Wednesday, May 31, 2006


The "B"-Word

Times have certainly changed. Batwoman is back -- and she's a coming out of the, uh, cave:

Comic book heroine Batwoman is to make a comeback as a "lipstick lesbian" who moonlights as a crime fighter, a DC Comics spokesman has confirmed. Batwoman - real name Kathy Kane - will appear in 52, a year-long DC Comics publication that began this month.

In her latest incarnation, she is a rich socialite who has a romantic history with another 52 character, ex-police detective Renee Montoya.
How ironic. The Golden Age of comics essentially ended in the early 1950s partly due to a backlash created by psychiatrist Dr. Fredric Wertham, author of the comic-bashing Seduction Of the Innocent.

Wertham charged that comic books -- especially the
EC horror line -- helped fuel the burgeoning issue of the time -- juvenile delinquency! Worse, they helped promote aberrant behavior with characters like Wonder Woman -- who came from an island of only women -- or Bruce (Batman) Wayne who lived with a teenage boy (who wasn't his son) -- without any, um, notable female influences around.

Crime, lesbianism, homosexuality -- all this and more was, ahem, laid at the feet of the comic book world.

The two basic results of Wertham's campaign was EC going out of business and
the comics industry agreeing to police itself with what came to be known as the Comics Code Authority. The CCA governed what was and was not acceptable in mainstream comic books. All major titles -- primarily distributed at the time to convenience and drug stores -- carried a little badge that read "Approved By The Comics Code Authority."

(Another result of Wertham's book was that, when the Batman TV series debuted in the mid-'60s, there was a convenient addition of Dick (Robin) Grayson's Aunt Harriet who provided an important feminine touch to the all-male household.

Beginning in the early-70s, edgier stories in mainstream titles like Spider-Man and Green Lantern/Green Arrow dealing with drug abuse forced the Code to modernize.

Today, though comic books don't sell as many collective copies as they once did, there is a far greater variety of publishers and titles for all ages. Comics are primarily distributed in comic book shops and bookstores. The CCA is largely obsolete, though publishers label titles themselves.

However, this means that DC -- which has historically been the more "traditional" or "conservative" of the two main publishers -- is now attaching a gay identity to a member of one of its signature "family" of titles -- the "Bat"-brand. A really big move.

This isn't like Marvel's having gay Canadian hero Northstar -- introduced twenty-five years ago and "outed" more than a decade ago. Or, the gay-bashing storyline featured in Green Lantern a couple of years ago.

A character attached to the extended "family" of DC's Number Two hero is being reintroduced as a lesbian in the company's much publicized year-long maxi-series.

Doc Wertham must be rolling in his grave.

UPDATE: The New York Daily News runs a story -- and touches on the ground-breaking, controversial, aspects.

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