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Batwoman was created to be a strong female counterpart to Batman, “a mysterious and glamorous girl” who, according to her first story, was his “great rival” as “a champion of the law”—one who could match his “superb acrobatic skill, his scientific keenness, his mastery of disguise and detective skill!” Over the decades, six different characters have proudly adopted the name and persona of Batwoman.
The original Batwoman, Kathy Kane, made her debut in a story written by Edmond Hamilton in Detective Comics #233 (July 1956). She was obviously named after Bob Kane, Batman’s co-creator, but she was first drawn by Sheldon Mold-off, one of the many “ghosts” who created artwork attributed to Mr. Kane. One reason for creating Batwoman was to give Batman a female romantic interest, thereby countering the charge made by Dr. Frederic Wertham in his book Seduction of the Innocent (1954) that Batman was gay.
According to the first version of her origin, Kathy Kane is a rich heiress with an unusual background as a former circus performer. She decides to use the athletic skills she had developed to become a costumed crime fighter in imitation of Batman, and eventually becomes a frequent ally of Batman and Robin. In 1961 Kathy’s niece, Betty Kane, became Batwoman’s sidekick, the original Bat-Girl. Thus Robin was given a romantic interest as well.
However, when DC Comics editor Julius Schwartz took charge of Batman and Detective in 1964, he dropped Batwoman and Bat-Girl from the series without explanation—presumably believing them to be nonessential and perhaps dated. Two years later he presided over the creation of Barbara Gordon, the new Batgirl (without the hyphen in her name), thus giving Batman a female counterpart whose sleek, stylish costume made her look much more modern than Bat woman. Eventually Batwoman emerged from retirement in 1979, only to be killed that same year by Batman’s foes, the League of Assassins.
Decades later DC Comics introduced a new Batwoman, Kate Kane, who made her first appearance in issue #7 of the year-long series 52 (July 2006). Many writers had a hand in her creation, but it was artist Alex Ross who designed the new Batwoman’s costume.
Attitudes in American society had changed tremendously in the half century since the first Batwoman debuted. Whereas the original Batwoman was created partially to show that Batman was not gay, DC Comics presented the new Batwoman as a lesbian from her very first appearance, in order to bring more diversity to the DC universe of characters. (Kate Kane also has been established as Jewish.)
When Kate was twelve, she, her mother Gabrielle, and her sister Beth were taken hostage by armed criminals; though Kate was rescued, Gabrielle and seemingly Beth were killed. Years later Kate attended the U.S. Military Academy, but had to leave when she was revealed to be gay. Inspired by Batman’s example, Kate decided to become a superheroine, aided by her father, Colonel Jake Kane. The new Batwoman starred in the lead feature of Detective Comics, from issues #854 to #863, and received her own ongoing comic book series in 2011.
There have also been Batwomen in animation. In the direct-to-video animated film Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman (2003), three different women share the role of the masked vigilante Batwoman: police detective Sonia Alcana, Dr. Roxanne Ballantine, and Kathy Duquesne, the daughter of a gangster. Actress Kyra Sedgwick provides the voice of this Batwoman. A 2010 episode of the animated TV series Batman: The Brave and the Bold features a Batwoman who wears the same costume that Kathy Kane did, but who is identified as Katrina Moldoff. Ordered into retirement from costumed crime fighting by a court, Moldoff uses magic to switch bodies with Batman, but ends up back in her own body and goes to prison. The Kate Kane version of Batwoman appears in the DC Universe Online video game. —PS