Batwoman is now a major part of the Batman Family and the DC pantheon, thanks in part to her new CW television series. But there was a time when Batwoman was utterly forgotten in the comics, and she wasn’t Kate Kane, but Kathy Kane.
Kathy Kane debuted in 1956, a very different time for The Dark Knight. Her existence was to fulfill a singular purpose and when that purpose became unnecessary, so did she. But Kathy Kane left behind a significant legacy in comic book history. Here are ten things you didn’t know about the original Batwoman.
10 Introduced To Make Batman Straight
An unfortunate episode in comics history is the reason Batwoman exists in the first place. In 1954, Dr. Fredric Wertham published a book called Seduction of the Innocent, which made the accusation that comic books made children gay. The book was a product of misguided thinking but made waves in public perception. He signaled out Batman in particular, for what he imagined to be an unnatural relationship with Robin. Desperate to change the perception that Batman was gay, DC introduced Kathy Kane as Batwoman to provide the Caped Crusader a female love interest.
9 Still Kind Of Gay
Batwoman’s romantic interest in Batman was unmistakable – almost to the point that modern readers might think she was overcompensating for something. While Batwoman’s sexuality in the Silver Age is never in doubt, her general vibe raises some questions. Her costume is a fairly loud sendup of a masculine one, with those positively gaudy ears, and her array of weapons are all based on female cosmetic products: compact mirrors, lipstick, etc., evidencing a subversive use of feminine traits. While not particularly overt, these aspects of her character seemed to play up the same thing she was supposed to be playing down.
8 But Still Really Wanted That Ring
Despite any possible interpretations readers might have of Kathy in the past or present, she was absolutely, positively hell-bent on landing Batman as her husband. She takes up the identity of Batwoman explicitly for this purpose. That’s right – Kathy wanted to fight crime, but she really wanted was Batman’s deets. Nearly every encounter she has with him is focused around getting his attention, winning his affection, or proving herself to him as a hero, which she did time and again.
7 Circus Performer
Kathy Kane’s backstory differs significantly from her modern-day counterpart Kate Kane. Kathy was a wealthy heiress, though not on the same monetary level as Bruce Wayne. She was a skilled acrobat and joined the circus at a young age. Later, she used those skills to fight crime.
In various Elseworlds versions of the character, the circus remains a fundamental aspect of Kathy’s life. However, in the Batman: Incorporated series by writer Grant Morrison, Kathy Kane is Katherine Webb, a filmmaker who marries into money and, by extension, Bruce Wayne’s family. She becomes his aunt by marriage, though that didn’t stop them from becoming lovers later.
6 Afraid Of Mice
Despite Batwoman’s considerable acrobatic skill and undeniable bravery in fighting crime on the streets of Gotham, she had an unusual fear that underlined the limitations comic books had with powerful women at the time. On an adventure with Superman in Metropolis, she investigates rundown dwellings and when she discovers they’re overrun with mice, she refuses to go inside. Now if someone is a crime fighter in Gotham, being afraid of mice seems like something that they should be able to deal with.
5 Little Yellow Motorcycle
Batman has the Batmobile. The Bat-Jet. The Bat-Boat. And a whole lot more. Batwoman had a little yellow motorcycle. While not as gadget-happy as Batman’s various vehicular accessories, the motorcycle served Batwoman well as an acrobat who liked to jump off of things. The bike also had a fun design with wings built into the rims that prefigured some of Batman’s own later bikes and other vehicles – the design inspiration for the exaggerated wings in Tim Burton’s Batmobile is easily seen in her bike.
4 Headmistress Of Spyral
Once Batman escaped the shadow of the controversy that Dr. Fredric Wertham engineered in the ’50s, Batwoman’s usefulness as a character diminished. Unable to see her as anything but a love interest – and unable to appreciate reader support for the character – Batwoman eventually retired from active duty. She went back to the circus, though in the Grant Morrison reinterpretation of her Silver Age history, Kathy Kane joins a covert spy concern known as Spyral. Kathy’s motivation for becoming Batwoman in this version of the story is to discover the secret identity of Batman.
In the original continuity, Kathy Kane went from forgotten to simply written off. After she went back to the circus, she runs afoul of the League of Assassins and Ra’s al Ghul. The magnitude of how little she actually meant to Batman at this point is underlined in how fleeting the moment of her death is.
Her brutal death at the hands of the League of Assassins provides justification for Batman to become more of the dark character he was slowly becoming over the ’70s and then on into the ’80s, just as her introduction served the purpose of altering public perception of him.
2 Erased By Crisis
Kathy Kane suffered a final indignity when after her murder in 1979, she was erased from continuity all together in the massive Crisis On Infinite Earths event. Like a lot of other characters (Supergirl, for one), Kathy became a casualty of the overlapping and confusing eras of DC comics. Rather than retcon her into the post-Crisis continuity as many other elements of Batman’s past were, she was excised completely, making her one of the highest-profile casualties of the event. For a time.
1 Isn’t It Ironic
In 1956, Kathy Kane was introduced as a tool to make a character seem less gay. Fifty years later, her modern-day incarnation Kate Kane is one of the most prominent LGBTQ characters in all of comics. When Kate was introduced in 2006 as Batwoman, her sexuality was established upfront and made an essential part of her character. It remains so today and continues in the television adaptation starring Ruby Rose. It’s ironic – but ultimately rewarding – that Kathy Kane’s legacy ended up being so positive when it was born out of something so negative.
Kathy Kane is an interesting character with some unusual origins that you might not know about.