Comic Review: Detective Comics #948

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Detective Comics (Volume 2) #948

“Batwoman Begins, Part 1”

James Tynion IV and Marguerite Bennett (writers), Ben Oliver (artist). Covers by Oliver and Rafael Albuquerque.

As much as I love Batwoman, I pretty much washed my hands of the character when meddling from the higher-ups at DC comics led to the premature ending of one of the best creative runs of the past decade. For those unfamiliar with the situation, Batwoman’s first solo series was launched as part of 2011’s “New 52” line-wide relaunch, with J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman sharing writing credits. Despite being lauded with critical acclaim, the series was plagued by last-minute script changes, most notably the eleventh-hour decree that Batwoman would not be permitted to marry her fiancé, Maggie Sawyer. For accuracy’s sake, Williams has indicated that the decision wasn’t specifically due to it being a gay marriage, but rather a marketing decision to not have any major characters be wed in the new DC Universe, which included retconning away the marriage of Superman and Lois Lane, as well as that of the Flash and Iris Allen. Still, at a time when LGBTQ representation in mainstream comics was insultingly sparse, it was at best a tone-deaf decision, and at worst a complete slap in the face to the fans who were buying the Batwoman series in the first place. Williams and Blackman subsequently walked off the book, which ran for another year and a half with new writer Marc Andreyko at the helm before being cancelled in 2015.

A lot has changed in the last few years, and while the world of DC Comics remains disproportionately straight, white and male, major strides have been made toward including characters of all types. A new Batwoman series is slated to begin in March, written by Marguerite Bennett and James Tynion IV, both openly queer creators. This issue begins to lay the groundwork to that series, but introducing a new major supporting character – more on that in a bit – and by continuing the story of Jake Kane, Batwoman’s father and one-man support staff, who did a heel turn last year by siding with the paramilitary force known as the Colony. This issue asks the question that will likely serve as the leitmotif of the upcoming series – “What can Batwoman do that Batman can’t?”

Part one of “Batwoman Begins” follows from last year’s “Night of the Monster Men” storyline, in which Batman and his allies battled gigantic mad science-borne monsters created by Hugo Strange (which sums up in one sentence why I love comics). With the threat of weaponized megafauna still presenting a very real threat, Batman and Batwoman consult with ARGUS’ resident expert on the subject, Doctor Victoria October. After making an immediate impression by helping the Bat-duo take down a flock of mutated seagull-men (again, I love comics), October quickly catches the heroes up on the situation, showing herself to be completely at ease in their imposing presence. She’s witty, charming, eminently capable, and I immediately took a liking to the good doctor.

detective-comics-948-bThat’s almost where this review ended, until I stumbled across a much more interesting aspect to the character that I completely missed – Victoria October is transsexual, possibly the most high profile trans character in comics today. And here’s the thing – it’s not treated as a big deal. October makes an allusion to knowing Batman in her “pupal stage, before [she] came into [herself],” and makes an offhand remark about how her deadname didn’t have the same panache as her chose one. That’s it. It’s done so subtly, for anyone unfamiliar with the trans community and its terminology (myself included), the fact that Victoria October is transsexual probably flew right over their head. And that’s amazing, because the only thing more important than representation of marginalized communities is normalization of those groups, treating them like actual, fleshed-out characters, instead of cardboard cut-outs defined by a single attribute like gender or sexual preference.

Funny enough, what led me to discover the subtleties of Victoria October was an offhanded Google search about an unrelated Doctor October, who appeared as an in Dark Horse Comics’ series Ghost. That Doctor October was a villain who was presumed to be a male, until she dramatically revealed herself to be a woman by whipping aside her cape and revealing a pair of massive breasts.

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This was in a series about a female vigilante who spent her time running around in leather fetish gear (drawn almost exclusively in cheesecake poses) while monologuing about how much she hated men. She was considered to be one of the more “empowering” female heroes of the mid-1990s.

Like I said, times change – and sometimes it’s relieving to see that things can change for the better.

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