Although Batwoman made a number of appearances during the late 1950s and early 1960s, declining sales of both Batman and Detective Comics led to the editorial retirement of the character. When Julius Schwartz became editor of the Batman related comic books in 1964, he removed non-essential characters including Batwoman, Bat-Girl, Bat-Mite and Bat-Hound. Kathy Kane is later killed and her existence as Batwoman in the DC Universe is retroactively erased by the conclusion of the 1985 limited series Crisis on Infinite Earths.
The modern incarnation of the character, Katherine "Kate" Kane, first appears in week 7 of the maxi-series 52 (2006), operating as Batwoman in Gotham City during Batman's absence following the events of the seven issue miniseries Infinite Crisis (2005). The modern Batwoman is written as being of Jewish descent and as a lesbian in an effort by DC editorial staff to diversify its publications and better connect to modern day readership. Batwoman's sexual orientation has been both criticized and praised by the general public and the character has been described as the highest profile gay character to appear in stories produced by DC Comics.
The original Batwoman is primarily associated with the Silver Age of comic books. In the aftermath of the attacks on comics in the early 1950s, the Batwoman was the first of several characters that would make up the 'Batman Family'. Since the familial formula had proven very successful for the Superman franchise, editor Jack Schiff suggested to Kane that he create one for The Batman. A female was chosen first, to offset the charges made by Frederick Wertham that Batman and the original Robin Dick Grayson were gay. Kathy Kane and alter ego Batwoman first appeared in Detective Comics #233 (July 1956). In the character's debut issue, Batwoman is introduced as a female rival to the crime fighting prowess of Batman.
There's only one Batman! That's been said many times and has been true for no other man has ever rivaled Batman as a champion of the law, nor matched his superb acrobatic skill, his scientific keenness, his mastery of disguise and detective skill! But now, in one suspenseful surprise after another, Batman finds he has a great rival in the mysterious and glamorous girl... The Batwoman!
She was a costumed crime-fighter like Batman, yet an exact counterpart in many ways. For example, the contents of her utility purse were actually weapons disguised as stereotypical feminine products such as lipstick, cosmetic compacts, charm bracelets and hair nets. Although letters from fans indicated Batwoman had become popular with readers, editor Julius Schwartz considered the heroine, as well as other Batman-related characters, to be inappropriate for the new direction he took with the Batman universe. Following the revamp to Detective Comics in 1964, Batwoman was removed from the series. The 'new' Batgirl, Barbara Gordon, not only replaced Batwoman as Batman's female counterpart, she surpassed the original heroine in popularity. Batgirl also proved to be more appropriate for her time period and the realistic approach DC Comics began taking with its characters. Unlike Batwoman, Gordon's Batgirl used a utility belt and various gadgets similar to Batman's, in addition to being a skilled martial artist and possessing a doctorate in her civilian identity. Despite requests from readers to revive Batwoman, DC's editorial staff initially declined to bring the character out of retirement, considering the fact that she was specifically created to be love interest for Batman.
...[Batwoman and Bat-Girl] were there because romance seemed to be needed in Batman [and Robin]'s life. But thanks to the big change and a foresighted editor, these hapless females are gone for good. In their place stands a girl who is a capable crime-fighter, a far cry from Batwoman who constantly had to be rescued from [sic] Batman.
However, with the launch of the Batman Family comic book series in 1975, readers continued to request for Batwoman to appear in new stories. One reader states:
it is totally beyond me why you ignored Batwoman in your first two issues... I can understand your reluctance to go back to the days where everybody in Gotham had a Bat-identity, but you can't wipe out Batwoman that easily... I was counting on her making the scene in a new story, perhaps coming out of retirement to offer assistance to your Dynamite Duo [Batgirl and Robin].
Batwoman was brought back in Batman Family #10 as "Batgirl's guest heroine" when she comes out of retirement to assist Batgirl in defeating Killer Moth and Cavalier. However, Batwoman is later killed in Detective Comics #485 with editor Dennis O'Neil stating "we already had Batgirl, we didn't need Batwoman." The issue marked the final appearance of the Earth-1 Kathy Kane though an Earth-2 version appeared in Brave and The Bold#182. This Kathy Kane retired from crime fighting when that world's Batman married The Catwoman. She comes out of retirement to help a grown-up Robin and Earth-1 Batman battle Hugo Strange.
When DC editors called for a redesign of Batwoman, comic book artist Alex Ross drew inspiration from the modified Batgirl costume he designed for Barbara Gordon, seven years prior to Kate Kane's debut in the limited comic book series 52. Ross and comic book author Paul Dini initially planned to revive the former Batgirl Barbara Gordon using an updated version of the character's original costume, with red accents in place of the traditional yellow. However, since Gordon serves as one of a very small number of disabled superheroes of DC Comics as Oracle, DC's editorial staff decided to revitalize the original Batwoman instead. In an interview with Newsarama, Ross states:
They had me change the mask and hair to make it a bit more Batwoman, rather than Batgirl...I pointed out to them that the mask makes her look like the Huntress a little overall—but there weren't many options. The original mask that I had in there when it was to be a Batgirl design was the complete head cover that we've seen, so they did need something different from that.
Unlike the Silver Age Kathy Kane, who was written as being romantically attracted to Batman, the new version of Kane is written as a "lipstick lesbian. Her sexual orientation was announced at the same time the character was revealed in the spring of 2006. Stories appeared on television news outlets such as CNN, general news magazines such as "USA Today", and gay culture magazines such as Out. The modern Katherine "Kate" Kane made her first comic book appearance in issue #7 of the maxi-series 52 (2006), where Kane is revealed to have been romantically involved with Renee Montoya, a former Gotham City Police Detective. When questioned about the editorial decision to make Batwoman a gay character in an interview with Wizard Entertainment, DC Comics Senior Vice President and Executive Editor Dan DiDio states:
It was from conversations we’ve had for expanding the DC Universe, for looking at levels of diversity. We wanted to have a cast that is much more reflective of today’s society and even today’s fanbase. One of the reasons we made her gay is that, again when you have the Batman Family—a series of characters that aren’t super-powered and inhabit the same circle and the same city—you really want to have a point of difference. It was really important to me to make sure every character felt unique.
Batwoman's sexual orientation has gathered mixed reviews, ranging from acceptance to outrage. While a reviewer at Out asserts "Batwoman will be the highest profile gay superhero to ever grace the pages of DC Comics," according to the Associated Press, another online observer asked "[w]ouldn't ugly people as heroes be more groundbreaking? Although several GLBT organizations such as GLAAD have praised DC Comics for attempting to diversify their characters, some have observed that Batwoman is not the first gay or lesbian character to appear in comic books, nor is she the only lesbian to be associated with the Batman series. Though Batwoman is currently one of several LGBT characters appearing in stories published by DC Comics, the character is written as a closeted lesbian who makes a conscious effort to conceal her sexual orientation.
In the character's civilian identity as a socialite, Katherine Kane is acquainted with Bruce Wayne and is friends with a doctor named Mallory. The character is also Jewish, and celebrated Hanukkah with Renee Montoya during the events of 52. Current familial relationships are unknown. It is unconfirmed whether or not Kate Kane is related to the New Earth versions of Kathy Kane and Bette "Flamebird" Kane, although 52 alludes to there being an older Katherine Kane in Kate's family.
During the Silver Age of Comics Batwoman guest-starred occasionally in Batman stories published from 1956 to 1964. While Batman wished for Kane to retire from crimefighting due to the danger, she remained his ally, even when she temporarily became a new version of Catwoman. In 1961, Batwoman was joined by her niece Betty Kane, the Bat-Girl. Kathy and Betty were romantically interested in Batman and Robin, respectively. Robin seemed to return Bat-Girl's affection, while Batman remained aloof. In 1964, DC dropped Batwoman, as well as Bat-Girl, Ace the Bat-Hound, and Bat-Mite from the Batman titles, which were undergoing a revamp under Editor Julius Schwartz that eliminated many of the sci-fi elements that were introduced in the 1950s. In stories published during the next few years, Batwoman makes several appearances in the Batman-Superman team-up book World's Finest.
In the late 1970s, Batwoman made guest appearances in the Batman Family comic book series, often fighting crime alongside the new Batgirl, Barbara Gordon. During Kathy Kane's retirement, she becomes the owner of a circus, which she keeps until killed by the League of Assassins and the brainwashed Bronze Tiger.
In The Brave and The Bold #182, a story titled "Interlude on Earth-2" revealed the existence of an Earth-Two Batwoman, whose secret identity was also Kathy Kane (it would seem that all Batwoman stories published before 1964 took place on Earth-Two, as 1964 is generally regarded as the year Earth-One Batman stories debuted; thus, the 'reappearance' of Batwoman in Batman Family would be for the Earth-One version, whose only prior stories were in World's Finest after 1964).
The conclusion of the 1985 maxi-series Crisis on Infinite Earths altered DC Universe continuity, subsequently changing the character histories of Batwoman and Bat-Girl. In the new continuity, the late Kathy Kane did exist, though her persona as Batwoman had been erased. Bat-Girl never existed either, but a superheroine named Flamebird was introduced who had a somewhat similar costume and similar name, "Bette Kane". Despite the absence of both Batwoman and Bat-Girl, there have been references to both in post-Crisis publications: In Alan Moore's Batman: The Killing Joke, Batman stares at a photograph that portrays Bat-Girl, Batwoman, Ace the Bat-hound, and Batmite- characters that did not exist in continuity at the time. In addition, during the Beast Boy miniseries, Flamebird tries to post bail for Beast Boy, with money "borrowed from Aunt Kathy", which would suggest the original Kathy Kane is still alive.
The limited series Infinite Crisis (2005) which was written as a sequel to the 1985 maxi-series Crisis on Infinite Earths altered DC Comics continuity. Subsequently, all comic book titles published by DC Comics skip forward one year and a new maxi-series entitled 52 retroactively chronicles the 52 weeks which directly followed Infinite Crisis. The first reference to the modern Batwoman is made by the Penguin in Detective Comics #824 who suggests Batman bring a date to the opening of his club, asking, "Why don't you bring that new Batwoman? I hear she's kind of hot. In 52 #7 (2006) a new Katherine "Kate" Kane is introduced. Kane is revealed to have been intimately involved with former Gotham City police detective Renee Montoya and is heiress to one of the wealthiest families in Gotham, owning that which the Wayne family does not. In her third appearance in issue #11 of 52 entitled "Batwoman Begins," Kane assists Montoya and her partner the Question in a mystery revolving a warehouse owned by Kane's family. When Montoya and the Question are attacked sometime later by Whisper A'Daire's shapeshifting minions, Kane intervenes as Batwoman and rescues them.
In 52 #28 (2006), after Montoya learns that the "Book of Crime," a sacred text of Intergang, contains a prophecy foretelling the brutal murder of the "twice named daughter of Kane," she and the Question return to Gotham, joining forces with Batwoman in issue #30 in order to avert Intergang's plans. Batwoman later appears in a story written by Greg Rucka for the DC Infinite Holiday Special (2006). As Batwoman continues the case, she is joined by Nightwing, who has recently returned to Gotham and becomes infatuated with her. On Christmas Eve, he gives her an 'official' Batarang. She also celebrates Hanukkah with Renee, and the two kiss shortly before Christmas. This story introduced some of Kane's background, including the fact that she is Jewish. In issue #48 of 52 (2007), when Intergang realizes that the image of Batwoman in the Crime Bible and the cited "twice-named daughter of Cain" were one and the same, they ransack Kane's apartment, kidnapping her with the intention to sacrifice her. Montoya finds her, seemingly too late to save her, as during the fight, Batwoman pulls a knife out of her own chest to stab Bruno Mannheim and then collapses in Renee's arms. Batwoman survives her wounds after Renee stops the bleeding in time, however, and as she recuperates in her Penthouse, Renee, disguised in her new alter ego as the Question, shines the batsignal into her apartment and asks, "Are you ready?"
Batwoman subsequently appears in Countdown #39 (2007), after the Question confronts Trickster and Pied Piper, having trailed them from the Penguin's Iceburg Lounge nightclub. Batwoman also makes an appearance in the miniseries Crime Bible: The Five Lessons of Blood (2007) alongside the Question. She also comments that she hasn't seen Renee since 52, suggesting that the events of Countdown were retconned or the series takes place prior to Countdown.
As Batwoman, Kane lacks any superpowers, and instead relies on her martial artistry and Batman-inspired equipment when fighting crime. Although the original Kathy Kane did not display any martial art skill during the Silver Age of comic books, the Modern Age Kane is depicted as a skilled martial artist and detective. Both incarnations of the character are written as the heiress of a family whose fortune is comparable to the wealth of Bruce Wayne. Subsequently, Kane possesses the finances to produce an arsenal of equipment similar to Batman's. While the Silver Age Batwoman used weaponry disguised as feminine items like lipstick and a compact, the Modern Age Batwoman's arsenal includes a baton-like device which can extend from the center in length that has Bat-shaped attachments at each end, Batarangs and a Batman-inspired grappling hook.
Elseworlds is an imprint of DC Comics which places the company's iconic characters in alternate timelines and events outside of mainstream continuity. Various incarnations of Batwoman have appeared in Elseworld titles, including Mark Waid and Alex Ross's Kingdom Come, its sequel The Kingdom, Alan Davis's JLA: The Nail and the sequel JLA: Another Nail, and Mike Barr's Batman: Dark Knight Dynasty. Alternate depictions of the character also appear in the Teen Titans storyline "Titans Tomorrow" and Superman/Batman #24 (November 2005).
Batwoman appeared in the direct to video animated film Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman. In this storyline, which conforms to the continuity of the DC Animated Universe, Batwoman is a new vigilante operating in Gotham City who is willing to use lethal force to achieve her goals. She targets the illegal operations of the Penguin, and crime bosses Rupert Thorne and Carlton Duquesne. Viewed as a threat, Batman investigates the Batwoman in an attempt to uncover her identity and bring her, as well as her targets to justice. In his investigation, Batman suspects three different women to be Batwoman: Gotham Police Detective Sonia Alcana, Dr. Roxanne 'Rocky' Ballantine, and Kathleen 'Kathy' Duquesne.