Warning: Spoilers for Batwoman #16 and #17 below
Wednesdays are new comic book days. It’s a nerd thing that happens inside geek circles and the only time mainstream media pays any attention is when someone dies or someone gets married or someone comes out as gay. So when every website in the world started screeching “Batwoman!” last Wednesday afternoon, right as issue #17 hit stands, I thought for sure she’d been killed. But nope, it was the other thing, the marriage thing — or, well, the proposal of marriage thing. On the penultimate page of a multi-year story-arc, Batwoman popped the question to Maggie Sawyer.
I found out about it before I’d even made my weekly trip to the comic shop, and by the time I got home with the book, everyone with laptop and a social media presence had weighed in on the story. Which is fine, of course. The first lesbian hero with her own title proposes gay marriage to one of the first mainstream characters to ever come out as a lesbian: it’s kind of a huge deal. (It’s especially prescient in light of the hyper-charged national discourse happening these days about DOMA and Prop. 8.) But I was worried that being spoiled was going to ruin my enjoyment of a story I have invested in, issue-by-issue, month-by-month, for the last four years. I’m happy to say I was wrong.
Let’s run-down the plot of issues #16 and #17 real quick, since my last review left off at #15, and then we’ll talk about the proposal.
In Batwoman #16, Wonder Woman and Batwoman return to Gotham to try to thwart Medusa’s plans of global destruction. It’s a narrative free-for-all, as a whole lot of voices — including Bette Kane’s, who has returned to the game just in time for the final showdown! — explain the battle from their own points of view. But the chaos actually adds to the effect. It’s mayhem on the streets and it’s mayhem in the minds of these characters. Maggie yells at Batwoman to get into the thick of the battle, Wonder Woman seeks the supernatural source of the monsters’ power, and Bette goes head-to-head with the hooked villain who nearly took her life.
Batwoman #17 makes a seamless transition to the final showdown, in which Bette bests her emotional demons while beating down the actual demon who tried to kill her. Oh, and she’s not Flamebird anymore; she has rechristened herself Hawkfire. And Batwoman and Wonder Woman come to the (pretty anti-climatic) realization that the way to take down Medusa is to wallop her with her own reflection. It turns out she’s just the mother of all monsters, unleashing her wrath because she’s mourning the loss of her monster kids.
But, as usual, it’s the post-battle fallout that packs the most emotional punch. For starters, Wonder Woman is ready to end Mother Monster’s life with her sword, but Batwoman intercedes and asks her, once again, to show mercy to a fellow underworld warrior. It’s the same grace she extended to Pegasus a few issues ago, except for this time it means that she has to spare the life of someone who deserves to die. Wonder Woman promises to keep Mother safe from the world and keep the world safe from Mother. Before she leaves, Wonder Woman tenderly caresses Batwoman’s hair and says, “If you ever need me again, just ask.” Batwoman says, “Ditto” and then hands over the lens-camera she’d been using to record all of their interactions. It’s a fitting end to a remarkable, revolutionary team-up. Williams and Blackman may have gotten lost in the immenseness of this narrative a time or two, but Diana and Kate’s relationship, their mutual respect and growing fondness for one another, always rang true. The genesis was necessity; the revelation was lasting affection.
Plus, think about this for a minute: The culmination of this epic story featured not one, not two, but six central, powerful women: The supervillain, three superheroes, the lead police detective, and DEO’s Agent Chase. It’s the most female-driven comic book I have ever read in my life.
But about that proposal: Maggie sits on a swing while the smoke and fire and dead bodies of the almost-Apocalypse rage around her. Batwoman finds her there, with all of the children who had been kidnapped by The Weeping Woman in tow. As if that isn’t hard enough to wrap her mind around, Batwoman calls her “Mags.” Maggie says, “What did you call me?” And Batwoman sweeps her up into a full-page kiss and breathes, “Marry Me, Mags.”
For many queer women, the splash page is the first time they ever really paid attention to Batwoman. And maybe it’s all they’ll ever know about her story: the cultural significance of her lesbian marriage proposal. And that’s cool. There are other queer women who, upon seeing the proposal, will rush out and devour Batwoman’s story starting all the way back with the first Issue #0. And that’s cool too. (Some of them will start with Batwoman: Elegy. Even cooler.)
And there are those of us who began this journey with Batwoman all the way back in June 2009 when she stepped in to headline Detective Comics with Issue #854. As the debate over “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” reached its fever pitch, we learned that Kate Kane had been a West Point superstar who was kicked out of the army because she’s a lesbian. When religious fundamentalists took to the national stage to demonize gay relationships, we saw Kate and Maggie fall sweetly, organically in love. It is fitting that J.H. Williams’ final page of Batwoman finds our heroine asking her girlfriend to marry her. Sure, Batwoman was the first gay member of the Bat-family. Sure, she was the first lesbian with a solo title. But for all of DC’s homo-centric publicity, and all the deep and twisty mythology and monsters Williams (and Blackman and Rucka before him) have given us these last four years, the real gift of Batwoman is that it’s simply a story about a woman who wants to love who she loves and make the world a better place. And so Williams didn’t end his run with a cataclysmic world-changing catastrophe; he signed off with a girl, standing in front of another girl, asking for forever.
I started reading comics in 1984. Every surface and every bit of wall space in my office is covered with action figures and comic books and superhero prints. But Batwoman #17 is the very first time in all of my whole life that I’ve felt like I have something real in common with a caped crusader. Another day, another lesbian visibility barrier shattered. Boom! Wham! Homo! Pow!