Capes, Cowls, and Coming Out: History of the Batwoman

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Batwoman from then to now

When the superheroes became popular, lo many decades ago, an attempt was made to draw in more readers by adding characters that would be (or so the theory went) relateable to girls. There was already Wonder Woman, Phantom Lady, and others, but none of them had quite the popularity of a Superman or a Batman.

And so the quick-and-easy path seemed to be to create female versions of these characters. It was a hit-or-miss process, with more misses than hits. In the Superman comics, a Superwoman was introduced in Action Comics #60 in 1943. She was easily forgotten (although has resurfaced in one incarnation or another over the years), and largely eclipsed when sixteen years later Kara Zor-El made her debut as Supergirl in the pages of Action Comics #252.

The same held true over in the Batman comics. Kathy Kane, a tennis pro, put on the bright yellow costume of Batwoman, first appearing in Detective Comics #233 in 1956. She was joined by a side-kick, Betty Kane, as Bat-Girl (Batman #139, April 1961) who put on the costume largely to get Robin's attention. And while it's Barbara Gordon who reigns supreme as the distaff member of the Bat-Family, making her "million dollar debut" in Detective Comics #359 (January 1967), Kathy still popped up from time to time, as did Betty, who eventually changed her name to Flamebird and became a member of the Teen Titans West. (Interestingly enough, Robin would later take on the mantle of Nightwing; Nightwing and Flamebird were a superhero duo in the Superman stories, battling crime in the bottle city of Kandor.)

It would be several years later before another Batwoman would be seen, this time in the universe of Bruce Timm's BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES. The direct-to-video animated feature, BATMAN: MYSTERY OF THE BATWOMAN (2003) found Batman and Robin battling the Penguin and mobsters, and competing with a female bat-attired character who used methods different from his own. This Batwoman was actually a shared role between three women, one of whom was named Kathy Duquesne, an indirect nod to the original.

But in 2006, a new Batwoman was ready for her coming out. And yes, that's a pun. In a headline-making announcement, DC Comics let the world know that the new addition to the Batman universe was going to be gay. Heralded as a "lipstick lesbian," Kate Kane's adventures would take on a decidedly darker tone, pitting her against psychotic and supernatural menaces like La Llorona and her own believed-dead sister, Alice (who spoke only in lines from Alice in Wonderland). The new Batwoman became Gotham City's protector at a time when Batman and the rest of the Bat-family were on a bonding trip, following the events of COUNTDOWN.

Which brings us to the latest word from the CW Network. After having made her first ever live-action appearance in the CW superhero-crossover, ELSEWORLDS, Kate Kane -- played by Ruby Rose -- is getting her own series, debuting with the next season of CW's superhero shows SUPERGIRL, THE FLASH, LEGENDS OF TOMORROW, and ARROW (which runs for a half-season before concluding the series).

The trailer for the show has been soundly trounced, partly due to the heavy-handed lines meant to set the feminist tone for the series. But beyond that, the series also begins with a premise that would seem to be anathema to most Batman fans, that being the notion that Batman would ever abandon Gotham City to its own fate. (A similar plot device drove the BIRDS OF PREY series, back when CW was still The WB.)

Whether Batwoman flies or flops will ultimately be up to the viewers. But after this, at least you go in with a basic grasp of the character's history and incarnations.