My World Overflows With Kate Kane: Bennett And Tynion On What Makes Batwoman Special, And Queering The DC Universe
This week sees the release of Detective Comics #948, the first part of "Batwoman Begins," a two-part story that leads into the upcoming Batwoman solo series. That series will be scripted by Marguerite Bennett with art by Steve Epting, so Bennett has joined scripter James Tynion IV as co-plotter on this Detective story, featuring art by Ben Oliver, and Tynion in turn will co-plot Batwoman.
ComicsAlliance sat down with Bennett and Tynion to talk about who Kate Kane is, how she's different from Bruce Wayne, and why it's important to fill the DC Universe with queer characters --- including a new transgender character who will be introduced in this story.
ComicsAlliance: This story’s called “Batwoman Begins,” and it starts with a flashback to Batwoman’s origin. Does your take on Kate Kane’s past mesh with what Greg Rucka and others have done, or is it something of a reboot?
James Tynion IV: That’s a really good question. That’s something that Marguerite can speak to in terms of the Batwoman: Rebirth issue that’ll be coming very shortly. But in terms of the two-parter here in Detective, what we kind of wanted to do is focus on the beginning of the interplay and the relationship between Batwoman and Batman. Because that’s something that we saw in the Rucka run, how Batman influenced her to make the decision to become Batwoman, and how that gave her a new outlet on how to serve.
So we’re maintaining all of that, but in here what we wanted to do was really ask the question, "What can Batwoman do that Batman can’t?" They operate in a similar sort of place, but they come at it from really different backgrounds.
Also I thought it was important from the start to show the classic relationship between Jacob Kane and Kate Kane, to really contrast with the current relationship between the two of them, with Jacob locked up in the Belfry. Those are sort of the pieces that we tried to start it with. Kind of giving it an emotional grounding out of Detective Comics, that will lead to, “Oh this is Kate, and Kate’s singular story,” but also how that relates to Batman and the story of Detective and Gotham City.
Marguerite Bennett: We’re not touching or retconning any of the Rucka stuff. What we’re going back and doing is sort of elaborating in the moments in between. And just as James was saying, showing the foundations so that we can build something really bizarre and extraordinary on top of it.
CA: I’m curious about the role of Jacob Kane, Kate’s father, going forward. Obviously there’s plot stuff coming that you don’t want to give away, but I feel like after what’s happened in Detective, I’ve come to think of him as a villain, but I’m starting to wonder if there’s a redemption arc for him, and if he’s going to be an ongoing part of the Batwoman series?
JT: The way that we’re setting him up here, at the end of this two-parter, Jacob is still locked up in the Belfry. So Jacob’s going to be playing a pretty major role in the League of Shadows storyline that’s starting in Detective #950. But his presence is very strong in the Batwoman series and in Kate’s life in general, and obviously will echo through.
And in terms of how I view Jacob, I don’t see him as much as a villain – everything he’s doing, he’s doing for a kind of greater good. And frankly one of the things that’s going to be really interesting moving into this next arc, is now we’re going to see the threat that he’s up against that made him feel like his actions were justified. And that’s the kind of thing that Batman’s never going to see that math and find it at all acceptable.
But Kate comes from a different background. Kate comes from a background of war, and sometimes there is collateral damage, and sometimes the greater good is brought into it, and the difference between them, with Batman as a crimefighter and Kate as a soldier, is so embedded into the difference. Because they have a very different origin, but they shoot in different parallel directions, and that’s the balance that we wanted to kind of start playing with, and what I’ve been trying to do in Detective as well. Which is also why I wanted to show that Jacob hasn’t changed as a character. He is still the same guy who was giving her crap and helping her set up as Batwoman right at the beginning, and the one that’s been supporting her from the beginning of her life. He was just hoping that she would end up joining his cause, not Batman’s cause.
MB: I think that’s something that’s so monstrously poignant: the fact that he hasn’t changed. He’s still her dad, and his motives have this wonderful concrete through-line. It hasn’t occurred to him to alter his motivations. The fact that this is the same man that he’s always been, that this was always his long game. It just breaks my heart, and I love it.
CA: Having just read Detective #948, I want to leave the main characters behind for a moment to ask you about this exciting new character, Dr. Victoria October. She's a trans woman who says she knew Batman before her transition, and also that she had a totally different name then. So the obvious question is, is she a character readers would remember, even if we don’t recognize her? Or is she totally new?
JT: The intent is definitely that she’s an entirely new character. I love the idea of the unseen cases of Batman. And I feel like it isn’t done as often as it used to be, where there’s like the member of the military who shows up and has had ten previous missions with Batman that we’ve never seen before. And it implies a whole deeper relationship and potential connections to stories that we are familiar with. Who knows, maybe the first time Batman ran into Jason Blood and Etrigan, he started consulting with Victoria. It’s that kind of fun stuff. And we wanted to make her a really fun, vibrant character.
And it’s also utilitarian, because we were introducing Monster Town, and the idea that monster venom’s going to be sold into the arms market, and that’s going to be what propels us forward into the Batwoman series. We needed a character to explain that, and why go with a boring option rather than create a new relationship and a new figure who could be rich for many stories in the future?
CA: Is she going to be a supporting character in the Batwoman series as well?
JT: She has a good chance of showing up in that series in the future, but right now I have some plans for her in Detective down the line. She is working in Monster Town in Gotham, which is going to stay as a place in Gotham for the immediate future. So she’ll sort of be the point person in that arena.
CA: Let’s take a minute to talk about the art in this arc. Ben Oliver has a more painterly style than we've been seeing on Detective, but it's the sort of style we associate with Batwoman's solo adventures. Was that a deliberate choice, and does it hint at the kind of work we can expect from Steve Epting in the solo book?
JT: We absolutely wanted to evoke a flavor of what people have come to expect from Kate Kane's solo stories. The art choices on the two-parter, and the series itself were paramount to setting things up properly. We wanted the Detective issues to be beautiful with an almost dreamy, nightmarish quality, which is something Ben Oliver really excels at. From introducing Monster Town, to showing key moments in Kate’s past, to introducing a kind of dark mirror of her character with the new villain, Colony Prime, Ben seemed like the best choice to bring it all to life and make it land just right.
For the series itself, we wanted to marry that with a kind of grounded noirish feel... Which is what led us to the phenomenal Steve Epting. From the moment we saw the cover to the Rebirth issue, the first bit of Epting art either of us got to see, we knew Steve was drawing a definitive Batwoman that would sit proudly on the stands next to the classic run. Marguerite and I really couldn’t be luckier with our collaborators here.
CA: I want to shift gears a bit and ask Marguerite, because you’ve made such an impact, and built such a fan following, as the writer of DC Comics Bombshells -- and of course Kate Kane is in that, but it’s a different Kate Kane --- is it an adjustment going from writing in that world to writing in the main DC Universe?
MB: Actually that was one of the things I had to really get into back when we were first developing Bombshells back in 2014. The idea of who these characters are in their essence. Is it your personality that defines you? Is it the things that have happened to you? Is it some negotiation between those things?
Because with this World War II origin for a lot of the characters — whereas in the main DCU a lot of characters have Cold War origins or modern origins, or have to have undergone experiences that honestly couldn’t have existed historically — a lot of those characters just haven’t had those experiences yet or might not have them at all. So it’s getting into who the characters are in their essence in some ways. So it’s been really fun.
But I really love Kate, just on those terms. With the things that have happened to her, with the adventures she’s had, with the choices she’s made, but I will pick her in any universe. I love her in any universe. My world overflows with Kate Kane. I’m not going to complain about that.
CA: That leads directly into a broader question I wanted to ask both of you, and I’m sorry if this is too broad. But for readers who might not have read the previous Batwoman series, and are looking into this new one coming up: Who is Batwoman, for each of you? What is it that makes her unique in the Bat-family, and in the DCU as a whole?
JT: Oh wow. That is a really good question.
MB: Yes it is; I love it. Kate is my favorite character, period. And one thing that I loved so much about her and identified with about her from the beginning, is the fact that she’s flawed.
My gateway into comics was Batman: The Animated Series, and Kevin Conroy is still my Batman. But people asked me, you know, when I started writing for a living, who was my favorite heroine. Did I like Batgirl, did I like Supergirl? And the problem was that I really didn’t identify with any of those characters, really didn’t adore any of those characters in the same way. All the characters that I really liked were Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, and Catwoman.
We have such a tendency to make media for children, but especially for little girls, that’s super-sanitized, super-aspirational, and pastel. And I’m not trying to come down on Disney, or aspirational heroines, but it sucks when that’s the only version that you see. That this is what you need to be: You need to be kind and sweet and polite and patient, and all this stuff. And it makes you feel like such a f---ing failure when you’re unable to live up to that standard.
So fast forward to when I was in high school, when Kate Kane was announced, and it was so fun to follow her evolution, and to see how screwed up she was. You know, she makes mistakes. She fails. She comes to the wrong conclusions, and she has to pay for it, and untangle her mess, and solve it, and own her damage. And that was something that I really adored, that I felt like she was three-dimensional and fully human. From the very beginning, she didn’t have to be flawless. She didn’t have to be an icon. She could just be herself.
JT: That’s an incredible answer. For me, and this is a character that Marguerite and I have been talking about in general for a long time. Even back before I had a chance to write her, she was one of the biggest characters that I didn’t really get to touch in either Batman Eternal or Batman and Robin Eternal. And I wanted to use the character, because I saw so many stories that were potential in her, and especially in her relationship with Batman, because she’s such a fascinating mirror of him. Particularly with the family angle. The idea of her being Bruce’s cousin, and having these core similarities, and this basic drive, where if you strip away what they do from either Kate or Bruce, it would destroy them. They are what they do, and they need to do something.
But the biggest difference in them is the fact that Kate had a kind of lost period, and Bruce never did. Kate had the path, she was going to be the best soldier that has ever existed, and she was kicked off of that path. She floundered for a bit, and it took a while for her to get back on track. And it gives her a different angle on the world. And when we started talking about what we wanted to do with the series, that was a period that I know Marguerite and I both kind of latched onto, her development in her kind of lost years.
For one, she comes from incredible wealth. So what we had seen in the Rucka run, and subsequent runs, of her kind of bumming around in the bars in Gotham, it would have been much more widespread than that. She would have been bumming around in bars everywhere in the world. She would have just been kind of wasting away in every corner of the world, trying to find a sense of herself.
And what would be the moment that would send her back to Gotham? What was her rock bottom? What does it look like, and who was the most powerful person in that moment? That was sort of where we started to mine, to build something that I think is going to be very very good. That was really the heart of it, and it really is her flaws. Batman can’t fail in a certain way; the character is so larger than life. Kate is life. She’s life in all of it’s messiness.
I love that in the Rucka Detective run, the whole arc is about the relationship with her father, and then at the end there’s such a huge betrayal, with him not telling her about her sister. And it felt so raw and human. And she’s raw and human in a way that Batman’s kind of inhuman. Being able to play the two characters off of each other is something that I love, and building everything that’s coming is also something that I’m very excited to take part in.
And just so people understand the way that we kind of broke down the workload here is that we sat in a room and we talked about everything that we wanted to do. We came up with the story for the two issues of Detective, which then I scripted, and Marguerite is the lead scripter on the series itself. So we share story on each of these, but when everyone sees how amazing Batwoman Rebirth is, and every issue following that, all credit goes to Marguerite, and Steve.
CA: I just have one more question I want to ask. It feels a bit like we’re at the dawn of a new era, where not only can queer superheroes star in comics, but queer writers get to tell their stories. I know that’s exciting for me as a queer fan and critic, so how exciting is it for you to be part of that moment?
MB: Yes, it’s exciting and terrifying. The craving to be the person that you needed when you were in high school, and the terror that you might screw up. I want so much to be the person that baby Marguerite really needed, and didn’t get. And I’m doing my best, so if I do screw up I’m going to try so hard to own what I do, and make it better. Make it what it needs to be, and what other people need it to be.
JT: That’s exactly it. I remember the moment when Marc Andreyko was writing Manhunter, which had queer characters, and then I found out through an interview, probably in Wizard Magazine, that Marc was a gay man who was working on a major superhero that was getting critical acclaim. It might not have been the top-selling book, but this was part of the universe and it mattered. That there was a queer person sitting in at the table, with all of the comics greats that I was aspiring to be, and it meant the world.
Right at the start of my career, and I’ve talked about this a little, I was terrified of the idea of coming out, because I thought frankly that I might never be allowed to write certain characters. Historically there’s always the homoerotic subtext with the Robins, or how it’s perceived and all of that. And I thought if I came out, they’ll never let me write the Robins. Never ever. And thankfully that proved not to be true.
The Bat-Family are my favorite characters that exist, and I get to shape them. Not only to get to cast a queer woman as Batman’s equal in the pages of Detective Comics, but even more than that, making sure that the world that they live in, from Harper Row the bisexual girl working in Leslie Thompkins clinic and having been a superhero herself, to characters like Victoria October. I want the world to be populated with real people. The people I see in my life every day. It’s a tremendous feeling to be able to do that, especially on such a large scale, and I’m tremendously grateful to DC for putting the faith in us to do it.
Beyond just pure representation, proving that you can tell more than just “queer stories” with queer characters, but that you can tell an epic that’s as big as “Knightfall” or “The Dark Phoenix Saga” with a queer character right in the center of it. It’s just the same, but it lets us all in. It’s tremendously important to me, and I’m tremendously happy to be working with Kate on Detective Comics, and to be working with Marguerite on bringing Kate into her own series right now. It means the world.
MB: Love you bro.
JT: Love you too!
Detective Comics #948 goes on sale Wednesday 11 January 2017 from DC Comics.