I’ve always been a fan of the whole Bat-franchise. I can remember watching re-runs of the old Adam West Batman and Robin on TV, and seeing the Tim Burton Batman movies in theatres, and I completely idolized Batman. Recently, I’ve been trying to get back into the comics side of Batman and several other heroes, so I picked up a bunch of collections from a nearby library. One of these was Batwoman: Elegy.
Though I have idolized Batman since I was about 5, I never really knew much about Batwoman so I thought it would be an interesting read. I wasn’t disappointed. Batwoman: Elegy was probably one of the most interesting comic anthologies I’ve read recently. The art is beautiful, which is always a win in my book. Kate Kane, Batwoman’s alter ego, was a really well developed complex character that fascinated me. She’s strong, she’s beautiful, and she’s in control.
Oh yeah, and she just happens to be gay as well.
I feel like this shouldn’t be as ground breaking as it is. But yet, when I thought about it, there aren’t many mainstream heroes who are gay. The only two American gay superheroes I could think of aside from Batwoman were one of the recent incarnations of the Green Lantern (which was not publicly well received, btw), and Northstar. Aside from them, the closest our society has been to having a gay superhero is the Ambiguously Gay Duo…..and if you’ve ever seen the shorts on the old Saturday Night Live, you know how that is….
The reason why I’m writing about all of this is when I read Batwoman: Elegy I was struck by a lot of things that should NOT be unusual to see in this day and age. The first one was seeing a strong woman as a superhero, and the second part of that was her sexual orientation. That was when I started to wonder….
Why are there so few gay superheroes?
I searched the internet, wondering if anyone else had been asking this question and found any answers. My search turned up this article which cites the reason for the minimal existence of gay super heroes is “the cyclical nature of comics”. In this article, the author goes on to explain that storylines change for characters all the time. Spiderman, Superman, Supergirl, Wolverine, and Batman (to name only a few) have been re-imagined and rebooted dozens of times. However, as this article explains, to “gay” a superhero and then “de-gay” that superhero would kill the franchise.
Though I get the whole idea that nothing in comics lasts forever, I strongly disagree with this sentiment and some of the ideas that were presented here. One statement in particular stood out to me on the subject: “If a writer were to launch a story arc that made Spider-Man, Batman, or Wonder Woman gay, they would inevitably become straight again — it’s just the way comics work.” The article then proceeds to explain that just “gaying” a character to have a gay hero isn’t well received and seems contrived.
Though I agree that making a character gay just for the sake of having a gay hero is contrived, I disagree with this line of thinking in the case of Batwoman.
When the character of Batwoman was initially introduced, she was brought in as a female counterpart to Batman. Batgirl eventually came along and the Batwoman character was pushed to the side and forgotten. No one really seemed to notice or care about this either, because the character of Batwoman was introduced as a very weak character with no real substance or story that was really her own. In this reboot of the character she finally has her own identity. Though she wears the bat, she is not a sidekick to Batman. She has her own life, her own traumas, and her own battles. Her sexual orientation just adds to her character, and I honestly admire whoever was bold enough to say she should be a lesbian.
One of my favorite scenes in Elegy was this one, a flashback to Kate’s days in the service as a marine. Being forced to choose between serving for her country (something Kate always wanted to do since the death of her mother and sister, revealed earlier in the story) and being true to herself, Kate recites the motto “A cadet shall neither lie, cheat, or steal nor suffer another to do so,” and this happens….
This moment was the most groundbreaking moment in the whole book for me. Kate stayed true to herself, at the price of losing something important to her. Additionally, she made a point of how hypocritical the military was with their “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policies.
But even though there is this really awesome well developed character who just happens to be gay, all anyone seems to see is the fact that she is gay and nothing else. The recent controversy reported online is that even though Batwoman has proposed to her girlfriend in the comics, DC doesn’t want the character to get married.
Why can’t Batwoman marry her girlfriend? DC says it is because heroes need to be miserable. Okay, I get it. Heroes need to put personal lives aside and live for their cause, but I still see that excuse as a cop out. Plenty of straight hero couples have gotten married before, so why can’t a lesbian couple marry? Laws are changing in more and more states and it’s becoming more and more openly accepted by society, so why can’t it be in the comics?
I think the sad truth is visible right here.
Because she’s gay, and that’s scary. Despite how open and accepting society is becoming, DC is afraid to take that leap. Marvel did it with NorthStar, you would think DC would be okay with it. But not only is this a gay hero, it’s a gay female hero– A strong female hero who happens to be gay, now that’s breaking every rule. Luckily the fans aren’t the only ones frustrated and angry: the prohibition of the wedding in the comics resulted in the departure of the main authors responsible for the Batwoman character I’ve come to love. Though a DC spokesperson made an official statement that it was not due to the character’s sexual orientation that they did not green light plans for the wedding, I don’t believe that. How can I? Oh yeah, heroes are supposed to be miserable…..
And women aren’t supposed to be strong either.
It would have been nice to have seen some rules broken.