Let’s Talk About Lesbian Batwoman Some More

[ Feature image is via fuckyeahcomicrelationships.tumblr.com ]

When DC Comics relaunches this fall, we’ll finally get to see the lesbian Batwoman (announced and then rarely seen since 2006) in her very own comic .

There’s a lot of excitement building right now about Lesbian Batwoman and also about Voodoo, a bisexual African-American character. Readers are also looking forward to gay characters Apollo and Midnighter’s move out of their alternate line and into the mainstream verse.

Yesterday our resident Optimist Carmen (seriously she is really good at looking at the bright side of life, probably bleeds fairy dust) discussed this excitement in Batwoman is a Lesbian: DC Comics’ Gay Superheroes Stepping Out of the Subtext and Into the Light.

As a big fan of DC Comics, I share her excitement but I also have some reservations, particularly on issues surrounding minority representation that are still very present with the (confusing) relaunch, so I thought a counterpoint would be fun for everybody.

I do not have an infinite amount of space and knowledge, and thus will keep my comments centered around the Batverse.

via acecomics.co.uk

In comics it is still exciting for me to see strong women who are not overly brutalized and stuffed into fridges (a trope made famous by writer Gail Simone which you can also investigate using this handy flowchart), let alone queer characters. While the relaunch has finally brought Batwoman out and is having women wear pants, a significant number of females have been moved from the spotlight, like Gotham City Sirens. One of the biggest sins committed has been with Batgirl.

The history of Batgirl is very long and complex, but in a nutshell:

Barbara Gordon, the second (and longest-running) Batgirl, was crippled by the Joker in Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke and became Oracle (most recently appearing in Birds of Prey and Batgirl) → Cassandra Cain was an Asian American Batgirl, yet another minority character whose run simply ended → Stephanie Brown was the most recent white blonde (bit Buffy-ish) Batgirl whose run just started → Barbara Gordon is going to be healed somehow and will become Batgirl again.

This is probably the biggest controversy with the relaunch as Oracle was both awesome and one of the few disabled characters in comics. This change is one of various examples in recent DC comics history of change leading to a decrease in diversity; also in Batgirl comics, the fact that Asian American Cassandra Cain was replaced as Batgirl for seemingly non-narrative reasons took place only a year and a half ago.

via Batgirl comic and DCcomics.com

Generally, it’s safe to say that actual ethnic diversity is still sparse in mainstream superhero comics; a few notable characters have miraculously turned white over the years, such as Vixen and I swear Renee Montoya has been getting whiter as time goes on. I am a bit worried about the sound of Voodoo, an African American bisexual ex-exotic dancer, but only time will tell when it is released in September.

When it comes to diversity across the board change is coming slowly (with trans* people being invisible). In an interview with Comic Book Resources a number of popular comic writers expressed their opinions on the state of minority representation:

Marc Andreyko:

It has gotten better in recent years, but gays aren’t the only ones dealing with that, I mean, why are so many black characters still saddled with ‘black’ in the names. Could you imagine if Captain America was named ‘Captain White America’? And female characters still have it rough, too. It is getting better as more diversity comes to the creative side. The more minority creators, the more textured the portrayals of minority characters.

Lillan Diaz-Przbyl:

To be fair, most minority characters in most media in the US are still defined by their differences rather than being fully fleshed-out characters. The nature of arguing on the Internet makes it seem like it’s worse in this industry, and maybe it is, but there is a much more systemic problem as well.

Alan Moore:

It seems that comics perhaps like flirting with the idea of being liberal with regard to sexuality, but they’re still not entirely comfortable about it. I think despite the fact that culture is obviously moving on to include gay people, just the same as everybody else is included, I think a lot of our entertainment media are lagging behind. I think that the comics industry, talking about the big mainstream comic publishers, to them it’s still something which it outrageous, and daring.

Devin Grayson:

Comics are already well behind mainstream media and advertising in terms of promoting the positive inclusion of gay characters, and I wouldn’t look for the industry to be a prominent civil rights beacon anytime soon. But overall, the trend toward inclusion, although slow, has been steady and positive, and when the right people are in the right places and in the right frame of mind, the medium will be capable of some truly inspiring leaps forward.

via dc.wikia.com

It is fair to point out that DC Comics has featured lesbian characters before Batwoman, this is not a sudden new thing–all of the characters announced in the relaunch have already been around and Out. Greg Rucka’s Gotham Central had a storyline focused on Renee Montoya, now The Question, coming to terms with being outed as a lesbian by Two-Face. Renee Montoya eventually comes out to her family and colleagues and was in a stable relationship with a foxy soup chef. In 52, the 2006 appearance of Batwoman as a lesbian, it is revealed that Kate Kane (Batwoman) and Montoya used to date, but broke up because Montoya was too closeted. Other minor DC characters such as Captain Maggie Sawyer (head of the Special Crimes Unit) and Holly Robinson (Catwoman’s best friend) are both lesbians.

You might have been reading about the lesbian Batwoman for a number of years now (even here!). In 2006 DC Comics was intending to give the new Batwoman her own comic. The announcement that she was going to be a lesbian and subsequent write up in the New York Times caused a great deal of controversy that writer Devin Grayson credits with the delay in her own title:

the fact that the piece made such a big deal of the character’s sexuality before the hero even graced the page of a comic book went a long way towards nullifying any positive effect Batwoman might have had on the industry. Consequently, the character was relegated to the backseat of the “52” event rather than the forefront of her own title.

In the meantime Kate Kane has also been featured in Batwoman:Elegy (2010), a storyline of Detective Comics. This comic deals with her girlfriend breaking up with her because she assumes she is cheating on her when in fact she is off being a superhero, getting kicked out of West Point due to Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and having complex family drama. The new Batwoman comic comes out on September 14th.

via batman wikia

If you are interested in little tidbits like “Batwoman was originally created in 1956 to counteract rumours that Batman was gay!” and “Apollo and Midnighter are pastiches of Batman and Superman!” you should check out PRISM comics for all things in LGBT comic-land.

What do you think of LGBT representation in comics? Do you think the relaunch will see better things for the minority characters in general? And, how does Marvel compare to DC on these issues? I know they have some gender-neutral shape-shifters but my wife is in charge of our comic pull and doesn’t read Marvel!

Laura has written 3 articles for us.

31 Comments

  1. YES THIS THANK YOU FOR THIS ARTICLE because I was going to post a long winded comment on the other one saying something similar but really couldn’t muster the energy to do so. I’m not sure about the relaunch because I’m frustrated about the way multiple series and characters have been handled and am just hoping things get better (har har) soon.
    I hear Marvel is a little better when it comes to gayboys and having queer characters more integrated into the narrative–I read Young Avengers and the teenage relationship of Billy and Teddy is played out pretty well. I also haven’t read comics in about a year so I’m not really up to date.

  2. Thanks for the history lesson and for your thoughts, Laura. I got back into comics with the emergence of Batwoman as a lesbian and my local store has been trying to steer me towards comics with strong female characters. I’ll be interested to talk to them after they get back from Comic-Con to see what their sense of the re-launch is.

  3. Thanks for this! I’m a Marvel zombie, so I’m not really up on the state of homos in the DC universe (although I fucking love ‘The Authority’ so I’ve been a big fan of Apollo and Midnighter for ages).

    Marvel is actually pretty good when it comes to gay characters.

    Billy (Wiccan) and Teddy (Hulkling) in Young Avengers are a teen gay couple.

    Mystique is bisexual and had a decades long relationship with Irene Adler (Destiny). Chris Claremont told me that originally, Irene was supposed to be Nightcrawler’s mother and Mystique (because she’s a shapeshifter) was supposed to be his father, but Marvel made him change that storyline.

    Xi’an Coy Manh (Karma) is a lesbian and there was some serious lesbosexy subtext between her and Kitty Pryde in the Mechanix book.

    In The Runaways book, Karolina Dean is a lesbian and her skrull girlfriend Xavin is one of those gender-neutral shapeshifters you mentioned. When Xavin was introduced, he was a guy, but after learning Karolina is a lesbian, he switched to a female form.

    Northstar was the first openly gay superhero in American comics. He hooked up with Hercules at one point, so Herc is bi.

    There’s been rumors about Rictor and Shatterstar being lovers for years, and it’s finally been confirmed recently that they are both bisexual.

    The alt-universe Mariko Yashida (Sunfire) from the Exiles book is a lesbian. She had a brief relationship with an alt-universe Mary Jane Watson (Spiderwoman).

    Anole is a gay teen at Xavier’s Institute.

    In X-Statix, Doop is bisexual and Vivisector is gay.

    One of the West Coast Avengers was gay, I think. I don’t know which one, since I didn’t read that book.

    Flatman from Great Lakes Avengers is gay.

    Um…that’s all I can think of right now. I know I’m missing some, though….

  4. I am such an X-Men fan, but I also love DC’s Teen Titans. At the moment I’m really into shipping Erik and Charles (Magneto and Professor X) from the new X-Men movie because the gay subtext is ridiculously unsubtle and the entire universe has picked up on it, even the actors, which is great.

    I like Mystique but I prefer her in the films and they haven’t explored her bisexuality in the films at all. I have found that there are more female bisexual characters than lesbian characters; I haven’t been able to find any lesbian comic characters I can really relate to, which is super annoying.

    I hate the way the mainstream create only a few (usually stereotypical) LGBT characters and then act like they’ve done us a huge favour. It seems to me that the heteronormative community thinks us in the LGBT community should all relate to these narrow characters and feel satisfied. I wish there were more options and characters – after all, straight people have loads of characters and pairings to relate to!

    • Ugh, I know … When I was researching this their main excuse (if you call it that as they are proud of themselves) is that at least in DC new character’s are really unpopular and that they don’t want to retcon anyone big as it would piss off their base. I think it is because the vast majority of the powers that be are straight white men who don’t want to change anything that they decided on at 13.

      • I am so keen for the day when the rule of straight white men is overthrown!

        I used to think that comics and sci-fi were very queer-friendly, but recently I’ve come to realise that just because comics etc are part of a slightly ‘different’ part of the world, it doesn’t mean that they are any more accepting of us.

        I do love X-Men though, and the way that the mutants represent the LGBT community in some ways. I like the parallels Marvel creates in that respect. But I have a funny feeling that that’s one of the big differences between Marvel and DC – I mean, compare X-Men and Justice League, you know?

        I wish they’d just create new characters – Superman is getting incredibly boring (and he was never that great to begin with…)

        Anyone else like the idea of a lesbian Lois Lane?

  5. When it comes to Apollo and Midnighter, I wouldn’t expect to see them becoming particularly huge in the mainstream DC universe; I reckon they’ll have even less presence than Batwoman does currently. Not due to them being gay; mostly due to the fact that their modus operandi just won’t wash with the main DC superheroes. That is, Midnighter generally rips out the lungs and spleens of villains, and Apollo, while not as nasty about it, certainly doesn’t mind killing either.

    This works in the Wildstorm universe, where the ‘no-kill’ policy of heroes ain’t in force. Put them in the same continuity as Superman, Batman et al though? Nah. Either they’re gonna be severely under-used or they’ll be brought down to a PG-13 version of themselves, de-fanging them and leaving them a hollow shell of who the characters were.

  6. I’m transgender, and wish I could see the introduction of a human, trans superhero in either the DC or Marvel universes.

    One of the reasons I don’t read Marvel or DC anymore is that people like me don’t exist in their universes.

  7. Two comments:

    1. I adore the female character flowchart. I will whip it out whenever people tell me I am too sensitive to feminist issues in movies. (Really, people do that.)

    2. Although the new BW comic might not be the new frontier for LGBT representation in the media, I can’t wait to read it nonetheless. In my view, it’s better than total silencing of LGBT issues altogether. I’ll probably go into it with no grand expectations and just take it for what it is (which may well be nothing more than lesbian eye candy.)

  8. I don’t read comics because the characters are “like me”, or “represent me” (I am trans). One question- when does “diversity” become pandering, or exploitation, or even both? And who cares who’s gay and who isn’t?
    Batwoman, however, is one of the hottest characters I’ve read in quite sometime- and that is despite the understory of Kate Kane’s sexual orientation. The team who did the artwork for the Detective Comics run is stellar, the story in “Elegy” fab. So looking forward to the new DC book!

  9. That picture of Captain Sawyer (lesbian head of special crimes) looks alot like Olivia Benson of Law and Order: SVU.

    And I still think that Wonder Woman is a lesbian.

  10. I really understand that there are gay lesbian and bi sexual people…..remember the ancient greeks island of Lesbos is where Lesbian term was started. I recall the detective in DC comics was a lesbian….I believe she was a superman comic. But to make Batwoman or any hero a lesbian, gay or bisexual is to indicate you approve. Tolerate fine because as in past history sexual morals was one stepping stone in the fall of civiliations. Greeks, Romans…its been sexual moral values when the family values are overlooked you have anarchy. I do not believe that anyone should be hurt because of how they feel sexually. Nor do I believe that intollerance toward a faith should be allowed. But it happens. Be a Christian in Musleum or Hebrew country or in budest country or for a long and still in some major Communist country. But the point of is children will learn. They should not hate because of what ones beliefs or nor should the beliefs of others be forced on them. Fine a person is Gay or Lesbian that is a life choice. More power to them. But I am old school. I believe ethics. As FF Reed Richards marring Sue Storm Richards. There are many such cases. Flaunting even hetrosexual sex is wrong also. So no I am have a reader of DC but I will never read a comic about Batwoman. Thats my right and I believe this is a huge mistake. That is my right to believe also.

  11. Actually was in love with Steve Trevor was wonder womans love interest. But wonder woman is the daughter of a Greek Goddess…she is immortal any relationship with a mortal would not last. Read whom Wonder Woman’s mother is. Her name is Hippolyta who made Diana into Wonder woman. Hippolyta’s father is Ares Greek God of war.

  12. Yea! More lesbian super Hero’s !!!!
    as a lesbian I love hte idea of masked ladies taking
    on the hetro’s Why not they’v Bashed us long enough!!
    RIGHT HETRO’S.

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