Chat Cave: Williams and Blackman leave Batwoman

Last week, Haden Blackman announced that he and J.H. Williams III will be leaving Batwoman after issue 26, citing editorial interference. Williams has been instrumental in creating the unique, haunting look of the series, and together with Blackman, has crafted a smart, thoughtful, intimate story unlike anything else in in the New 52 — so what gives? Welcome to the Chat Cave.

Patrick: I’m tremendously saddened by this news. There are a lot of things that are shitty about this story, but I’d like to get out in front of one thing in particular that I think the comic book community is blowing out of proportion: the idea that DC is somehow anti-gay for putting a kibosh on Kate and Maggie’s wedding plans. Look, I get it: I love Maggie and Kate as much as the next Batwoman fan, but can understand why DC wouldn’t want to see the character married. In a weird way, being single is a defining characteristic of the Bat-family of heroes. If editorial wants to enforce the singleness of their characters, that’s a morally justifiable thing to enforce.

However, the general idea of editorial enforcement is a little dubious. I know it’s a big company, and there are a lot of voices struggling to be heard, but this particular announcement speaks to a problem that seems to be plaguing DC at the moment. That problem being that writers are tools for expressing the creativity of the editors and not the other way round. As an editor myself, I always feel like it’s my duty to give my writers the tools they need to best express their vision. Whether that’s hands-off or offering some guiding questions, I feel like it’s my job to get other people to express ideas that aren’t in my head. Otherwise, I’d just never sleep and write this whole site by myself. But that’s boring, and you’d all get sick of the same five or six aphorisms I always fall back on. I think we all responded to the ways Batwoman was different from everything else on the shelves, not the ways in which is was the same. Squelching those differences is a creative decision I just can’t understand.

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Jack: I agree, Patrick, the political nature of this move is probably over-stated. It would be hard to argue that DC has aggressively censored Batwoman for queer content. Kate and Maggie’s relationship has been a fixture in this series almost its inception, and the writers have not been shy about it. Indeed, they have managed to tell their story unselfconsciously, without any of the tokenism or campy affectations or a heavy-handed social justice agenda that can easily encumber stories with gay characters in any medium. If actually showing Kate and Maggie’s gay wedding was a bridge too far — the risk that a corporation of DC’s size and scope was not willing to take — well, that’s not the worst calamity of censorship I can imagine befalling the Free World.

Besides, weddings aren’t actually that fun to watch; that’s why most real-life ones come with an open bar. Of the innumerable weddings that you have observed in fiction, name three that have affected the story in any meaningful way. That’s right:  The Graduate (because it doesn’t happen the way it’s supposed to), “Fancy Party” from Parks and Recreation (because it doesn’t happen the way it’s supposed to), and nothing, because weddings aren’t supposed to have surprises in them and therefore are not entertaining. I’ve been watching Kate and Maggie fight crime, snuggle, and exorcise their inner demons together for 27 issues now; watching them exchange vows would not have changed a thing.

In seriousness, DC has publically affirmed Patrick’s hypothesis, that the real point of contention is not marriage, but the cultivation of a happy personal life. The Bat Family is all broken homes and tragic, brooding bachelors, reads the argument, because vigilantism is a dangerous and semi-monastic pursuit. But Kate is, at heart, a soldier, and Maggie is a detective — two professions fraught with semi-monastic danger, but both of which paradoxically press the value of home and family. It was never outrageous to hope for some new reconciliation of crime-fighting adventure and personal happiness; in fact, the struggle of balancing the two might make for the more compelling story.  If new Batwoman writer Marc Andreyko plans to implement this wretched-Bat-loner philosophy in earnest, he is going to have to do some violent, painful course-correction. I am buckling my seat-belt as we speak.

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Drew: I agree that we can’t really begrudge DC for not wanting to marry off any of its characters — it’s a big change that rarely happens in the world of comics. I’m sure that, over the years, there have been plenty of rejected arcs that end in other DC heroes getting married, and I’m willing to accept that that resistance to changing characters has more to do with DC’s attitude than Kate’s sexuality.

Of course, if “no marriage” is and always has been an edict from on high regarding all bat-related titles (which does strike me as arbitrary to the point of scapegoating), I don’t understand how Blackman and Williams could have been allowed to get almost three-fifths of the way through a pre-planned five arcs without anyone ever mentioning that the ending they have in mind simply cannot happen. Without the specifics of how and when these arcs were pitched, I can’t really comment more on exactly how shitty DC has treated these writers (and ultimately, the characters and the fans). I would be very surprised if Williams and Blackman’s initial pitch for the series actually went through issue 30, but at the same time, I find it odd that this “no marriage” rule didn’t come up when editorial green-lit Kate’s proposal back in issue 17.

Ultimately, the real tragedy here is the loss of another beloved creative team/character pairing. This isn’t the first time DC has chased creators away with last-minute changes, but it may be one of the biggest — Williams has been with the character since Greg Rucka’s Detective Comics run. I’m not sure what this book will look like (both literally and figuratively) without his input, but I suspect there are many fans who aren’t interested in finding out.

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Shelby: I am one of those fans. It’s looking now like Andreyko will be taking over starting on issue 25, which means Blackman and Williams won’t even be able to finish their arc. In most instances of creative team changes, I like to give the new team at least a couple issues to see how they’ll work out, but I don’t want to support DC in this issue in the least.

The decision just doesn’t make sense, both from a creative and business standpoint. Creatively speaking, specifically deciding to keep characters miserable just makes for flat story-telling. I wouldn’t want to read stories of constantly unhappy characters anymore than I would want to read stories of constantly happy characters. You need both highs and lows to tell a compelling story, not to mention the fact that I love these characters and want them to have some happiness. Business-wise, I can’t imagine any way last minute editorial interference is beneficial. Last minute story changes are going to force your creators to produce crappy stories, and you know how important story-telling is to me. Plus, the loss of readership that occurs after a creative team change, especially one that happens this way, has got to cost DC some money. Is a loss of money, readers, and general faith in the brand worth flexing your editorial muscles? I would think no, but with some of the decisions DC has been making lately I’m beginning to wonder.

22 comments on “Chat Cave: Williams and Blackman leave Batwoman

    • It can be hard to take a stand in comics sometimes, can’t it? There’s so many hands in the pot, that if you boycott something to prove a point to the people making stupid decisions (Didio and co.) you’ll usually end up hurting somebody who had nothing to do with it in the process (Andreyko).

      Andreyko does seem like a good choice for this title, but I can totally understand why you (or anybody else) wouldn’t want to keep picking it up for a while.

      • The hardest thing for me about this is that we’re only aware of it because it ultimately led to Blackman and Williams leaving. Let me be clear: I in no way blame them for leaving under these circumstances, but there’s simply no way we’d be talking about boycotting the series if they had agreed to continue writing (however begrudgingly) in accordance with DC’s editorial edicts. Right? The piece of protest about DC’s policies isn’t nearly as important as the act of solidarity…but it’s not like they were fired. Again, I totally understand and respect why they decided to leave the series, I’m just not entirely comfortable blaming DC for something that was ultimately Williams and Blackman’s decision.

        • Yeah, I like the vote-with-your-dollars approach. But maybe we should just be directing those money-votes positively. You know? We buy what we buy from DC because (generally) we like it. And we can continue to encourage those things that we like — that may end up being this new version of Batwoman. But we can also sure as hell vote for whatever Blackman and/or Williams do next, regardless of who is publishing it.

  1. So hey, originally Williams and Blackman said they were quitting after issue 26, now DC has Andreyko starting with Issue 25. So do we think DC took away W&B’s last two issues out of spite or something, for them turning such a crappy spotlight on DC in their leaving statement? I wouldn’t normally try to attribute such bad intentions to somebody, but this is already a dicey situation, plus this past weekend has been a complete PR nightmare for DC (between this and the Harley incident), so I wouldn’t quite put it past them.

    Regardless, it’s a shame DC wouldn’t let them finish their story, be it the five arc outline or those last two issues.

    • That is exactly what it seems like to me. And it’s totally shitty because at least it felt like Blackman and Williams had a little bit of control and grace about how they went out. But if they’re picked off two issues earlier, that just makes it extra crummy.

      BUT, if editorial doesn’t want two rogue writers making off with their precious, precious characters, I guess it makes sense to yank them sooner rather than later. Again, what’s the fucking point of that, though? Enable your writers, DC.

      • I doubt they were worried about Blackman and Williams running off with the story — those scripts must have been turned in months ago, and editorial ultimately has veto power. I can see how this might look like editorial being vindictive, but I think it makes storytelling sense. If you’re trying to change course with a story, it seems like it will just be easier the earlier you can start that process. They apparently have the flexibility to do so one issue earlier than they thought, so I think it makes sense that they would. That said, they’ve left themselves a pretty quick turnaround for issue 25, and I can’t help but wonder if the issue will suffer because of it.

      • DC started a contest where fans could draw a page for the upcoming Harley Quinn ongoing and the best would be used in the actual book or something, which seems like a really cool idea at first.

        When they released the sample script for people to use on the website, it was a series of four panels of Harley trying (and failing) to commit suicide in increasingly violent and over-the-top ways. The last panel included Harley, naked, trying to electrocute herself in a bathtub.

        The script caused an uproar. People were upset at the nudity, at the implied sexualization of suicide, etc. etc.

        The writers later came out to say that the page was a bit of a fourth-wall breaking joke/dream scene where Harley is so done with whatever situation she’s facing that she just tries to kill herself, and of course can’t. The whole thing’s very Looney Toonish, and even the nudity didn’t bother me (you didn’t actually have to draw any nudity, and the scene was done almost exactly the same with with Bill Murray in Groundhog Day), but most of the internet is really, really worked up about it.

        Honestly, the scene in context doesn’t bother me personally, but I think it was dumb of DC to use this particular page, especially out of context, especially after all they’ve done to mishandle and sexualize Harley’s character since the reboot started. Plus, the page doesn’t really give the artists any chance to display any sort of sequential storytelling skills at all.

        So all in all, DC’s weekend has been a PR nightmare

        • Oh, ya I had heard of that, just didn’t know it was causing a huge fuss. I agree it’s a PR mis-step and it definitely isn’t the best page to hand over to an open contest, but if written right, it’s pretty in-character for Harley and since she’s naked but in a tub, you really only have to see like shoulders and feet, so it’s totally possible to do it tastefully.

          I’m actually pretty stoked after seeing the new artist’s face studies for Harley (here: http://www.newsarama.com/18862-harley-quinn-finds-ongoing-artist-but-you-still-have-chance-too.html ); I HATED the cover art for Harley’s upcoming series and would have probably skipped it altogether had interior art been anything like it, but that last drawing is the best looking Harley imo since Batman 13, so hope is rising. Are Palmiotti and Conner any good, I’ve never read any of their stuff?

    • I think her point still stands — much of what makes that scene exciting is the ticking clock of that speech, not the actual joy of watching a couple we’re rooting for finally getting hitched. That is to say, Prince Humperdink might as well have been tying Buttercup to some train tracks for all of the investment we have in watching them get married — especially given Wesley’s assertion that they never actually got married, anyway.

        • They also cut away for much of it…and then Humperdink skips to the end. Even people invested in the wedding don’t have the patience for sitting through it.

  2. This “anti-wedding” stance seems so strange to me in this day and age. Obviously, it’s been around for a while, and not only at DC; Marvel killed off Gwen Stacy to prevent her marrying Spider-Man after all, but today’s core audience being (from my impression, at least) mostly people in their 20’s and 30’s, I think a lot of fans would find it relatable that a few of these characters we love so much tie the knot like regular people. I mean, isn’t being able to relate to these characters a large part of what makes us love them so much, moreso even in the “Bat-family” since it only includes heroes with no super-powers, people who inspire us to be the best we can?

    I could totally understand not wanting to let Batman get married (hell, if I was editor at DC, I wouldn’t even let Snyder do it) but that’s because of who that character is, and shouldn’t have to apply to all those around him. Dick Grayson is a loving, positive thinking character, couldn’t he be married? Mostly, superhero comics aren’t about love stories anyway, so why does editorial seem to think they’ll be trapped in a corner if a character winds up married. It’s just a different status quo and, being that it so seldom happens, could actually open up tons of completely unexplored territory for creators to mine, rather than stick to the standard brooding bachelors they’ve had running for 70 years.

    I wasn’t even reading Batwoman and I still find this announcement sad and insulting, especially, as mentionned above, because it seems DC wanted to spite their writers and has cut them off earlier than planned. Not only is this major disrespect for the writers, it’s also a slap in the face to fans who have invested themselves (and their money) into supporting this character and her story, and who now will be left with an unfinished arc.

    I’m too addicted to my pull list to drop titles to make a statement, but I certainly would understand anyone else who did. And really, this all begs the question, what the hell is wrong with DC’s editorial staff? I’m sure we all remember Gail Simone being fired, and then re-hired due to fan outcry. Obviously, fans love her writing, so what is it that DC is trying to keep out of their books so strongly they feel the need to either fire writers who don’t comply or force them to change their scripts. All these books are labeled Teen + anyway; we’re all old enough to decide what we do and don’t want to read, so how about a little creative freedom be given to, you know, the creators.

  3. Given the politics of Gay marriage in this country, this is a very big deal! (and a missed opportunity by DC). Batwoman has been one of my favorite titles for the last two years, but this just sucks! Fuck DC!–I’ve been meaning to trim my pull list for a while now, and now I now how I am going to do it. Hello Marvel, my new favorite publisher! I know where my dollars are going from here on!

  4. Pingback: Batwoman 24 | Retcon Punch

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