Friends of mine, who know my personal history with this sort of thing, will probably get a chuckle out of my falling for the openly lesbian member of DC’s costumed hero lineup. To them and to the world I say, not that kind of love.

Until this week’s releases I had a very clear idea of my favourite books in the DCnU lineup.

  1. Batgirl
  2. Catwoman
  3. Batwoman

One thing that’s obvious right away is that these are all women. If I can bring you back from your stunned, shocked revelry I’ll hold my hands up and say that as far as I’m concerned that’s not a coincidence. You see for a man to deal with his problems with physical superiority and even violence is pretty much the defacto expectation. When a woman does it, it’s subverting the stereotypes. Subversion is always more fun than convention. Not to mention these characters all have little wrinkles that make their ‘so I put on a costume and fought back’ story a little more interesting. The recovering invalid, the anti-hero criminal and the openly gay. Oh and they’re also well written books. Let’s not forget that.

However, right now, the list has been reordered.

  1. Batwoman
  2. Batgirl
  3. Catwoman

Sorry, Selina.

What made the difference? That’s simple. I’ve long had a pet peeve about so-called ‘adult’ story telling. Torchwood is a perfect example. A more ‘adult’ version of Dr Who saw the characters almost all having slept with each other in every combination within one series. Sex, relationships and sexuality are indeed ‘adult’ subject matter but to limit it to that is to make ‘edgy’ and ‘sexy’ rather than ‘adult’. However, Children of Men Earth1 (the show’s third season story arc), gave us long and weighty scenes of dialogue between cabinet ministers trying to assess how to determine which 1/10th of the child population of England to sacrifice. That’s adult story telling. Trusting to the intellect and emotional engagement of your audience and telling a story about complex and difficult moral choices.

Batwoman is adult story telling.

The Batwoman book made it into my top three originally because it’s a novel take on the costumed vigilante with supernatural overtones. I’ve never liked horror films that are based on shock value to make you jump. The lingering, creeping horror of the supernatural on the other hand is something I enjoy. It helped that the layouts in Batwoman have been fascinating with composites of time in a single frame, grid-breaking box shapes, unconventional paths through the art and the like. Every book has been visually interesting.

Grid? What Grid?

But they were setting up a story. The first two issues, now in light of the third, feel like the scenes that precede the credits and set the tone. Now the credits have rolled and we’re being introduced to Kate Kane, rather than Batwoman. Oh, and she’s human. Flawed, too.

She’s surrounded by a cast of real-feeling people as well. Her cousin, who desperately wants to live up to Kate’s example even when Kate is trying to grind that out of her. Her father struggling with a daughter who was don’t-ask-don’t-told out of the military and now has garnered a reputation as a rich party-girl. Maggie Sawyer, a real, believable romantic prospect who just happens to be a bad-ass enough policewoman in her own right that she’s on the ‘who is Batwoman’ shortlist. Even Kate’s antagonist, if not the villain of the piece, Cameron Chase has moments. Not deeply characterised yet but enough has shown that I want her to be.

It’s a book that’s not afraid of an emotional context to its costumes, ghost stories, fast motorbikes and fighting.

Kate Kane and Maggie Sawyer

Let’s not ignore the words of Maggie Sawyer. A Churchill quotation; “If you’re going through hell, keep going…” Not an invitation to quit, an encouragement. You won’t see many of the DC lineup allowing themselves to cry and remain a badass2. Whilst I’m sure there’ll be criticism that it had to be a woman shedding the tears, I’ll just rest assured that the woman in question is a complete person.

A complete person who could kick my ass. Yours too. Admit it.

1 Thank you to Zoe for pointing out that mistake. Children of Men is also excellent adult storytelling but it isn’t Torchwood.

2 Funny how just a week later Selina Kyle would add herself to the list. See my post Cats and Birds for reference. Oh and for those who have commented I exempt all ‘tears of rage’ from this because ‘tears of rage’ are not what I was referring to.