Whether it’s doubling down on having author and anti-gay rights activist Orson Scott Card write a Superman story arc or encouraging artists to draw Harley Quinn naked, in a bathtub, and seconds from committing suicide, there are times when it seems nobody is helming DC Comic’s PR department. DC’s missteps have have become so numerous that a single-serve website has popped up to keep fans informed: Has DC Done Something Stupid Today?
Today’s not over yet, but for the moment the biggest scandal rocking the DC company and fan community is the abrupt departure of Batwoman’s creative team, J. H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman.
Williams and Blackman have made the series a bestseller since the New 52 reboot in 2011, and managed to snag a GLAAD award for their portrayal of Batwoman/Kate Kane’s romance with Gotham policewoman Maggie Sawyer. When Kane proposed to Sawyer in February 2013, there was little fanfare or DC-motivated press around the event. At the time, this was a surprising silence; both Marvel and DC have a tendency to announce any plots points that might attract positive press attention, especially for portrayals of homosexual characters (see: the hype around the marriage between Northstar and his boyfriend in Astonishing X-Men, and the build-up before DC’s announcement that Green Lantern protagonist Alan Scott is gay). In a cultural landscape where companies demand to be lavished with praise for achieving the bare minimum level of minority representation, the quiet engagement of Kane and Sawyer appeared to be more earnest: a natural progression of their relationship rather than a cheap publicity stunt.
Yet their romance appears to be star-crossed; Williams and Blackman attribute their departure to disruptive editorial intervention, including a decree that Kane and Sawyer will not be getting married.
While on a panel at the Baltimore Comic-Con, DC executive editor Dan DiDio was quick to clarify that the decision to erase the marriage had nothing to do with the fact that they’re lesbians. Instead, DiDio explained, heroes and heroines shouldn’t be happy or have fulfilling personal lives, suggesting that DC remains committed to the gritty, “realistic” aesthetic that has plagued comics since the 1990s.
DiDio also chided, “Name one other publisher out there who stands behind their gay characters the way we do,” leaving DC fans to wonder–what gay characters? Since DC rebooted their universe with the New 52 line, there seem to be fewer LGBTQ characters than ever. Even limited to the purview of Batman characters, there has been no mention of Catwoman sidekick Holly Robinson or sometimes-cop, sometimes-superheroine Renée Montoya. Although Robinson appears to have never existed within the rebooted universe, there is evidence to suggest that Montoya, a former lover of Kate Kane’s, has been killed off. (Notably, the outing of Alan Scott and the subsequent proposal of marriage to his boyfriend was immediately followed by the boyfriend being killed off–or put in the refrigerator, in comic parlance.)
This is not to say that LGBTQ representations are missing in Gotham; there has been considerable innuendo around Birds of Prey character Starling (although no confirmation) and Batgirl features DC’s first openly transgendered woman, Alysia Yeoh. But can a company really be considered to stand behind their gay characters when they replace them so readily? Is there a limit to the number of LGBTQ characters they’re allowed before Orson Scott Card refuses to write for them?
Hardly had the news broken when DC-appointed author and gay man Marc Andreyko to head up the book, presumably to head-off any accusations of homophobia. After a few days, artist and heterosexual Jeremy Haun was hired to do the line art. However, questions remain for fans: Are Kate and Maggie still engaged? Will Maggie survive the engagement, or will she be forced into the fridge? How will the new creative team handle their inability to get married? One thing is certain; the new team’s pliancy with DC’s editorial interventions mean Kane and Sawyer won’t be hearing wedding bells anytime soon.