Another familiar face is joining the DC Arrowverse: Batwoman, presumably her current iteration as Kate Kane, the gay Jewish cousin of Bruce Wayne, who stalks the streets of Gotham and tends to date cops. She debuted in 2006 to much publicity, including coverage from the gay press. The brainchild of Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Mark Waid, Ken Lashley, and designed by Alex Ross, Kate Kane was a fresh take on a character from the fifties. Ruby Rose, a genderfluid actor who identifies as a lesbian, will be taking on the mantle (and hopefully getting a high quality wig), debuting in a three-part Elseworlds event that spans the CW-verse. But whose wig will she be donning? Let’s find out.
The mantle of Batwoman first came to be in 1956, created by Edmond Hamilton and Sheldon Moldoff to be a love interest for Bruce Wayne—ironically because Frank Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent claimed Batman and Robin were gay. Kathy Kane was retconned out of existence (and then restored, of course, but she was last seen as a member of SPYRAL), but pale and confrontational Kate Kane is the likely bet for who’ll be on your television soon.
So, who IS she, aside from one of Gotham’s most fashionable socialite/crime fighters? Let’s walk you through it.
Kate Kane, like her cousin-ish Bruce, lived through a horrific and violent tragedy as a child—she was kidnapped along with her twin sister, Elizabeth and their mother Army Captain Gabi Kane, by the Religion of Crime. By the time her father, Colonel Jacob Kane, and his strike team arrive to save his family, Gabi and Elizabeth appear to have already been executed.
Raised by solely by her father, Kane enrolls at West Point to follow in her family’s footsteps. There, she ends up dating her roommate (another woman!). When she’s found out, Kane refuses to stay in the closet and is expelled (the book was published in June 2009, before the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell). She returns to Gotham, where her father has married into money. Luckily, he’s proud of what she’s done, and helps her out financially. She enrolls in college and drifts for a while, becoming a party girl socialite. And Kate Kane—she has a look. She’s suave in a tux, but just as charming in a leather jacket. Incredibly pale (even for comics), her style outside of the cowl is another part of her armor, her personality amped up with tattoos to match.
So of course she charms Gotham cop Renee Montoya, asking her out for a drink after she’s pulled over for speeding. Eventually, however, Montoya dumps her, citing her directionless lifestyle as a problem—she’d dropped out of college and wasn’t doing much of anything.
The breakup, plus beating up muggers (right before Batman shows up), is the kick in the ass she needs to put on the cowl, to find some meaningful way to serve and also work on her relationship with her father, the man she enlisted for. She spends two years training across the globe, and her father establishes their home base and armory.
Her first appearance starts right where that summary of her backstory left off, in 52 #7 (she appears in costume on #11), where she runs into her ex, Montoya, and the Question (not Renee Montoya, yet). After revealing her costumed identity, she’s swept up in fighting the Intergang. While she’s still relatively new to crime fighting, her knowledge of the Religion of Crime makes her an asset, and she learns more along the way (Nightwing gets the honor of teaching her how to use a batarang, gifting her one for the holidays). Her and Montoya keep up their flirtation, even spending Hanukkah together.
Batwoman’s first storyline is as dramatic as her look—she’s targeted by the Intergang as the “twice marked daughter of Caine” in a prophecy, and subsequently kidnapped and stabbed (after which she stabs her assailant right back). Rather than letting her die in her arms, Montoya manages to stop the bleeding. She’s then seen sending the Batwoman signal out into the sky.
In the aftermath of Battle for the Cowl storyline (during which she didn’t battle much at all), Batwoman makes it back to the main stage in Detective Comics #854, by Greg Rucka and JH Williams III (who made a few aesthetic tweaks in her costume). This is the root of her current characterization, and contains her tragic origin story and her motivations. Her expulsion from West Point, described earlier, is revealed in flashback as she works on a case regarding the Religion of Crime, now being led by a mysterious woman named Alice. This is also when Kate Kane meets Gotham police officer Maggie Sawyer, who becomes a major love interest.
The second story in her run in Detective Comics has Jock on art, and is about a serial killer known as the Cutter, who kidnaps Bette Kane, Kate Kane’s cousin, who guesses Batwoman’s true identity. Bette Kane asks to be her partner, as Flamebird, and sticks around through her later stories.
Batwoman works with the then split-up Justice League in Cry for Justice, but ultimately does not end up in the League (as James Robinson originally had planned). She’s then kidnapped in Batman and Robin: Darkest Night, because nothing says human sacrifice like Kate Kane. She tries to keep Dick Grayson from reviving Bruce Wayne using the Lazarus Pit (and it turned out to be a clone), but she sustains serious injuries and needs her own trip to the Lazarus Pit to survive. Surviving is, as you can see, one of her best skills.
While the new Batwoman title was announced in 2010, along with an introductory #0 issue in November, Batwoman #1 was delayed to be launched as part of the New 52 reboot (fitting, given her origins). The creative team was J H Williams III and W Haden Blackmore, and they committed to telling the same tightly contained story that was planned before New 52, so it remains largely untouched by the happenings of the greater DC universe. Williams and Blackmore create a more mystical world of crime, ghosts and weeping women, for Batwoman to explore. They also delve into her growing relationship with Maggie Sawyer, a long-running thread through their work.
As the series continued, other artists take over, but Kate Kane remains a tough, tattooed detective, and the creative teams excel at telling a long-form story. Batwoman fights the Weeping Woman in their first arc, and then the Weeping Woman turns out to be connected to the Medusa criminal cartel. Medusa turns out to be more than just a name, which means Batwoman has to team up with Wonder Woman to get mythological. Kate and Bette also have their own conflict of styles—Batwoman lives in the shadows, while Flamebird-now-Hawkfire is flashy and bold. Despite her name, Batwoman is never swept up into the Batfamily crossovers like Battle for the Cowl.
Kate Kane and her girlfriend, Maggie Sawyer (another Arrowverse (ish) character who you might remember from Supergirl as Alex Danvers’ girlfriend), grow closer as well, Kate overcoming her distrust of Batwoman to eventually Kate proposing.
However, Williams and Blackmore left the book in 2013 after editorial nixed the inevitable wedding between Kate and her girlfriend Maggie Sawyer. Dan DiDio’s given reason was, “Heroes shouldn’t have happy personal lives,” rather than any potential backlash over a lesbian wedding, but it was a tough blow to Batwoman fans who’d grown invested in these two women.
Marc Andreyko, himself openly gay, took over writing the Batwoman solo title on issue #25 with a group of artists, after a year off the shelves. He kept the supernatural tones of the series, and Kate finds herself under hypnosis, controlled by the vampire Nocturna into breaking up with Maggie and carrying on a relationship with her, instead (this was not my favorite storyline, fyi). The series was canceled at issue 40, wrapping in September 2015.
Batwoman returned to lead Detective Comics under the hands of James Tynion IV and Eddy Barrows in issue #934. In this arc, Gotham’s vigilantes are being targeted by a group styling themselves as Batmen, out to do a better job than Batman himself. Along with discovering that he’s being surveilled, this leads Batman to team up with Batwoman to help train Red Robin, Orphan, Spoiler, and Clayface in the arts of crime fighting. Kate is forced to confront a close relationship in the process of discovering just who watches the Batmen. She also reconnects with the no-longer-dead Renee Montoya.
Issues #948 and #949 specifically are the story Batwoman Begins, the launching point to her solo series, Batwoman: Rebirth. It’s a run that really cements Kate Kane as her own woman, one who picked the name Batwoman but did it for herself, not for Bruce, and keeps it because it’s her own now. The current team is Marguerite Bennett and Fernando Blanco and John Rauch—Batwoman gets a yacht, an assistant (Julia Pennyworth!), and a mission that brings her back to a place from her past.
Like its launching pad story, “Batwoman Begins,” implies, this arc delves deeper into Kate Kane’s past, giving us insight into her lost years after her West Point expulsion. There’s a troublesome bioweapon, Monster Venom, being distributed by the organization the Many Arms of Death, and they’re selling to the global market on the island of Coryana. Of course they’d pick the one island where Kate spent a year with the warlord Safiyah, who was also her lover. They have a mysterious past that’s not unfurled until issue #5, an issue-long flashback done by Stephanie Hans.
The story continues after an interesting one-off with a future Tim Drake, moving to the next storyline, Wasteland, with Fernando Blanco taking over the principle art duties on issue #6 and Tynion dropping off completely, leaving Bennett with solo scribe duties. Kate ends up in the Sahara after being pursued by the head of the Many Arms of Death, the Mother of War, and is forced to team up with her enemy Colony Prime to fight the Scarecrow after her capture. Colony Prime, of course, just so happens to have ties to her past as well.
In volume 3, The Fall of the House of Kane, more of Kate’s past unfurls and collides with her current mission, including a fight with Batman, and the return of Detective Renee Montoya, thankfully not dead. I won’t spoil the conclusion here, as this title was just canceled in August, ending on issue #18.
Batwoman was last seen just last month, November 2018, in Red Hood: Outlaw #28, by Scott Lobdell with Pete Woods on art.
Phew, that was a lot. Now how can you read all those great arcs?
Glad you asked, dear reader.
52 Vol. 1 & 52 Vol. 2: New Edition
Writing: Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Mark Waid
Art: Eddy Barrows, Dale Eaglesham, Keith Giffen, Phil Jimenez, Chris Batista, Joe Bennett, Giuseppe Camuncoli
Batwoman’s debut, and a pretty ripping yarn all on its own—52 was a weekly comics event from DC with a huge cast and huge universe implications.
Greg Rucka (writing), JH Williams III (art)
Issues #854-860 of Detective Comics
This is THE essential volume to read if you want to get to know Kate Kane, Batwoman. Contains her expulsion from West Point, her fight with the Religion of Crime, and gorgeous artwork from Williams. It also features a foreword by Rachel Maddow.
If you want the full run of Greg Rucka’s time on Detective Comics, pick up Batwoman, which contains “Elegy” and the “Cutter” storyline (art by Jock) that ran from #861-863.
Batwoman Vol 1: Hydrology
JH Williams III (art, writing), W. Haden Blackman (writing), Dave Stewart (colors)
Issues #0-5 of Batwoman
The New 52 solo book, retaining JH Williams III now in both art and story capacity. This is the most contained collection of issues, untouched by any other New 52 crossover.
He moves off art in volume 2, replaced by Amy Reeder and Trevor McCarthy. JH Williams returns for volume 3, and 4 is Trevor McCarthy. Volume 5 and 6 have Marc Andreyko as their writer, with art by Andrea Mutti, Jeremy Haun, Georges Jeanty, Juan Jose Ryp, and Karl Story on art.
Batman – Detective Comics: The Rebirth Deluxe Edition: Book 1
James Tynion IV, Steve Orlando, Marguerite Bennett (writing)
Eddy Barrows, Raul Fernandez, Eber Ferreira, Alvaro Martinez, Ben Oliver (art)
This trade covers the entire arc of Detective Comics that Batwoman leads, including her launch off point to …
Batwoman Vol. 1: The Many Arms of Death
Marguerite Bennett, James Tynion IV (writing)
Steve Epting, Stephanie Hans, Renato Arlem, Eddy Barrows (art), Jeremy Cox, Adriano Lucas (colors)
Batwoman: Rebirth one-shot, Batwoman #1-6
Volume 2: Wasteland has Fernando Blanco take over on pencils and inks, with color by John Rauch, along with Mark Laming on art for an issue, and K. Perkins on writing duty for #11 with Scott Godlewski on art. Volume 3: The Fall of the House of Kane, starts on issue #12 with Blanco joining Godlewski, and eventually taking over the last run of the series. (Rauch stays on as colorist the whole time).
DC Comics: Bombshells Vol. One: Enlisted
Laura Braga, Ming Doyle, Marguerite Sauvage
The Bombshells universe is packed with women heroes in the year 1940. Based on a retro line of statues, the comics are set in an in-depth alternate universe where Kate Kane is first inspired by Jackie Wilson to become the Batwoman, wearing a baseball uniform and fighting crime with a literal bat. If you’re like me and you’re just here for the romance, Renee Montoya makes her first appearance in issue #15, and they have quite a heavy history (if you’re more of a Maggie Sawyer fan, she’s there too!). Bombshells is also great as it’s a self-contained story, untouched by any happenings on regular Earth. A digital first title, it ran for 33 standard issue lengths and fills up 6 trade paperbacks.
A second digital-first series, in the same universe and also written by Marguerite Bennett, Bombshells United, ran for #19 issues and abruptly wrapped in May.