With the positive critical and fan reactions to the new Wonder Woman movie and Joss Whedon’s plans to make a Batgirl movie, one wonders if studio execs will have room for Batwoman, the original batty lady from 1956’s Detective Comics #233.
Batwoman has an unlikely origin story. Katherine Kane, an adept stunt motorcyclist and trapeze-artist employed by the circus, idolizes Batman and longs to put her acrobatic and riding skills to use as a vigilante crime-fighter. But, and this is the same reason that I didn’t go into vigilante crime-fighting, she just can’t afford the lifestyle. Luckily, an inheritance from a nameless benefactor comes Kathy’s way, and she resolves to use her wealth to become Batwoman, augmenting Batman’s crusade against crime with a feminine presence.
Batwoman’s First Appearance – Citizen Kane
Batwoman’s first appearance sees her stopping a couple of thugs from stealing fare receipts (for some reason) from an airport. She subdues the crooks before Batman and Robin even make the scene, a true testament to her abilities. Unfortunately, her crime-fighting methods left this the contemporary reader groaning. Using a large powder puff (groan) like a smoke bomb, she subdues both thieves and secures them with her steel handcuffs that are disguised as charm bracelets (groan again).
As Batwoman disappears on her motorbike, Batman (like a true patriarch) reminds her of a Gotham City municipal law that states that nobody can wear a Batman costume except Batman himself. As Batwoman disappears in a cloud of exhaust, she reminds Batman that the law refers only to men, and not women.
The following night, Batwoman succeeds in saving Batman’s life during an attempted diamond robbery at a movie premiere. Using her compact-mirror (GROAN!), she dazzles a gunman who has Batman dead to rights. The split-second distraction offers Batman a chance to take the thief down. Batwoman then saves Batman and Robin’s lives a second time by using her perfume flask (are you kidding me?!) as a smoke bomb, overpowering the remaining jewel thieves who are in the act of trying to run the dynamic duo down with a car.
Batwoman’s First Appearance – Kane Manor
Quite intuitively considering Katherine Kane doesn’t necessarily know about the Batcave, she uses her newfound wealth to buy a mansion with a system of mining tunnels beneath it. Kane then uses these mines as her own personal Batcave, a life-size portrait of her in full costume adorning the entrance.
But, upstairs in the mansion a party is in full swing. Kathy, throwing a party for Gotham’s elite crowd has invited, among others, playboy Bruce Wayne. The two share a moment together on the dance floor, possibly the inspiration for a similar scene in Batman Returns involving Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle, during which they both feel an urge to tell the other of their secret identities. But, the moment is interrupted by the bat signal, and both socialites hastily excuse themselves from the party.
Batwoman’s First Appearance – Minty Mayhem
Even though Batwoman again succeeds in saving Batman’s life and then captures three criminals attempting to rob the Gotham City mint, Batman paternally decides that Batwoman is too green for the game. The next night, after determining Batwoman’s identity and crashing her Batcave, Batman threatens to reveal Batwoman as Katherine Kane if she continues her crusade, noting that like himself criminals may also determine her identity.
Batwoman agrees, and then in a slightly confusing wrap-up, she reveals that her giant portrait is actually a body scanner that records the vital statistics of anyone who enters her cave. With this information, she claims, she could determine who Batman and Robin truly are. But, because she has so much respect for the dynamic duo, she tells them she won’t. Batman and Robin thank Kane for her cooperation and leave her alone in her cave, but on their way home Batman tells Robin that he knew about the scanner all along and overexposed Kane’s film, making it worthless, before they confronted her.
As a final commemoration of her short crime-fighting career, Kane gives Batman her life-size portrait. A rather bashful Batman describes it as “an–er–interesting trophy.”
Batwoman’s First Appearance – Final Thoughts
This tale is the work of long-time Batman writer Edmond Hamilton and long-time Batman penciler Sheldon Moldoff. I’ve already mentioned the groan-worthy chauvinism of Batwoman’s utility purse (yes, purse) that this creative team has to answer for. But, aside from the overly “feminine” nature of her bag of tricks and Batman’s macho response to Kane horning in on his racket, Hamilton and Moldoff portray a very resourceful and clever character who comes off in this issue as better at crime-fighting than the dynamic duo themselves.
Finally, much like Hamilton’s story from 1952 in which Superman and Batman learn each other’s identity, there isn’t much of a villain in this one. And, though the lack of a villain gives readers an opportunity to get to know Batwoman, it makes for a kind of boring plot.