Batwoman has never been a shy hero. With all the publicity she’s getting these days – some effusive, some toxic – she and her fans need a bit of armor and an ability to roll with the punches.
From her first appearance in the panels of Detective Comics and on screen in last fall’s DCTV crossover event, Elseworlds, Kate Kane’s self-assured demeanor and dry sense of humor have been part and parcel of who she is, just like her tattoos, Jewish faith, and identity as a queer woman have always been there. While the crimson-and-black member of the Bat family has only been around since 2006, she has a nuanced origin story that has been handled with care. Kate Kane comes with plenty of villains, friends, family, and exes to get into trouble with, from the classic Batman canon (Scarecrow, Clayface) to new characters that fans will love getting to know (Renee Montoya, Maggie Sawyer) if they haven’t already seen them elsewhere, due to their success.
Comic book numbering can be confusing and character often make one-off appearances, so we’ve gathered the best of Kate Kane’s books, under her own title or otherwise, and put them in proper order. With the CW show, many of these books are getting re-releases, like the new version of “Elegy” with a Ruby Rose cover, an upcoming harcover omnibus, and Batwoman: Haunted Tides, which combines “Hydrology” and “To Drown the World” so readers can get the entire arc in one book. Take a closer look at Batwoman’s story and learn more about Kate’s past – and where she might be headed in the future.
52 – Volumes 1 and 2
Kate Kane first becomes Batwoman in this series focused on a year without DC’s big three of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. If you’re interested in books that likely inspired the CW’s Batwoman TV show, this is a great pick because (at least for now), the CW’s Gotham City has been operating without Batman for a long time. The book, much like the show, asks the question: who will step up? These books introduce Bruce Wayne’s cousin who pulls on the cowl out of a mix of necessity, never wanting to be a victim again, and having a ton of great skills but nowhere to use them.
We get to learn a bit about her background like her Jewish faith, her fantastic tattoos, and her relationship with Renee Montoya of the Gotham City Police. Renee who seems to be contributing a bit to the TV show’s Sophie Moore character, an ex of Kate’s and a high-ranking member of Kate’s father’s private security contractor The Crows.
If this seems like a ton of reading, just know that Kate is only in issues 9, 11, 28, 30, 33, and 34, so you could just focus on those if you’d like. None of this is essential reading as the highlights are recapped in Elegy, but if you’re a completionist or particularly interested in the prophecy that sets the Religion of Crime after Batwoman, Kate’s relationship with Renee, or just seeing the character’s origin, this is the place to find all of those things.
Written by Greg Rucka and illustrated by J.H. Williams III, this is Kate Kane’s big break. You can find this collected as a trade paperback variously under the names Batwoman and Detective Comics, just to keep things confusing, but it generally contains the “Elegy” and “Cutter” storylines (Detective Comics #854–863). There’s also a version called Batwoman: Elegy that collects just the “Elegy” issues (Detective Comics #854–860). Of course there’s also a new tv show tie-in edition of Batwoman: Elegy.
Once an elite-level gymnast in her teens (perhaps a nod to the character Kathy Kane before her, who was a circus performer and Batman’s love interest), Kate Kane is already operating as Batwoman when this book picks up. When she was a kid, she and her twin sister were kidnapped and held by terrorists and her mother and sister were killed in the ensuing showdown. In the present tense of the series, she and her dad Jake work together on her nighttime crusade while everyone else is in the dark, and she has an antagonistic relationship with his new wife Catherine and Catherine’s niece Bette.
In “Elegy,” Batwoman comes up against Alice, the Alice-in-Wonderland-inspired leader of the “Religion of Crime,” a group of twelve covens who do their worst to Gotham City. Their last leader before Alice put a knife in Batwoman’s heart – this showdown manages to top that. Kate Kane is forever changed by the events of “Elegy,” so it’s essential reading.
Plus, there’s vital backstory to her character, including her childhood and her time in a military academy during Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. The military academy issue was created with the help of Lt. Dan Choi, gay activist and Iraq war veteran who was discharged under DADT. Rachel Maddow (who has an interesting role in the TV show!) wrote the intro for trade paperback and puts into great context that manages to feel contemporary.
The New 52/J.H. Williams III era
Generally considered the golden age of Batwoman, this New 52 series consists of Batwoman’s Hydrology, To Drown the World, World’s Finest, and This Blood is Thick stories. Batwoman comes up against a number of mythic beings, starting with La Llorona, a folkloric young woman who drowns herself after her children die and then starts kidnapping Latinx children in Gotham, putting both Batwoman and her girlfriend Detective Maggie Sawyer on the case. Maggie doesn’t know Batwoman’s identity, but she’s not a fan of the vigilante getting involved in her case, putting tension into their relationship. Batwoman eventually teams up with Wonder Woman to take on the mythic creatures and Medusa, the mastermind behind them. To Drown the World is the weakest among them with its (often confusing) nonlinear storytelling that rarely pays off, but it’s still a great story overall if you ignore the chronological confusion.
The J.H. Williams III era came to an end when the team left the book because higher ups would not allow them to write in Kate Kane marrying her longtime girlfriend Detective Maggie Sawyer, among other things. DC claims it was just about the fact that heroes don’t deserve happy endings, but many felt it was discriminatory of a queer couple. Considering that Kate was kicked out of military school for being gay and Maggie lost custody of her child (at least in part) for the same reason, it feels like showing Kate and Maggie getting married holds even more import than the average romantic pairing fans might ship.
The rest of the New 52 concludes with Webs and The Unknowns, and the drop in quality is noticeable. Most of the characters are the same, but the narrative is all over the place and Batwoman doesn’t quite seem herself. There’s a side story featuring a vampire that is apparently five years into the future, but you would only know that if you googled it, because it’s not referenced in-text. Not to mention, many of the plotlines one might be hoping to see resolved go off track or are forgotten altogether and of course the artwork doesn’t hold a candle to the gorgeous imagery of J.H. Williams. For many fans, these last two books (The Unknowns especially) are the worst of Batwoman’s appearances. It’s not you, it’s them. So, not exactly essential reading.
Before Batwoman’s next solo series, she spends some (rare) time with the Bat family, in the pages of Batman and back to her roots in Detective Comics. Writer James Tynion IV works on both of those as well as the solo book so there’s continuity. Don’t let the titles fool you – Batwoman is very much the lead character in Detective Comics Vol. 1: Rise of the Batmen, which sees Bruce Wayne building up a team that includes Cassandra Cain and Clayface. Batman: Night of the Monster Men is less of a hit (and Kate Kane has less prominence) but if you’re into the Bat family and monsters, have at it. But the final book in this foray, Detective Comics Vol. 2: The Victim Syndicate sets up Batwoman’s book, and is of the caliber that reads have come to expect from Detective Comics.
A continuation of the Rebirth era sees new Marguerite Bennett, who has worked on A-Force, Red Sonja, and DC Bombshells, and the aofrementioned James Tynion IV taking on a new run of self-titled Batwoman books. This series focuses on the international more than Gotham and has more of a spy-thriller vibe, getting Kate out of her home city and actually using some of her wealth in real time (rather than the occasional flashback) for once.
The artwork is back up to a higher standard again, though no one matches J.H. Williams. Several of the covers are quite famous, including the cover to Wonderland, which you might recognize from the EW/Batwoman TV show homage magazine cover from the summer of 2019.
In these books, Kate takes on the Scarecrow and a villainous organization called the Many Arms of Death, and spends some time with Alfred’s daughter, Julia Pennyworth. Most importantly, she faces her trauma in a real way in this series. She returns to Belgium, where her kidnapping, her mother’s execution, and Beth’s “death” took place. Television fans should also keep an eye out for all things Many Arms of Death, which has been on the show in a number of Easter eggs as well as a few more overt story lines, like the villain of the week The Rifle.
Kate Kane continues her (rare) involvement with the Bat family on the pages of Detective Comics during this era, so if you’re inclined to continue to read those team-up adventures from the same author, we’re including them here as well. The timing gets a little tricky (though it doesn’t matter for every issue).
Delia Harrington is a freelance writer and photographer focused on politics, pop culture, and gender. She loves post-apocalyptic sci-fi, historical fiction, and feminist comic books. You can read all of her articles here and follow Delia on twitter @deliamary.