Earlier this year, and even from time to time over the past several years, commenters have criticized the comics publishing industry for its lack of female creators. As with the lack of women creators in a lot of industries, the criticisms have credence. You have to look very hard at comic conventions to find a female comic artist from a major publisher, for example. But more and more female writers seem to be coming to the fore every month. In the meantime, what is flourishing in DC Comics’ New 52 are female superhero characters. In the past few weeks we reviewed here both the first issues of the new Wonder Woman series and the past two months of the Batgirl title. Wonder Woman’s story is brilliantly drawn in the realm of the Greek gods and goddesses, as she is on her path to becoming a key leader of the Justice League. Batgirl’s story bridges a lot of territory–she is a superhero with a rich past in the DCU: as daughter to Batman’s main partner in fighting crime, Commissioner Gordon, as former crime fighter in a wheelchair and member of the Birds of Prey, under the guise Oracle, she also covers the younger side of hero work and the trials of being at the beginning of a heroine’s career.
But Wonder Woman and Batgirl just scratch the surface of the arsenal of women crimefighters across the DCU. In stark contrast to Batgirl, but equally as interesting and engaging, is the darker, tough and gritty world of Batwoman. There is no hiding Batwoman’s role in the DCU–she is Kate Kane, a lesbian who was kicked out of the military because of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” When we met her again in Issue #1 of the re-launched title she was trying to mentor sidekick, Bette aka Flamebird, but in Issue #2 Batman warns Kate that she is endangering Bette and she as kicks her out of the sidekick business in Issue #3. Writers W. Haden Blackman and J.H. Williams III walk a fine line between a caricature of a modern gay single person, in the realm of Tom Hanks’ character in Philadelphia. She uses poor judgment, frequenting gay bars and going home with whomever she ends up with and going on binges. Did she, or the writers, learn anything from the 1980s? Are they setting her up for another AIDS story? Hopefully not, as that was done with Mia aka Speedy in the Green Arrow series.
In every aspect of her life Kate is dangerous and cocky–she is dating Detective Maggie Sawyer, the very woman on the police squad who is trying to uncover who the vigilante in the black and red suit really is. On the one hand Kate herself is not a role model, yet Blackman and Williams have written her as a tough woman fighting the good fight every day like everybody, only in the depths of Gotham, her place is getting down and dirty. To balance out the series, we find Kate’s true enemy is the federal agent, Cameron Chase, and we learn in Issue #3 she is partnering with the creepy skull-headed villain behind the dark doings of Gotham. The best part of Batwoman? Despite her own inner doubts and less experience at the hero business, Batwoman stands on equal footing with Batman in their secret meetings–we see a mutual respect there.
On the other side of the globe in Italy is Helena Bertinelli, the heroine of the Huntress title. Like Barbara Gordon, Huntress spent some time gaining her crime-fighting sea-legs in the Birds of Prey. In Issue #2 of the current Huntress limited series, Huntress has tracked down a trafficker of girls in the sex slave industry. Huntress is a character who simply has a job to do. Unlike Batgirl and Batwoman, we see no emotional obstacles with Helena. She knows her job and gets the job done. As her own flavor of dark knight detective, she is a true sleuth in the ongoing whodunnit of each issue. And like all the superheroes in the DCU, she has her alter ego life. Bertinelli would fit in fine with the characters of the BBC’s Zen series, tasteful and stylish, she seems to have adopted Italy as her home turf. It is refreshing to see a character establish herself in a non-English speaking locale, and the word balloons even feign a translation via dialogue in carets. A clever comics story device. Unlike Batgirl or Batwoman, Huntress’s targeted villains are rooted in the real world, and in Issue #2 she is honing in on capturing the man behind the trafficking operation, as she liberates all the victims. A woman saving women.
In an even darker realm we encounter Zatanna, magician of backward incantations, in Issues #2 and #3 of Justice League Dark. The Enchantress has unleashed an evil that even the Justice League itself cannot stop, and she must use a spell to save herself. Only John Constantine understands the magic enough to use her own language to free her from her protective state. And tarot card reading Xanadu appears to be working alongside the ultimate villain of this series–the Enchantress, on a quest to capture June Moone, who has been seeking the aid of Deadman. Deadman is complex yet entirely weak, he slips in and out of other people’s bodies, himself a ghostly spirit. Deadman is driving his girlfriend, Dawn Granger, the character Dove from the Hawk and Dove duo, nearly mad with his switching from body to body. Dove drives off in anger as Deadman tries to protect June Moone from the Enchantress, but we get the vibe she can pull away from the witch’s curse when she will need to. We hope to see more of Zatanna and Dove in future issues, but as new characters are added, like Mindwipe in Issue #3, Justice League Dark is bordering on a soap opera-sized cast that may be too much for a monthly title.
Not only do these titles stand out as key stories focusing on strong female characters, Wonder Woman, Batgirl, Batwoman, Huntress, and Justice League Dark, with both good writing and art, continue to stand at the top of all of the 52 main titles of the New 52.