Remembering the Original Batwoman
Gotham City’s estrogen-fueled crime fighter
In today’s comic books and on television, a red-haired Batwoman patrols Gotham City. Her adventures are of a dark nature. They are filled with violence, blood and murderous mayhem, which, sadly, is a reflection of today’s society. The current Batwoman is unlike the version I grew up with during the time when Batman smiled.
The original Batwoman was Kathy Kane, a wealthy heiress and one-time circus performer. She made her debut in Detective Comics #233 (1956) in a story written by Edmond Hamilton. Designed by artist Sheldon Moldoff, Kathy was clad in a black and yellow suit, oversized mask (red, later yellow), a red cape, and a weapons bag slung over her shoulder.
Kathy often used cosmetic-disguised weapons including an oversized hair net, a powder puff loaded with sneezing powder, and a charm bracelet that served as handcuffs. Batwoman also was capable of flinging criminals over her shoulder and using her fists when necessary. She also had her own Batcave and patrolled Gotham City on a red Bat-Cycle.
Since her initial activities took place in the unliberated 1950s, Batman and Robin did not welcome her aid. By the conclusion of Kathy’s initial adventure, Batman discovered her secret identity and she retired. Readers liked what they saw, and Batwoman returned in Batman #105 (1957). She encountered Superman in World’s Finest #90 (1957). By the conclusion of this story, Batman said to her, “You showed such cleverness and courage that I can’t ask you to drop your career completely, just be careful.”
Batwoman became a semi- regular in Detective, Batman and occasionally World’s Finest. She often teamed up with Bat-Hound and the alien pixie Bat-Mite. Beginning with Batman #139 (1961), Kathy’s niece, Betty, discovered her identity and aided her as Bat-Girl.
Critics often stated Batwoman regularly had to be rescued by Batman. While it is true that she relied on his assistance, there were many occasions he was grateful Batwoman was on the case. Batwoman saves Batman and Robin from being blinded by the Firefly in Batman #126 (1959). In Detective Comics #302 (1962), Batwoman rescues Batman and Robin after they’re turned to bronze. The Terrible Trio launch the Caped Crusader and Boy Wonder into space in Detective Comics #321 (1963) but Batwoman returns the pair to earth. The Cat-Man leaves Batman and Robin to perish in a blazing fire in Detective #325 (1964), but Batwoman dons a Cat-Woman costume, giving her nine lives, and rescues the pair from certain doom.
BEHIND THE CAPES
Kathy Kane dated Batman’s alter ego, Bruce Wayne, and suspected he was the man wearing the cape and cowl. The pair eventually developed a deep affection for each other. Batman, believing both he and Batwoman would soon perish, admits his love for her in Batman #153 (1962). “I do love you,” Batman reveals. “I never wanted to admit it before.” He seals his confession with a passionate kiss. When the danger passed, Batman takes back what he said, without convincing readers.
By 1964, sales of the Caped Crusader’s comic books were very low. This was mainly due to the wild science fiction plots which were an imitation of Superman’s adventures. In an attempt to boost sales, Batman’s world was revamped. Batwoman, Bat-Hound, Bat-Mite, and Bat-Girl were dropped, and Alfred the butler was killed off. Kathy’s last appearance was in World’s Finest #154 (1965), featuring an imaginary tale where she was married to Bruce Wayne. In this issue, she donned her Batwoman costume for one last adventure with Batman and Robin.
When the Batman TV series hit the airwaves in January of 1966, Bat-related merchandise flooded stores. The Catwoman had not been not used in Batman’s adventures for several years prior to the debut of the television series. Although she was no longer seen in the comic books, Batwoman did appear on a few items. She was included in an Action Batman Ring set. The ring featured a lithograph which would change from Batwoman’s face to an image of her on the Bat-Cycle. It was produced by the Lawson Novelty Co., and bears a 1966 copyright date. She was also manufactured as a moveable puppet billed as a Muv-Eze product. This 1966 toy, which used a different color scheme for her costume, was made by Mobli-0 Enterprises. When the Princess of Plunder appeared on products, Batwoman’s image was used being mistaken for the Feline Felon. In 2004 Batwoman became a six-inch-tall action figure, alongside Bat-Girl, produced by DC Direct. Tweeterhead produced a beautiful 13-inch Maquette statue of Batwoman in 2017
In Batman Family #10 (1977) Kathy Kane returned due to reader demand and teamed with Batgirl (Barbara Gordon). In this story, Kathy mentioned she left Gotham City to run her own carnival.
A NEW LOW & LATER COMEBACKS
Batwoman made a few more appearances with Batgirl, but Batman’s sales were once again dropping. Writer Denny O’Neil thought having Kathy Kane murdered would revive reader interest in Batman’s adventures. In Detective Comics #485 (1979), Batman not only failed to save Kathy but showed little emotion upon her demise. This story started a trend within the pages of DC Comics, who published Batman’s adventures, in which women were often killed or maimed.
Brave and the Bold #182 (1982), written by Alan Brennert, featured Batman traveling to a parallel universe known as Earth-2. Here the Masked Manhunter encounters an older Robin and Batwoman. This Batwoman’s background was nearly identical to the deceased Kathy Kane. On this world, Bruce Wayne married Selina Kyle, better known as The Catwoman. When this union took place, Batwoman hung up her costume. Years later, with both Earth-2’s Batman and Catwoman deceased, Kathy comes out of retirement to aid Robin. This story has become much beloved and is considered a classic. Finally, Batman becomes emotional when he meets this world’s Batwoman remembering the one from his world. In Brave and the Bold #197 (1983) Earth-2’s Batwoman makes a cameo appearance that deals with the blossoming relationship between Batman and Catwoman.
Kathy Kane’s Batwoman was reworked in the Batman Incorporated series a few years ago by writer Grant Morrison. Kathy was still romantically involved with Batman but left him. She later became head of a spy organization called Spyral. DC Comics reboots their universe every couple of years. Whether the next universe contains Kathy (Batwoman) Kane is as of this writing unknown.
Today’s Batwoman is Kate Kane, and her adventures, like her male counterpart’s, are very bleak affairs. I prefer to remember The Batwoman who smiled alongside Batman as she helped to keep Gotham City safe.
Entertainment historian Fred Grandinetti has been writing about cartoons for decades in numerous magazines, newspapers, and websites. Grandinetti also produces the award-winning cable access series, Drawing with Fred, for Massachusetts cable-access television. Read more of his articles in Boomer or follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/DrawingWithFred.