In 1954, psychiatrist Fredric Wertham released Seduction of the Innocent, in which he accused Batman and Robin of living a gay lifestyle. (Which, given the circumstantial evidence? Fair.) Not coincidentally, however, in 1956 Batwoman first appeared on the page as a hyper-feminized hero who did things like use her makeup compact’s mirror to blind and capture evil doers. She was introduced specifically to try and make Batman less gay. Good luck, girl.
But that’s definitely not the same Batwoman we’ll be seeing in the new CW show, Batwoman, premiering on Sunday. This Batwoman, played by Orange is the New Black’s Ruby Rose, will make the superhero TV landscape gayer than it's ever been.
The modern-era Batwoman debuted in the comics in 2006 as Kate Kane, ex-girlfriend of Gotham detective Renee Montoya. Kate was a wealthy heiress, Jewish, and an out lesbian, who was also ex-military and could definitely kick your ass. In 2009, she took over the Batman-led title of Detective Comics. This run was hugely successful. When released as a trade, it not only had a foreword written by Rachel freakin’ Maddow, but it also won a GLAAD award and an Eisner Award—one of the highest awards a comic can win. By 2010, Batwoman had her own self-titled series.
But while Batwoman was busy collecting all the awards—she also teamed up with Wonder Woman, proposed to her girlfriend Maggie Sawyer, broke up with her girlfriend Maggie Sawyer, learned her dead twin sister was actually living the supervillain life, and found out fellow superhero Flamebird was her cousin. Not unlike most heroes, Batwoman has a soap opera-y back story that could could put most X-Men and telenovela stars to shame.
So when Batwoman first showed up in the Arrow-verse in December of 2018 (where the Greg Berlanti-produced CW superhero shows Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, and Legends of Tomorrow semi-regularly converge) for the crossover event "Elseworlds," it wasn't just a big deal to see a Jewish lesbian character saving the day, it was also a backdoor pilot of sorts for the upcoming Batwoman series.
Of all the Berlanti-produced superhero series that have debuted on The CW (Supergirl premiered on CBS before moving after its first season), Batwoman enters with the most anticipation. That's in large part due to Ruby Rose coming with a preexisting reputation that cuts both ways. She brings with her a huge anticipatory fan base, but there was also a good bit of backlash to her being cast. Any representational leap forward is going to have increased scrutiny from the community being represented. In this case, the Batwoman from the comics is a representational figure that a lot of people will line up to defend.
In the CW's adaptation, Kate Kane is Bruce Wayne's cousin, and Batman has been missing from Gotham for three years. Kate's father, Jacob Kane (Dougray Scott) heads a private security force called the Crows, which has been defending Gotham since Batman left. When Kate learns that her ex-girlfriend — and Crow — Sophie (Meagan Tandy) has been kidnapped by the mad villain Alice (Rachel Skarsten, doing a whole "in Wonderland" thing with her character), she ends up seeking out and donning her cousin's bat suit … only after her nervous young ally Luke Fox manages to re-fit it for a woman.
The Kate Kane of Batwoman presents as a tough-chick badass with a personal stake in her crusade for justice. That makes her quite similar to the niche carved out by, among others, Jessica Jones on her Netflix series. But Jessica Jones never donned anything more elaborate than her leather jacket when it came to crime fighting. Kate Kane, by contrast, is wearing the most iconic superhero costume of them all. Eventually that costume will be augmented by a bright red wig, like it was in the CW crossover event, but that doesn't happen in the series premiere. Does a feminist, queer-positive heroine need to make sure her costume is so explicitly gendered? In Kate's words, after her heroics are initially attributed to a returning Batman: "I'm not allowed to let a man take credit for a woman's work.
Batwoman premieres on The CW Sunday October 6 at 8:00 PM ET
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Ian Carlos Crawford is a freelance writer, host of the podcast Slayerfest 98, and someone with way too many feelings. Follow him on Twitter at @ianxcarlos.