Tuesday, April 5, 2011

"The Batwoman!"

Issue: Detective Comics #233

Cover Date: July 1956

Writer: Edmond Hamilton

Penciller: Sheldon Moldoff

Inker: Stan Kaye

Cover Artist: Sheldon Moldoff

Synopsis: The debut of Batwoman begins with Batman and Robin heading towards a new air terminal after the Bat Signal shines in the sky. Unbeknownst to them, the criminals are already being subdued by the Batwoman. She is handcuffing the crooks by the time the Dynamic Duo arrive, running off afterward with the pair in pursuit. They try to catch up to her in the Batmobile, but her Bat-Cycle loses them in a narrow alley. The next night at a world premiere, the Batwoman prevents a diamond thief's robbery, once again racing away. The rest of the jewel gang attempt to get the drop on the Dynamic Duo while they search for Batwoman, but once again she is there to save them. Later, Robin laments that she is making the Caped Crusader look bad, but Batman does not care about that, worried instead about the risks the Batwoman is taking.

At that moment, Batwoman is returning to her own Bat-Cave, located in an old mine tunnel in the suburbs. After changing out of her costume, Batwoman is revealed to be an heiress named Kathy Kane. Reflecting back, we find out that she was a skilled circus trapeze and motorcycle stunt performer who wanted to use her skills to fight crime like Batman. After inheriting her uncle's fortune, she builds a mansion, outfits a Bat-Cave with equipment underneath it, and adopts the super-heroine identity of Batwoman. Back in the present, Bruce Wayne attends a party at Kathy Kane's mansion, where Batwoman comes up in the conversation. Bruce and Kathy appear to hit it off, but abruptly say goodbye to each other when the Bat-Signal appears in the sky. They reunite as Batman and Batwoman at the "Tomorrow Club," where dodging fake Martian idols leads them to respect each others acrobatic skill. Batwoman is able to throw a net on the criminal, but not before he knocks out Batman when the Caped Crusader jumps between Batwoman and the giant robot hand the crook was operating.

Batwoman has the opportunity to discover Batman's identity, but does not as he got knocked unconscious saving her from getting hit. Batman comes to as Robin arrives; the Caped Crusader proceeds to interrogate the criminal, who refuses to talk. Despite his silence, Batman deduces that he must have been a distraction so that his boss Hugo Vorn could commit a crime elsewhere. His suspicions are confirmed when he sees an advertising blimp heading towards the mint. The Dynamic Duo and Batwoman arrive as the mob lands, immediately leaping into action. Using her shoulder-bag strap as a makeshift Bat-Bolo, Batwoman ties up Vorn as he makes for the blimp, which Batman apparently sees as giving her the right to turn the mob over to the police. In reality, Batman left her to it so he could use circus terms she spoke earlier to discover her identity. Back at the Bat-Cave, an analysis of the Dynamic Duo's files not only uncovers her identity as Kathy Kane, but where her Bat-Cave is located. The pair confront her when she returns and Batman convinces her to give up her career as Batwoman. The story ends with Batwoman's portrait from her Bat-Cave hung in Batman's trophy room, with Robin wondering if one day they'll fight crime with her as a Dynamic Trio.

Thoughts: This story is an important one for the era, as it is the first appearance of Batwoman, but it is also deeply flawed. Theses flaws come from the fact that the Comics Code Authority at the time had guidelines that were inherently sexist when it came to female characters. As Michael Uslan cites in his introduction to Batman In The Fifties, "The inclusion of females in stories is specifically discouraged. Women, when used in plot structure, should be secondary in importance, and should be drawn realistically, without exaggeration of feminine qualities." As a result of this stance, Batwoman does not come across as a full character. The story begins with one of the crooks saying, "Ha ha, what can she do?," before the other crook is knocked out by Batwoman spinning a giant globe. This showing of Batwoman as a capable super-heroine in the face of sexism is short lived, as she subdues the other criminal using a powder puff from a shoulder bag and then chains the two together with charm bracelets disguised as handcuffs. These gadgets continue, as she stops the diamond thief by reflecting light in his face using a compact-mirror and a perfume flask containing tear gas stops the rest of the jewel gang later. While I can understand wanting to differentiate Batwoman's equipment from Batman's, this was not the way to do it.

The making light of Batwoman because she is a woman is not limited to the criminal, but extends to the Dynamic Duo too: Robin says "A girl saving you? It's ridiculous!" and Batman himself says "This is no place for a girl." While Kathy being inspired by Batman to use her acrobatic skills to fight crime is fine, his picture on her desk in the next panel introduces a romantic angle that is unnecessary. At the party, Kathy asking "how any woman could ever equal the great Batman," Bruce suddenly voicing admiration for Batwoman's courage, and the two lamenting if only they could tell the other of their costumed identities, furthers the wrong ideas of the story. Its attempt to show Batman wanting to end Kathy's career as Batwoman because he fears for her safety, not because she has made him look bad as Robin sees it, just comes across as more sexism. This is furthered as his reason for Kathy to give up crime fighting, if he uncovered her identity eventually a criminal would, is an unlikely one. It is shown to be an even poorer reason in the next panel, as Kathy is revealed to have assembled cameras and instruments to take photos, x-rays, and height and weight records that would allow her to uncover Batman's identity, showing how intelligent she is. That Batman hangs her portrait in the Bat-Cave at the end just adds insult to injury. While the story shows that Kathy Kane had the intelligence and acrobatic skills which would make her a fine super-heroine, the sexism of the time that pervades it prevented the character from achieving that status.

This story has been reprinted in Batman Annual #4, the Batman From The 30s to The 70s HC, the Batman In The Fifties TPB, and the DC Comics Classics Library: The Batman Annuals Volume 2 HC.