT part of Batwoman's origin story is pretty damn incredible for a company that needs to sell comics in Alabama and Utah, not just New York and California. For many years the plight of gay soldiers was almost invisible -- many people don't have gay friends, and most people don't have friends in the military, so the problem was more abstract than marriage equality. When you read this story you can feel the heartbreak of having your selfless desire to serve your country rejected because of bigotry. Batman's origin is a bit far-fetched, but you believe that someone like Batwoman, with her deep sense of honor and her desire to serve, would turn to vigilanteism as a last resort.

For those who read this trade paperback and like it, there are several uncollected Batwoman issues that continue the story, and you can find them in the back issue boxes in your local comic book store -- Detective Comics #871-873, and Batwoman #0, which lead into a new, ongoing Batwoman series that began last month as part of the company-wide relaunch. It promises to be one of the best series DC publishes, and if you have any inclination towards monthly comic books you should buy it!