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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.