Can a woman have a Bat-career?
That was the question DC Comics struggled with in the 1950s.
The Dark Knight’s first and best female companion debuted in “Detective Comics” No. 233, cover date July 1956, in the story “Batwoman.”
Trapeze artist, motorcycle rider and heiress Kathy Kane donned cape and cowl to fight crime like her idol. Her career seemingly ended after her first mission when Batman discovered her secret identity. He warned her that if he could do it, criminals could do it as well, jeopardizing her life.
Never mind that he is the World’s Greatest Detective and not the average Gotham crook or that he could have helped Batwoman shore up her security. No, she had to know her place.
And Batwoman agreed she would retire.
Thankfully, that’s not the whole story. Even in the 1950s, Batwoman proved to be too popular to sit at home. So DC had to settle this story hole it had dug.
In the “Super-Batwoman,” in “World’s Finest” No. 90, cover date October 1957, Batwoman gains the powers of Superman for 24 hours thanks to a Kryptonian super-pill.
This was a regular thing in “World’s Finest” – at least twice a year, it seemed, Batman gained Superman’s powers, or Superman lost his powers, but here was a variation worth savoring from writer Edmond Hamilton and artist Dick Sprang that heightened the drama surrounding Batwoman’s ambitions and our alleged do-gooders’ determination to thwart her.
Angry at how Batman and Superman keep telling her to retire, she vows to discover their secret identities.
“Batman, I’m tired of your bossing me! Just because you found my identity, you think you’re superior and keep lecturing me!”
Of course, as the hero she is, she also promises to help them as much as she can during the next 24 hours on their own missions.
Hey, she’s not a monster.
But Batman is one step ahead – he and Robin have donned lead-lined masks, blocking her x-ray vision.
Superman can’t resist getting his dig in.
“Batman’s proved again that he’s too clever for you, Batwoman!”
Superman is an ass.
Between some super deeds – Batwoman drops a water tank on a raging fire – she follows the Dynamic Duo to the Batcave. Confident she has discovered their identities, she sets her sights on Supes. She helps him break up an avalanche with her super-strength and then practically becomes his shadow.
Through lightning storms, a bomb testing range and even Niagara Falls, Superman can’t shake her. Then he stops at the one place Super-Batwoman fears to tread –
– an old house filled with mice.
It’s just so “I Love Lucy.”
Still, Batwoman is not defeated. She reasons she can discover Superman’s secret identity through a process of elimination – whoever has been away from their job all day in Metropolis must be Superman.
She doesn’t count on Bruce Wayne masquerading as Clark.
After her powers fade, she learns that Batman even tricked her with a phony Batcave belonging to another rich Gothamite.
Chastened, she agrees to hang up her cape.
Batman surprises her – and us, the readers who wonder why our heroes are such tools.
“No, Batwoman, we think you’ve won! You showed such cleverness and courage that I can’t ask you to drop your career completely. Just be careful!”
“Oh, Batman – Superman – you’re darlings after all!”
So with the “permission” of the Caped Cranks, Batwoman lives to fight another day.
And she would even get her own sidekick in a few years, the first Bat-Girl.
Even though she’s before my time, I’ve always had a special affection for Batwoman. For one, she’s not a “girl.” She is, at least in theory, an equal to Batman. Her costume is fantastic – a welcome contrast to the Dark Knight, with bright yellows and reds and that distinctive cowl. Her arsenal is so of the 1950s and so ridiculous – charm bracelets, a powder puff, a hairnet – yet she has pluck and charm and is determined to thwart crime every bit as Batman. The stories she appears in are joyous and innocent compared to the grim, overpriced gruel dished out today. Batwoman makes the Silver Age sparkle that much more.
You can find this story on the DC comics app, but precious few other appearances featuring Batwoman. That’s a mystery to me. Batman is DC’s cash cow and the publisher should make it a priority to digitize every single story.
Batwoman’s career, alas, didn’t last long.
In 1964, in an effort to appeal to older readers, editor Julius Schwartz instituted the “New Look” and jettisoned most of the Bat-Family, including the family dog.
For more than a decade, the company pretended there had never been a Batwoman, until 1979, when she made a few guest appearances and then was unceremoniously and brutally murdered for a cheap story.
Three years later, in a “Brave and the Bold” issue, Batman visited Earth 2, met that planet’s Batwoman and came to terms with his grief. It’s a great story, and I will be getting to it one of these days.
The Batwoman currently running around DC?
I don’t know her.