UPDATE: Sept. 5th 2013. J. Williams III & W. Haden Blackman are exiting the Batwoman title after creative differences, and what they claim is "Editorial interference". See the bottom of this post for elaboration on that, and my thoughts.
So I read online the other day about how the character of Kate Kane aka Batwoman had proposed to her girlfriend in the current issue of Batwoman (issue 17, part of the New 52). Admittedly I had never read any Batwoman (or Batgirl for that matter) comics in the past, but this intrigued me for a few reasons.
First of all, there’s the obvious situation where this contrasts with DC putting out a book with a high profile out lesbian superhero proposing to her girlfriend, while at the same time extending an invitation to Orson Scott Card to write for Superman. Card in the past has made some ugly (and often false) allegations against the LGBT community and that hiring provoked a strong backlash.
However the other reason that it intrigued me was that it seems that the country is slowly but surely coming around to the realization that LGBT people are just like any other person. They love the same way we do, they feel emotions the same way we do, they laugh, cry, work, study, read, watch TV, etc just like we do. There’s no difference once you go beyond the “oh no, she’s kissing a lady!” or “He’s hugging a guy” thing.
In 1997 director Kevin Smith released what I feel is his finest film to this day, “Chasing Amy” in which Ben Affleck fell in love with a woman, Joey Lauren Adams, who was a lesbian. And while that movie was more along the lines of “could a lesbian and a straight guy have a relationship and have it work out, or were they just fooling themselves?”, I was really intrigued and impressed with the tagline: It’s Not Who You Love, But How.
That’s brilliant. That sums the whole issue of marriage equality, same sex relationships, etc., up perfectly. Doesn’t matter who you love, whether it’s a man or a woman, it’s HOW you love them. How you treat them, how you feel when you’re with them. It’s seemingly so simple yet it says so much. And for the life of me I don’t understand why so many people have such a hard time with it.
MORE AFTER THE BREAK
Growing up I didn’t know any gay or lesbian people. At least none that I was aware of, anyway. As I got older, went out into the world and met various gay and lesbian people I came to realize what is surprisingly the best kept secret around: They’re just people. As I said before, they are just like any straight person in how they live their lives. It’s not a situation where it’s anything more than just another aspect of their lives. Just as you and I have multiple layers to our personalities and our lives, so do they.
Which is one of the things I found myself liking about this comic, and this character of Kate Kane. Her lesbianism isn’t a gimmick or a superficial thing designed to just be window dressing. It’s not a throwaway trick designed to get people to think that the writers are somehow progressive or anything. It’s dealt with in a way that is very matter-of-fact and respectfully.
This is a situation where a strong positive role model exists in this book for all the young lesbians who are growing up faced with hardships. Faced with bullying at school or ostracized from their families. Who feel that they have no one to turn to, and no one to look up to. Never underestimate the power of imagination and the impact of someone that represents you being profiled in such a powerful way.
And another surprising aspect showing that they haven’t shied away from the controversial waters in this occurs in issue 4 where there’s several pages of a battle between Flamebird (Kane’s impulsive cousin) fighting and losing against her opponent, interspersed with scenes of Kate and Maggie in bed making love, and it’s surprisingly intimate and fairly erotic, with the close-ups of Maggie’s face as she’s receiving pleasure from her lover.
That wasn’t something I really expected, as so many times with instances in the media, whether it’s comics, or movies or TV shows, the gay character is just sort of there as window dressing, or as a token. No real attempts to delve into their lives or their identities beyond the one dimensional. In this, the character is very fleshed out with a back story and her relationship with Sawyer is genuinely touching due to the superb writing in this book. As I said this has been a pleasant surprise reading this series.
Now admittedly there is a double standard at work here, and one that is not necessarily the fault of DC or the writers of Batwoman. However, can you imagine a similar scenario like the love making scene, working with two male characters in a comic book of this caliber? Because I can’t. And that’s the double standard. If two women are making love it is considered sweet and hot and whatnot, but the reaction to two men in that exact same scene? I don’t know that a lot of people’s reaction would be the same.
And I’ll be honest, I don’t know if MY reaction would have been the same. And perhaps that shows my prejudices or maybe I’m not as tolerant as I would like to believe. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just society having affected me more than I would normally admit. It’s the same mentality, however, that can have men go to a strip club and hoot and holler and throw dollar bills at women making out with each other, and then go home and get online and rant about “those faggots destroying the moral fabric of society” (meaning of course, men).
It’s the same double standard at work where you have a straight couple kissing on the lips but a gay couple only hugging in the same scene in ABC’s Modern Family.
The fact that DC and the writers of Batwoman have taken this extraordinary step and created this fantastic book with this very (sadly) controversial storyline is a testament to the fact that we are getting better with how we view those that are perceived as different than ourselves. Having said that, we should not fool ourselves into thinking that we are somehow a more tolerant society because Batwoman is an out lesbian and proposed to her girlfriend. Or that there is an Archie Comic with a gay character, Kevin Keller.
Because no matter how tolerant you think we are, there are always those out there who are twice as intolerant and are the types like those who sent in death threats to Canadian comic strip author Lynn Johnston, who wrote the strip For Better or For Worse, over her running a Pulitzer nominated series dealing with a teenage boy coming out and getting rejected by his family initially, before being welcomed back in. Because we can’t have a LGBT characters being portrayed in a loving, humane and rational fashion, now can we?
I don’t know the reception that the writers have gotten over Kate Kane. Whether they got death threats are not are unknown to me. While it wouldn’t shock me if they did get them, I’d like to think that it wouldn’t be that big a deal now. One thing people should realize is that a lot of times when there’s some “massive” protest about things, it’s usually one group that’s getting all it’s members to send in a form letter to complain, many of who didn’t actually read or see what is being protested. That is not to infer, though, that we are past the bigotry and homophobia that pervades society though.
To paraphrase the classic tagline of Virginia Slims cigarettes, “we’ve come a long way, baby”. And we still have a long way to go. It’s important to never forget that, because those who are persecuted, harassed, bullied into suicide, or killed simply due to their sexual identity, aren’t able to forget either.
UPDATE: September 5th 2013
So today the news came out that J. Williams III & W. Haden Blackman, who are the writers and artists on this book, who are responsible for the brilliant storylines, the amazing artwork, etc, are exiting the title due to what they claim is "Editorial Interference". Namely that they had numerous changes forced on them at the eleventh hour, so to speak, and therefore they felt that it was best for them to move on at the conclusion of this story arc, which will conclude in December.
There were multiple examples of this interference that was given by the creative team, however one specific example has gotten the vast majority of the attention by those in the media, and that is that DC Comics laid down an ultimatum that there would be no marriage between Kate Kane (Batwoman) and her girlfriend Maggie Sawyer.
When I first heard this I was kind of angry about it. I haven't really been into comics over the past few decades, however this was one of the titles that got me back. I got hipped to the title when the news came out about Kate proposing to her girlfriend. This was a big storyline, and a big step for comics. There's been LGBT characters in comics before, but almost always it was an afterthought, or a gimmick.
As I wrote before, this was different because her sexuality is not a gimmick here, it's not something just thrown in as a sort of consolation prize or something, it was an aspect of the character's life that had a bearing on who she was. This is a character who while at West Point was given the chance to lie and deny who she was, in order to save her military career, and she refused. She stood up proudly and acknowledged that she was a lesbian.
Her sexual identity is just that: her Identity. It's who she is, and her relationship with Maggie Sawyer has been beautifully done and respectfully represented. This is a relationship that makes you feel that it is real, not just characters on paper brought to life by brilliant colors. This is due to the talents of Williams & Blackman.
In the recent issue Kate proposes to Maggie (for the second time, the first while in costume and taking her girlfriend -- who was unaware of who she was -- by surprise), and Maggie accepts. Where this leaves that, I have no idea. How can they possibly go forward now that the proposal has been accepted.
I'm kind of fearing that it's going to end with either Maggie dying, or the two breaking up, because if the edict from DC is no marriage, no how (shown in the panels or unshown), then ...what other options are there? Are they going to just up and decide "you know what, we don't need marriage, civil unions are just fine and dandy!"? That would fly in the face of the real efforts and progress being made in the real world on this front.
But as I said, out of the various examples of DC's meddling (shuttering the idea of an orgin storyline for Killer Croc among other things), the insistence that there would be no marriage is what has struck a chord with many LGBT groups and their allies. And rightfully so, I think. DC does not have a great track record when it comes to this in recent times, particularly with the whole Orson Scott Card debacle still fresh in everyone's mind.
However I don't think it's that simple that we can say that the reason that DC said no to them getting marriage, is because of an anti-LGBT bias. As was pointed out on Newsarama's excellent writeup of this, DC and Marvel both have pretty much put the kibosh on ALL marriages in the comics pages, particularly with the New 52 series (of which Batwoman is a part of).
Superman's marriage with Lois Lane? Wiped from history books in the comic world's New 52. Spiderman? Never married Mary Jane Watson. Barry Allen? Nope. No family. And that goes for his nephew too, who's wife and kids are nowhere to be found.
So that kind of puts the kibosh on the whole idea, at least in my mind, that this was done explicitly out of an anti-LGBT sentiment. However that opinion will continue to thrive online, because of DC's recent history when it comes to LGBT issues. Yes, they have this award winning Batwoman comic that has been praised (and rightfully so) in respect towards the characters of Kate Kane & Maggie Sawyer.
However they've also got their albatross around their neck in the form of Orson Scott Card, which in many people's eyes, outweigh any good done by the Batwoman book.
As I said in the beginning, I was kind of pissed when I first heard about this, and was going to write up an angry rant about the whole thing. Now though, as I've read more about it? I'm still upset at the situation, but not for the reasons I was before.
Well...for the same reasons, but my anger isn't for the same reason. It's not homophobia or anything like that that is driving this, IMO, but just their belief that, as they stated in a press release back when the New 52 came out, "Marriage immediately ages the characters". And so they don't want any of the marriages happening, straight or gay.
DC is going to have a problem though, because of the image that is given when they are essentially saying "Hey, we don't mind if these two beloved lesbian characters get engaged, they just can't be married." Which is kind of like art imitating real life with the whole "Hey, civil unions are awesome folks, but don't call it marriage!"
This is a disappointing day, but I definitely respect Williams & Blackman for their stance. They, like their creation, has taken a stand for integrity and have moved on. I will definitely finish their run of the book, but I doubt I will continue with it afterwards.
I just hope people can look at this with the proper perspective and at least have an open mind that perhaps this might not be what we thought it might be. That maybe this doesn't have as much to do with them being lesbians, as much as it has to do with their desire to not have ANY marriages, straight or gay.