Tag Archives: batwoman

Things in Print Thursday :: monthly big queer book review [Batwoman]

6 Jul

I got ambitious for Pride month which is why I’m not posting anything till now when it’s already technically July. I blasted through issues 0-24 (collected in Hydrology, To Drown the World, World’s Finest, and This Blood is Thick) of J. H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman’s Batwoman run, plus caught up on DC Bombshells through its issue 24; I’m going to talk about the latter next week, all the issues, because I haven’t done that and it’s criminal because I adore DC Bombshells fiercely and not just because it’s the queerest comic series I’ve ever read.. This week I’m going to focus on just Batwoman, though.

A friend had me read Elegy years and years ago, sitting there on the Fourth of July waiting for fireworks to start in fact, and that was a headrush of a time. If I recall correctly, I was still very much a smol queer at the time (pretty sure that was the impetus for the friend lending Batwoman to me, even if it wasn’t phrased that way exclusively) and kind of getting a feel for Sapphic media consumption. (Consciously; this is laughable. If there was a woman who was any variety of not straight, I almost certainly “was” her.) I was also still new to superheroes; the MCU had kicked up in recent years, of course, which sent me into a tailspin of love for Black Widow especially, but I was a novice. I hadn’t really read any of the comics.

Batwoman seemed like a good place to start, though.

To this day, I have not actually read any DC properties that did not feature Batwoman; I just don’t have the energy. I’ve given enough of my energy to Marvel by now, for better-often-worse, and though I’m not picking up any of their titles at the moment because every single thing I was reading throughout the last two years has been cancelled [I have salt at the Marvel Comics people lately, but it’s the same salt everyone else has, more or less {#nickspencerishydra}] I have a lot more best girls in the universe. I really, really like a lot of the DC girls, as I’ll discuss when I get into Bombshells next week, but Kate Kane is so far my only best girl there.

As established in Elegy, which is a collection of the Detective Comics issues featuring the 21st century Batwoman, Kate Kane is kind of like Bruce Banner but better. They’re cousins, both Gotham-centric, they’re both from privileged socialite backgrounds, and they both have dead family in their backstory (Kate’s mom and twin sister). But Kate is also openly a lesbian (she was kicked out of military academy because of this) and a Jewish woman. And she’s just really, really cool.

The Batwoman series did run to issue 40, but I stopped at 24 because after that came a creative change which people say was a resounding disappointment (I’ll get to this in a minute). But 0-24 are dark and weirdly hopeful and good. As superhero stories go, they’re pretty straightforward and standard in their setup; Batwoman fights villains in Gotham, butts heads with the DEO, tangles with the police (including her girlfriend Maggie Sawyer, who does learn her identity), clashes with her father and erstwhile mentor, teams up with and then worries about her cousin Bette who is alias Flamebird, and so on and so on. It’s not so much the arcs that make this a notable comic as the little things, though.

For one: the Kate and Bette relationship just makes me really happy. Kate spends most of their time stressing out about Bette, worrying that she won’t be able to handle the vigilante life, and she’s not always the nicest to Bette, but they care about each other deeply and support each other and it’s just really nice when women support other women but especially in comics.

For another: World’s Finest features Batwoman teaming up with Wonder Woman to fight a particular villain. Superhero team-ups are pretty crucial to the mythology, but it still filled me with joy, especially since Batwoman is still rather a “fringe” superhero (especially to normals). They quipped and fought well together and generally were wonderful (and it felt much more real than certain DC cinematic meetings of late, sigh).

For the most: Kate and Maggie, Kate and Maggie. Kate and Maggie are beautiful. They have each other’s backs, they spend time together, they flirt and are cute and are sexy without being overly sexualized (well, as much as can be said of any comic with spandex involved). I think the most telling thing about their relationship is this: at one point Maggie gets hit with fear toxin, and it’s a traumatic and horrible thing and Kate feels responsible, so she then injects herself with the same fear toxin so she truly understands what Maggie went through. And then they snuggle all night. In issue #17 Kate proposes marriage to Maggie, and it’s wonderful, and they’re going to move in together, and then… DC told the writers they couldn’t let them get married. Apparently nobody in DC can get married because then the heroes would be too happy, or something. (I hear tell that Batman recently proposed to Catwoman, though, so…) That’s why they left the series, and why I stopped reading where I did. As far as I’m concerned they got cancelled because they were going to have happy lesbians, and Kate and Maggie are still very happy together, somewhere that isn’t there.

These issues don’t exist in a bubble. A lot of what had been established in Elegy and presumably other comics between them (that I haven’t read and fully intend to) does carry through, including emotional motivations and points of angst. But you don’t have to have read those to be able to pick it up, either, it’s just mostly a point of consistency that I appreciate.

Overall: yes good. And I am so excited about freaking out about Bombshells on y’all.

–your fangirl heroine.

Things in Print :: academic applications of graphic novels in high schools

2 Jul

So I had this really interesting idea to look at graphic novels that are taught in school and analyze it. We found a list and then I realized I… had read exactly 1 out of the 111 items on the list.  But hey!  I can talk about that really quickly, then hand it over to my drift partner.

The one I can talk about is Batwoman: Elegy.  I have read this exactly once, almost exactly… gosh, I want to say three years ago, because I read it when my friend lent me her copy while we were sitting in a park eating terrible food waiting for a fireworks show to start on the Fourth of July.  I was very fond and I should probably acquire my own copy at some point.  The way my friend got me to read it was by informing me that Kate Kane, Batwoman, is in fact a lesbian; I mean, I would have probably read it anyway, but I’m always on the lookout for queer characters, especially queer female protagonists.  And it did not disappoint.  It read very quickly, in my opinion, but in a good way, combining both an origin story and a fight-the-supervillain story, full of training and relationships and really interesting developments and twists.  I can imagine irate parents telling their children’s teachers off for making them read this, because irate parents are afraid of the gay oftentimes, but I think it’s great.  It’s a fairly standard narrative with a fairly unstandard protagonist.

And I have read 22 of them! Although some of them not since high school so my memories are fuzzy and I’m going to pick and choose about which to comment on. I definitely agree with the inclusion of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, because while he went off the deep end in later years (do yourself a favor and never, ever read All-Star Batman and Robin), in his prime he was very, very good at telling Batman stories. TDKR is a strange animal because it was a flash-forward comic back when those weren’t common at all; it posits a world where the Caped Crusader retires and Gotham basically goes to shit because of it. Eventually, of course, he realizes that he must return to work, taking with him a 13-year-old named Carrie Kelly. She becomes the new Robin and he the Batman once again. Another interesting thing about this comic is that, while Batman is the protagonist, he is not always painted in the best of lights. Frank Miller is really good at writing steely protagonists that must make Hard Decisions and how much you’re able to put up with this can vary, but in TDKR it works really well. Batman is world-weary, he is angry, and he makes a lot of mistakes in this comic that are very unflattering. It’s one of the more interesting takes on the character that I’ve seen. At the time, it was revolutionary, and it’s an important part of graphic novel history.

There are several more superhero books on the list that I think are worth endorsing, including Batman: Hush by Jeph Loeb, which functions both as a spectacular mystery/suspense book and as a parade of Batman’s Greatest Hits, and is probably objectively one of the best comics I’ve ever read; All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison, which is truly Superman at his best and could be used in discussions of, for example, fate vs. choice in fiction as well as the appeal vs. necessity of superhero stories; and Astonishing X-Men by Joss Whedon, which is an accessible introduction to anti-mutant prejudices and a solid story (fun fact: the Cure plotline in this story was what inspired X-Men: The Last Stand, so if you want to see that idea actually done well, read this comic). There is also one that I’m frankly appalled that anybody thinks anyone, but especially teenagers, should be reading, and that is Mark Millar’s The Ultimates. At this point, making fun of Mark Millar is old news, but I feel it needs to be done as often and loudly as possible. Mark Millar does not understand any of the Marvel characters and that he was allowed to write them for so long is a mystery to me. Mark Millar’s idea of drama is writing everyone horrifically out of character so they can be assholes to one another for no good reason. I’m not 100% sure whether he originated the idea that Hank Pym beat his wife Janet, but it sure left an impression on me regarding that character at age seventeen. Oh, and he’s where the Maximoffs incest meme came from. Thanks, Mark Millar. (Warren Ellis gave him the best possible burn, though.)

As far as non-superhero fare on the list goes, Persepolis is a very important story because it offers a look at Iran mid-and-post revolution. Author Marjane Satrapi wrote it to be autobiographical, and I know that when I read it in college it helped me to understand a great deal of things I was never taught about Middle Eastern culture and what it’s like to live through such a dramatic period of history. I think this one is sometimes taught in elementary and middle schools, and in my case I read it during a class on middle and high school age literature. As I understand, it gets challenged a lot, which surprises me not at all, because different is scary or something. Sigh. Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughan is a beautiful, tragic story about a group of lions who are accidentally freed from the zoo during a bombing of the city. It’s a great look at the realities of war, from a very different perspective. It might be a bit much for more sensitive students (I cried) but it’s important.

And, finally, there were several comics on this and other similar lists that I strongly disagree should be suggested for high schoolers: Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan, Sandman by Neil Gaiman, and Alias by Brian Michael Bendis. These are all great comics, ones that I will recommend until I’m blue in the face. But I think that their subject matter is a little over the heads of high schoolers, frankly. Y might be the least difficult, since it’s a fairly simple plot: every man and male animal in the world is suddenly struck dead by a mysterious disease, except for Yorick and his Capuchin monkey. Now he must figure out how to exist in the world, while trying to get back to his girlfriend. It tackles a lot of important issues like gender and morality and feminism and the needs of the many vs. the few, and it would be a great jumping off point for discussion. But I could see a lot of parents being offended by some of the more extreme elements (there are fairly graphic sex scenes and a lot of language), and like I said, it might be slightly too sophisticated for the average high schooler. Sandman is DEFINITELY too sophisticated for high schoolers to analyze for a class – I didn’t read it until sophomore year of college and I still feel like I didn’t understand parts of it. It’s a gorgeous, important story, but one that you need a little more life experience to be ready for. And Alias is a detective story about ex-Avenger Jessica Jones, who now runs a PI agency and takes whatever cases she can. Think Veronica Mars all grown up and more prickly. Again, great comic – really emotionally dark, deals with a lot of Issues, and probably not something high schoolers are prepared to discuss for a grade. Also, language out the ass. Literally the first page has a great big FUCK on it. It was the first in Marvel’s Max line, for Serious Adults. Jessica’s getting her own Netflix series sometime this year and I couldn’t be more excited, but if the comic’s anything to go by, it’s definitely going to be an adult show.

I didn’t see Watchmen on the list either, which is perhaps an indicator of how inappropriate it is for the classroom outside of college (that is another Serious Adult Comic), but that and V For Vendetta are ones that always get mentioned when the art form of the graphic novel is under question. They’re good stories, though they have their problems. Again, too sophisticated for high schoolers, but worth mentioning for completeness’ sake.

This post is a bit scattered but, essentially, I think that graphic novels in the classroom are most useful when they’re presenting real world concepts in a fantastical way, or telling the stories of real life people who don’t often get a chance to speak (I hear American Born Chinese is very good at this but I haven’t read it yet). And sometimes, it’s important to talk about why people love heroes (All-Star Superman) and why those heroes are tremendously flawed (The Dark Knight Returns).