How Batwoman began: The story behind the CW's newest superhero
Ahead of Kate Kane's debut on the network this year, look back at her comic book origins
UPDATED: The CW announced Aug. 8 that model and actress Ruby Rose (Orange Is the New Black, John Wick 2) has been cast to play Kate Kane, a.k.a. Batwoman, in the Arrowverse. Read more about the character’s comic book origins below.
PREVIOUSLY: One of the biggest new stars of 21st century DC comics is finally making the jump from page to screen. Earlier this month at The CW Upfronts, Arrow star Stephen Amell revealed that the next big crossover event for Greg Berlanti’s “Arrowverse” (including Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, and Supergirl, but not Black Lightning) would introduce the character of Batwoman. Although a character called Batwoman first appeared in Batman comics back in 1956, the modern version of the character is much different. Kate Kane dresses in a unique black-and-red Batsuit, complete with badass boots and military training. Most notably, she’s a lesbian. When this modern Batwoman was first introduced in the pages of DC’s year-long weekly comic series 52 back in 2006, she made a major splash at a time when pop culture was finally starting to include diverse characters. Recently, EW spoke with some of the creators behind 52 about how this version of Batwoman was first created and introduced — paving the way for her TV debut later this year.
“It started out from a conversation I had with [former DC president] Paul Levitz about wanting to diversify the DC Universe and bring in a strong gay character,” DC co-publisher Dan Didio tells EW. “I felt very strongly that the character had to either wear a Bat shield or an S shield in order to really matter and show that we strongly believe in this character and who she is. The other thing we said was very important: She’s a hero first, gay second. If you see how this character is introduced, we don’t introduce her sexuality until later in the story. We wanted to establish her as a hero first, and then as we uncover who she is and what motivates her and what she’s about, then you got to hear about her background and personality.”
Coming out of the blockbuster crossover event Infinite Crisis, 52 told the story of a year in the DC Universe without Superman, Batman, or Wonder Woman (that’s “52” as in “52 issues,” one for each week of the year). The former had temporarily lost his powers, while the latter two took time off from crimefighting for some much-needed soul-searching. Of course, the temporary absence of DC’s three biggest heroes did not diminish the never-ending array of mad scientists and multiversal crises constantly threatening everyone else in that world, so other heroes rose up to fill the vacuum. 52 focused its attention on lesser-known DC characters, including Gotham City police detective Renee Montoya. First introduced in Batman: The Animated Series, Montoya was given much deeper characterization by writer Greg Rucka in the pages of Gotham Central, a comic that portrayed Batman’s war on crime from the perspective of Gotham City’s everyday human cops. There, Montoya had been established as queer. 52 revealed that Montoya and Kate Kane were ex-girlfriends, though as Didio says, the new vigilante was first introduced as a butt-kicking crimefighter, battling the criminal organization Intergang’s attempt to spread their Religion of Crime through a newly Batman-less Gotham City.
“It was important for that character to land, and it was important for her to be Kate Kane, because there was already a Batgirl. So if we introduced her as Batgirl she would never be the ‘real’ Batgirl,” Didio says. “That way, it wasn’t something that someone could undo easily.”
There’s an added irony to a character named Batwoman being queer, because the original Batwoman was created as a Bat-love interest in 1956 to foil the accusations leveled by Seduction of the Innocent author Fredric Wertham that Batman and Robin were thinly-disguised gay propaganda. A few decades later, a new and improved Batwoman entered a cultural context that was more tolerant of diverse characters. In fact, the whole reason that she ended up in 52 in the first place was that news of her had been prematurely broken by the New York Times in a story about diversity in comics. According to Rucka (who formed the four-man writing team of 52, alongside fellow comic heavyweights Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, and Mark Waid), Batwoman was originally going to debut in her own self-titled comic from writer Devin Grayson. But when the news broke early, Batwoman was introduced in 52 instead.
“All of a sudden there was a lot of heat on the character. It came down the pipes to put the character into 52. Since I was writing Renee and I was in Gotham (the logical place to do it), it fell to me,” Rucka tells EW. “There was an easy in there, because Renee was established as queer. I remember having conversations with Devin, like ‘okay I’m supposed to use Kate.’ She sent me what she had been working on. We had a couple conversations, and then she showed up in week 7 or week 8, pretty early, and sort of ended up in my bailiwick.”
Rucka is a straight male writer, but one who has portrayed LGBT characters with generosity and warmth in his work. In 2016, while he was writing Wonder Woman during the DC Rebirth initiative, Rucka gave a thoughtful interview explaining Diana’s queer sexuality and how it plays into her heroism. Such an empathetic perspective is why Rucka’s peers felt confident putting Batwoman in his hands.
“That was a character Greg really gravitated to, and took such intense ownership of, that we knew she would be properly rolled out over the course of the series,” Didio says.
After 52 wrapped up, Batwoman’s solo adventures stalled. A few years later, Rucka and artist J.H. Williams III were finally able to tell stories focused on her, though they appeared in the pages of Detective Comics rather than an individually-focused Batwoman series. Yet, as the DC Universe endured reboot after reboot in recent years, Batwoman has endured. She really took the spotlight with the advent of DC Rebirth. Detective Comics was retooled as a Bat-themed superhero team book, with Batwoman herself in charge of the team. A new solo Batwoman comic was also launched and is still ongoing, written by Marguerite Bennett. The stage is set, in other words, for Batwoman to take her rightful place in the DC pantheon.
Batwoman has come a long way since she was introduced in 2006 (and even further since her predecessor was created in the ‘50s). Along the way, she’s proven herself a skilled crimefighter, capable of fighting alongside Batman or stepping in for him as needed. She’s ready for her close-up.