Drawn to Comics: We Need to Talk About the Rape in Batwoman

by rory midhani

by rory midhani

A lot of Batwoman fans (and to be honest, a lot of comic fans overall) were worried when the creative team of W. Haden Blackman and J.H. Williams III left the book after DC refused to allow them to have Kate Kane (Batwoman) marry her longtime girlfriend, police detective Maggie Sawyer. Now, it looks like those fears were completely justified. Although the new creative team of Marc Andreyko on writing and mostly Jeremy Haun on art has done some interesting things with the character, their current storyline brings the book down to a new low. Almost immediately after breaking up with Maggie, Kate (as Batwoman) was battling the vampire supervillain Nocturna, who then discovered her identity, broke into her house and proceeded to use her vampire powers to trick Kate into thinking she was Maggie, then having sex with her while Kate was unable to give consent. To put it shortly, Nocturna raped Kate Kane.

Batwoman #33 art by Jeremy Haun

Batwoman #34 art by Jeremy Haun

Nocturna, aka Natalie Mitternacht (get it? her name means “midnight”), first appeared in Batwoman #32 and immediately had an effect on Batwoman’s life. Shortly after the two fought for the first time, Batwoman was having nightmares where she was a vampire and wondering why she feels strangely drawn to her. This was all happening while Maggie, whom she was still engaged to, was going through a harsh custody battle with her ex that led to Kate breaking up with her.

After Nocturna figures out who Kate is and breaks into her house, she approaches Kate’s bed and starts to use her powers on Kate. Kate literally says “musta had too much wine… feelin’ a little light headed” as Nocturna is using magic to make it appear as though she is actually Maggie. Nocturna proudly tells her that “it isn’t the wine” and then proceeds to start feeding.

Erin Kane on Twitter notified me of this problem and I’m thankful that she did. While I’ve seen some people talk about how these issues felt dirty, or left them with a gross feeling after reading them, people are being surprisingly quiet on calling the book out for raping its main character.

from Batwoman #34 art by Mark Andreyko

from Batwoman #34 art by Jeremy Haun

However, there’s no doubt about it; this is rape. Kate thinks that Nocturna is someone else as she approaches her bed. Kate says that she feels confused and weak because of the vampire magic Nocturna is using. Kate blacks out and can’t remember anything or say no while Nocturna feeds on her and has sex with her. She’s basically using a date rape drug, but in the comic it’s called vampirism.

One guess as to why Andreyko and the editors at DC are doing this is because it gives them an opportunity to have lesbian sex scenes — which would imply that this is supposed to be sexy. You can see that the way Kate and Nocturna are drawn both in issue #34 and in #36 in Kate’s flashback is catering to the male gaze. And that makes this even more insidious. This panel where Nocturna is turning Kate is clearly more than just a bite on the neck – it’s a precursor to, or even part of sex. Except it’s nonconsensual, so what we are actually witnessing is rape. Why do the writers think this is sexy? I mean, the obvious answer is that rape culture has made people think that it’s sexy. I feel like this shouldn’t need to be said, but there’s nothing sexy at all about someone doing something to you that makes you unable to say “yes” or “no” and then black out and completely forget that the two of you have sex.

Just because it’s a vampire doesn’t mean it’s okay. Obviously vampires are known for being sexy, but really that mostly comes from them being sexual predators. Classic vampires like Dracula would hypnotize the women they would then draw blood from in a clear metaphor for rape. In a more modern version, Edward and Bella’s relationship in the Twilight series is notoriously seen as abusive to many. This is again true in Batwoman. It’s not like Kate went to Nocturna and asked her to turn her into a vampire. Nocturna forced it on her, again without consent. And when you have vampirism and sex so closely tied together, like they are in this comic, you can’t ignore that aspect of it.

art by Jeremy Huan

Batwoman #36 art by Georges Jeanty

Their relationship isn’t very healthy the rest of the time either. Batwoman is clearly being manipulated and controlled by Nocturna. In basically every moment after their relationship starts, Kate clearly doesn’t want to do whatever Nocturna wants to do and then Nocturna just speaks a few words to her or touches her and completely changes her mind. Even without the rape, that’s already enough of an unhealthy relationship. If you can’t read the above panels, Kate and Nocturna are going out to dinner when they bump into Kate’s old therapist. Kate is trying to apologize for not going to see him when Nocturna steps in and rudely pushes him away and then tells the very distressed looking Kate “… you don’t need his help as long as we have each other” as she kisses her.

art by Jeremy Huan

Batwoman #36 art by Georges Jeanty

Unfortunately, DC Comics has a long history of using rape in gimmicky and cheap ways. Deathstroke was raping the teenage Terra in Teen Titans; in Watchmen Silk Spectre was raped by The Comedian; both Grace Choi and The Huntress have origin stories involving being raped; the best-selling Identity Crisis shows the brutal rape of Sue Dibney by the previously laughable supervillain Dr. Light; even Batman, The Green Arrow and Nightwing have all been raped. The DC wiki even has an entire page dedicated to rape in the DC Universe. This also fits neatly into the history of the Women in Refrigerators trope, where women are often brutally tortured, injured and killed to advance storylines (and usually give men motivation.) While there isn’t a man in this comic who is being motivated, we clearly have a case of a woman being raped and abused just to create what the writers and editors think is a compelling (and sexy) story.

Yes, rape and sexual assault and abusive relationships happen in real life, and yes, sometimes fiction, including comic books, need to address these real life issues. But what Batwoman is doing so far isn’t addressing it. It’s simply showing it off and using it to titillate and create drama. Andreyko, Haun, Jeanty and the editors at DC are simply using rape as a gimmick to sell comics, and unfortunately, to abuse one of their best characters and perpetuate rape culture.

New Releases (December 3)

Fight Like a Girl #1 (Action Lab)

Adventure Time #34 (Boom!)

Angel and Faith Season 10 #9 (Dark Horse)

Gotham Academy #3 (DC)

The Movement Vol. 2 Fighting for the Future (DC)

New Vampirella #7 (Dynamite)

X-Files Season 10 #19 (IDW)

Angela: Asgard’s Assassin #1 (Marvel)

Captain America: Peggy Carter Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. #1 (Marvel)

Young Avengers by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie Omnibus (Marvel)


Welcome to Drawn to Comics! From diary comics to superheroes, from webcomics to graphic novels – this is where we’ll be taking a look at comics by, featuring and for queer ladies. So whether you love to look at detailed personal accounts of other people’s lives, explore new and creative worlds, or you just love to see hot ladies in spandex, we’ve got something for you.

If you have a comic that you’d like to see me review, you can email me at mey [at] autostraddle [dot] com.

Mey Valdivia Rude is a bisexual Latina trans woman living in Los Angeles. She's a writer, comic consultant and a trans activist. She's a bruja, a femme, a pop princess and she loves comic books, witches, dinosaurs and crying. She has a cat named Sawyer and a very successful twitter.

Mey has written 574 articles for us.

40 Comments

  1. #34 was the issue that made me decide to stop reading Batwoman. Which was really a bummer because I freakin’ loved that comic. But Kate Kane getting raped–and you’re 100% right about it being rape–squicked me out so bad I couldn’t keep going. And based on those images from #36, I’m really glad I did.

    WHY CAN’T WE HAVE NICE THINGS?

    I’m going to go re-read Lumberjanes and try not to cry.

  2. I am so disappointed at how far this comic has fallen since Williams left. You are right that DC has a long history with rape so I doubt we will get any sort of apology or even acknowledgement that rape is what it is. You are also right that their entire relationship, rape involved, seems to be drawn with the intent of appealing to the males that read the comics. So gross. Batwoman was the one title in New 52 I actually cared about and they had to go and ruin it. I’m not going to keep buying issues anymore.

  3. I have never been a fan of DC comics and this definitely confirms that for me. Especially since I am a survivor of sexual assault and a controlling relationship. This does nothing but downplay how bad it is and makes it more acceptable in society. Then young girls not knowing better may think ththese things are okay. Sorry I could rant all day.

  4. I’ve never read Batwoman, although I am a fan of her mere existence. But knowing where the latest writers and artists are taking her… I can’t really say I’m shocked, but I’m definitely disappointed, I thought he had MAYBE reached a point where we could move forward with female comic-book characters. But NOPE.

  5. It’s the continuous stream of rape in the media, and the “sexy” way it’s depicted that taints the perspective on it being a negative.. I hate that I have to ask,”is there rape in it?” whenever a friend recommends a movie or TV series. I know it happens in real life and I’m not saying ignorance is bliss, but I hardly find it entertaining or sexy when I have to watch a reenactment or GD drawing of it. This shit’s gotta stop.

  6. Hi all. First comment on Autostraddle and it’s a question. FYI I Luv this site!

    Admittedly I am a casual comic book reader. So I ask, is her being raped by a “bad guy” so bad? Nocturna is a monster after all, and that is how her character is playing out.

    Other characters have been raped as well…

    • Of course it’s “so bad”. Especially as it’s drawn to pander to the male gaze. There are people masturbating to scenes of Batwoman being raped by another woman. I don’t want to police people’s desires, but DC are in fact, making money off perpetuating rape culture by presenting it at sexy.

      We could argue that since so many women are raped or sexually assaulted in their lifetime, now Kate is more “relatable” but I think that’s a bullshit excuse for male writers and readers to get off on reducing a woman to an abused sexual object. (Which is misogyny, obviously…)

      Batwoman is supposed to be a hero, and now she’s a victim. Why can’t we just have female heroines who don’t get fucked? Most male heroes don’t have to be raped to have a bad experience in their past (usually, it’s “their” women who get abused making the “hero” all righteous).

      Fuck DC, I’m leaving Catwoman for Captain Marvel. Also I have to leave for work, so rant over.

      • Okay. But I think it IS ok to have a character who goes through hardships, conquers them, and kicks ass along the way. I do not want diversity in any way if it ignores the highs and lows of what it means to be alive. No one is perfect.

        And you’re not ok with women being villains then, I guess?

        That’s why I appreciate Storm so much. She’s from the streets and has a troubled past that reflects that. It’s what led her to be who she is today. I’m also reading Constantine and I appreciate his complexity as well.

        I want to know what you think male characters being raped (as the blog post mentioned happening in other comics).

        • If I may add my 2 cents….

          Rape is not entertaining to me. Period. I don’t care if it’s done to a female or a male. I am sick of rape culture. Sick of it. That panel was done for no other reason than to add “lesbian sex” to the comic for dudebros to fap over hoping that would increase sales. There is not one good reason why Batwoman had to be raped to make her comic “more interesting”. There is no good reason a bad guy has to be a rapist to make the character more interesting. Batwoman has been up against villains that were far more dangerous than Nocturna and they didn’t have to rape her to get that point across. Mark Andreyko has written this series into the ground and I wish J.H. Williams had never left.

        • The fact that women can be rapists is not the issue. There are women who are rapists. There are men who have been raped. What bothers me about the imagery is that they clearly made an effort to make rape look sexy. They clearly drew those panels not to depict rape as the life-altering trauma that it is, but basically porn with a plot twist. Anytime you can walk away from a rape scene thinking “damn that’s hot,” or “wow, that was edgy. but now we can forget about it because it didn’t actually add anything to the show/comic/whatever” you are NOT depicting life. You are contributing to rape culture by arguing how little it matters. If you have someone who gets raped and it has no long-term affect on their life? They just bounce right back? That is total bullshit. All that could possibly achieve is to make actual rape victims feel bad because as a society, we are already really not cool with people failing to bounce back from that kind of thing. We were ok with you being sad for a week or two but now we would like to move on and get on with things, and you should stop being such a downer.

          And dude, who was that “no one is perfect” comment supposed to describe? The rape victim? because that is not a character flaw. I would never say “well, i’m happy to know she was raped because now i know that she’s not as amazing as she seems.” Or is it the rapist? because that’s more than just “no one is perfect.” That’s like saying “oh, sometimes they go out and murder people for no reason in their spare time? Well, no one is perfect.”

    • I just want to add that I hate any sort of rape scene. Comics, movies even in books I feel squeamish. Rape in NO WAY is okay. Idc if a man is being raped by a some leading woman, rape is rape and I think it is disgusting that DC is doing this and thinking it is some sort of lesbian scene they can pass off as sexy

  7. This is so disappointing and infuriating. Batwoman was the title that got me into superhero comics and I really loved the first few volumes. I haven’t read any of the issues that have come out since the previous creative team departed, and recently I’ve been wondering whether I should pick up the latest trade book and see where things have been going. Now I’m glad I stopped reading.

  8. WTF. This is so disappointing. Batwoman was one of the books that got me back into reading comics in recent years. I stopped reading after J.H. Williams III and team left. I’ve been curious about the direction, but never bothered to find out. After reading this, I am still 100% glad I canceled the book.

  9. This is so gross and disappointing.

    I’ve been a fan of this Batwoman series ever since it came out – Elegy is one of the few trade paperbacks I own – but life happened and I fell out of reading it. I have every intention of catching up but looks like I’ll be stopping short of this one. Actually just might cut it loose when they switch writers because I have no intention of supporting anyone who would write such unimaginative, exploitative drivel.

    • Know that for as long as Williams III and Blackman were writing this comic, it was brilliant. Elegy, Hydrology, To Drown the World etc. (the new 52 up until issue 26 – their final contribution) was a spectacular comic that treated their complex lesbian protagonist with nuance and sensitivity, and gorgeous illustrations to boot. I cannot recommend those issues highly enough. Don’t deprive yourself of them because of the shambles it would later become when the writing team changed.

      However, the brilliance of the original 52 makes the drivel of the current writing team all the more infuriating. They’ve destroyed what made this comic great, and that is something to both criticise and mourn over.

  10. Ugh, I used to love Batwoman, especially with J. H. Williams III artwork and now THIS :/

    I mean, I was devastated when J. H. Williams III and Blackman resigned in September 2013 over the whole “heroes won’t get marriages” decision. While I couldn’t understand DC’s point, I accepted it more or less, hoping they would at least try to not piss of the remaining readers. And wow, they DID fuck this up, like biiiig time!

    I mean, sure, not everyone is as talented as Williams (exhibit a,exhibit b, exhibit c) but the artistic charm was now missing. That’s at least half the reason for me to read Batwoman. Now, if the story would’ve delivered, it wouldn’t been an issue, but alas, story’s weak as well.

    Yep, sorry DC, you lost another reader.

    • And sorry if my Williams-fangirl is showing, but he was sooo good! I mean, yeah, I’m biased but I’d like to see his Batwoman artwork in a museum. Hell, I’m broke and I’d even pay to see that!

      Why, DC, why did you deny him his wishes and let him go? :'(

      So disappointed by DC and its incompetence in handling Batwoman!

  11. I agree with most everything said in this article, except for one small detail. Is the phrase “male gaze” wholly appropriate to describe what’s wrong here?

    I mean isn’t the real problem that rape is being made to look sexy regardless of whose looking at it? When you’ve got a gay female character with an active sex life (even if that only makes up a small portion of the stories), aren’t there women readers who are turned on by how she’s drawn and described? Is it any less offensive to encourage women to wank to rape scenes as men?

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that’s never heard any clear case for a “female gaze” being that much different than a “male gaze,” except when described in purely heterosexual terms. Which inadvertently reinforces the whole Freudian notion that homoeroticism only comes from a ‘male brain within any female body” or vice versa. I’d like to think that most men are no more likely than women to find depictions of violence sexy. Whether most people of either sex would recognized this as a rape scene when it’s made to look nonviolent, is (due to rape culture) not so clear.

    • You should read Laura Mulvey’s essay on the male gaze, because–aside from, of course, being the originator of the term in the first place–it does a really good job of explaining how the “male gaze” functions not just as a means of sexual objectification but also as a perpetuation of power dynamics that restrict women to certain roles within the framework of a heterosexual paradigm that queer women (even those who buy into the framework), as members of an oppressed gender class, functionally CANNOT be held responsible for. The “male gaze” as a concept concerns far more than just sexy portrayals of women, even if that is often what it is taken to mean as shorthand.

      • Adding onto this: I think it’s also important to note that, while queer women are occasionally gratified by “male gaze”-y sexualized depictions of women, content actually created by queer people–even when that content specifically concerns the sexual appreciation of women–typically approaches that topic of sexual desire in an entirely different way. This is because male desire of women, in practice, in our society, is fundamentally different from female desire of women because of the function of maleness as an oppressing factor in terms of the shaping of our society. You’ll note, too, the difference between sexualized depictions of men meant for male enjoyment–which, too, are shaped by the guiding principles of the “male gaze” just as “male-gaze-y” depictions of women are–versus sexualized depictions of men meant for female enjoyment: although there’s a crossover to the APPEAL of these images, there is generally a fundamental difference in the character of said images as they are created–largely because, surprise!, men and women occupy different power-relational spaces in society.

        • I’ve actually been familiar with the Laura Mulvey essay for some times. It’s probably the most sighted piece of film theory in the english language. However as I said somewhere else on this sight, I’ve always found the application of the theory in practice to be somewhat limiting. It’s been criticized even by other feminist theorist for the other looking for non-gendernomitive response, the willingness for people of both genders to be passive rather than dominate viewers, and the possibly variability of male viewer response. Even Muvley herself has said the work was never meant to be taken as a manifesto.

          There two main problems I have with the male gaze theory as usually applied, (not necessarily having anything to do with the original essay intent). First it assumes that all men embrace coded standards of visually desirable appearance without question. Two it gives the impression that women are powerless to set the owns standards as viewers or creators. That a female gaze is nothing more than a replication of the male gaze, except maybe when it comes to objecting men since the TV tropes pages mostly describe the two point of view in heterosexual terms.

          I don’t doubt that your right in saying ‘content actually created by queer people’ tends to approach sexual desire in a ‘different way.’ I’ve just yet to see that difference clearly defined and question whether there even is a general rule when it comes to matters of erotic tastes; as opposed to (and I think that is what Muvley was really trying to emphasis in the first place) differences of power!

          If queer women really do have the power to form there own unique mediated expressions of desire should we expect them to bare not any of the usual trapping of the male gaze or is a a close-up shot of wiggling bum pretty much the same visual effect even if the POV is female? (I’m thinking of that scene in The L Word Pilot at the ‘check out counter).
          There are other question I’ve pondered on this subject, but I think I’ll stop and give the floor to someone else for now since I’m starting to loose focus.

  12. I dumped the book when the creative team changed because of behind the scenes issues. Seems I made the right decision. Elegy is my second favourite comic ever and I loved the New 52 run for the most part, thought it was one of the few books that were pretty consistently great in the reboot but I’m glad I dropped it when I did as everything about it now sounds mediocre at best.

  13. This used to be my favorite comic and it is such a shame what they let the new writers do to it all over gay marriage. WTF? This rape storyline is beyond reproach. I can’t even think enough to type right now without fuming.

  14. I stopped reading Batwoman after issue 24. I was still under the impression that the old team would be writing through issue 26, and had just caught up on some old issues–I like to wait and binge my comics if I can distract myself enough–when I drove straight to the comic shop and picked up No. 25 & 26. When I got home I was so disappointed to see that I didn’t get my promised ” satisfying conclusion” with No. 26, and was so disappointed by how weak the writing and characterization had instantly become.

    Now I read this and seriously?! Batwoman is raped?! She’s a mother fucking vampire–are you kidding me?! Batwoman? The hero who is, “many things: estranged daughter, grieving sister, proud lesbian, brave soldier, determined hero.” You had to take my hero and rape her and turn her into a vampire?!

    All the tears. Seriously. Why can’t we have nice things? Fuck DC.

    Mey–thank you for writing this. Thank you for speaking out on behalf of a beloved character and calling rape what is–rape. After reading this I was hoping for some other like minded review of No. 34. I found one review that mentions Kate being bitten but that’s it. Didn’t call it rape, didn’t talk about how problematic it was, nothing. So seriously–thank you, thank you, thank you! I love this column.

  15. natalie is a woman so she can’t rape…oh wait, she depends on heterogenous biochemistry – blood taken from real women – and her whole bloodline is secretive and vary of sunlight. Maybe she can after all. And yes i totally buy that the exploitative writing and mixture of hawt/sexxy and violence is solely aimed at male audience.

  16. I literally had my hands on this last night, and without opening it, I realized I was done with reading Batwoman. Even without vampire rape, I was done. But now knowing that this is what I would’ve found, I feel even better about my choice. Gross gross gross.

  17. Fantastic job Mey. I’m so glad to finally see good discussion about this. Kate means so much to me and I want her to succeed so badly. But DC needs to pull their heads out of their asses big time. Give the book back to Rucka or, here’s an idea, a great queer female writer.

  18. Yeah, this was the issue where I was out. I hung in there with the creative team changes, hoping it would get better, but no. This was just a bridge too far for me. Why is it that rape is always the go-to for female character tragedy? And vampires… just… ugh.

  19. When did Slade rape Terra? I knew they were in a consensual relationship, unless you’re talking about “Statutory” rape. But I remember her being 16 at the time which is legal in most states and the term “Statutory Rape” is actually just a slang that most jurisdiction don’t use.

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