Most folks have heard of Batgirl, but not as many know about the Batwoman! It began with Kathy Webb, a spy who left behind her life of action to become a successful film director, later marrying the wealthy Nathan Kane. A woman of many talents and a thrill-seeker, Kathy was given a circus by her husband Nathan simply because she'd always wanted one. After her husband's death from a stroke, Kathy felt directionless. Soon after Dick Grayson, the first Robin, became apprentice to the Batman, Kathy began a costumed career of her own: Batwoman!
Kathy did her best to catch Batman’s attention while also enjoying the thrilling life of a vigilante. After several adventures, however, she put away her colorful costume and left Gotham. A couple of years later, Kathy Webb-Kane was killed by the forces of the terrorist Ra's al Ghul and the master assassin O-Sensei.
Years later, Kathy's relative Kate Kane left the military when it was revealed that she was gay. Driven by the memory of her mother and sister's deaths, Kate was a warrior at heart who now didn't have a fight. Inspired by Batman, she became the new Batwoman, with her father acting as her aide. Kate is a dedicated vigilante, hunting down some of Gotham's most dangerous criminals, working alongside other heroes and on her own. She is also the star of her own ongoing comic book series.
So let's take a look at the different heroes called Batwoman.
KATHY KANE, CIRCUS STARKathy Kane first debuted as Batwoman in Detective Comics #233 in 1956. Accusations of Batman and Robin's adventures having a homosexual subtext concerned many parents of the time. So Bob Kane (Batman's creator) and Sheldon Moldoff created Kathy Kane as a new romantic interest for the Dark Night Detective. Although Catwoman already existed in the comics, new censorship rules meant that Batman couldn’t be seen to sympathize with her and that she couldn’t escape his justice as she often had in the past. So Batwoman would be the moral and ethical romantic choice, though she would never quite get Batman since he insisted on keeping his identity secret to protect her. Strangely though, the stories often involved Batman avoiding Batwoman's romantic attentions, acting as a bachelor afraid of commitment, unwilling to settle down or expose is secret identity to the woman. To emphasize Kathy's femininity, the first Batwoman had a utility purse and all her weapons were based on what could be a woman's personal items. This seems silly, but consider Kathy’s general ensemble. She resembles a circus performer, which makes sense considering her background, and is a lighthearted character (which fit with Batman, who was more lighthearted during the 1950s himself).
Batman designed his costume to inspire fear in criminals and to give off the impression that he, lurking in the shadows, might be a creature rather than a man. Kathy had no such aim. She was a woman and she was spectacular and she wanted to advertise that. Similar to Robin, she’s a laughing daredevil who enjoys the challenge of a good fight and the excitement of a chase. She isn't embarrassed by using charm bracelet hand-cuffs and hair-nets that are actual nets just as Batman isn't embarrassed to have bat-shaped boomerangs and throwing blades.Not that this costume couldn't use some improvement. I'd prefer boots as opposed to little pixie shoes and longer gloves. I'd also like some consistency. Depending on the issue, Kathy's mask was black with yellow lining or simply red and artists differed on whether to draw her as wearing a black corset over a yellow uniform or to make the uniform completely yellow and simply have black areas from shadows.
I could also do with a stronger bat element beyond the cape. Otherwise, it does make her look more like a fun-loving vampire to me than a bat-themed vigilante. In the Elseworlds mini-series JLA: The Nail, Alan Davis added a bat-shaped pendant to the Batwoman cape collar, which was a nice touch.
A while back, I discussed this costume with Tim Gunn, host of Project Runway and Chief Creative Office of Liz Claiborne, Inc. You can watch the full video here, but one thing we discussed was the lack of a bat-emblem on Kathy's outfit.ALAN KISTLER: If you're going to be a Bat-character, I think you need some form of the bat-symbol on you.
TIM GUNN: But I just want to go back to the original look and semiology... you don't need a bat-symbol on that look.
ALAN: It does look more like a vampire to me than a costumed crime-fighter.Kathy Kane pretty much dropped out of sight by the early 1960s. When she was re-introduced briefly in the 1970s, a bat-symbol was added to her suit. A nice improvement, I think. It's just a tiny element to show that she is connected to or, at least, inspired by Batman.
In one strange adventure, published in Batman vol. 1 #122, Robin had a dream where Kathy Kane and Bruce Wayne got married. But Bruce did not reveal his identity to her. Evidently, Bruce did this in an attempt to stop Kathy from risking her life as a hero, figuring that a married woman would want to stay home with her husband rather than go on adventures with a masked man who faced danger on a regular basis.But Kathy didn't quit and when she later discovered Bruce's double life, she was thrilled that she was now Mrs. Batman. So she changed her costume to symbolize that she was his wife and partner in all aspects of his life now.
And then we found out it was Robin's very weird dream based on his anxiety that his mentor might one day leave the crime-fighting life behind.
The "Mrs. Batman" outfit is not terribly great. I mean, what guy wants his love interest to dress exactly like him? That's just weird. Not to mention, unoriginal.
ALEX ROSS DESIGNS In the 1996 epic Kingdom Come, creators Mark Waid and Alex Ross brought forth a dark, possible future of the DC Universe that showcased a new generation of heroes and vigilantes. In this story, an elder Batman assembled a small army of superhumans and fighters. One of these soldiers included a new Batwoman, who was actually an alien woman from the planet New Genesis, a warrior who greatly admired Batman. This version of Batwoman wasn’t given any lines or any major scenes, she was just a fun new take on the Kathy Kane design. Her mask looked like an actual bat’s face, stylized, and she rode a bat-winged giant dog called Ace (a reference to “Ace, the Bat-Hound”).
In the late 1990s, artist/painter Alex Ross took a stab at redesigning the costume of Barbara Gordon AKA the classic Batgirl. Ross was working on a new Batgirl proposal with Paul Dini, who has been one of the showrunners behind many of DC’s animated series and films, including the famous Batman: The Animated Series. Dini and Ross proposed a story that restored Barbara Gordon to her role of Batgirl, which she had left behind in the late 1980s due to an injury that rendered her a paraplegic.Barbara Gordon would regain her ability to walk and would sport an updated costume, one darker and more in keeping with the moody atmosphere of Batman’s stories. The new costume greatly resembled the Bat uniform featured in the cartoon Batman Beyond, which began airing in 1999 and of which Paul Dini was a producer.
DC Comics decided not to go with the proposal. Since losing her ability to walk, Barbara Gordon had dealt with her disability and now operated as a character called Oracle, aiding not only Gotham heroes and the Justice League, but also acting as coordinator for the heroes known as the Birds of Prey. DC felt that having such a strong, disabled character in their fictional universe outweighed the chance to see her become a costumed vigilante again. A new Batgirl would be introduced in 1999 with a distinctly different outfit.
THE ANIMATED MYSTERYIn 2003, a direct-to-video film was released taking place in the DC Animated Universe that had been established in Batman: The Animated Series and continued through other shows such as Justice League Unlimited and Batman Beyond. This film was called Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman and featured a new costumed vigilante in Gotham who modeled herself after Batman.
This vigilante operated rather recklessly and seemingly without regard for whether criminals lived or died. In his investigations, Batman discovered that this Batwoman identity was actually shared by multiple women, one of whom was named Kathy Duquesne (pronounced "Due-Kane").
Once again, we have a suit that greatly resembles the one worn in Batman Beyond by Terry McGinnis, a Batman of the future. The resemblance here is even greater than Ross’s design, as there is a full face mask with no visible hair. The silver look, as opposed to black, gives it a different style, however, as does the traditional cape. Not bad at all, but I’d prefer a red belt so there would be greater unity in the costume colors. And it seems odd to have visibly separate gloves but not visibly separate boots.
HERE COMES KATE!In 2006, a new Batwoman was introduced in the pages of the year-long series 52. This was the redheaded Kate Kane, later revealed to be Kathy Kane's relative (and Kathy was then often called Kathy Webb or Kathy Webb-Kane in order to avoid confusion). Alex Ross was asked to alter his old Batgirl design, making it clear that this was Batwoman and not someone who should be confused with Barbara Gordon, despite the similar red hair. We have a separate mask, similar to Kathy's classic disguise but with a more serious appearance. The red color scheme goes nicely with her hair. And the interior cape color definitely adds something nice. Alex Ross was initially against this, feeling that it made the character resemble the Gotham vigilante known as the Huntress.
Overall, an excellent design. However, the loose hanging belt makes me think Batwoman doesn't take herself too seriously and that it's there for decoration. And the gloves and boots are just taken from a little too similar for me to Barbara Gordon's Batgirl costume, simply switching them from gold to red. Keeping that design made sense when you were updating Barbara’s style, but if this is a different hero then let’s make her look as different as possible.
Although they don’t ruin the costume, my personal preference is usually not to have heels on a character who will be running across rooftops and perching on fire escapes. Nor am I a big fan of character designs that have their symbol on their belt buckle and on ther chest. Seems a bit repetitive to me. We see the cape and the symbol, we get who you are.Kate Kane wore this first costume during the series 52. When she branched out into her own stories, she got a new design by J.H. Williams. Similar to how Batman’s suit has been approached in the past 20 years, Kate’s uniform I meant to also be utilitarian. That makes a lot of sense when you consider that Kate is a military woman and is being aided by her father, a retired military officer.
The cowl is constructed to be easily separated and not inhibit her ability to turn her head, with vents on the side to make sure she can hear easily. It's no longer just a stylized mask now, it's also a helmet, adding protection. It also disguises her identity in a creative way, thanks to its wig attachment hiding the fact that Kate actually has short-cropped hair. And if anyone tries to grab her hair during a fight, they'd only grab a wig.This is similar to how Batgirl operated in the live-action Batman TV series from the 1960s, where Barbara Gordon was a brunette but used a wig attached to her cowl to convince people that her alter ego was a redhead. Clever ones, these bat-themed vigilantes.
The utility belt now looks just like what it is, a necessary element to carry weapons and tools, with a large pocket in the back to hide a gun for emergencies. The buckle has been altered so that it implies a bat-wing or a batarang but it's not a full-on bat-symbol, so it doesn't seem repetitive of the emblem on her chest.The gloves now have extra grip on the interior and Kate's attached bracers to them. The scallops are actually detachable blades that can be thrown. Heavy boots have replaced the heels. The cape now has clasps, which give her a distinctive style that makes her stand out from the rest of the Bat-family and also shows that if her cape were to catch on something, she could easily detach it and dismiss it.
The cape has also been redesigned. It now comes to exactly five points. This means that when Batwoman is in silhouette and extending her cape or descending from above, she forms a replica of her own bat-symbol. Nice touch.All in all, this is a great look. It's cool, it's got great design, and it could actually translate fairly well into "realistic" real-life terms.
And that brings us up to speed, faithful readers. I hope you enjoyed this look at the many lives of Batwoman. Until next time, this is Alan Kistler, Agent of S.T.Y.L.E., signing off!
Alan Sizzler Kistler writes the comic book history/fashion column Agent of S.T.Y.L.E. He is an actor and author living in New York who has been recognized by Warner Bros. Films and major media/news outlets as a comic book historian. He is the author of The Unofficial Batman Trivia Challenge and The Unofficial Spider-Man Trivia Challenge, as well as the co-host of the podcast “Crazy Sexy Geeks." He knows entirely too much about the history of comics, Star Trek, Doctor Who, time travel, and vampires. He thinks Isaac Asimov should be required reading in schools. Alan can be followed via Twitter: @SizzlerKistlerFACEBOOK and TWITTER!