Fifty years ago, a version of Batwoman first appeared as a love interest for Batman. Her name was Kathy Kane, but she has since been rendered essentially irrelevant. That’s because in 2006, DC Comics introduced us to Kate Kane, AKA Batwoman — Bruce Wayne’s maternal cousin and one of DC Comics’ most prominent lesbian superheros.
She is also canonically Jewish.
Kate was first introduced alongside sharp-witted detective Renee Montoya, who is one of her most important romantic interests, in the series 52. She served as a supporting character to Renee Montoya until 2009 when a collection of issues of Detective Comics introduced her as an independent character with an in-depth exploration of her past and the trauma that shaped her; these have now been collected into the graphic novel titled Batwoman: Elegy. Following Elegy, Kate was featured heavily in Detective Comics and had two solo series of her own, one in New 52 and one most recently in Rebirth. She is also a massively important part of the alternate universe, Bombshells, where she frequently punches Nazis in a reconstructed softball uniform. Yes, it is as amazing as it sounds.
As the story goes, Kate grew up as the daughter of two military intelligence officers, Colonel Jacob Kane and Captain Gabi Kane, and as the twin sister of Elizabeth. On an otherwise unassuming day, Gabi and her two daughters were kidnapped by the Religion of Crime, a religious cult and terrorist organization. Military intelligence found them, and Jacob led the tactical team to retrieve them; however, Gabi and Elizabeth had been executed before their arrival.
Kate was rescued safely, though deeply traumatized after witnessing the violent deaths of her mother and sister. Eventually, to please her father, Kate joins West Point where she excels as a cadet until she was outed to her superiors. Because of her level of accomplishment and the high-ranking position of her father, Kate was given the chance to out the woman she was with in exchange for the continuation of her military career. Instead, she chooses to confirm her own sexuality, refusing to out her then-girlfriend which results in her expulsion from West Point.
Back in Gotham, Kate’s status as an heiress and wealthy socialite leads to alcoholism and a rather destructive habit of partying. An inability to see a future for herself outside of the one her father envisioned leads to her recklessness. Having lived an exceedingly structured life, her freedom leaves her even more lost. Ultimately, due to a run-in with Batman, she recognizes her own potential as a vigilante. Kate trains to an unimaginable degree for three years before becoming an active agent of justice in Gotham. Her global training is sponsored by her father and results in a wealth of both knowledge and physical strength, including the ability to recognize if not employ at least 14 different martial arts and fighting practices. She is a hero with an impressively well-developed skill set, one that matches if not exceeds Batman’s, and though being able to drop kick Batman across an apartment is undoubtedly admirable, she is much more than her vigilantism.
Minority representation is a constant, knotty conversation; it’s as personal as it is public, which makes it anything but straightforward. Having your worth repeatedly diminished to two lines of dialogue in a film or minimal screen time in a television show can become wildly disheartening. It is also discouraging to be relegated to nothing more than a number in poorly-intentioned corporate efforts towards diversity. Media representation comes with empty promises and posturing more often than it comes with honesty, and representation that comes from a place of assumed obligation or forcefulness never feels genuine. Stories should emerge from a place of creative freedom, one that allows every character to be flawed, one that acknowledges the realities of the human experiences.
As one of the most high-profile lesbian characters in the world of comics, Batwoman possess a measure of cultural influence. She is an amalgamation of a thousand things, but the Jewish and lesbian facets of her identity are respected and always present in her characterization. The only other place I’ve found the intersection of those two identities portrayed with great care and humanity is the film Disobedience. While I regard it with much love (so much, it is one of my favorite films), it doesn’t connect to my specific experience as a Reform Jewish woman.
Batwoman, however, does. Kate celebrates Hanukkah with her father, floats across rooftops chasing Gotham’s most tenacious criminals, and falls into bed with her girlfriend. Rather than some beacon of perfection for lesbians and Jewish women everywhere, she is a woman with a deeply flawed life and heavily scarred past. Her personal history is littered with mistakes and lousy habits: her anger, her tendency to reach for the bottle, her difficulty with emotional attachment.
It’s difficult to fully articulate how important Kate Kane has been to me as a fictional manifestation of my identity as a Jewish woman and a lesbian. Obviously, she is not a real person, but it is not uncommon to grow attachments to fictional characters, especially those we see as similar or complementary to ourselves. Though I have sought comfort in many fictional landscapes, I have never been quite so fixated on a character as I am with Kate Kane. Much of that is due to those two very important aspects of her character, but it also comes from an appreciation of literally every other thing about her, even those moments of unexpected immorality, which make her more human and less inimitable.
Wonder Woman once said that she wished she had half the courage of Batwoman, and I cannot help but agree with the sentiment. I wish that I could be as honest with myself as she is. Despite her marked flaws, her ability to know so concretely who she is is something enviable. What is admirable is her honesty about her sexuality no matter the implications it has on her future, her honesty about the grey areas in her morality, and her courage to take on a large scale cult-based crime syndicate almost entirely on her own.
Batwoman is a beautiful, messy, imperfect woman. That fact that she’s is a Jewish lesbian is incredibly meaningful to me, and I’m sure many others as well.