The worst Batman controversy in history may have been a good thing after all as it helped lead to the creation of the truly groundbreaking Batwoman.
Fan-favorite vigilante Batwoman may have been inspired by Batman, but the character may not have existed at all if it wasn’t for one of the most notable controversies in comic book history.
The adventures of Batman undeniably made for some of the most in-demand comic books in the Golden Age. Not too long after the Dark Knight’s debut his sidekick Robin was added into the mix, only increasing the hero’s popularity, especially among younger readers. However, the attention Batman comics received from younger generations was touched on in psychiatrist Fredric Wertham’s controversial book, Seduction of the Innocent. Wertham accused Batman and Robin of being used as subtext for gay relationships and attempting to influence children. Shortly after Wertham’s book was published, DC introduced Batwoman Kathy Kane, in an attempt to dissuade the rumors circulating Batman. Though the controversy died down, Seduction of the Innocent helped usher in a new expansion of the Bat-Family.
Kathy Kane made a number of appearances throughout the 60s and 70s before disappearing altogether after Crisis on Infinite Earths. However, several decades after Kathy’s last appearance, a new version of the character Created by Greg Rucka, Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, and Alex Ross, debuted in DC’s event comic, 52. This new version, known as Kate Kane, was a much more fleshed out take on the character. While the Golden Age Batwoman used more gimmicky gadgets such as a “utility purse”, this new version of Batwoman was much more realistic and used weapons similar to any other serious vigilante. Not distinctly a Bat-Family member, Kane was inspired by Batman’s heroism and adopted his symbol to become her own hero. Speaking of Batman, the Golden Age Batwoman may have had a back-and-forth with Bruce Wayne, but Kate Kane was an out and proud lesbian, and later revealed during The New-52 to be Batman’s cousin.
Since coming to the DC Universe, Batwoman has worn her lesbian identity on her sleeve. A crucial part of her revamped origin involved Kate leaving the United States Military Academy after coming into conflict with its “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. Not only was the new and improved Batwoman a much-needed change in the modern world of comics, everything about her was a poignant refutation of Wertham’s extremely homophobic accusations.
For many comic fans, Seduction of the Innocent is one of the most reviled books ever made. Aside from its many skewed or even outright fallacious interpretations of beloved comic heroes, Fredric Wertham’s work helped bring about the infamous Comics Code Authority, the self-governing censorship association that took a critical toll on the industry. Thankfully, the CCA fell out of favor in the Modern Age of Comic Books, allowing for substantial progress to be made. It seems quite the poetic justice that Batwoman, a hero originally introduced to deter rumors of Batman’s homosexuality, was revamped into a queer character. But Batwoman is so much more than her sexuality, she’s a hero that has helped bring DC into the 21st century. As odd as it sounds, the worst comics’ controversy eventually helped bring about Batwoman, one of the industry’s best modern heroes.
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