Who is Batwoman?

By: Jase Peeples

Before she was reintroduced in 2006 as DC Comics’ ginger-haired, lesbian caped crusader, Batwoman was created for another reason… one that queer fans may find deliciously ironic.

Comic books came under heavy fire in the early 1950s by a psychiatrist named Fredric Wertham, who claimed that comics contained covert and overt depictions of sex and violence. He felt these elements encouraged delinquent behavior in the children reading them. A book he wrote on the subject, titled Seduction of the Innocent, outlined his theories on hidden sexual themes in superhero comics. Among them were the assertions that Wonder Woman was a lesbian due to her super strength and independence from men, and that Batman and Robin were gay lovers. The book stirred panic in parents and incited a campaign for censorship, resulting in the 1954 comic book hearings by the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency.

Old BW1 The negative press that ensued from Wertham’s book and the hearings caused the comic book industry to create the Comics Code Authority (CCA). The CCA would police the contents of future comics and enforce an approved moral code which banned, among other things, any content that could be viewed as “sexually perverse or abnormal.”

Retailers soon refused to carry comics which were not approved by the CCA and many titles that did not adhere to the strict standards outlined in “The Code” ceased publication. This sanitized superhero comics in order to receive the CCA’s stamp of approval. For Batman, that meant the inclusion of a love interest to disprove the allegations that he and Robin were homosexual. Thus, making her first appearance in Detective Comics #233 (1956), Batwoman was born.

For several years, Batwoman remained an active participant in Batman’s adventures as his primary love interest and feminine counterpart. Like the Caped Crusader she was a capable crime fighter, but because she was created after the CCA had been established, she adhered to a traditional gender role in the ways other female superheroes had not. Rather than carry weapons in a utility belt, she carried a utility purse and used weapons that were disguised as stereotypical feminine products, such as cosmetic compacts, tubes of lipstick and hair nets.

By 1964 DC’s editorial staff felt the character had become unnecessary and replaced her with a “new” Batgirl, Barbara Gordon, who would eventually move on to greater heights of popularity. Batwoman faded from the Gotham crime-fighting scene, was eventually killed off in 1979, and finally written out of continuity a few years later. Katekane2

In an attempt to diversify their collection of popular superheroes, DC Comics decided to reintroduce Batwoman in 2006, but rather than use her as a tool to distract from the homosexual undertones of Batman and Robin’s relationship, this “new” Batwoman would herself be a homosexual.

The modern version of Batwoman embraces some feminine traditions as a lipstick lesbian, but she is not confined to the traditional feminine gender role that plagued her original incarnation. Instead, she is a gay character who is free from both feminine and gay stereotypes, making her a truly unique superhero in the modern world of comics.

Despite some of the negative responses to promoting such a high profile gay character, DC Comics has pressed forward, allowing the character to have an extended run as the title character in Detective Comics, the book where she was originally introduced. The storyline that ran through Detective portrayed her sexuality in a positive light and dealt with complex issues, such as the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, and earned DC Comics the GLADD award for Outstanding Comic Book in 2010.

Batwoman’s popularity has continued to grow among both gay and straight readers alike. In fact, Batwoman #0 recently won the Reader’s Choice Cover of the Year award from Newsarama, and with an ongoing monthly Batwoman comic set to launch in April, 2011 is shaping up to be a banner year for DC’s highest profile gay character.