Batwoman’s Ever-Changing History Sets Up a Kickass Kate Kane

Scott J. Davis
TV The CW
TV The CW Arrowverse DC

Move over Bruce Wayne, there’s a new hero in town. After debuting last year during the Elseworlds Arrowverse crossover episodes that expanded the DC television roster even further, Batwoman is coming to our screens this October for her very first live-action series. While it’s taken a long time to get there — she’s been around since 1956 — Arrowverse and comic book fans are eager to see this latest incarnation make her indelible mark on the small screen, alongside the popular superheroes from Supergirl, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow and Arrow.

Ruby Rose stars as the titular character and her alter-ego, Kate Kane, cousin of the aforementioned billionaire who, in this iteration, has been missing from Gotham City for some three years. Wayne is still yet to make an appearance in the Arrowverse — despite many nods to and discussions about him. Inspired by both Bruce and Batman (the trailer alludes to Kate knowing his secret identity), she sets about bringing her own brand of vigilante justice as she tries to bring down the Wonderland Gang.

But explaining just exactly who Batwoman is is tricky — since the concept of who she is has been reworked several times over the years. We delve into Ms Kane’s comic-book history to explore the major changes the character has undergone between 1956 and 2019.

ORIGINS

Batwoman (Kathy Kane) as seen in her original guise in the 1950s.

Batwoman was first introduced into the Batman comics in 1956, as Kathy Kane. Seen as a strong female counterpart to the Caped Crusader and part of the Silver Age of Comic Books, she was the product of a time when interest in comics was beginning to wane and artists and writers were taking risks with their stories.

Considered part of the now-extended Batman family, Kathy was created by Edmond Hamilton and Sheldon Moldoff under the guidance of then-editor, Jack Schiff. She debuted in Detective Comics #233. First conceived as a love interest for Batman, she was meant to shake off the speculation about Batman’s sexuality that circulated following the 1954 publication of the book Seduction of the Innocent, that demonised comic books.

In her original incarnation, Kathy’s backstory was akin to both Bruce Wayne’s and Dick Grayson‘s. She too had inherited her wealth and been a circus performer — giving her the skills necessary to fight crime in a similar vein to the Dynamic Duo. She became a trusted ally to them and, some years later, she got her very own sidekick in the form of her niece Bett, aka Batgirl. Bett would later become a romantic interest for Robin. Of course.

Kathy’s alter ego had a similar range of abilities and ‘powers’ as Bruce’s. Like him, she was a skilled martial arts expert, and supremely talented master of stealth tactics. However, instead of a utility belt, she packed a utility purse — comprised of weapons disguised as women’s accoutrements, such as lipstick, hairnets and bracelets, all far stronger than they seemed.

She was popular with fans but, after almost a decade of appearances, both Batwoman and Batgirl were written out of the DC roster. Batgirl was retconned to become the Barbara Gordon version of the character, courtesy of editor Julius Schwartz.

Batwoman, meanwhile, would return in 1977 in Batman Family #10, coming out of retirement to help Batgirl. But two years later, she suffered a deadly fate at the hands of the League of Shadows – the very same organisation that featured in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy – in Detective Comics #485.

That wasn’t her final appearance, though — her Earth-2 version (part of the bigger picture the Crisis series would allude to) would show her face in ‘The Brave and the Bold’ comic series to help Robin and Batman battle Hugo Strange. On Earth-2, Batwoman had retired from crime-fighting.

Then, in 2011, it was revealed that Kathy was actually Bruce Wayne’s aunt by marriage. After her husband passed, she joined Bruce to fight crime before she was presumed dead. In fact, she had been recruited by Spyral, a group who had hired her to uncover Bruce’s true identity.

A CRISIS OF INFINITE PROPORTIONS

Batwoman wasn’t introduced properly again until 2006, but the seeds of Batwoman’s future appearances were sown back in the 1980s — with the much-admired series ‘Crisis on Infinite Earths‘. The same name given to the upcoming Arrowverse crossover event.

1985 proved a turning point for DC Comics and with this 12-issue series they dramatically altered comic-book continuity, killing off many characters, tweaking some and totally changing the direction of others. Written and produced by Marv Wolfman, George Pérez, and drawn by Dick Giordano, Jerry Ordway, and Mike DeCarlo, much of the DC universe was wiped out by the Anti-Monitor, who destroys the multiple Earths (Earth-1, Earth-2) that are revealed to have existed as part of the expanded continuity.

Flash (ahem) forward to 2005 and the release of ‘Infinite Crisis‘, a limited series created by Geoff Johns and Paul Jimenez and a sequel to the aforementioned original. This again would change the continuity of the comics and would see them all skip forward a year. This then resulted in the introduction of the 52 series, which would track the 52 weeks that followed ‘Infinite Crisis’, and would lead to a new, revamped version of Batwoman.

Drawn by legendary comic-book artist Alex Ross, initial plans were that Batgirl would be the female character who would be overhauled for the series, but they soon settled on reviving Batwoman under the new name Kate Kane and incorporated a Batgirl-like costume and the now-signature red hair showcased by Ruby Rose in the show.

This version caused some controversy when it was announced that Kate would be a lesbian and in a long-term relationship with Renee Montoya, a Gotham City detective. Who, tantalisingly, will soon be making her own big-screen debut in next year’s Birds of Prey, brought to life by Rosie Perez. Potential future crossover, anyone?

52 REASONS WHY

Unlike some of the other main players in the DC Extended Universe, Kate Kane’s origins and backstory weren’t given their own dedicated story in the comics, and were instead primarily told via scattered flashbacks.

It’s in Detective Comics #824 that the Penguin first mentions the new Batwoman, saying to Batman: “Why don’t you bring that new Batwoman? I hear she’s kind of hot!” Making sure readers know the important stuff from the outset before we learn anything else about her…

We eventually learn that Kate has an identical twin named Elizabeth/Beth, and the pair were close during childhood. On their 12th birthday, they went out to celebrate with their mother but, en route to the restaurant, they were attacked by a vicious gang of gunmen who killed their bodyguard and kidnapped them.

On hearing the news, their father, Colonel Jake Kane led a large manhunt to find them. Kate’s mother was found executed and Beth seemingly killed too after a shootout. Flash forward some years and Kate is attending military school: she is ranked Brigade Executive Officer after receiving various accolades and awards, but when rumours circulate that she’s in a lesbian relationship with another student, she refuses to lie about her personal life and is forced to leave, in “violation of the Honor Code” of the school.

Returning to Gotham, she starts to lead a much wilder lifestyle, getting tattooed, partying hard and clashing with the police. In turn, she meets Renee Montoya and the two begin their romantic relationship. Later, Kate has her first encounter with the Batman, who helps her off the ground after a mugger tried – and failed – to take her phone and purse.

Inspired by the meeting, she begins her crime-fighting career after stealing some body armour, tech and weapons from her dad’s base, but not before he intervenes and offers to train her. Two years pass and she returns to Gotham where her own Batsuit is waiting for her, as well as her own Batcave – a hidden bunker in her home.

In 2011, after a “#0” issue, Batwoman #1 was published. Written by W. Haden Blackman and J.H. Williams III, it had Kate as the main protagonist but added a supporting cast of characters – mainly made up of relatives, including her sister, Elizabeth.

Later, writer Grant Morrison continued to lead the charge by restoring the Kathy Kane character to the lore with some new narrative additions, including revealing that she was Bruce Wayne’s aunt by marriage, that she and Batman fought side-by-side for a period, and that she mysteriously vanished (presumed dead), only to pop up working for a secret organisation to help them uncover Batman’s true identity. Families, eh?

In many ways, Kate is very similar to the Kathy Kane version of the comics in terms of powers and abilities: given her army education and training, she is a highly skilled martial arts expert and is in peak physical condition. She’s also an ace detective. The main point that sets her apart from her previous incarnation is that she possesses a genius-level intellect, which she uses to the full in all her stories.

MYSTERY IN THE MOVIES

Batwoman
Batwoman as seen in "Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman" animated film.

After the huge success of both the Batman feature films – Batman (1989), Batman Returns (1992), Batman Forever (1995) – and Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995), DC had begun to make animated features while the film series was on hiatus after “franchise-killer” Batman & Robin (1997).

These served as a portal into the Batman-lore through one-off animated feature-length specials – with Batman: Mask of the Phantasm generally considered the best of them. But, in 2003, it was Batwoman who took centre stage in Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman.

Billed as the “new heroine in town”, Batwoman’s presence in Gotham is news to the Dynamic Duo, who have been serving Gotham together up to now. The focus of her attention is the Penguin, who has been involved in some dodgy dealings with local businessman, Rupert Thorne, and gangster, Carlton Duquesne — including selling weapons to the foreign market, with Bane on board as their “muscle”.

Batman and Robin try to stop Batwoman from getting too close to the group and making any mistakes. But attempts to apprehend her result in them uncovering the truth about the new crusader.

Breaking the continuity of the character, the Batwoman persona is actually taken on by not one but three different women during the course of the film. There’s Roxanne Ballantine, a tech wiz working for Bruce Wayne; Sonia Alcana, the new partner of Harvey Bullock; and Kathy Duquesne, daughter of Carlton. All of these women have been taking turns donning the suit to avoid detection, using their collective abilities (and finances) to bring Penguin’s operation down. In another ‘twist’, Batwoman is always voiced by the same actor no matter who is inside the suit — Kyra Sedgwick — in an effort to fool the audience, too.

Batwoman in 2005's "Batman: Bad Blood".

Later, in 2015, Batwoman/Katherine Kane would return to the animated films in Batman: Bad Blood – set two years after the previous film, Batman vs. Robin. In it, she feels responsible for Batman’s apparent death after a massive explosion is set off by a group of villains, led by the Heretic.

This version of the character is pretty much the one from the 52/newer versions of the comics, with the vigilante sporting red hair and the same origin story – she, her sister Elizabeth and mother are abducted with the latter two killed; followed by her run-in with Batman after being attacked. Like before, she uses those experiences to fuel her fight against the Gotham underworld, and to strengthen herself so that the Dark Knight, nor anyone else, need save her ever again.

THE FUTURE OF THE BATWOMAN

Batwoman
Ruby Rose as Kate Kane/Batman in DC/The CW's "Batwoman".

And so to the 2019 live-action version of the character. After the success of woman-led superhero films like Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel (with Birds of Prey due next year), the impact of Supergirl and the plethora of amazing women in the Arrowverse — not to mention those of the MCU and the extended Marvel universes (Spider-Gwen, Jessica Jones) — it seems like now is the perfect time to reintroduce the world to her.

The casting of Ruby Rose, however, led to a huge (and unnecessary) backlash on social media, leading to the actor quitting Twitter and deactivating social comments on her Instagram. Indeed, when the first trailer was uploaded to YouTube, it received more “dislikes” than “likes” (428,000 vs 86,000).

The whole thing is reminiscent of the internet campaign against Captain Marvel and its star, Brie Larson, proving there’s still a way to go before misogyny is erased from the world of superhero fandom. Regardless, Captain Marvel‘s $1.128billion gross quickly silenced the haters, also proving that there’s a massive audience ready to embrace a new era with women superheroes stepping to the forefront. And we’re sure Batwoman — and Rose — will ultimately prove a hit.

Batwoman starts on The CW on Sunday October 6th. 

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Scott J. Davis
Freelance Film Writer usually found in dark screening rooms, on a red carpet or avoiding the low-lying microphones of a Junket...