Batman found himself with a new member of the family 1956, with the introduction of Batwoman.
Introduced in DETECTIVE COMICS #233 (July 1956), Batwoman is Kathy Kane (note the reference to Batman creator Bob), a former stunt motorcyclist, trapeze artist and circus daredevil who inherits a vast sum of money and uses it to fund her crime-fighting career. Inspired by Batman’s abilities as a daredevil, Kathy resolves to put her own skills to the same cause of justice.
Building a mansion over an old abandoned mine-shaft which she uses as her own “Batcave,” Kathy designs her own costume and crime-fighting equipment; however, this being the 1950s, her choice of equipment wasn’t exactly progressive. Instead of a utility belt, Batwoman carried a purse. Sure, she called it a “shoulder-bag utility case,” but it was a purse. Even worse, check out Batwoman’s array of crimefighting gear: there was a powder-puff loaded with sneezing powder, a perfume flask filled with tear gas, a hairnet that grew to ensare criminals, a telescoping periscope lipstick (not to be confused with the lipstick smoke-bomb), and charm bracelets that double as steel handcuffs. Ay caramba.
Batman and Robin deduce Batwoman’s true identity in her first appearance, and try to convince her to retire, pointing out that if they could so easily figure out her secret identity, then criminals could too, putting her at risk.
Kathy falls for this entirely specious line of reasoning and agrees to retire, but it doesn’t take, and soon enough Batwoman is a regular fixture in Gotham City, often called to fill in for an absent Batman, or just fighting at Batman’s side.
The timing of Batwoman’s debut is rather suspect. In 1954, psychiatrist Dr. Fredric Wertham stirred up a nationwide controversy with his book SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT, in which he blamed comic books almost entirely for the problem of juvenile delinquency. In his book, Wertham declared that Batman and Robin were clearly gay lovers, and that the BATMAN comics were “like a wish dream of two homosexuals living together.” Apparently gay folks in the ‘50s really wanted to wear capes and go beat up criminals; how Wertham knew this is beyond me. Regardless, in the face of Wertham’s asinine theory (which got a lot of play in the media, even resulting in Congressional hearings and the eventual self-censorship of the Comics Code), BATMAN editors decided it was time to get Batman some steady female companionship, and within two years, Batwoman, and her niece “Bat-Girl” (who we’ll get to next week) had been introduced.
Batwoman remained a steady presence in the books until 1964, and the relationship between Batman and Batwoman actually saw some advance, culminating in this scene from BATMAN #153 (February 1963), in which Batman, convinced he and Batwoman are facing certain death, finally confesses his love for her, and the two kiss.
After Batman and Batwoman escape their perilous straits and solve the case, a smirking Batwoman reminds Batman about their romantic clinch. Batman backpedals furiously, claiming that “I thought we were going to die — and I wanted to make your last moments happy ones!”
Batman may not be gay, but he most definitely has some commitment issues.
The family expanded once again in April 1961; it was apparently decided that Robin needed a romantic interest as well, and so BATMAN # 139 heralded the arrival of Bat-Girl, the costumed identity of Betty Kane, Kathy Kane’s young niece.
On a visit to her aunt Kathy in Gotham City, Betty wonders why her aunt is out every night with no explanation. Left home alone, Betty watches news coverage of Batwoman capturing thieves robbing a school supplies warehouse (No place is safe from crime in Gotham, it seems. School supplies?), overturning some boxes of gold stars in the battle. When Betty borrows her aunt’s hairbrush and telltale gold stars fall out, she deduces Kathy’s identity as Batwoman and resolves to join her as Bat-Girl!
As you may have noticed, the origins have gone decidedly downhill. The pathos and tragedy of Batman and Robin’s origins have been replaced with empty nobility and lame happenstance. Even much of Batman’s motivation has fallen by the wayside, as the orphaned Batman now has a family again, a sentiment made all too clear by this delightfully silly family portrait (which includes Bat-Mite, a wacky interdimensional elf who took to idolizing Batman) by Sheldon Moldoff.
Still, despite being almost entirely different from the original conception of the character, the “Bat-Family” stories aren’t without their charm. For example, the 1961 story “Bat-Mite Meets Bat-Girl” is a hilarious masterwork of chauvinism and repression. With Batman and Batwoman called to Washington, D.C. to testify before a Senate crime committee (why didn’t we get to see that?), Bat-Girl is called in to assist Robin in patrolling Gotham City. Bat-Girl is, shall we say, rather demonstrative in her affections for the Boy Wonder, who’s somewhat reticent about the attention, and lies through his teeth, saying he’s devoted to another woman.
When the Boy Moron rebuffs Bat-Girl’s advances (and by the way, if the whole point was to prove Batman and Robin weren’t gay, maybe having him clawing away from the cute blonde girl’s clutches like the cartoon cat struggling with Pepe Le Pew wasn’t the best way to go about it.), Bat-Girl turns to who else but Bat-Mite, who volunteers to use his magic to help Robin fall in love with Bat-Girl.
Bat-Mite magically makes Bat-Girl look extra-competent in battle, and manipulates things to attempt to make Robin jealous. The third part of his plan is to make Robin worry about her by faking a kidnapping, which unfortunately leads to a real kidnapping instead. With the help of Bat-Mite’s magic, Robin rescues Bat-Girl, and afterwards confesses the identity of the other woman: Justice.
Batman and Batwoman overhear Robin’s line of hooey, and declare that he’s too young to devote his life to crimefighting, which apparently gives Bat-Girl free rein to start pawing at him again, all under the suffocating parental watch of Batman and Batwoman.
Eventually, wiser heads prevailed, and Robin was able to act like a normal teenaged boy, and actually show some interest in the blonde hottie with the short skirt.
About damn time.