Batwoman begins

DC Comics’ lesbian superhero gets her own imprint, a pantheon of new supervillains … and maybe a girlfriend.

GIRL ON GIRL | DC revamps its comic world with an all-new updating of its lesbian Batwoman character.

Following a hugely successful, starring storyline in DC Comics’ Detective Comics title, the openly lesbian Batwoman begins her own titular, monthly series starting Sept. 14.

Part of DC Comics’ reboot and re-launch of its entire line of titles – with 52 all-new No. 1 issues, including Stormwatch featuring superpowered gay couple Apollo & The Midnighter – Batwoman follows the adventures of Kate Kane, a flame-haired, former U.S. Military Academy cadet discharged under “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

First introduced in 2006’s 52 miniseries as the ex-lover of lesbian policewoman Renee Montoya (a character from the excellent, GLAAD-nominated Gotham Central series), Batwoman went on to star in DC’s Detective Comics between 2009-2010 – written by Greg Rucka and superbly illustrated by J.H. Williams III  — which saw her go up against a Lewis Carroll-quoting, Tim Burton-worthy Goth nemesis, Alice, while revealing Kane’s origin story. This critically acclaimed arc was later collected in the Batwoman: Elegy trade-press graphic novel.

November 2010 saw a prelude to Batwoman’s solo series with a “Zero Issue,” co-written by new series team J.H. Williams  — also returning as an artist — and H. Haden Blackman, blending illustration styles within an inventive, sophisticated narrative approach.

Here, Williams discusses the new and past series, how the DC line’s reboot affects Batwoman (the series was originally slated to kick off in 2010 but was held up to be part of the event), and whether a girlfriend is in Kate’s future.

— Lawrence Ferber

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Dallas Voice: What’s the biggest difference between this new Batwoman series and her initial Detective Comics run? J.H. Williams: The type of story we’re leading off with. Her last stint was boiled down to her origin and the basic superhero versus ultimate nemesis sort of thing. We wanted to expand on that because she needs a pantheon of villains, so we set out to do that in ways that are fun. We do it in the art a lot, mixing styles, and we brought that into the writing, too. The lead story deviates in that way  — even though it’s very much a continuation of what came before and what’s motivating her now, the foe she faces is a very different one [from last time]. The first arc is a very much supernatural horror story and what that’s like for a costumed or uniformed vigilante who doesn’t have superpowers per se. It’s pretty intriguing, but it’s just one piece of a bigger picture we are going to expand upon over the first three arcs.

What’s the name of this first arc’s villain? The Weeping Woman, and she’s based on Mexican folklore, which goes into a lot of cultural stuff. Everything developed for the new villains is based on urban legends. It’s key, making them have a logical point of origin, so we’re not just throwing random characters in, and hopefully have them be strong enough to hold their own outside the story we’re telling.

Can you elaborate on the story arcs that follow? The first one dovetails into a James Bond-ian espionage plot, then to an epic fantasy kind of plot. Even though those are very different from one another, we have figured out how to make them be a bigger whole and form one giant story. Instead of trying to pigeonhole the kind of series we’re doing to one thing, I want to pursue how far we can take things and how we can work in unison when all is said and done. When people go back and read “Elegy” and see what’s upcoming they’ll see the sense of diversity in the types of stories can be told.

What will Kate’s love life be like? We saw her hook up at a nightclub in the Zero Issue. She’s openly dating, but fun-dating. With the start of the new series we show that she wants to take a turn for something different, a normalcy, because her life as Batwoman is an extreme one. Superheroes today can never make their personal relationships work. But we’re going to build toward a solid relationship with somebody. She wants that person to come home to.

You’ve included many queer characters in your previous work including Promethea, written by the very pro-gay Alan Moore, and 1994’s Deathwish, which featured a transgendered protagonist. Did you base any element of Kate on a real woman or lesbian you have met or known? Not really. Her sense of realism comes from the fact we want to humanize this character as much as we can. The key to any character is no matter where they come from, sexual orientation, whatever, they need to be relatable as human beings.

What did you think of the mainstream media hubbub about Batwoman being a lesbian when the news first hit in 2006? The way DC announced the character way back when put people on their heels a little bit. There wasn’t any solid plan behind the character yet, so some took it as a publicity stunt  — and it wasn’t at all. As people started to see there was potential for this character as a deep-rooted one you can believe in, some of that hubbub went away. She’s a legitimate character people can find things to relate with. We’re not being exploitative with her being a lesbian. We’re treating it as with any other character regardless of what their sexual orientation is  — that’s a small part of who they are as a person. It’s not all about her being a lesbian and I think that’s made her a bit of a beacon for people to get behind the character instead of it being a publicity grab or something that doesn’t sit as a three-dimensional person.

What sort of feedback have you personally received from the lesbian community since Elegy? Any anecdotes to share? I remember one moment doing a signing in New York City. One of the girls standing in line when she came up to get her book signed said, ‘Thank you for drawing a real lesbian and not a stereotypical one.’ And then she said, ‘like me!’ and waved her hand across her forearm. That was fantastic. It gave me a sense that we’re definitely doing things the way they should be done.

The relaunch of DC Comics’ entire line in the wake of its ‘Flashpoint’ event sees a lot of characters reconceived, rebooted, and many stories and series go back to one. How will this affect Batwoman and her past? We have to acknowledge the new, post-’Flashpoint’ continuity, but we worked on this series for such a long time and so far headway into the story we didn’t have the luxury of going back and disregarding what came before  — and I didn’t want to. So although she exists in the new DC status quo, those previous events still happened, which is good. The Batwoman character is so new, anyway, it would be a real disservice to disregard her roots this early on.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 16, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens