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.
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.
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.
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.