Most folks have heard of Batgirl, but not as many know about the Batwoman!
Kathy Webb was a spy who left behind her life of action to become a successful film director, later marrying the wealthy Nathan Kane. A woman of many talents and a thrill-seeker, Kathy was given a circus by her husband Nathan simply because she’d always wanted one. After her husband’s death from a stroke, Kathy felt directionless and didn’t know how to express her grief beyond courting danger as usual. But then she was recruited by the mysterious organizations Spyral and asked to learn what she could of Gotham’s mysterious Batman, who had recently begun operating alongside the first Robin.
Accepting the assignment, Kathy was surprised to find herself drawn to this dangerous, driven vigilante and decided that the best (and most fun) way to get close to him and learn about him was to join his war. Outfitted in a bright, circus-style outfit, she became Batwoman, armed at all times with a utility purse and a smile. After a heated but brief relationship with Batman, Kathy Kane seemingly ended her own mission by retiring from the life of a superhero and breaking up with Bruce Wayne. A couple of years later, she met her death when she was killed by the forces of Ra’s al Ghul and the O-Sensei.
Years later, Kathy’s relative Kate Kane left the U.S. Marine Corps when she was forced to admit she was gay. Driven by the memory of her mother and sister’s deaths, Kate was a warrior at heart who now didn’t have a fight. Inspired by Batman, she later became the new Batwoman. Since then, she has been a dedicated vigilante, hunting down some of Gotham’s most dangerous psychotics and becoming an enemy of the religiously-driven Church of Crime. With recent appearances in Batman, Inc. and a new on-going series coming out, Kate Kane is definitely a hero to watch.
So let’s take a look at these two women. We’re going to stick primarily with mainstream continuity, as usual.
KATHY KANE, CIRCUS STAR
Kathy Kane first debuted as Batwoman in Detective Comics #233 in 1956. Accusations of Batman and Robin’s adventures having a homosexual subtext had made many parents concerned. So Bob Kane (Batman’s creator) and Sheldon Moldoff created Kathy Kane to disprove this idea by becoming a romantic interest for the Dark Night Detective. To emphasize Kathy’s femininity, she had a utility purse and all her weapons were based on what could be a woman’s personal items. Strangely though, the stories often involved Batman avoiding Batwoman’s romantic attentions, unwilling to settle down or expose is secret identity to anyone.
Now look at Kathy’s outfit. Although she is modeling herself after the Dark Knight, she’s definitely not following his color scheme or basic imagery. We could argue that this makes no sense and that she should dress just like Batman, but let’s remember that just because you’re attracted to someone or trying to get their attention, it doesn’t mean you have to dress like them. Batman was a lighter-hearted character in the 1950s than he had been in his early days, but he was still someone who intimidated his enemies and who would make himself seem like a creature of the night when he operated in the shadows. If you see him as a silhouette moving across a rooftop, you could believe he was a creature rather than a man.
Kathy does not follow that method. She gives you enough to know that she’s supposed to be Batwoman, but she’s not trying to pretend she’s a creature or some kind of living gargoyle. She’s a woman and she has no problem flaunting that. She’s a risk-taking, optimistic adventurer and her colors reflect that in the same way that Robin’s colors reflected that he was a circus kid.
The bright colors and utility purse are very silly for today’s Batman comics but for the time she operated in, they worked. And they actually further reflect Kathy’s jocular attitude. She’s a lady of the circus and this isn’t a crusade for her, it’s an adventure. She isn’t embarrassed by using charm bracelet hand-cuffs and hair-nets that are actual nets just as Batman isn’t embarrassed to have bat-shaped boomerangs and throwing blades.
Not that this costume couldn’t use some improvement. I’d prefer boots as opposed to little pixie shoes and longer gloves. I’d also like some consistency. Depending on the issue, Kathy’s mask was black with yellow lining or simply red. Initially, she seemed to be wearing a black corset over her yellow uniform. But later artists drew it as an all yellow uniform that was just in shadows sometimes, which I personally like better.
I could also do with a stronger bat element beyond the cape. Otherwise, it does make her look more like a fun-loving vampire to me than a bat-themed vigilante. In the Elseworlds mini-series JLA: The Nail, Alan Davis added a bat-shaped pendant to Batwoman’s collar, which added a nice touch.
By the way, Kathy’s niece Betty Kane later got into the superhero game as Bat-Girl. You can read about her fashion choices over here.
A while back, I got on-camera to discuss this costume with Tim Gunn, host of Project Runway and Chief Creative Office of Liz Claiborne, Inc. You can watch the full video here, but one thing we discussed was the lack of a bat-emblem on Kathy’s outfit.
ALAN KISTLER: If you’re going to be a Bat-character, I think you need some form of the bat-symbol on you.
TIM GUNN: But I just want to go back to the original look and semiology… you don’t need a bat-symbol on that look.
ALAN: It does look more like a vampire to me than a costumed crime-fighter.
TIM GUNN: But then you can take extrapolate to “bat” from that.
ALAN: In Gotham City, it’s such a dark place, I generally prefer darker colors for its heroes. But then again, I excuse Robin.
TIM GUNN (laughs): We all excuse Robin.
Kathy Kane pretty much dropped out of sight by the early 1960s. When she was re-introduced in the 1970s, a bat-symbol was added to her suit. This is just a small touch but I think it’s an improvement. It’s just a tiny element to show that she is connected to Batman and his mission and not just some girl who also happens to like bats.
After a couple of adventures in the 1970s, Kathy dropped her costumed alter ago again. A while later, she was brought back just to be killed off by Batman’s enemies. After the events of the story Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1986, continuity was altered to say that yes, Kathy Kane was a circus owner whom Batman had been close to, that she had indeed helped him on several adventures against evil, and that she possibly had a relationship with him, but that, unlike her niece (now called “Bette” instead of “Betty”), she had never operated with a masked identity.
A couple of years ago, writer Grant Morrison changed things back (to a certain degree), showing a flashback to Kathy’s days as the first Batwoman, revealing that she had indeed operated as a brightly-costumed hero for months before retiring her mask and ending a relationship with Batman. This past week, these flashbacks were shown again and extended further in the pages of Batman, Inc. #4. It’s a fun read, so you should pick it up.
In one strange adventure, published in Batman #122, Robin had a dream where Kathy Kane and Bruce Wayne got married. But Bruce did not reveal his identity to her. Evidently, Bruce did this in an attempt to stop Kathy from risking her life as a hero, figuring that a married woman would want to stay home with her husband rather than adventure out with a masked man who faced danger on a regular basis (don’t hit me, I didn’t write the damn story). But Kathy didn’t quit and when she later discovered Bruce’s double life, she was thrilled that she was now Mrs. Batman. And then we found out it was Robin’s very weird dream.
The “Mrs. Batman” outfit is not terribly great. I mean, what guy wants his love interest to dress exactly like him? That’s just weird. Not to mention, unoriginal.
In one story though, the villain Cat-Man tricked Batwoman into becoming his new Cat-Woman. This also seemed to rob Kathy Kane of all fashion sense. Orange and bright green? Seriously? And while claws on the gloves work, non-functional claws on the boots are just odd. Just not a great design.
THE ANIMATED MYSTERY
In 2003, a direct-to-video film was released taking place in the DC Animated Universe that had been established in Batman: The Animated Series and continued through other shows, up to Justice League Unlimited. This film was called Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman and featured a new costumed vigilante in Gotham who modeled herself after Batman. This vigilante operated rather recklessly and seemingly without regard for whether criminals lived or died. In his investigations, Batman discovered that this Batwoman identity was actually shared by multiple women, one of whom was named Kathy Duquesne (pronounced “Due-Kane”).
This is an interesting take on things. The full-face cowl adds a greater sense of mystery rather than a simple mardi gras mask. And talk about a sleek look. In fact, this costume more closely resembles the minimalist suit used in Batman Beyond.
Batman Beyond was a cartoon where an elder Batman relied on a special tech-suit to fight crime until he later retired all together. Then, years later, the tech-suit was used by Bruce’s new apprentice Terry McGinnis. So the implication here is that Batman’s tech-suit was inspired by the Batwoman he met. Not bad, actually. But I would change the yellow of the belt to red so that it didn’t clash against the rest of her colors. And maybe making the interior cape a red color would be nice. After all, it worked for Batgirl to make the interior of her cape golden. Just a thought.
In the recent cartoon series Batman: The Brave and the Bold, we got a new take on the classic Batwoman. Dressed in the old 1950s threads, this woman was Katrina Moldoff (get it?). She’s fun and cute and her bright outfit actually fits very well with the atmosphere of this particular cartoon series, which threw Batman into high-flying, often comedic adventures.
HERE COMES KATE!
In 2006, a new Batwoman was introduced in the pages of the year-long series 52. This was the redheaded Kate Kane, later revealed to be Kathy Kane’s relative. As we can see, this new costume, inspired by an unused Alex Ross design, also takes a nod from Batman Beyond in terms of color scheme. But it is very much its own distinctive look.
We have a separate mask, similar to Kathy’s classic disguise but with a more serious appearance. The red color scheme goes nicely with her hair. And the interior cape color definitely adds something nice.
But the rest of the look doesn’t come off as that inspired to me. The loose hanging belt makes me think Batwoman doesn’t take herself too seriously and that it’s there for decoration. And the gloves and boots are just taken from Barbara Gordon’s Batgirl costume, switching them from gold to red. And I’m not a fan of certain types of superheroes (namely, human ones who run across a lot of rooftops) wearing heels.
I’m also not a big fan of the fact that she has a bat-symbol on her belt buckle and on her chest. Seems a bit repetitive to me. We see the cape and the symbol, we get who you are.
That changed later on when she was redesigned for her own solo adventures. This design sketch here shows that Kate Kane has a costume element to her but that her costume is utilitarian. And that makes a lot of sense when you consider that Kate is a military woman and is being aided by her father, a retired military officer.
The cowl is constructed to be easily separated and not inhibit her ability to turn her head, with vents on the side to make sure she can hear everything easily. It’s not longer just a large, stylized mask now, it’s also a helmet, adding protection as much as it disguises her identity. It also disguises her identity in a creative way, thanks to its wig attachment hiding the fact that Kate now has short-cropped hair. And if anyone tries to grab her hair during a fight, they’d only be grabbing a wig.
This is similar to how Batgirl operated in the live-action Batman TV series from the 1960s, where Barbara Gordon was a brunette but used a wig attached to her cowl to convince people that her alter ego was a redhead. Clever ones, these bat-themed vigilantes.
The utility belt now looks just like what it is, with a large pocket in the back to hide a gun for emergencies. The buckle has been altered so that it implies a bat-wing or a batarang but it’s not a full-on bat-symbol, so it doesn’t seem repetitive with the emblem on her chest.
The gloves now have extra grip on the interior and Kate’s attached bracers to them. The scallops are actually detachable blades that can be thrown. Heavy boots have replaced the heels. The cape now has clasps, which give her a distinctive style that makes her stand out from the rest of the Bat-family and also shows that if her cape were to catch on something, she could easily detach it and dismiss it.
The cape has also been redesigned. It now comes to exactly five points. This means that when Batwoman is in silhouette and extending her cape or descending from above, she forms a replica of her own bat-symbol. Nice touch.
All in all, this is a great look. It’s cool, it’s got great design, and it could actually translate fairly well into “realistic” real-life terms.
And that brings us up to speed, faithful readers. I hope you enjoyed this look at the many lives of Batwoman. And be sure to support Kate Kane’s books. We need more superhero women with their own titles. Until next time, this is Alan Kistler, Agent of S.T.Y.L.E., signing off!
Alan Kistler writes the comic book history/fashion column Agent of S.T.Y.L.E. He is an actor and freelance writer living in New York who has been recognized by Warner Bros. Films and major media/news outlets as a comic book historian. He is also the creator/host of the web-show “Crazy Sexy Geeks: The Series.” He knows entirely too much about the history of comics, Star Trek, Doctor Who, time travel, and vampires that don’t sparkle.