JH Williams III and Haden Blackman walk off Batwoman
September 5, 2013 10:01 AM   Subscribe

In a letter crossposted to both Haden Blackman's and JH William III's website, they announced they are planning to leave Batwoman due to a number of 'eleventh hour changes', including a refusal to have Kate Kane marry her fiancee, Maggie Sawyer.

Batwoman is among a few openly gay superhero characters, and even fewer have their own book. To date, it has won two GLAAD awards for its portrayal of GLBT characters. In addition, JH Williams III is one of the most popular artists working at DC today. DC Women Kicking Ass Responds
posted by dinty_moore (51 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
At this point if you work for DC you've just got to assume this shit is going to happen to you sooner rather than later. Yeesh.
posted by Artw at 10:04 AM on September 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

JH WIlliam III's site is down, 503 error.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:05 AM on September 5, 2013

I'm actually over the moon at this terrible news as I've been waiting for a great big collected edition of the run and that's just got a little bit closer. Every cloud
posted by gnuhavenpier at 10:07 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also do check out the DC Women Kicking Ass Responds link, because there's a gorgeous painting there.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:08 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'd boycott DC Comics but Batwoman was the only title I thought was worth reading lately anyway, so I guess I've been preemptively boycotting them for a awhile now.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:09 AM on September 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

Batwoman? Kathy Kane? Is this 1956? Can Aunt Harriet and Ace the Bat-Hound be far behind? Why won't the early Silver Age die? Tune in next week.. Same Bat-Time, same Bat-Channel!
posted by entropicamericana at 10:31 AM on September 5, 2013

Asked to expand on the marriage note, Williams said the following via Twitter: “Not wanting to be inflammatory, only factual — We fought to get [Kate and Maggie] engaged, but were told emphatically no marriage can result.” He added, “But must clarify– [the decision] was never put to us as being anti-gay marriage.”
It's possible somebody at DC opposes gay marriage, or else is afraid enough readers oppose gay marriage that the storyline would have hurt sales. But it's equally possible somebody at DC looked around at the Batman mythos, and at other traditional comic superheroes, and at some of the romantic developments that were attempted with Superman and Spider-Man, and concluded, "Our hero shouldn't be married."

I don't see a problem with that. The only other specific they note is being prohibited from telling Killer Croc's origin. And again, I can easily believe somebody higher-up said, "No, we want to preserve some mystery there for now." And I don't necessarily have a problem with that, either. It's reasonable.

There's a middle ground between editorial oppression and artists just getting free rein to do whatever they please with longstanding properties, and in my opinion that middle ground pretty damn wide. So when either side objects, there's a high burden to demonstrate they actually are being impinged. I don't see it here.
posted by cribcage at 10:45 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Mary Sue’s take on this.

Regarding other GLBT characters – Young Avengers is still going strong after their ‘first season’, and Gillen just decided to create a little drama by making another character bisexual. It’s hard, though, because it’s always going to be second string characters. They’re not going to challenge the status quo by having one of the main, popular characters turn out to be GLBT, and it’s rare that the editors would make a push to back a new character (especially if they have a characteristic that might mark them as ‘niche’). I really can’t think of any other GLBT characters besides Batwoman that have their own book.

Batwoman: Elegy is my favorite single trade of any superhero comic, ever. It felt a little rootless lately, (though the frequent editorial changes would explain that), but it was one of the few DC comics I was even keeping tabs on.
posted by dinty_moore at 10:50 AM on September 5, 2013

Scott Allie of Dark Horse on this:

As an editor, I think I've done the job well & I know I've done it badly. Sometimes you have to give a creator direction.

Sometimes you can't let them tell the story they want. You're dealing with corporate properties. Or whatever--I've had to tell someone...

Sometimes you can't let them tell the story they want. You're dealing with corporate properties. Or whatever--I've had to tell someone...

It didn't make me evil or bad at my job. How you handle it is everything. Coming in at the last minute to change it is bad.

Doing it arbitrarily is bad. Inconsistently, & doing it later than you could've. I bet @JHWilliamsIII would tell you that if they'd been...

...given thorough guidelines from the outset, he could've done the book to his satisfaction.

... makes it impossible for creators to tell good stories--moreso than any disagreement over any one storyline, no matter how significant.

posted by Artw at 10:57 AM on September 5, 2013

Yes, the general anti-superhero-marriage bent of mainstream comics was discussed in the linked articles. But it sounds like the bigger issue is that these changes were imposed by editors after months of planning and buildup, instead of providing direction early in the process that certain characters were to remain perpetually single or have their biographies perpetually unknown.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:07 AM on September 5, 2013

Even if this was about editorial interference in general rather than the specific decision ... man, was this a tin-eared decision.

(Incidentally, if I wanted to catch up on this iteration of Batwoman, which sounds like it was pretty good up to this point, where should I start? "Elegy"? "Hydrology"? Something else?)
posted by kyrademon at 11:11 AM on September 5, 2013

Elegy! It's pre-New 52, but Batwoman was pretty much left untouched by the change. It's an origin story, but it's a fantastic one.
posted by dinty_moore at 11:13 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

For DC, marriage is considered a story-killer but death isn't.
posted by Legomancer at 11:26 AM on September 5, 2013 [13 favorites]

Welp, there goes the last DC title that I was interested in following. Period. It was the only book that seemed not to adhere to this regime, and unless DC can scrape up someone of JHWIII's caliber (and there are precious few in comics these days on his level, and really no one even remotely like him) to pick up the torch and do decent work within the confines of the straitjacket imposed by the company, there's not much point in keeping up with the title. Kate will be corralled into the Batfamily proper and play second fiddle to Batgirl.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:28 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Kate will be corralled into the Batfamily proper and play second fiddle to Batgirl.

That's one reason why I'm not terribly interested in getting back into superhero comics. Only the a-list teams and characters really matter. Everything else I used to like about the genre either gets tossed into extended production hell, remade into "edgy" (or whatever the management catchphrase is these days), or murdered for the sake of a-list angst.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:37 AM on September 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

Even if this was about editorial interference in general rather than the specific decision ... man, was this a tin-eared decision.

A bit like their thinking that there wouldn't be any controversy in hiring prominent gay marriage opponent Orson Scott Card to write a Superman story (a story, which, by the way, is still going to be published one of these days)?
posted by Doktor Zed at 11:54 AM on September 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

It seems like every week my decision to not read any more DC books following the nu52 debacle is reinforced as the right decision.
posted by brand-gnu at 12:21 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Batwoman? Kathy Kane? Is this 1956? Can Aunt Harriet and Ace the Bat-Hound be far behind? Why won't the early Silver Age die?

I'm not particularly well read on silver age comics, but as I recall the Batwoman of the 1950s carried a Bat-purse and fought crime with a Bat-perfume, etc. Getting from where we were then to where we were one issue ago was an achievement.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 1:17 PM on September 5, 2013

I'm just saying, there was a Crisis on Infinite Earths for a reason. Never cared for the Bat-family concept.
posted by entropicamericana at 1:28 PM on September 5, 2013

Silver age Batwoman was also introduced to help combat the whiff of homosexuality around Batman. Which makes her current incarnation’s orientation even more delightful.

For those who don’t read the current comics, Batwoman isn’t really connected to the other members of the Bat family all that much, and mostly operates as a lone agent with occasional unwanted sidekick.
posted by dinty_moore at 1:34 PM on September 5, 2013

If only a real life superhero could come along and save the day.
posted by homunculus at 2:22 PM on September 5, 2013

I'm so crushingly disappointed in this. Batwoman is a fantastic book, and the only DC comic I keep up with any more. DC have raised refusing to listen to whole sections of their fanbase to an art form.

I'll follow this creative team wherever they go.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 3:45 PM on September 5, 2013

Nu52 Timeline of creator departures.
posted by Artw at 4:25 PM on September 5, 2013 [8 favorites]

DC Entertainment’s Open Talent Search

I have to say that the sample script they give seems like a pretty poor choice for determining an artists storytelling skills - it's basically four unconnected images.
posted by Artw at 6:05 PM on September 5, 2013

And yet, Orson Scott Card is still going to be hired for SUPERMAN. Interesting.
posted by lucien_reeve at 3:46 AM on September 6, 2013

"Harley sitting naked in a bathtub with toasters, blow dryers, blenders, appliances all dangling above the bathtub and she has a cord that will release them all. We are watching the moment before the inevitable death. Her expression is one of “oh well, guess that’s it for me” and she has resigned herself to the moment that is going to happen."

This is one of the images from Artw's link above.

Look, I have nothing against pornography. But it seems a bit weird to me that when demonstrating your skills for the comics industry, one of the main things you need to do is show you can draw a female nude resigning herself to inevitable death.

This seems particularly crap in the light of

a) Harlequin being an excellent character who could be doing much more interesting things


b) the role that artists used to have as storytellers in their own right (see the excellent documentary by Jonathan Ross about Steve Ditko, available on Youtube).

Why not have three panels defined and let the artist choose the fourth? I thought that those four Harlequin panels were setting up a joke - e.g. the Joker was getting her to do progressively worse things for some reason and there would come a point where for some character-consistent reason she would say "NO WAY, Puddin' I ain't doin' THAT! Whadd'ya think I am, CRAZY?!!" and then thump him. Or whatever. But no, it just sort of... ends.

Also, none of the panels really shows her in motion - she's standing, sitting, sitting and sitting. Even if the point was to draw basically a female nude (Harlequin, like many comics characters, wears a costume that is essentially bodypaint and a hat) this is an incredibly dull way to do it. Have her in motion - fighting, confronting, dancing with the Joker - actually interacting with other characters. Give the artist a chance to show motion and energy and expression and anatomy in action.

Basically what I'm saying is, this is terrible on many levels.
posted by lucien_reeve at 3:56 AM on September 6, 2013 [4 favorites]

The evolution of Harley Quinn is one of those things I point to when I want to talk about how DC have gone beyond merely missing the point and started throwing rocks at something else entirely.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 4:55 AM on September 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

Plus, Harley Quinn has been tarted up, or slutted up, or sexed-up, in the Nu52.

Also, none of the panels really shows her in motion - she's standing, sitting, sitting and sitting.

She's always been a bit cheesecake pin-up. I can let them go on that front.

But the Kathy Kane stuff is stupid. She proposed (I believe) twice in 18 issues, one of which was an early issue (#1? maybe it says in one of these links I haven't read). She's been a lesbian for a long time, as has been The Question (am I wrong?).

I don't get this decision at all.
posted by Mezentian at 5:05 AM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Renee Montoya has been a lesbian for a while (and was linked romantically with Kate Kane in Elegy), but Renee Montoya is also dead in the Nu-52, and has been since its inception.

DC seems to follow the Supernatural law of resurrection, where straight white men are more likely to come back from the dead than other characters.
posted by dinty_moore at 5:49 AM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Renee Montoya is also dead in the Nu-52, and has been since its inception.

Wait? What? Her Crime Bible plot was awesome in 52.

DC seems to follow the Supernatural law of resurrection, where straight white men are more likely to come back from the dead than other characters.

I am sorry, you seem to be ascribing some sort of guiding power to Nu52. Some sort of narrative logic. I don't understand.
posted by Mezentian at 6:02 AM on September 6, 2013

Oh right! Sorry, I missed 52 entirely. That's a pretty new development though, right?
posted by dinty_moore at 6:34 AM on September 6, 2013

Sorry, I missed 52 entirely. That's a pretty new development though, right?

It was wedged in between Identity Crisis (around the time I started re-sampling DC) and Infinite Crisis (around the time I stopped, until Nu52).
So, a few years?
posted by Mezentian at 6:37 AM on September 6, 2013

Heh: @sispurrier: You know what, @JeffStokely's right (as always). We should all enter pages to the DC thing with big ugly male characters instead of HQ.
posted by Artw at 6:51 AM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

She's always been a bit cheesecake pin-up. I can let them go on that front.

Yes, Harley Quinn (apologies for mis-spelling her name earlier) does have some cheesecake elements in her design. However, if you look at the Batman cartoons - which I believe is where she was created - she has a personality and her own zany internal logic. She isn't just a body, she's a funny character.

Even if she was basically just cheesecake, that's not relevant to this context.

The point of this exercise is to test prospective artists' talents. Anyone with a bit of talent can draw a nude woman just sitting there. Drawing someone in motion, someone interacting with another character, is both harder and more indicative of an artist's ability to turn in quality art that is relevant to a comics context.
posted by lucien_reeve at 7:41 AM on September 6, 2013 [6 favorites]

I do like that there's an emphasis on facial expressions in there - that's a big component in effective art. And the various panels are a little more interesting than cheesecake pin-ups - though I suspect they are going to see an awful lot of horrible broke-back contortionism.

On the other hand, as I say, it's not a story, it's a series of disconnected images, so there's no way to judge storytelling skills.

And no dialogue or captions! Leaving space for those is another skill specific to comicbook art.

That and the posibility of being seem as skeevy at a time when their reputation is at an all time low makes this puzzling to me.
posted by Artw at 9:27 AM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Mezentian: sorry, was reading quickly and thought you were referring to her appearing in the Nu-52 verse (and they reintroduced 52 somehow? Okay, I'm going to blame a lack of coffee). I vaguely remember hearing that they might reintroduce her back into the universe back around C2E2, but upon looking further into it, a lot of that seemed to have come from JHWIII. So, who knows.

It's one of the most frustrating removals of the nu-52 verse. Renee Montoya as the Question was an interesting character with some popularity, and it's not like the Question as Charles Szasz was particularly iconic. But even if they decided to roll back the character, Renee Montoya, PD still fits into the gritty NU-52 verse, can play an important role story-wise, and isn't exactly a difficult character concept to grasp. The most out-there thing about her is that she's a minority, and she got the axe.

The only place she's appeared so far is in Batwoman, I think - as a picture on the wall, and then in Batwoman, year 0.
posted by dinty_moore at 10:03 AM on September 6, 2013

I can sort of accept that Harley Quinn no longer looks the same as she did when she first appeared back in '92, or even that she has taken somewhat of the more Suicide Girls-ish appearance that she had in the popular Arkham Asylum/City video games, but the examples given by DC--not just the nude shot but the "wearing raw chicken" thing--does indeed seem skeevy; but then, DC has been perfectly willing to play up the sexploitation angle with characters such as Catwoman and Starfire in the nu-52, so it's not surprising at all.

And mentioning Renee Montoya makes me wonder if some of this is a backhanded slap at Greg Rucka. Rucka, who created the character (with Ed Brubaker) in Gotham Central, and also is responsible for the current incarnation of Batwoman, was once part of the "architects", the team of writers that were more-or-less rewriting DC continuity after Infinite Crisis. (That also included Grant Morrison, Geoff Johns, Mark Waid, and Keith Giffen; basically, the team that wrote 52.) Of course, that was before Flashpoint, Johns' brilliant idea to reboot the DCU again, and before Rucka got kicked off the Wonder Woman: Earth-One project (he'd previously had a respectable stint on the character). No love lost there. (And, as long as I'm posting links to Bleeding Cool, here's another tidbit, which involves the likewise ill-treated-by-DC writer Gail Simone.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:04 AM on September 6, 2013

I left that "It has been X days since DC did something stupid" counter running. It is still at 0.
Dan Didio Responds to Williams/Blackman Controversy

The first thing I see is Picard Face-palming. The rest of it sounds like the kinds of memos I get at work.
posted by Mezentian at 9:32 PM on September 6, 2013

Point of order: We don't know whether Montoya's dead - her picture's on the wall at the GCPD, but if I'm remember right Williams said that was a Wall of Honor sort of thing, for officers who distinguished themselves in the line of duty, not a memorial for the dead. But she hasn't appeared and she's definitely never been the Question (for bonus dumb, neither has Vic Sage), so that blows.

Also, if anyone would like to know why this is such a great loss, do a Google image search for "Williams Batwoman." This, this, or this, for instance. The work he's done with Kate Kane has been unbelievable.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 10:10 PM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I really can't imagine that all of those people who had to approve that contest, all those people who read the sample script, and not one of them thought that maybe, just maybe, they should choose a different panel?

Greg Rucka is working on Lazarus these days: I personally haven't read it, but I've heard good things.

JH Williams III is slated to start drawing a Sandman prequel.

Mark Andreyko will be taking over Batwoman with issue #25 (JHW and Blackman thought they were on until #26 previously).

In this, Didio is quoted as saying “Heroes shouldn’t have happy personal lives. They are committed to being that person and committed to defending others at the sacrifice of their own personal interests.”

This silver age Batwoman panel has been floating around Tumblr.
posted by dinty_moore at 11:11 AM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Another salvo in the War On Fictional Marriage:

During a panel at Baltimore Comic-Con today, Didio "clarified" that Aquaman and Mera, who are king and queen of a country, are not married.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:36 PM on September 7, 2013

That's just... confusing. Like, even if Atlanteans don't do marriage, or they can allow their girlfriends become their Queen without any sort of ceremony, they obviously have a deep, loving, committed relationship, whether they call it marriage or not.

The Batwoman marriage was important because of the real-world parallels, and because the storyline was about getting towards that piece of paper (and working through it afterwards). That's not really the case with Aquaman and Mera. Whether or not they're married, or are just somehow longtime co-rulers that are in a romantic relationship, it'd be still the same storylines.

This really feels like DC trying too hard to prove that they don't hate the gays.
posted by dinty_moore at 6:40 PM on September 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

For anyone still interested in Harley Quinn (which, personally doesn't ruffle my features as much as Aquaman's strange marriage), Jim Lee has chimed in.
posted by Mezentian at 6:16 AM on September 8, 2013

Does DC have any sort of PR department at all? Who thinks it's a great business decision to yell at their customers for ignoring the context when there was no context given? Especially on a subject where DC has little to no goodwill with the public left.

Rachel Edidin has taken matters into her own hands and created her own contest.

A couple of submissions have already been posted.
posted by dinty_moore at 4:35 PM on September 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

“I should have put it clearly in the description that it was supposed to be a dream sequence with Amanda [Conner] and I talking to Harley and giving her a hard time. I should have also mentioned we were thinking a Mad magazine/Looney Tunes approach was what we were looking for. We thought it was obvious with the whale and chicken suit, and so on, but learned it was not. I am sorry for those who took offense, our intentions were always to make this a fun and silly book that broke the 4th wall, and head into issue 1 with a ongoing story/adventure that is a lot like the past Powergirl series we did. I hope all the people thinking the worst of us can now understand that insulting or making fun of any kind was never our intention. I also hope that they can all stop blaming DC Comics for this since It was my screw up. The idea for the page to find new talent is an amazing one and we hope that can be the positive that comes forward from today on … that we get some new talent working in our field because of this unique opportunity.”

Man, that's not how you do an apology. You don't have to be thinking the absolute worst of them to think that this is was the wrong page to choose as a sample, and never do the 'I'm sorry you were offended' apology. Also, DC still approved the page. You can't tell me that nobody from DC editorial saw the panels before putting it as part of the artists search. I also would have a very difficult time believing that DC editorial would think it out of their power to request changes or request a different page.
posted by dinty_moore at 4:44 AM on September 12, 2013

Man, that's not how you do an apology.

Be that as it may, people say damn nice things about Conner and Palmiotti's work (I haven't knowingly read any), and I have seen enough things that I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Gail Simone, Mark Waid and Kurt Busiek had a chat about it on Twitter too.
posted by Mezentian at 6:44 AM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Making it clear that it was a dream sequence, though, seems to me like something pretty essential. Artists have to know the context of the thing they are drawing. That really matters! A clever artist might work little details into the background to show that something was a dream e.g. slightly unreadable numbers/letters, bits of Harley Quinn's subconscious, they could make the mise en scene like a Loony Tunes cartoon (which presumably is what the inside of Harley's head looks like). I mean, I'm assuming it's Harley's dream... it could be the comic book writer's dream. Which would call for a different kind of imagery and tone.

So, even assuming this isn't just an excuse for a bunch of creepy fantasies, plastered on after-the-fact in a desperate attempt to deflect criticism, not including it was pretty terrible comics writing.
posted by lucien_reeve at 2:08 AM on September 14, 2013

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