Let’s get this out of the way right up front: Batwoman #26 — the first present-day issue by the series’ new creative team — is as gay as ever. Actually, it’s gayer than ever. It’s probably single gayest issue of any mainstream comic book I’ve ever read. Not only do we see Kate and Maggie out on a date in the real world, smoochin’ all over each other; we also meet Evan, one of Kate’s longtime BFFs. He’s a museum curator who, like Kate, is a socialite from birth and, also like Kate, is a big ol’ gaymo.
Sounds like a recipe for winning over LGBTQ readers who are disgruntled that DC squashed Kate and Maggie’s lesbian wedding plans while forcing out the artist and writer who had been with Batwoman since her relaunch in Detective Comics, right? Take one lesbian title heroine, add fiance, dress in formal attire and blend together in party environment, fold in one fabulous gay BFF, stir until optimum GLAAD-y goodness is achieved. Reading back what I wrote sounds delicious. (It also makes me want some brownies). But it takes more than a gaggle of good ingredients to bake a masterpiece.
The story:* In 1929 Gotham City, a brilliant artist committed suicide to punish some unnamed evil for destroying so many lives. In present day Gotham City, an art thief called Spider Wolf is stealing that artist’s paintings, even if it means killing the owners to get the job done.
(*If you’re looking for a wrap-up to the Batwoman/Batman showdown that J.H. Williams and W. Haden Blackman had been building toward, you’ll have to wait until April’s Batwoman Annual #1.)
Also in present day Gotham City, Kate and Maggie are out on a date at a museum fundraiser, chatting up Kate’s longtime buddy, Evan. Maggie thinks Evan is an absolute riot. Evan thinks Evan is an absolute riot. They laugh and make Pee-Wee Herman jokes and clink champagne glasses until Maggie has to get home to get some rest for her “big day” tomorrow. After she’s gone, things get real meta real fast. Kate whines to Evan about all these people who are oh so inexplicably interested in her engagement to Maggie. There are so many more interesting things about them than their impending lesbian nuptials. Why in the world do people care about a famous gay couple exercising their legal right to get married when same-sex marriage is only the highest-profile civil rights battle of this generation? How lame. Evan commiserates but says he isn’t interested in getting gay married because he just wants to sleep with a lot of dudes and collect a lot of art from that artist who’s art keeps getting pinched all over town.
Bette arrives at the party calling him “Mr. Former Olympic Gymnast” and that pretty much seals the deal that he’s the guy in the Wolf Spider costume, right?
After leaving the party, Kate decides not to hurry home to her fiance, but rather to go out and do some crime-fighting. “Let’s go find some criminal activity!” Bette literally yells like some kind of Teen Titan as they’re flying out the window in their costumes.
They do find some criminal activity. Wolf Spider is stealing paintings from Evan’s home, apparently hoping to bait Gotham City PD in the process, but is flattered when he’s engaged by Batwoman and Flamebird instead. They scuffle, they talk smack, Batwoman plummets off the side of a building. You know, standard superhero stuff. And that’s where we leave off.
I’ve read Batwoman #26 about ten times now. The first time through, I really just hated it. It’s grown on me a little more with subsequent readings. While the art and layouts will never live up to J.H. Williams’ work, I actually found a lot to love about what Jeremy Haun is doing. He’s got a great grip on Batwoman in action and Kate looks better out of costume here than she’s ever looked before. She’s a little too femme-ed up for me in her cocktail dress — remember when she and Maggie danced cheek-to-cheek in matching tuxes? — but at least Maggie got to keep her suit. They’re on trend here, both of them.
My main problems with the issue are the patronizing meta commentary about Kate and Maggie’s wedding — both the fact that it exists and the reminder that DC is stubbornly plowing forward in destroying such an important thing — and the jarring tonal shift in the storytelling. Marc Andreyko‘s writing makes the characters seem much, much, much less mature than the ones we’ve been hanging out with the last four years. And they’re just so peppy and lighthearted and … fun. Distractingly, inexplicably fun. This new Kate and Bette dynamic reminds me of Batman in Robin from the 1960s TV show (and the new Batman ’66 book). This Kate is not the same character who lost her twin sister in a car crash, got kicked out of West Point for being a lesbian, visited the freaking underworld with Wonder Woman to rescue a zillion kidnapped children, discovered that her father knew her twin sister was actually alive (twice), and made a deal with the devil to square off against The Dark Knight to put her family back together. I don’t know this new Kate Kane. And I gosh darn it, I know me some Batwoman.
Between now and Issue #27, I’m going to work on my attitude. The book has changed. It’s very gay. It’s very pretty. And if Evan really is Wolf Spider, I’m pretty sure that makes him the first gay rogue in the Bat-canon, which is a big deal. Kate Kane and I just aren’t very good at letting things go. You know?
What did you think about Batwoman #26?