DC Histories: Batwoman (Kathy Kane / Kate Kane)

Here at DC Histories, we try to make sense of the continuity that perplexes, befuddles, and intimidates. We discuss what worked and what didn’t. This week, we’re talking about the two Batwomen, Kathy Kane and Kate Kane.

Batwoman (Vol. 2) #1 (2011) Cover

Years before any version of Batgirl jumped onto the scene, Batwoman was found in the pages of the various Batman related comic books. She originally appeared during a movie premiere in Gotham City. In the middle of a star studded media scene, a mugging was attempted. Before Batman could save the day, Batwoman swung on a line out of nowhere and blinded the crook with the mirror in her compact. Because, you know, she was a woman.

From Detective Comics (Vol. 1) #233 (1956)

This new Batwoman made quite the scene in Gotham. After her very public debut, she continued to be seen around town, saving people who needed help while using a decidedly feminine toolkit full of offensive makeups and powders. Batman was intrigued but wary of allowing a person to fight crime in his city without his explicit approval. After a bit of an investigation, Batman learned that Batwoman was actually Kathy Kane, millionaire socialite and former circus performer. Kathy had been obsessed with Batman and wanted to get his attention. Creating her own Bat persona was her way to get what she wanted. However, at the end of her first appearance, Kathy was talked into abandoning her crime fighting ways and letting the professionals take over.

From Detective Comics (Vol. 1) #233 (1956)

Batman’s patronizing ways didn’t keep Kathy sidelined long. Fans adored the new character and she very quickly became a supporting cast member. She didn’t have a regular schedule to her appearances, but she stuck around.

A few years after Kathy hit the scene, her niece Betty took on the role of the original Bat-Girl. Betty had deduced her aunt was Batwoman so it was only a small leap for her to invent a similar role for herself. It also helped that she was boy-crazy for Robin. It should be said that Robin and Batman rejected these women’s advances for years because they claimed to be married to Lady Justice and couldn’t be tied down by an actual woman.

Near the end of this era of Batman comics, Batman, Robin, Batwoman, and Bat-Girl went up against a pair of aliens. When things seemed at their lowest, and after their young sidekicks had been teleported onto a distant planet, Batman told Batwoman that he loved her. It was a big step for the Dark Knight and one he immediately reneged on at the adventure’s conclusion.

From Batman (Vol. 1) #153 (1963)

Why Batman couldn’t just tell Kathy that he loved her is still a bit bewildering to me. Perhaps the readers of 1963 were thought to be too immature to accept a grown-up relationship based on mutual attraction and respect. Whatever the reason, this admission of Batman’s true feelings wasn’t brought up again because Batwoman was removed from continuity the following year.

Julie Schwartz took over as the editor of the Batman line of comics in 1964. One of the first things he did was remove all the extraneous supporting characters that Batman had built up over the years. Gone were Ace the Bat-Hound and Bat-Mite. Also gone were Kathy and Betty. There was no story indicating where these characters went. They simply vanished and were not mentioned again. The strange aliens and the occasional tales of Batman gaining superpowers were also washed away in this soft relaunch.

Older readers still remembered Kathy Kane. They enjoyed the Barbara Gordon version of Batgirl when she arrived on the scene a few years later, but still remembered who had come before. A decade after Barbara’s debut, and years after Barbara became a United States Senator, the name ‘Batgirl’ seemed an odd choice for her. Relenting to pestering fans, the Batman office brought back Kathy from Limbo long enough for the younger Barbara to claim to be a big fan of Kathy’s and to say that she could never take Kathy’s place in the DCU. Due to her reverence for Kathy, Barbara decided to stay Batgirl. As far as I know, Barbara had never before even uttered Kathy’s name under her breath.

From Batman Family (Vol. 1) #10 (1977)

Just two years after bringing Kathy back into the comics pages, the Batman editors seemed to have a change of heart. They thought that Barbara should be the only female member of the Bat family. To that end, Kathy was killed by the League of Assassins while a brainwashed Bronze Tiger went toe-to-toe with Batman. Bronze Tiger, a future founding member of the 1980s Suicide Squad, didn’t attack Kathy himself, but his involvement in her death would haunt him for years.

From Detective Comics (Vol. 1) #485 (1979)

It was a sad end to a mostly forgotten fan favorite. Batman eventually tracked down the people directly involved in Kathy’s death and brought them to justice, but it was a hollow victory.

After the Crisis on Infinite Earths hit several years later, Kathy Kane’s alter ego was wiped away from continuity. There had still been a wealthy socialite in Gotham City known as Kathy Kane, but she had never been Batwoman.

The Batwoman moniker was abandoned for years. Barbara Gordon stuck with Batgirl in the post-Crisis DCU and the young woman who succeeded her in that role, Cassandra Cain, also used that name. It was during the 52 series that immediately followed Infinite Crisis that a new Batwoman finally debuted.

From 52 #9 (2006)

Now a redhead, this Batwoman appeared mysteriously with no explanation behind why she choose the name. A few issues after she first appeared on Gotham’s rooftops, she had her first hand-to-hand fight when she helped Renee Montoya and the Question fight off a group of creatures sent by the group Intergang.

From 52 #11 (2006)

Intergang, a group primarily known to work out of Metropolis, had made their way to Gotham. During the course of 52, Batwoman worked with Renee and the Question to defeat them and their new interest in something called the Crime Bible.

There wasn’t a lot known about this Batwoman for a while. Readers knew that this new Batwoman was named Kate Kane and that she had a bit of a history in Gotham City, but there wasn’t any backstory there. DC, however, went out of its way to promote that Kate was a lesbian, a first for a member of the Bat family.

After 52 wrapped up, Batwoman didn’t appear for much of the next two years. When she finally did appear, it was as the lead character in a beautiful run on Detective Comics. Written by Greg Rucka and initially drawn by J. H. Williams III, this run finally showcased Kate. The real standout for these early issues was Williams’ layouts and art style paired with Dave Stewarts’ incredible coloring which shifted depending on whether or not Kate was dressed as Batwoman.

From Detective Comics (Vol. 1) #854 (2009)

After teasing readers about her origins for years, fans were finally given Kate’s backstory during Batwoman’s second Detective story arc. When Kate learned that the villain she had just faced may have been her twin sister, she brought readers along with her as she reminisced about her youth. During Kate’s youth, the Kane family was a stable one. Her parents were in the military, which caused them to move around a lot, but Kate and her sister Elizabeth were happy. They were happy, that is, until the day terrorists kidnapped Kate’s mother, a captain, along with the two girls. The rescue attempt to free the family went wrong and Kate’s mother ended up dead. It was thought that Elizabeth did as well.

From Detective Comics (Vol. 1) #858 (2009)

Using her father as her role model during this tough time, Kate remained strong and eventually went into the service herself. While at West Point Military Academy as a cadet, it came to her supervisor’s attention that rumors were floating around about Kate’s sexual orientation. When her supervisor asked Kate directly whether or not she was gay, Kate upheld West Point’s tradition of honor and didn’t lie. She was removed from the military under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

From Detective Comics (Vol. 1) #859 (2010)

After that, Kate’s life began to fall apart. The life she was attempting to create for herself crumbled and she spent her time getting drunk at nightclubs. Only after running into a mugger late at night in the wrong part of Gotham did a new direction for open up for Kate. That was the night she first met Batman.

From Batwoman (Vol. 2) #0 (2012)

Inspired by him and needing something to do with herself, Kate spent time with some of her father’s old confederates. While with them, she pushed herself to her physical and mental extremes and came away stronger because of it. Shortly after returning to Gotham, Kate took on the Batwoman title.

Though she has “Bat” in her name, Kate doesn’t seem to be a full member of the Bat family. She’s not spent much time in the Batcave and she’s not been involved in any big Batman crossovers. There was a brief chance that Kate was going to be a member of an offshoot of the Justice League, but behind-the-scenes shifts relegated her to only having a cameo in Justice League: Cry for Justice.

From Justice League: Cry for Justice #5 (2010)

She did, however, spend some brief time with Batman in the pages of his books. During an adventure concerning Ra’s al Ghul’s Lazarus Pits, Kate died. With the intervention of Batman, Knight, and Squire, Kate’s body was put into one of the world’s few remaining Pits, which brought her back to life.

From Batman & Robin (Vol. 1) #9 (2010)

A little while later in Grant Morrison’s Batman epic, Kate again became embroiled in one of Leviathan’s schemes when she ran across a woman dressed as the Kathy Kane version of Batwoman. This was another example of Morrison bringing back into continuity something that had been written out of the official DCU years earlier. The Kathy Kane Batwoman hadn’t been mentioned since 1986 and yet here was a woman dressed as her.

From Batman Incorporated (Vol. 1) #4 (2011)

This issue brought Kathy back into canon and changed her backstory. According to this issue, Kathy hadn’t been a woman who had naturally become obsessed with Batman. She had actually been charged by a mysterious figure to infiltrate Batman’s trust and learn his secret identity. Fortunately, Kathy fell in love with Batman and couldn’t betray him. It was a sweet little love story that still ended in Kathy’s murder.

In the New 52, not much of anything has been changed for Kate. She’s still Batwoman and her entire origin remains firmly in place. It’s still a bit of an open question if Kathy Kane was ever Batwoman now, but that’s sort of always been the case. I guess we’ll see if any future writer decides to write about her. For now, Kate is Batwoman and that works for me.


Jeff Reid knows he’d last about five minutes at West Point and only if those five minutes consisted of him simply parking his car and then walking through the front door. Anything beyond that, he’d be done. Get more insights like this on Twitter.

Comments

  1. daningotham daningotham says:

    Awesome character. It would be cool to see her involved more in the Bat Family though. I know Scott Snyder has been asked if Batwoman will be in any upcoming Batman crossovers or even in Batman and he said, “That’s up to JH.” So it must be his choice to keep her mostly separate.

  2. Grandturk says:

    So are they related or what?

    • Jeff Reid Jeff Reid (@JeffRReid) says:

      It’s a bit unclear. Bette Kane, Kate Kane’s sidekick, has mentioned an Aunt Kathy in the past. Bette and Kate are cousins, so Kathy may be Kate’s aunt as well or they may be whatever it is where your cousin has an aunt that’s not your aunt.

    • WheelHands WheelHands says:

      We still don’t know. Like Jeff said, Kate’s origin appears unchanged from the Old DCU, and if that’s the case Kathy’s definitely not Kate’s mother. I think it’s pretty obvious that the name Kate Kane was just a more modern iteration of the name Kathy Kane (no one under 40 goes by “Kathy”), then Morrison had to muddy it up by retconning (conning? DE-retconning?) Kathy back into continuity. I love Morrison and Inc., but I wasn’t fond of that bit. It did nothing to serve the Leviathan story, and all it really did was confuse things.

    • WheelHands WheelHands says:

      Jeff’s right (as usual), I forgot that Bette had mentioned an Aunt Kathy. So far that’s the only connection, and probably the only one we’ll see for awhile. I don’t think anyone is chomping at the bit for a Batwoman with makeup gadgets. Kate is a great example of a strong modern female hero, and it should stay that way.

    • Jeff Reid Jeff Reid (@JeffRReid) says:

      Morrison really enjoys de-retconing. It seems that half of his Batman stories have been allusions and updates of past continuity that hasn’t been in use for years.

    • WheelHands WheelHands says:

      Yeah he does. And a lot of that is really fun. It comes from his very obvious love of the Silver Age, and I can respect that. Sometimes though (in this case of Kathy Kane, for instance) it does more harm than good.

      We as fans often talk about making our own continuity, but it’s a little different when a creator does it. It’s one of the reasons that a lot of Grant’s superhero work is largely ignored by the writers who follow him. I’ve always thought that there were two DCU continuity’s; Grant Morrison’s, and everyone else’s.

    • JokersNuts JokersNuts says:

      @WheelHands, there are so many Crises in DC that it is very easy to say that after Infinite Crisis Kathy Kane was brought into continuity, or after Final Crisis she was. Since Morrison’s run more or less begins during 52, all the things he brings up in his run that seem “out of continuity” could have been brought back in due to the events of Infinite Crisis.

    • WheelHands WheelHands says:

      @JokersNuts: We could do the conitnuity dance all day. I didn’t intend to wander down this road. But I’m not one to decline an invitation; so let’s dance. :)

      Due to the relatively close proximity of Infinite and FInal Crises, it’s kind of impossible to determine what came in with Infinite, and stayed (or left) with Final. But you’re absolutely right, Kathy could have come back in to the fold at any point between COIE and Final Crisis. Jeff may correct me on this (as well he should), but there’s really no way to be sure. We’re still learning about the new orrery of 52 worlds, and very slowly.

      This kinda stuff is fun to talk about with other fans, right up until the point where we both start bleeding out the ears. Personally, I don’t really care about the proper current continuity. I feel (like many others here) that at this point there really ISN’T one. We’ve been through so many Crises that the iFanboy mantra of “make your own continuity” has gone from being an alternate approach to the only way to deal with it without going insane. When I said that there’s Grant Morrison’s DCU, and then everyone else’s, I didn’t mean it as a bad thing. I’m one of Morrison’s most vocal supporters. Hell, in MY personal DCU continuity, GMo’s JLA run still happened, and I’m patiently waiting for the current one to reach the point where it can be forgotten or reset.

      My original point was this: It seems obvious to me that KATE Kane and KATHY Kane were never originally intended to coexist. My impression was that Rucka/DC Editorial’s original concept was for this to be the modern version of the same character, not a legacy character in the traditional sense. Then when Morrison threw the original Kathy into the mix, it did nothing but confuse people and muddy up an already complex story arc. That’s just my opinion. Kathy Kane could very well have been wandering around blinding muggers with her compact since 52, and we just never saw her, because no one cared.

      I dunno about you, but I could use a cigarette. :)

    • Jeff Reid Jeff Reid (@JeffRReid) says:

      It seems clear to me that since no character mentioned Kathy Kane when the Kate Kane version of Batwoman showed up, Kate was meant to be the only Batwoman who had ever existed in that version of the DCU. Effectively, she was Kathy’s replacement. As WheelHands points out, Morrison tends to just do his own thing with past continuity and he shoved the two of them into the same story which resulted in these types of questions.

    • Grandturk says:

      @Wheel & @Jeff

      Re: “unintentional” – Isn’t that what an editor is supposed to control? If the editors at DC are doing their job, we can only assume that Kate and Kathy were ALWAYS supposed to co-exist and that this is a direct result of editorial foresight.

    • JokersNuts JokersNuts says:

      @Wheel – yeah, I definitely agree with you. technically you are totally correct as to the original intention. the editors and writers mostly assumed that Kate Kane was it. But I like to think of the stories in a somehow “in-story” fashion if that makes any sense. So when things like this happen it can be imagined that Zero Hour, IC, or any number of events were the in-story reason for reality to shift and continuity to change. I know it seems pointless to try and juggle that in your brain, but I am a massive DC Universe fan so for me it’s actually fun.

    • WheelHands WheelHands says:

      @JokersNuts: I too am a lifelong DC guy. This stuff is tons of fun for me as well. A lot of folks complain about the various Crises and DC’s method of revamping/rebooting/retconning/resetting, but I’ve always really enjoyed it. I’m always really excited when another one comes along, particularly when a razor sharp creative mind like Grant Morrison is behind it (personally, I think Final is the most underrated of all the Crises).

      The Kathy thing is such a minor issue that I’m surprised we’ve been able to have a rational exchange about it for this long. My beef with this particular instance is that it just felt unnecessary. I feel that the original Batwoman is a fossil best left in the ground. The idea that she was driven insane and used as a puppet for Leviathan’s sinister purposes has its potential, but not at the cost of mass reader confusion in the middle of a title that people already had a hard time digesting. But again, my gripe is the very definition of a nitpick. We haven’t seen her since that one issue, so it’s not really an ongoing problem. The new Batwoman is a great Batwoman, and I hope she’s around for a long time to come.

      Good talk.

    • I know several people under 40 who go by Kathy. I’m not trying to be a contrarian asshole either. I know that even if I knew one person named Agnes, that still doesn’t make it a common name. Kathy though, I really don’t think it’s uncommon at all. One of the 3 Kathys I know is actually legally named Kathy too, like it’s not even short for Katherine, it’s her official name.

  3. MarkCWarner MarkCWarner (@MarkCWarner) says:

    It is like downloading decades of information on characters that is always on the fringe of my desire to know more. Another excellent job on the article sir

  4. WheelHands WheelHands says:

    I dropped Batwoman 12 issues into the N52. Just wasn’t doing it for me without Rucka. But I’ll always have a unique fondness for Kate. What Rucka and Williams were able to accomplish with that original Detective run was truly something special. A milestone for the history of comics for sure.

  5. dkbrain dkbrain says:

    Really enjoyed this article. Thank you.

  6. JSAkid JSAkid says:

    Great article on one of my favorite writers and the above discussion was enlightening….I love J.H. Williams lll, Snyder and Morrison and would’ve like to see a little involvement with Kate in Death of the Family, but she is solo and doesn’t answer to Batman, but only calls herself Batwoman and is who she is because of him as seen in Batwoman issue #0. Anyway, maybe any of the de-retconning by Morrison and the Crisis’ and the New52 will be explained a little in Grant Morrison’s upcoming Multiverse.