Today it was announced that DC’s most prominent gay character, Batwoman, A.K.A. Kate Kane, would NOT be getting married to her fiance, despite much long-term planning on the part of writers J.H. Williams III and Haden Blackman. This, of course, brought out the wrath of comicdom near and far, decrying DC as homophobic and anti-gay marriage. It’s a seemingly logical assumption to make; I myself even arrived at this same conclusion when I first heard the news.
But then, Williams III and Blackman both stepped up to the plate and asserted that their decision to quit the Batwoman book over this was NOT due to DC being anti-gay marriage, but rather over massive and ongoing editorial interference that forced them to change their story–plotted out for over a year now, with full DC approval–that caused them to quit.
In a joint letter on Blackman’s website, he and Williams III had this to say:
Unfortunately, in recent months, DC has asked us to alter or completely discard many long-standing storylines in ways we feel compromise the character and the series. We were told to ditch plans for Killer Croc’s origins; forced to drastically alter the ending of our current arc, which would have defined Batwoman’s heroic future in bold new ways; and, most crushingly, prohibited from ever showing Kate and Maggie actually getting married. All of these editorial decisions always came at the last minute, and always after a year or more of planning and plotting on our end.
J.H. Williams III took to Twitter to add this:
Not wanting to be inflammatory, only factual- We fought to get them engaged but were told emphatically no marriage can result. But must clarify- was never put to us as being anti-gay marriage.
So that seems to put a damper on any assertions that DC is homophobic. Of course, the possibility DOES exist that homophobia was in fact the motivation behind DC’s decision, but it simply wasn’t vocalized. I’ll let the conspiracy theorists kick THAT one around a bit. In reality,if you look at DC’s track record over the last decade or so, they have been very progressive and exemplary when it comes to LGBT issues: Renee Montoya came out in Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker’s Gotham Central; Rucka’s Batwoman was introduced as a lesbian from the start; the New 52 version of Alan Scott is an openly gay man. The only exception seems to be their boneheaded hiring of noted homophobe Orson Scott Card to write part of a Superman anthology they had planned, and their knuckle-dragging response to the outcry over it indicates that they were in fact too STUPID to realize the controversy hiring that man would bring. But in fact, Batwoman has been the recipient of a GLAAD Media Award and a leading light when it comes to portraying a gay character in an open, honest, and realistic way that doesn’t stoop to crass stereotyping.
So the problem, then, is that DC isn’t anti-GAY marriage, but rather… anti-MARRIAGE?
Strange as it sounds, that might actually be the case. In a Newsarama article reporting on the issue, it was pointed out that, in the wake of the New 52, most of DC’s high-profile marriages have been nullified: Superman and Lois Lane are no longer hitched, the Flash and Iris Allen are only acquiantances, and the non-existent Wally West’s marriage is null and void by default since DC seems to have abandoned the character entirely. DC’s position seems to be that marriage automatically ages a character by locking them into a “set” older/adult role, as opposed to keeping their status as unaging and essentially nebulous.
But whatever their actual editorial stance on marriage is, homophobic or just plain stupid, DC has a larger crisis on its hands, and Williams III and Blackman’s hasty and high-profile departure, with all of the negative fallout it entails(whether it’s earned or not), is but a symptom of a larger cultural problem at DC.
Because, quite simply, this is only the latest quick departure from a book made by a writer or artist due to massive editorial interference. The trend most notably began when Greg Rucka departed DC after years of service just prior to the inception of the New 52. But in the months that followed, such noteworthy creators as Andy Diggle, Joshua Hale Fialkov, Gail Simone, and yes, even Rob Liefeld either quit or got the boot in the midst of monstrous, last-minute editorial edicts which forced them to make eleventh-hour changes to their stories.
This, obviously, is a problem. Anyone who’s been keeping up with DC over the last couple of years knows that many of their books–particularly in the New 52’s first year of existence–have been on a merry-go-round of creators, with many last-minute changes being made seemingly without any thought or concern for the creators involved. This indicates a culture similar to the heyday of Jim Shooter at Marvel in the ’80s: editoral uber alles. The key difference between then and now, though: back during Shooter’s reign of terror, the edicts and controls were all coming from one man. Today at DC, they seem to be coming from all over the place, to the point that the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing in ANY instance, which is a very serious root cause of all of the continuity problems DC’s exhibited in the last two years alone.
Now, in their joint letter discussing their departure from Batwoman, Williams III and Blackman go out of their way to thank every single editor who’s worked on the book, up to and including Batman group editor Mike Marts, which either indicates that these guys are overly courteous even when being fucked in the ass, or that the directives came from someone with more seniority than Marts. The smart money’s on Bob Harras, since he’s the editorial overlord anyway (and has a history as the EiC at Marvel in the ’90s of making very, very bad decisions). But even if it’s not an edict coming directly from his office, the buck DOES stop with him. And Geoff Johns. And Jim Lee. And Dan DiDio. Shit rolls uphill too.
This is indicative of an editorial culture where writers and artists are treated as commodities, rather than living, breathing, thinking creators. The current DC editors clearly have no regard for the creative process, as indicated by how flagrantly they believe they can just swap out writers willy-nilly at a moment’s notice, or how, in Batwoman‘s case, tell two writers at the last minute they must chuck their plans–which, to reiterate, had been planned out for at least a year in advance with DC’s full knowledge–without a care in the world to the creative process that these two men have put into this character, her world, and her book. Batwoman may not have been setting the world on fire in terms of sales, but it IS one of the most important books DC’s publishing right now for its open and mature attitude about a lesbian character. Unfortunately, DC’s staunch editorial opposition to married characters took priority over that.
And yes, yes, the argument can (and should) be made that Batwoman is DC’s property, not Williams III and Blackman’s. But what these two writers were building has been special and unique, and had DC the aptitude to realize this, rather than sticking to an outmoded and confining notion about the “wrongness” of allowing characters to marry, they might have allowed these two creators to carve out their own place in comics history, which DC could, in later years, take full credit for allowing. Too bad their culture of micromanagment put an end to two creators’ vision before it could be fully formed. As it stands, we’ll never know what might have happened after Kate and Maggie got married. As a no-name company stooge takes over their book and takes it in a direction more consistent with DC’s mass-conformity ideals, the readers will no doubt drop the book en masse in protest, leaving the book canceled in no more than a year, relegated to the quarter bins for has-beens.
It’s a sad ending to the story of J.H. Williams III, Haden Blackman, and Batwoman. But perhaps it was inevitable. After all, DC is all about towing the company line now, taking no risks, venturing no gains, forging no new ground. And a book as “radical” as having two women who love each other get married is about as far from that as it gets.