Batwoman may not be a household name, but she is certainly getting a lot of play in the media recently. That’s because writers J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman left the title this week under a firestorm of controversy.
While the pair cited editorial interference as the reason for their departure, the rumor mill was quick to latch onto DC’s apparent ban on Batwoman a/k/a Kate Kane’s marriage to fiancé Maggie Sawyer.
Not allowing the characters to marry has become something of a sore spot with a lot of fans. Since "coming out" as a lesbian in 2006, Batwoman has been a standout among comic fans, especially those who follow DC. Readers and insiders alike applauded the writers for breaking down stereotypes while also writing an entertaining character.
Kate Kane’s back story is indeed one that puts her at the forefront of many issues. As a female superhero she is a great feminist character but fighting the military’s "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy made her a gay icon. And being the first LGBT superhero to headline a title at DC has also made her a beacon for mainstream media.
The media was quick to report on perhaps the biggest moment for the title, Batwoman’s engagement to Maggie Sawyer. Yet, rumblings of homophobia brought controversy. In a world where publicity is key, DC stayed surprisingly mute. There was no big announcement, no media blitz to promote the ground-breaking issue.
So when Williams and Blackman walked it seemed "editorial interference" was code for the bigger issue. DC was quick to defend itself, claiming the departure had nothing to do with "sexual orientation."
“Heroes shouldn’t have happy personal lives. They are committed to being that person and committed to defending others at the sacrifice of their own personal interests,” DC co-publisher Dan DiDio told the DC National panel in July.
As a fan of comic books, I can attest to this sentiment. In looking at DC’s New 52 line up, we can see that none of the characters lead particularly happy personal lives. Even Williams came to DC’s defense,sort of, by claiming in a tweet it was never "
put to them as anti-gay marriage."
But in a situation like this, does the publisher have to come out and say it?
“[DC] should be aware that making a decision such as not allowing two gay characters to marry will whiff to high heaven of cowardice and prejudice” Ariadne Cass-Maran, creative director of Graphic Scotland, pointed out when I spoke with her about just that.
I’m afraid I have to agree.
In not allowing the character to marry at the behest of the writers comes off as anti-gay marriage, whether they meant it or not. And even if it was just the editor’s following the mold of their other characters, does that make it ok?
“For me, it sends a message that marriage isn't worth fighting for. In a world where many LGBT couples struggle for marriage equality, that the industry would send that message is unsettling,” comics blogger Kirsti McDowell told me in an email exchange.
With the fight that is going on for marriage equality all over the world, comics and graphic novels like the Batwoman series have the opportunity to lead the way. Marvel seems to have caught on, featuring the wedding of X-Men’s Northstar, one of the first gay characters in comics. In the battle between DC and Marvel, the latter is clearly the leader in a lot more than box office dominance.
The saddest part of this situation is the loss for the Batwoman title. As many fans will attest,including Cass-Maran and McDowell, Batwoman is an extraordinary piece of art. In everything from its layout to its narrative arc, the title is an industry leader. Losing talent like this is an outrage.
And who will step into fill their shoes? Even if DC is not anti-gay, they are certainly anti-writer. With a history of questionable editorial decisions and a reputation for disrespecting their talent, DC is not likely to get the creative minds it needs to take Batwoman to the next level.
In terms of the industry standard, DC is lagging and Marvel is only marginally better. While both feature gay characters, there seem to be editorial barriers preventing these characters from truly breaking boundaries. Marvel’s gay characters are mainly supporting players, and even with the Green Lantern coming out as gay, DC has proven itself to be quite limiting in terms of what they will allow in gay story lines.
Still, comics and graphic novels are breaking some ground.
“Comics are gradually getting there, and at the moment they're still doing a better job than some mediums at getting on with telling stories about different kinds of people,” says Cass-Maran, even if she is pointing to European titles such as Blue is the Warmest Colour as examples.
Now it’s time for DC and Marvel to follow suit.