Zowie! She’s Gay!

Posted on 25 Jun 2009 at 1:29pm
By Arnold Wayne Jones Life+Style Editor

For the first time in 70 years, Detective Comics is led by a character other than Batman — a lesbian superheroine named Batwoman. Here’s how writer Greg Rucka turned an icon of one kind into another

OUT, OUT! AND A GAY!
Greg Rucka will sign copies of the new Detective Comics #854 featuring Batwoman at Zeus Comics, 4411 Lemmon Ave., June 27, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. 214-219-TOYS. ZeusComics.com.

Greg Rucka knows the issue number when Batman first appeared in Detective Comics — no. 27 — but for the life of him he can’t remember the year.

“I have forgotten the year and fans will murder me for it,” says Rucka.

It might not matter for most people, but most people don’t write the main storyline for DC Comics; Rucka does.

The year was 1939 — in May. Meaning that, for almost exactly 70 years, Batman and Detective Comics have been synonymous.

But all good things must come to an end. And this week, the end came … with a new beginning. Batman was replaced as the central character in the Detective Comics book.

By a woman.

Who’s a lesbian.

As of Detective Comics no. 854, which came out Wednesday, the lead in the book will be Kate Kane, aka Batwoman. A co-feature in its debut will be eight-page section with another character, named The Question, the secret identity of Renee Montoya — who is also lesbian.

In the comic book world, this is huge … and in the gay world, it should be. Only Rucka, who developed the character, doesn’t necessarily agree.

“The ‘big deal’ about her is she’s gay, which I say with a certain amount of sarcasm. According to some people, that was a big deal,” he says with a slight growl.

Maybe he’s trying not to think about when the book drops and what it means for Rucka to be the man responsible for reinventing DC’s flagship title. But with a little prodding, he caves.

“They went 26 issues before Batman — it’s not unprecedented. But it is a pretty big change,” he concedes. “She’s queer, and her orientation is a fundamental part of the character. It’s like asking whether it matters that Wonder Woman was an Amazon or that Superman was raised by Ma and Pa Kent in Smallville. It’s taking one of the most recognizable characters in the world and associating it with” the gay community, he says.

Richard Neal, the out owner of Zeus Comics — which will be hosting Rucka for a signing Saturday — says you just don’t see that many gay characters in mainstream comics. He, for one, is excited by the development.

For comic book devotees, Batwoman is not all that new. Rucka introduced her three years ago in a series called “52,” which told in soap opera fashion several weekly stories over the course of a year, including one about Renee Montoya. Renee had been created for the animated series back in the 1990s and crossed over into the print version.

“The very first story I wrote for her I knew she would be not only gay but deeply in the closet,” Rucka says. “She had been established as gay and from Gotham and it made sense to join her with this other character.”

When word got out, though, that DC was re-introducing Batwoman (the character had originally been introduced in the 1950s to stave off suggestions that Batman and Robin might be lovers), fans began frothing at the mouth. Then an early piece of concept art was pirated, and all anyone knew was that she was “a buxom, redheaded, lipstick lesbian,” Rucka says. “Boy did that story get picked up — it even was on the BBC.”

It also forced DC and Rucka to ramp up the development of the character.

“I don’t recall anyone saying ‘We are going to do a Batwoman book and you are going to write it,’” Rucka says. “There was lots of concept work done by another writer, so I reworked it into something that made sense for me. It was a two-year process to get it to where it was going to go.”

For Rucka — who is also a novelist and graphic-novel author — that meant taking the character very seriously. (“The term ‘comic-book-y’ is used pejoratively, but I reject that,” he says.) He wanted to create something unique. He spent two years putting together a 100-page bible that only he and one other person, DC editor-in-chief Dan DiDio, have ever seen. Ink on the first issue is barely dry, and Rucka already has more backstory than a season of “Lost.”

“You can’t write the character if you don’t know their origins. We’ve got the first 18 issues [written] and of those, seven are pretty much done. That puts us reasonably ahead of the game for a monthly [book],” he says.

And, he promises, there are surprises in store.

“She’s not Batman with tits; she is her own person,” Rucka says. “There are obvious visual similarities — she dresses in black, she has a bat on her chest — but her motivations are different, her style is different. She has a childhood trauma, but her tragedy is different and what it drives her to do is different. The fact she’s queer kinda prevents her from pursuing her goal.”

During the development process, it became clear Batwoman would lead the Detective Comics title. (For those who don’t follow the comic universe, the original Batman, Bruce Wayne, died a few years ago and Dick Grayson, the original Robin, has pretended to be him ever since.) That represents a sea change in the comic universe.

“For a lot of comics fans, they don’t care about her sexual orientation — they just want something they can invest in. But it certainly legitimizes DC’s commitment to the character — you don’t put the character as the lead title and bury it,” he says. “Everyone’s very passionate and behind it. But the intimidation factor is, ‘Let’s not screw this up.’”

That’s a sentiment sure to be echoed not just from comic books fans but the gay community as well.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 26, 2009.

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