Comics as a medium have taken leaps of progression towards mirroring reality in the past few years. Ever since Marvel emasculated the Comics Code Authority in the 1970s with Spiderman #96 creators have had the freedom to discuss pertinent social issues. Most recently DC made waves when it announced in 2009 that a reboot of Batwoman was coming down the pipes.
Batwoman took over the pages of Detective Comics, offering a nice outlet for those looking for a strong female lead in an otherwise exclusive boys’ club. J.H. Williams III’s mastery of graphic storytelling and panel layouts is what really launched the book into superstardom with every issue being nothing short of eye candy.
On top of the gorgeous art and the solid writing, DC publically took a progressive stance by making their lead character gay. The idea was fresh and brilliant. So brilliant in fact, that the book won two GLAAD awards in the Outstanding Book category. I should note that it’s not out of the ordinary for superheroes to be gay.
In 1992 Marvel’s Northstar came out of the closet, and eventually became the first married gay superhero in Astonishing X-Men #51. Batwoman is noteworthy because of the amount of weight thrown behind the book by the publisher. The marketing behind the two books was immense. DC even went as far as to make Batwoman’s standalone book one of their New 52 launch titles.
With the popularity of “progressive” titles coming from creator-owned books, it made sense why the “Big Two” needed to step into the 21st Century from a fiscal standpoint. What it really meant though, was that DC was ushering in an era of pervasive writing on superhero books; a style of writing reserved for creator-owned books and an occasional guest storyline.
Sadly, the creative team of Batwoman announced last week that they were leaving the book due to editorial interference.
“Unfortunately, in recent months, DC has asked us to alter or completely discard many long-standing storylines in ways that we feel compromise the character and the series,” wrote Blackman and Williams.
The “long-standing storylines” the team was asked to drop meant the omission of key plot points. Blackman and Williams continued, “all of these editorial decisions came at the last minute, and always after a year or more of planning and plotting on our end.”
One of those storylines, and the crucial controversy point, would be Kate Kane’s marriage to her love interest, Maggie Sawyer.
DC co-publisher Dan DiDio, in full crisis management mode, responded to the allegations that DC is barring gay marriage in their publications at Baltimore Comic-Con. DiDio said that it’s not about the marriage, but rather that superheroes, specifically those in the “Batman Family,” should have terrible personal lives.
“They’ve committed to defending others at the scarce of all their own personal instincts,” he said. “…If you look at every one of the characters in the Batman family, their personal lives kind of suck.”
Now the argument could be made against superhero marriages and relationships, stating that these ties age the superhero and root them in a “real world” chronology.
I could see DC wanting to preserve the “timeless” image of a cash-cow icon like Batman, a character with a line of successful books, toys, thermoses, underwear having spawned out of his mythos. Yet, characters like Northstar or Batwoman will never have the readership that their parent titles have had.
It’s absurd to say that superheroes have terrible social lives. While they might not resemble the norm, there are plenty of pages of Matt Murdock (Daredevil) chumming it up, or Bruce Wayne enjoying time with his “Bat-Family”. DC’s editorial choices have nothing to do with preserving the “unhappy” social lives of superheroes. If it did, why even OK Kate Kane’s engagement to Maggie Sawyer in the first place? Why even have the glorious splash page dedicated to Batwoman proposing?
While I can’t speak about DC’s intentions, and their answers seem fantastically P.R., it’s obvious to see the ramifications DC’s actions will have on the comic industry. Batwoman offered a social progression not often found in mainstream comics. If DC is going to be selective about their socially-conscious efforts — drawing the line apparently at gay marriage — it’s hard to take their other efforts as sincere.
Plus, Williams and Blackman’s departure from DC could bring current editorial practices in the industry under scrutiny. But by far the most interesting ramification is this: DC, thanks to DiDio’s ingenious answers, now has to ban marriage across the board for their superheroes lest they look like bigots. That’s assuming that they didn’t look like bigots in the first place.