LGBT Visibility: Batwoman and the Agency of Marriage

batwoman1Thursday, Batwoman co-authors J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman released a joint statement announcing their departure from the title due to conflicts with DC editorial staff. One of the most significant revelations out of this statement was the fact that Batwoman (Kate Kane) and girlfriend Detective Maggie Sawyer would not be allowed to marry, despite their widely publicized engagement which took place in February earlier this year.

“DC has asked us to alter or completely discard many long-standing storylines in ways that we feel compromise the character and the series. We were told to ditch plans for Killer Croc’s origins; forced to drastically alter the original ending of our current arc, which would have defined Batwoman’s heroic future in bold new ways; and, most crushingly, prohibited from ever showing Kate and Maggie actually getting married. All of these editorial decisions came at the last minute, and always after a year or more of planning and plotting on our end.”J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman

A firestorm of controversy erupted online, with everyone from The Huffington Post, The Hollywood Reporter, The Independent and more covering the story. Unsurprisingly, much of the commentary surrounding the issue raises the question as to whether DC Comics is homophobic, or more specifically, against same-sex marriage… and I for one am glad it has.

DCBatwomanStatementTo be clear, Williams, Blackman and DC Comics have all stated and reiterated that the company has decided to halt or dissolve nearly all marriages in the continuity of The New 52, which launched in September, 2011. As such, DC editorial has emphatically denied their decision to prohibit the wedding of Kane and Sawyer from ever taking place has anything to do with the characters’ sexual orientation. Duly noted, DC Comics. In my opinion, it’s a half-truth.

As an academic, an intersectional feminist and a general seeker of knowledge, I consistently analyze, interpret, scrutinize and criticize the depictions of race, gender, class, sexuality and [dis]ability in media—every television and movie script, every commercial, every news story, every song lyric, and every radio sound bite—in regards to whether or not the politics and realities of privilege and oppression are accurately portrayed. I’ll be the first to admit, this usually sucks all the fun out of enjoying everyday entertainment, but media representation is a vital form of agency that has more power to shape the minds, opinions and actions of individuals than most people realize.

In Sociology: Understanding a Diverse Society (2007), authors Margaret L. Andersen and Howard Francis Taylor wrote:

“Recently, there has been increased representation of gays and lesbians in the media—after years of being virtually invisible or only the subject of ridicule. In 2002, the staid New York Times began showing lesbian and gay couples in wedding announcements. Now as advertisers have sought to expand their commercial markets, there are more gay and lesbian characters being shown on television. This makes gays and lesbians more visible, although critics point out that they are still cast in narrow and stereotypical terms, showing little about real life for gays and lesbians. Nonetheless, cultural visibility for any group is important because it validates people and can influence the public’s acceptance and generate support for equal rights protection.”

BatwomanKissSpeaking on the subject of same-sex marriage in particular, Issues in Advertising, Mass Communication, and Public Relations (2011) documents that during the national same-sex marriage debates between 2003 and 2004, “[a]nalysis of sourcing patterns and sound bite length indicate the debate was dominated by conventionally ‘straight’ perspectives. While gay and lesbian couples were visually prevalent in news stories, they were largely seen and not heard.” In a similar vein, the decision to bar Batwoman from marrying has everything to do with her sexual orientation, because the situation is framed within a heteronormative context by a group composed almost exclusively of heterosexual men. That because heterosexual marriages are seen as unnecessary by DC Comics, same-sex marriages should be held to that same standard. Unlike our heterosexual counterparts, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) people have been railing hard against media misrepresentation since the beginning of the 20th century. We have been depicted as sociopaths, deviants, [child] rapists, mentally ill, morally bankrupt, pitiful and—at best—as comic relief within the confines of heteronormative storytelling. Therefore, it is counterintuitive for a company which claims to aim for the best possible representations in diversity to not give greater consideration to the sociological implications of same-sex marriage in their publications.

Don’t get me wrong, I would love to be able to analyze Batwoman’s characterization exclusively on its own merit, free of the greater sociological and political implications her portrayal may exert on the community, but the reality is we do not have that luxury. We can’t afford to fool ourselves into thinking we do. For all intents and purposes, Batwoman is the LGBT poster-child for the comic book industry. Among all LGBT characters in print, she is without a doubt the single most recognizable and highly-cited, not to mention the only one to headline her own solo monthly title. This, in and of itself, is problematic of a much bigger problem of under-representationc — that a single lesbian can (or should) shoulder the burden of positive portrayal of not only lesbians, but gay men as well as bisexual and transgender men and women, since other characters like the Alan Scott Green Lantern (Earth 2), Bunker (Teen Titans) and Shining Knight (Demon Knights) are all a part of group titles, limiting their influence as the central focus of each arc must rotate from character to character. As the reigning household name among LGBT characters, Batwoman inherently possesses the greatest agency for advocating social issues relevant to LGBT Civil Rights, something Greg Rucka, Williams and Blackman have demonstrated throughout her narrative since her re-introduction in 2006. DC Comics (or more correctly, a group of predominately heterosexual white men who will never know the pain of cultural misrepresentation) specifically chose Batwoman to fill this role and as such, bore the all responsibility that came with it.

“When we introduced Batwoman back in 2006, we took a huge risk at DC Comics, we went and did something unprecedented: we made one of our major characters gay… When we did it, we knew there would be controversy and complaints and there were… We got hit with so many different letters and so many nasty emails. We stood behind that character 100 percent, so much so that we made her the lead in ‘Detective Comics’ and then we gave her her own book. That was back in 2006 and we continue to support that character to this day. Simple as that.”DC Comics Co-Publisher Dan DiDio

Once again, I’ll say: duly noted. To quote Janet Jackson, “What Have You Done For Me Lately?” As Williams himself once stated, LGBT themes in comics are often done in a way simply to have the lip service to say “we did it” and then fail to follow through. To DC Comics’ credit, Greg Rucka exceeded expectations in Batwoman’s pre-New 52 stories. His depiction of Kane’s painful path out of the closet, her unjustified discharge from the military under the now-repealed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy and her desire to find meaning in life once again through her Batwoman persona, all rang as true as an autobiography. However, as DC Comics placed Batwoman at the forefront of The New 52 in her own title (with Detective Sawyer in tow), they also wiped Renee Montoya and Holly Robinson from continuity, essentially cutting their number of prominent LGBT characters in half. Giving Batwoman her own title was indeed unprecedented, but gratitude is not eternal, particularly when the number of LGBT characters is actively reduced and watershed moments like the industry’s first lesbian wedding are intentionally obstructed. Due to the fact that DC Comics had full knowledge that Williams and Blackman had every intention of developing a long-term, marital relationship between Kane and Sawyer, backpedaling on that event — especially after such a widely publicized engagement — is reprehensible. Not taking her sexual orientation into account is actually indicative of heterosexism, not proof of absolution. By being complacent in riding the coattails of their previous successes with Batwoman’s character, DC Comics is in effect, telling us to expect less from them in the future, not more. Such a business model is not a recipe for growth, in any context.

To be fair, I realize there are a variety of counter-positions to my perspective.

AlanScottDC Comics could have other LGBT characters get married. They don’t need to have Batwoman marry specifically.

Which characters though? The teenage Bunker from Teen Titans? Green Lantern from Earth 2 (You know, the one whose fiancé was killed off in his origin story)? Or maybe the archaic Shinning Knight from Demon Knights, who’s gender identity is readily dismissed by nearly everyone around them? Each of these scenarios brings the potential for much more disaster than the evolving relationship between Kane and Sawyer ever could. Kane and Sawyer had the best possible set-up for a marital relationship in DC Comics’ current continuity.

Why continue to focus exclusively on Batwoman? DC Comics should create more LGBT characters that are more amicable to a marriage.

Yes, they should, but they haven’t. More importantly, their position clearly indicates they have no interest in developing any marital relationships, period. This is a highly specific problem for LGBT representation. Moreover, according to DiDio, none of the members of the Batman Family are allowed to be happy. It’s not only poor storytelling to recreate every single member of the Family as a psychological extension of Batman himself, it’s also disturbing to convey the idea that Batwoman — as a lesbian — can never be emotionally fulfilled. Among all the pre-existing relationships that have been dissolved, none could ever have the devastating cultural implications as the prevention of Kane and Sawyer’s wedding taking place. If there is one marriage that could be permitted to break with the new status quo, it should have been theirs by virtue of necessity.

black-panther-stormSame-Sex Marriage isn’t really the most pressing legal or social issue to face the LGBT community anyway.

I agree. However, DC Comics made this a pressing issue within their own company of their own free will. In the same way black readers were outraged after Marvel Comics annulled the marriage between Storm and Black Panther after establishing them as the company’s sole black power couple, LGBT readers have every right to point the finger, however accusatorily, at DC Comics for prohibiting what would have been the first lesbian marriage in comic book history after allowing their engagement to take place. Someone on Twitter (and for the life of me I can’t find the original tweets) made an analogy some time ago that if you hit someone with a car, your intent (whether or not you did so on purpose) is of little consequence to the injuries the victim sustains. The fact remains that you’ve inflicted pain. One way or another, you are responsible for it.

Thus, I say emphatically: NO, DC Comics is not absolved of guilt or heterosexism simply because their decision did not factor in Batwoman’s sexual orientation in derailing her marriage—the damage is done.



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  1. Matt SantoriGriffith said:

    Skyler, as always your analysis is brilliant, concise, clear-headed and right on. What I don’t agree with, unfortunately, are your conclusions. In fact, you almost admit outright that a marriage storyline is totally wrong for Kate Kane’s actual character — that it doesn’t matter whether it makes sense for her to marry, only that it should happen for political expediency. And I find that deeply problematic.

    We do not (and have not) fought for the right to marry in order to proscribe it onto individuals for whom it is not a viable option. This is, in fact, the fear many queer theorists I have studied with have had regarding the marriage debate, including Michael Warner, author of the “Trouble with Marriage.” While I do not agree with all of Warner’s conclusions, I do agree the paradigm of marriage should not be a expectation once we achieve it. To accomplish such a feat and then wield it like a weapon would be devastating to our community.

    I won’t go through again all the reasons I think Kate Kane is not the marrying kind, but I will offer one thought. Williams has tried to force Kate into a paradigm in a single story arc (maybe for political expediency, maybe because it’s truly how he views the character) that other writers spent years developing for their characters. Mark Waid came on to the Flash at #62, leading Wally West to the altar 80 issues later at #142. That was a well-developed story showing the growth toward adulthood for an immature character.

    Kate is an adult, and not in the least immature, but her creators established her as emotionally complex and somewhat damaged by a cycle of duty and principle that overshadowed her personal, family, and sexual life on multiple occasions. And no one accused Greg Rucka of heterosexism or homophobia for it. What has changed that now DC can be accused of such for the same?

  2. J. Skyler said:

    As I’ve mentioned before, this would not be an issue at all, had DC not chosen to green light the engagement and (heavily implied) subsequent marriage. Pulling the rug out from reader on such a highly important social issue after the fact defines heterosexism. This is the editorial staff’s foul, not the creative team’s.

  3. Matt SantoriGriffith said:

    Except that I don’t believe the subsequent marriage was heavily implied by virtue of the speedy engagement. My read was that the engagement itself heralded a break-up from the very beginning, by virtue of its complete lack of context and lead-up.

    And DC didn’t pull the rug out from anyone, actually; the writers did by announcing to internet fans (not the entire readership in the pages of the book) that the marriage was not going to happen . Had the story continued, we would have seen it take a natural course, one way or the other, and the outrage/offense would have been nil.

    I completely understand the perception of heterosexism (inadvertently) created by Williams ex parte announcement, but when you dig into the rationales, and the appropriateness for the character involved, it doesn’t hold water for me. Why should Kate as a character suffer for political expediency?

  4. Thomas Hayes said:

    What are the reasons Kate Kane is not the marrying kind? I’ve been trade-waiting this book and have only read the Hydrology arc, so I’m none the wiser.

  5. Kevin Bradley said:

    To be clear: I am not a reader of Batwoman.

    That said, I’m very torn on this issue. I agree with Skyler’s larger point that what is right for the majority (no married heroes) isn’t necessarily right for Batwoman. At the same time, I also see Matt’s point that what is right for the majority (marriage) isn’t necessarily right for Batwoman (or other LGBT people).

    As someone who has had 2 long term relationships, neither with the benefit of actual marriage, I’ve a fear that LGBT people will feel “expected” to marry since it is now possible. But my experience in “the big, wide world” is that there are many other ways to structure/not structure a relationship, including (but not limited to) menage a trois, open marriage, and simply living together. Not every couple is meant to marry and have children, despite what our parents may want. (I started to say “what our parents want for us,” then realized it was really what most parents want, regardless of what their kids want.)

    Also, to be fair, DC hasn’t done themselves any favors in the last few years, killing books before the first issue, firing creative team members or editor-ing them until they quit, choosing Orson Scott Card to write Superman, etc. So it’s easy to jump on the “DC is wrong” bandwagon at this point. But that’s an issue related to DC’s management practices and not the LGBT marriage debate.

    In the end, my feeling is that at least we can debate, openly, whether Kate Kane should be getting married, where before it was never even an option. That, in itself, is progress.

  6. J. Skyler said:

    Each of our arguments is based in part of radically different interpretations of Kate Kane. I’ve read almost everything she has been in since the original 52 and I see nothing in her characterization that would define her as unfit for marriage. A rocky marriage, maybe, given her personality, but not doomed to failure. I *might* even agree with you if she were to take a ‘typical’ house-wife: someone she would have to consistently protect/rescue, but her relationships have been with law-enforcement career women who are equally independent and complex as she is. That is a commonality her marriage her marriage can build on – that someone like Renee or Maggie could *understand her* in ways other women would not.

  7. Matt SantoriGriffith said:

    And I think that’s fair if we’re not reading Kate through the same lens. I’ve read every appearance of Batwoman since her introduction as well, and I can’t come up with a single moment of support that would indicate marriage is a viable option for her, even less with Renee than Maggie. Her relationships across the board, from those with her family and with every woman she has ever been with, demonstrate a woman who cannot make that commitment and live a life of duty at the same time.

    I will admit it is possible WIlliams could have convinced me otherwise in time, but certainly not in a single story arc. All I see is two women who are absolutely in love, but fooling themselves that it will lead to marriage.

  8. Matt SantoriGriffith said:

    Beautifully put, Kevin.

    The question I would like to ask DC at this time is not, “Why can’t Batwoman get married?” but ‘When will we have an example of a lesbian relationship for which marriage is appropriate? WHEN?”

  9. Thomas Hayes said:

    Thanks for the link. I’ve read both editorials and now I realise I need to get reading to make up my own mind. Luckily I bought Elegy yesterday! It’s nice when a story isn’t so clear-cut and spelled out that it inspires debate like this.

  10. Matt SantoriGriffith said:

    ENJOY! Elegy and the most recent, World’s Finest, are exemplary comic books. You have a lot of joy ahead of you!

  11. JanArrah said:

    I’d like to point out you’re missing a some LGBTQ characters when you’ve listed how DC cut their number of lesbians in half.. Ayla (Lightning Lass) and Salu (Shrinking Violet) of the Legion of Super-Heroes were introduced as a happy lesbian couple in the 1980’s. DC only recently restored that continuity and allowed Ayla and Salu to continue their relationship. Yes they’re members of a team and a massive one at that, but they exist and should stop being ignored. Also, Levitz introduced a gay couple with Gravity Kid and Power Boy in the Legion of Super-Heroes back-ups in Adventure Comics. Even though they did not go on to graduate and join the Legion like other members of the Academy (their powers being almost exact duplicates of already existing Legionnaires), they did both join the Science Police and continue to play a role in the Legion.
    Also, Apollo and Midnighter have been a member of Stormwatch since it was relaunched as a New 52 title. They started out not knowing each other and both being wary of one another, but.. it appears since Starlin has taken over, their happy marriage has been re-established.
    Recently, the well known lesbian member of Gen 13, Rainmaker, has made her appearance known in the Movement. Huge kudos there.
    And since you mentioned Demon Knights, it appears Exoristos has feelings for the Shining Knight. Now given the Shining Knight is both male and female, according to Ystina’s own words, their relationship would be anything but heteronormative.

  12. Matt SantoriGriffith said:

    I think Rainmaker is bisexual? But I could be wrong. In any case, we’ve been told off the record that both Virtue and a male member of the cast in the Movement are LGBT as well. Maybe marriage could be in the cards for Rainmaker and Virtue?

    I would have LOVED to have seen Ayla and Vi get married. Now THERE’S a couple for whom the institution is perfect. Damn.

  13. JanArrah said:

    Interesting.. If it gets to the point where they can be revealed, I’m all down for it.
    Rainmaker was a lesbian. If she’s bi now, it’d be odd for Gail Simone to take her in that direction especially since she wrote her as a lesbian before.

  14. JanArrah said:

    Apparently early in the original Gen 13, she said she was bisexual, but it was later revealed she was in fact a lesbian and.. that’s been continuity since, so we’re both kinda right 🙂

  15. J. Skyler said:

    I was focusing exclusively on The New 52 continuity in regards to numbers and weighing them in terms of prominence/recognition. In other words, how many well-developed characters were actually brought in from the old continuity and were officially in print now. I probably could have worded it better, but my sentiment was for LGBT characters that have name recognition (or close to it) we’ve had Renee, Holly, Kate, Maggie, and most recently Alan. I COMPLETELY forgot about Apollo and Mid-Nighter (although I don’t know how, I bought the first few issues of Stormwatch, but dropped the title). That’s not to say other characters should be ignored, just taking into account their current popularity (and whether or not DC would invest in more publicity based on said popularity).

    As far as Shinning Knight: as a trans woman I have extreme reservations on how cisgender writers handle trans/intersex characters and I have no confidence anyone at DC other than Gail or Williams would take the time to carefully depicted all the subtle nuances that come along with a marriage where one or both partners are trans/intersex.

  16. JanArrah said:

    Ayla, Salu, Power Boy, Gravity Kid, and Rainmaker are all in the new 52 continuity. They may not be insanely popular, but they were all there. The fact that most people aren’t aware of Ayla and Salu is a huge tragedy in, but DC has never really announced it and the Legion has had so many reboots that it’s impossible to tell.

    I wouldn’t worry about Shining Knight as I doubt Ystina will be appearing any time soon now that Demon Knights is axed. I do think there are others who could handle it tho like Marc Andreyko who appears to be taking over Batwoman. I’d also personally trust Greg Pak because I know he’d do his damnedest to get it right, but that’s my personal opinion. I also know Jimmy Palmiotti has written some excellent lesbian stories, but I don’t know how well he’d handle a trans/intersex relationship. Honestly though, I doubt we’ll have to worry about it all in all since I doubt we’ll see Shining Knight again for years. It took this long to bring Ystina back after Seven Soldiers, so..

  17. James Kankula said:

    Many different types of heterosexual folks get married. Why limit what types of gay folk are worthy? Getting married doesn’t have to mean getting neutered into some boring domestic routine. I think that a Kate and Maggie marriage would have been full of excitement, emotion, drama, intrigue, and perhaps most relevant here…character development.

    I am getting the inkling of some potential gender bias here as we are presented with a woman character who had made her intentions known, she was written to make the choice of proposing. Full stop. What need is there to question her choice? No, I haven’t forgotten we are talking fiction here but, sometimes our unconscious bias can project into our opinions of fiction. Just because she is complicated doesn’t mean Kate can’t commit to and love Maggie. After reading issue 23, I am more sure of it.

    The issue that bugs me upon which we might all agree, is that heterosexual (creators, editors, politicians, justices, whatever) are making this decision for LGBT folk.

  18. Matt SantoriGriffith said:

    I think there are those that question the choice because it is repeating a pattern for Kate that she has exhibited — on the page — over and over in her relationships, where she gets very serious and then chooses not to commit. Chooses. No one is saying Kate is not “worthy” of marriage, as if it is the only viable option for either relationships or individuals who want to experience their sexuality. That is a bias in itself.

    It is clear Kate loves Maggie, as she loved Renee, her father, her cousin, and any number of other people she has left in the dust when duty and principle came calling. Six or seven issues of a storyline can’t change that behavior, or if it can, I think we’re dealing with a different problem on the writing end.

    I have yet to hear anyone bring out textual evidence for a serious change in Kate’s demeanor other than just because the writer is telling us it happened in a blog post. I genuinely can’t point to it.

  19. Zeparu said:

    I pretty much agree with everything written here and thank you for being able to wrap my head around why I felt uncomfortable with DC’s and JH Williams’ claim the decision had nothing to do with sexu orientation. Well done!

    However, it contantly irritates me when people write “comic book history” and mean “US mainstream superhero comic book history”. That’s just a single mountain (though a quite big one) in the huge landscape of comics. If you work toward acknowledging diversity in gender representation and then completely ignore diversity in international comics publication, that’s just a different form of discrimination.

  20. ScarlettMi said:

    A few months ago, would you have written this same article? Would you have looked at the fact that DC had a lesbian character headlining her own book and been outraged that she wasn’t married? How dare a high profile lesbian character be single? The fact that a relatively new character that’s only had her own book for two years hadn’t yet gotten married was something that you found unacceptable? Or is it just that if one writer suggests the character should get married that suddenly DC is under an obligation to do so?

  21. ScarlettMi said:

    “essentially cutting their number of prominent LGBT characters in half.”

    I think you mean “lesbian” not “LGBT” here.

  22. J. Skyler said:

    As mentioned below (in comments). I was referring to all *prominent* (or rather well known to the general public) LGBT characters in DC Comics current continuity.

  23. J. Skyler said:

    A few months ago, obviously not. If the engagement had never occured, there never would have been a problem. My issues – as stated in the article – is why allow an engagement in the first place *knowing* the co-authors planned on developing a long-term marriage since the beginning of the series? It’s not about forcing Batwoman to marry, its about allowing the writers to forward with this long-term goal *publicly* and then *publicly* backtracking on that decision.

  24. J. Skyler said:

    This is true. I actually started reading manga long before I read American comics. It’s a bad habit, but due to format and general tone I always view Western and Eastern comics as two different worlds. In the future I will specify what region I am writing about.