Detective #233, "The Batwoman!"

DETECTIVE COMICS #233; July 1956; DC Comics; Whitney Ellsworth & Jack 
Schiff, editors; featuring the first meeting of Batman and Robin with "The 
Batwoman!"  On the cover of 'TEC #233, the Batmobile is outpaced by our new  heroine
on her Bat-cycle as Robin urges, 'Hurry, Batman!  The Bat-Woman is  beating us
to this mission!"  (This review is based on the reprint of this  story in
BATMAN FROM THE 30'S TO THE 70'S, published 1971; the story also  appears in the
more recent DC TPB collection, BATMAN IN THE FIFTIES.)  

Review by Bill Henley

I decided a while back to review this story  when I got the chance because of
a slightly odd train of thought which I'll get  into further on.  On the
splash page, a giant robot has Robin in its  clutches and is about to stomp on
Batman, but a colorfully costumed female  figure swings to the rescue; "Don't
worry, Batman and Robin!  I'll save  you!"  "It's the Batwoman!"  According to
the lead caption, "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....Batman finds he HAS a great
rival in the mysterious and  glamorous girl, the BATWOMAN!"

The Bat-Signal summons Bruce Wayne and  Dick Grayson to assume their
costumedf identities and rush to Gotham City's "new  air terminal," where a robbery is
taking place.  But "another champion of  the law is ALREADY there!" At first,
the crooks think the caped figure appearing  on a ledge above them is Batman,
but then notice the curves and the more  colorful outfit; "Why, it's a
BATWOMAN!  Ha, ha!  What can she  do?"  They are quickly disabused of their male
chauvinism, as Batwoman  leaps onto a giant display of airplanes revolving around
a world globe, and  spins the globe around to knock out one of the thugs. 
The remaining thief  rushes at our heroine with a gun, only to be disabled by a
fit of sneezing when  Batwoman unleases a cloud of sneezing powder from a
powder-puff in her  Bat-handbag.  Next,  she uses another feminine accoutrement to
bind  the two subdued wrongdoers; "My charm bracelets are really disguised
handcuffs  that'll hold you two like a charm!"   At this point, Batman and Robin
appear on the scene to discover that this female wannabe has done their job
for  them.  Rather ungratefully, Batman insists, "Wait!  Whoever you are-- 
YOU can't crusade against crime!  The law of Gotham City says that nobody  can
wear a Batman costume!"  "You're wrong, Batman!  The law says no  MAN can wear
it!  I"m a woman!"  (Not to mention that even aside from  the obvious
anatomical differences, no one is very likely to confuse Batman's  gray and blue-black
working clothes with Batwoman's more colorful black and  yellow outfit and
bright red cape.)  Perceiving that Batman isn't inclined  to welcome a rival in
the Bat-business, Batwoman flees on her Bat-cycle, but not  without a warning;
"If you ever penetrate MY secret, you'll automatically be  revealing your OWN
identity!"  Batwoman escapes pursuit by steering her  cycle down an alley too
narrow for the Batmobile.  But Batman is still  determined to halt her
career, supposedly for her own good; "We've got to track  down her identity and stop
her dangerous career, even though it may jeopardize  my own!" 

But the next night, as a jewel thief strikes at a world  film premiere,
Batman swings recklessly into the gunman's line of fire and it is  Batwoman who
appears again and blinds the crook by using her compact-mirror to  flash the
spotlights into his eyes.  This wows the crowd; "There goes the  Batwoman!  She
stopped that crook all by herself!"  "She also saved  Batman's life!"  Batman
admits to Robin she did save him, but nonetheless  is still determined to stop
her, even after she comes to the rescue a second  time, using her perfume flask
full of "Tear Gas No. 5" to stop crooks who have  trapped Batman and Robin in
a blind alley.  As Batwoman's feats make the  headlines, Robin complains,
"Batman, she's making you look bad!"  Batman  insists, "I don't care about that! 
But I do care about the risks she's  taking!  She doesn't realize that she's
been successful thus far because of  GOOD LUCK!  And she's so reckless that
some criminal is bound to find out  her identity, then she'll be in bad danger!"

As Batman wonders  where Batwoman's "secret base" is, we readers follow her
there, to discover that  she has her own "Batcave" in a "forgotten old
mine-tunnel" under her home.   Who is she?  She is Kathy Kane, once a circus trapeze
artiste by  profession, who used to idolize Batman, "the greatest acrobat of
all, (who) uses  his skill, not for shows, but against crime!"  An inheritance
from a rich  uncle gives her the chance to realize her ambition,  building her
Batcave,  creating her collection of feminine-style Bat-equipment, and
training in  detective and combat skills as well as acrobatics. 

In civilian  life heiress Kathy Kane is a socialite, and when she holds a big
party, Bruce  Wayne feels obliged to show up to keep up his own image as a
social  butterfly.  As Bruce and Kathy dance together, she throws out a bit of 
identity camouflage by commenting about a news report, "How could any woman
ever  rival the great BATMAN!"  Bruce responds, "You have to admire this 
Batwoman's courage, though!"  Bruce responds, and a spark of romance flares  as each
realizes that the other admires their secret identity.  But when  the
Bat-Signal appears in the sky, Bruce and Kathy each excuse themselves  hurriedly and
each, unknown to the other, rushes to answer the call.    A crime is taking
place at the Tomorrow Club, a night spot with a futuristic  sci-cfi motif.  The
Batmobile and Bat-cycle race each other to the scene,  and Batwoman wins the
race by taking short cuts.  "A good scratch-rider can  go where your Batmobile
can't" she taunts.  Batwoman rushes into the  interior of the club, desgned to
resemble a weird alien landscape, intent on  stopping the crook who is
wrecking the place before Batman can interfere.   When Batman does show up, he
pleads, "This is no place for a girl-- please let  ME handle it!"  "No, I'll stay--
I might have to rescue YOU again!"   "Batwoman, to you this is just a
thrill-- you don't realize that fighting crime  is a dangerous business!"  "Then
you'd better stop worrying over me and  tend to business!"  When Batwoman pulls
Batman out of the way of a toppling  giant "Martian idol", he admits, "Looks
like you saved me again!  And  you're a swell acrobat!"  "You're a terrific
trap-artist yourself!"   Finally Batman gets the chance to return the favor, as he
pushes Batwoman out of  the way of the fist of a giant robot, but he himself
is knocked  unconscious.  Batwoman captures the thug responsible, , producing a
giant  super-strong hairnet out of her bag.  Then she kneels down to check on
Batman, and is tempted to unmask him, but concludes, "No!  He got stunned 
only because he tried to save me.  It wouldn't be fair for me to unmask  him!" 
At this point, Robin arrives on the scene to find Batwoman cradling  a
reclining Batman, and blurts, "Oh!  Perhaps I'm intruding!"  "Don't  be foolish!"
the awakening Batman replies. Interrogating the thug, Batman learns  that he is
part of Hugo Vorn's mob, but can't get an answer why he tried to  wreck he
Tomorrow nightclub.  Robin complains again that Batwoman has made  them "look
like amateurs", but Batman reveals that she made a mistake of her own  in
referring to "scratch-riders" and "trap-artists".

Batman deduces that  the attack on the Tomorrow Club was only a diversion
from another intended  robbery by the Vorn gang, and as he spots an advertising
blimp making a sudden  descent, he realizes the scheme is to attack the local
U.S. mint from the  sky.  As the blimp lands and the armed crooks overpower the
mint guards,  all three crimefighters swing onto the scene, but the
chauvinist gang boss  declares, "There's only two of them-- the girl doesn't count!" 
However,  the caption tells us "But this girl DOES count in a fray!"  And
indeed, she  helps subdue the gang with the aid of her sneezing powder puff and her
shoulder-bag strap which converts to a Bat-bolo to tangle the thugs.  
Seemingly reconciled to having a new collaborator, Batman allows Batwoman to  turn
the gang over to the police and take credit for their capture.  But to  Robin
he explains that he only wants time to trace Batwoman's iddentity from the 
clues she dropped.  Looking through old theatrical directories for female 
circus performers who performed both on the trapeze -- "trap-artists""-- and as 
motorcycle stunt riders-- "scratch-riders"-- he narrows the search down to Kathy
Kane, who peformed both before giving up the circus.  And underground maps 
of Gotham reveal the location of the old tunnel underneath her house.  And 
so, Batman and Robin invade Batwoman's Bat-boudoir and warn her that if they can
discover her identity and location, crooks could do the same and put her in 
"mortal danger".  Finally, Kathy agrees to give up her dangerous  career. 
She wasn't bluffing, though, about being able to expose Batman's  own identity--
she had the entrance to her hideout rigged with automatic cameras  to take
the exact measurements of anyone entering, information she could use to  trace
Batman's secret.  But she voluntarily turns over the revealing films  to
Batman; "I-- ! could never harm you!"  "Thanks, Kathy!"  (Though  Batman later
reveals to Robin that he had spotted and disabled the spy  cameras.)  As a parting
gift, Kathy gives Batman a giant portrait of  herself in costume which she had
in her hideout, to hang in his own Batcave--  and despite her supposed
retirement, Robin wonders "if we'll ever fight crime  with her-- as the DYNAMIC

They did, of course.  After another  story or two in which Batman tried to
dissuade Batwoman from resuming her  "dangerous" career, he finally admitted
that she had just as much right to risk  her neck as he did, and she became a
semi-regular partner to Batman and Robin,  making numerous appearances over the
next several years in DETECTIVE, BATMAN,  and even the Superman/Batman series
in WORLD'S FINEST.  Batman and Batwoman  also shared a low-key romantic
relationship-- one BATMAN issue cover-featured  the "Marriage of Batman and Batwoman"
(though, of course, it turned out to be a  hoax, a dream or an imaginary
story) and the 60's series of "Batman and Robin  II" stories took it for granted
that eventually, in the future, Bruce Wayne and  Kathy Kane would marry and
raise a son who would become the new Robin to the  grownup Dick Grayson's Batman.

And that's where the train of  thought I mentioned comes in.  A few weeks ago
when there was a flap about  the cartoon character Spongebob Squarepants
being "outed" as gay, I was reminded  of an earlier controversy when Dr. Fredric
Werthem insisted (with, perhaps, just  a bit more evidence) that Batman and
Robin "obviously" had a homosexual  relationship going.  That controversy was
relatively recent when this  Batwoman intro story appeared, and I suspect the
introduction of a Batwoman may  have been, in part, an attempt to quash any
suspicions about Batman's sexual  orientation.  (Earlier attempts to give Batman a
romantic interest didn't  really work out-- Julie Madison and Linda Page
during the 40's were ciphers,  Vicki Vale was mostly just a pest, and Catwoman,
being a villainess, couldn't  very well be Batman's regular girlfriend.) 

Batwoman disappeared  abruptly in 1964 when new editor Julius Schwartz
brought in the "New Look" and  dropped all of the "Batman Family" supporting
characters Jack Schiff had  introduced in the previous decade.  Oddly enough, though,
Schwartz alluded  to the old "gay Batman" controversy in explaining why he
had Alfred the butler  killed off (he later got better) and brought in Aunt
Harriet in his place.   Supposedly he thought Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson needed
a female presence in  their lives.  Now I ask you; if you wanted to convince
people that your  hero is a virile guy with a normal interest in the opposite
sex, would you write  out a beautiful woman with whom your hero has an obvious
mutual attraction, and  bring in a maiden aunt in her place?

Normally I like to cover the backup  features (presumably, in this case, Roy
Raymond and J'onn J'onzz) when I review  an issue, but in this case I can't
since I only own the reprint of the lead  story.  Anyone own the original 'TEC
#233 and want to review the rest of  the book?