A Bone to Pick
When I first heard back in 2004 that DC was creating a second redheaded girl in a Bat Suit whose only distinguishing feature was her sexuality, I did a mental eyeroll. At the same time DC turned down Gail Simone’s truly original proposal to make Cassandra Cain a Christian,(a vastly underrepresented group in the comic medium) they were embracing the idea of creating a lipstick lesbian wearing a Bat Symbol which is far from a daring choice. I was a little annoyed that DC was slighting the Christian population (and Cassandra who they promptly turned evil), but more importantly, I could easily see two ways DC might mishandle Kate Kane. First, they could easily turn Batwoman into a pulpit for a political message. Second, they could cash in on an attractive lesbian heroine by showing a lot of girl on girl action.
Kate Kane for Congress
Despite my reservations, I was blown away when I first started reading Batwoman a few months ago. The art is amazing, the story is top-notch, and much to my surprise, Batwoman is much more than just a slightly retooled lesbian Batgirl. However, I still have a bone to pick with the creators of Batwoman.
In regards to using Batwoman as a mouthpiece for political change, I find DC innocent. Sure, DC has made it clear that Kate was kicked from West Point and lost a promising military career because she was outed as a lesbian and dismissed under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,”legislation, but at least in the issues I have read, this plot element was not presented in a preachy manner. Kate has accepted what happened, and she does not whine about it nor rail against the unfair piece of legislation. Kate’s discharge from West Point is presented naturally, and readers can decide for themselves what to make of the policy. I suppose some could say that the way Kate is described as “a proud lesbian” is a bit moralizing, and I do agree that the phrase is a bit awkward. After all, we do not call Batman, “a proud heterosexual,” but this is minor point, and there is definitely a case to be made that she is openly embracing an element of her personality which would gain her disapproval in many circles. All in all, Batwoman simply tells a story about a character who happens to be a lesbian; it does not talk down to readers by telling them what to think or how to vote.
Show a Little Skin
Regarding my second concern, Batwoman does not fare as well. In the first four issues of Batwoman, Kate strips to get in and out of her costume three times, and two of these occasions were with her cousin, Flamebird, who was equally exposed. Two of these changing scenes took multiple pages yet contained nothing more significant than dialogue which could have been delivered just as substantively with a clothed heroine. These same issues feature the first kiss between Kate and Maggie which turns into a sex scene which, including naked pillow talk, lasts half of the fourth issue.
Compare this to the same months’ issues of Batman during the already infamous Court of Owls plotline. These four issues contain exactly zero sexual encounters and featured only one shirtless Batman. Though I am sure some would disagree with me, a shirtless guy is not really the same thing as a shirtless girl anyway because of the lack of bosom. Even disregarding that point, Bruce wrapped his ribs in his one shirtless scene rendering him nearly completely clothed.
Exposition of Exploitation?
Batwoman is an excellent series in its own right, and it does not need to resort to showcasing Kate Kane’s body and sexual encounters to garner readers. Some may view this as a way of getting comic book readers to embrace a homosexual character, but even if we accept the idea that Batwoman should and does teach readers to accept homosexuality, it is only doing so by showing that homosexuality is acceptable in as far as it appeals to heterosexual men.
DC has avoided using Kate Kane as a spokeswoman for the pro-homosexual movement, but they have given undue “screen time” to her naked form and sexual encounters in a rather transparent effort to appeal to male readers. If DC is intent on making a quick sales boost in exchange for eliciting male arousal, then they can continue this approach, but if they wish to build their company on the quality of their stories, then they should use their panels to develop a compelling story rather than to produce a peep show.
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