For comic book writers, the first rule in working for Marvel or DC Comics is this: The toys don’t belong to you and you’re only allowed to play in the sandbox as long as the suits let you.
Which means that despite being trusted to do for-hire work on some of the culture’s most iconic characters, writers are limited in what they can do. Which is why so many writers have falling outs with the industry. For each iconic and much loved storyline they get published, there are often five others that were shot down by the editorial bosses.
Last week, a pair of writers for DC’s Batwoman series forgot this cardinal rule and turned an ordinary comic-book dispute into a bit of culture war.
The original Batwoman was introduced in the 1950s, but the character, a wealthy socialite named Kathy Kane, was never particularly popular. In 2006 she was re-launched by DC in an updated version. The newly configured Kathy Kane (now called "Kate") was a diversity poster girl: an openly-lesbian former West Pointer forced to leave the Army over its “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
In short, she was a GLAAD award waiting to be assigned.
In a late-night internet posting on their personal websites last week Wednesday, the current Batwoman creative team of writer/artist J.H. Williams III and co-writer W. Hayden Blackman announced they were leaving the book. The pair had grown tired of butting heads with DC editorial and listed a number of issues which eventually led to their mutual decision:
Unfortunately, in recent months, DC has asked us to alter or completely discard many long-standing storylines in ways that we feel compromise the character and the series. We were told to ditch plans for Killer Croc’s origins; forced to drastically alter the original ending of our current arc, which would have defined Batwoman’s heroic future in bold new ways; and, most crushingly, prohibited from ever showing Kate and Maggie actually getting married. All of these editorial decisions came at the last minute, and always after a year or more of planning and plotting on our end.
We’ve always understood that, as much as we love the character, Batwoman ultimately belongs to DC. However, the eleventh-hour nature of these changes left us frustrated and angry — because they prevent us from telling the best stories we can. So, after a lot of soul-searching, we’ve decided to leave the book after Issue 26.
As you might expect, the media latched onto the idea of DC being opposed to Batwoman’s lesbian wedding.
Alyssa Rosenberg of Think Progress called the development, “depressing in the extreme” and hoped the wedding “got killed by management incompetence rather than homophobia.” The Today Show’s blog and i09.com pointed out that this isn’t the first time DC has been on the wrong side of gay marriage: Earlier this year, DC invited Ender’s Game author, Orson Scott Card, to be part of an anthology project celebrating Superman’s 75th Anniversary. When word spread Card was also a board member of the conservative National Organization for Marriage, gay-rights groups petitioned to get him removed from the project. He was. (Card’s story remains shelved, awaiting illustration.)
By noon on Thursday, DC Comics, already in trouble with the Rainbow Warriors over Card, tweeted a statement on the Williams/Blackman departure trying to explain that the problem isn’t gay marriage. It’s superheroes and marriage, period.
They have a point. As part of an effort to rebrand and reboot their books in 2011, DC scrapped most of the existing marriages of their characters. Gone were the marriages of Clark Kent and Lois Lane (1996), Barry “The Flash” Allen and Iris West (1966), Mister Miracle and Big Barda (1974), Aquaman and Mera (1964)—even the marriages within the Justice Society of America, a superhero team which predates World War II, were tossed overboard.
Because in comic books, the idea of marriage is complicated.
It’s one thing to have Stan Lee and Jack Kirby marry Reed Richards to Sue Storm as part of an iconic 100-issue run which began the Fantastic Four’s adventures. It’s another to set up “the Elongated Man” Ralph Dibny and his wife Sue as comic book’s “Nick and Nora.” You’re dealing with something entirely different when you’re editorially mandated to maintain Warner Bros. synergy to coincide with Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher exchanging vows on an episode of “Lois and Clark.”
The decision to marry a superhero often leads to a fatal prognosis for the new spouse. The list of lost fiancés and widowed brides or bridegrooms is so long it has its own internet meme, “Women in Refrigerators.”
It’s not like DC comics is against gay characters. In 2012, DC turned the original Green Lantern, Alan Scott, from a straight man who was married with two adult children, to a single, gay man-about-town. (Immediately after the new Green Lantern was outed and his gay lover introduced, the pairing suffered tragedy in the very next issue. Scott’s partner Sam was killed in a train explosion.)
DC’s editorial stance against superhero marriage was reiterated this past weekend at the Baltimore Comic-Con, when co-publisher Dan DiDio told a packed audience that superheroes ‘shouldn’t have happy personal lives’ and that by putting on their costumes they are ‘committed to being that person, they’re committed to defending others—at the sacrifice of all their own personal instincts.’
The irony in all of this is that the comic book industry in general, and DC comics in particular, has been dominated by well-meaning liberalism for decades. So much so that at DC, “diversity” has often seemed to be the driving force behind storytelling.
As for Batwoman, the book will now be written by openly gay writer Marc Andreyko starting with issue #25.
Unfortunately, these sorts of details tend to get in the way of a good anti-homophobia crusade.