Holy Matrimony, Batman!
Guest commentary post from Emma Houxbois. Emma is a queer blogger for hire out of Vancouver, BC most recently attached to Girls Read Comics. You can follow her on Twitter @emmahouxbois.
In the wake of J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman stepping down from writing duties on Batwoman, a common thread among the title’s fanbase is the despondent proclamation that Macklemore didn’t free the gays for this. Only Macklemore himself can answer the question of why he freed us and likewise, only Dan Didio can speak for why he chose to uphold the veto on Kate Kane and Maggie Sawyer’s relationship progressing beyond an engagement (which he has done on Facebook of all places) so allow me to speak as a queer woman on why I’m glad Kate Kane won’t be getting married anytime soon.
Since, for better or worse, the situation has become a referendum on letting fictional homosexuals marry, there really does have to be a more considered and nuanced evaluation of whether or not marriage is something that actually needs to be pushed for. The irony of the current debate, and the point at which I begin to depart from what seems to be the fandom consensus, is that feminist literary criticism was born to challenge the reality that women’s stories end in either death or marriage. Decades of informed criticism and measured responses to the portrayal of marriage in popular fiction seem to have somehow sailed out the window as soon as the concept of same sex marriage (which has since oozed itself into the highly suspect terminology “marriage equality”) gained traction within the mainstream. While there certainly is significant merit to awarding same sex couples the same rights as their heterosexual peers and the broken institution of marriage is the most expedient vehicle to accomplish that in reality, the same does not necessarily hold true in fiction. Northstar’s wedding was valuable and important because it extended a long Marvel tradition of event weddings to a character whose publication history has embodied the full scope of the growing pains that the company underwent in becoming comfortable with portraying a gay character. Marvel was creating a new covenant with it’s readership just as much as Jean-Paul was with his boyfriend. By contrast, the wedding between Luke Cage and Jessica Jones could and should have been subjected to far more criticism than it did as it didn’t seem to accomplish much more than further the notion that matrimony is the necessary culmination of a romance and ostensibly the only context in which to raise a child. At the end of the day, the more progressive and meaningful approach to Luke and Jessica’s relationship would have been a recognition that a couple could- as many do in real life- remain unmarried and raise their daughter in a perfectly healthy environment.
Likewise, I just do not see the value in insisting that the only queer superhero with their own solo title get married. It reeks of marriage’s forceful domination of the discourse around LBGT rights and ignores the fundamental reality that the central dispute over whether or not these women should marry in a comic book is controlled on both sides by men because such is the poor state of superhero comics that the only creators with the clout and drive to push the genre’s only queer female protagonist into publication are men. That’s fucked up, and it’s infinitely more fucked up than the actual question of whether or not these two characters should get married. Williams is a phenomenal talent- the best living artist in comics- who has participated in two of the biggest victories for queer female representation in superhero fiction (Promethea and his Batwoman work dating back to Greg Rucka’s Detective Comics run) and Blackman deserves a great deal of respect for stepping up to the plate and lasting a whole two years under the strain of what seems to have been a deeply troubled book from it’s inception, but there is still something truly and fundamentally wrong with the situation, especially when the only female creator to participate on the title to date was only able to contribute a horrifyingly rushed product that only conveyed a quarter of her true talent. This is of course a pattern repeated across most of comics where female lead/majority titles like X-Men, FF, Fearless Defenders, and Wonder Woman have entirely male creative teams with Kelly Sue Deconnick’s Captain Marvel and Gail Simone’s Batgirl essentially being the lone prancing rainbow maned unicorns of major female characters actually being written by women.
I don’t believe that marriage is the compulsory or even necessarily the best culmination of any romance, and that is a position deeply informed by my identity as a queer woman. Furthermore, I don’t see where marriage has any real place in Kate Kane’s narrative. A look back at Maggie Sawyer’s pre-Flashpoint publication history shows that she was one of the earliest lesbian characters in superhero comics, first appearing in Metropolis under Dan Turpin. Maggie was definitely a direct precursor to both Renee Montoya and Kate Kane, who was first brought from Metropolis to Gotham by Ed Brubacker and Greg Rucka to appear alongside Renee Montoya in Gotham Central and then threaded into Kate’s narrative through her stint leading Detective Comics so it’s quite possible that this marriage was part of Rucka’s long game that Williams and Blackman committed themselves to following through in Batwoman, but it still seems directly contradictory to Kate’s story up to this point and Rucka’s wider body of work. Seen from Maggie’s perspective, it follows a very similar trajectory to Northstar barring the facts that until her first encounter with Kate she’d been most recently seen in a stable relationship of her own and that the comic is called Batwoman, not Gotham Central.
As I put forward in my last appearance on the podcast, the strongest common thread that links Greg Rucka’s most significant comic work is the central theme of women navigating the institutions responsible for meting out state sanctioned violence. The responses crafted for Renee Montoya and Kate Kane in the pages of 52 were that the institutions they represented- the police and military respectively- would ultimately reject and destroy them, necessitating that they move outside those institutions to achieve their higher callings (ultimately manifesting in the Question and Batwoman personas). What made Rucka’s Gotham based work so successful was his recognition that institutional failure and identification with The Other are the cornerstones of that fictional space created in the image of Bruce Wayne and his ability to push those sensibilities forward into contemporary concerns. To that end, it seems bizarre and wrongheaded that Kate Kane, who literally gave up a ring because she was unwilling to lie about who she was would turn around and put her faith in another ring whose backing institution has the very same history of marginalizing her identity. She found a way to serve outside of the mainstream, so it only really follows that she would find and embrace a way to love that also sits outside of the mainstream. Finding empowerment and self expression outside the normative is what made Kate a truly different, truly queer character and dictating that she express love and intimacy in the most banal, normative way possible is a fundamental violation of the Kate Kane that gave me the strength to assert my own queer identity. The Kate Kane whose nautical star I had tattooed between my shoulder blades.