In this month's #ComicBookLove, PHS Editor Corrina Lawson studies the many loves (and lost loves) of the superhero who has so often been the darkness to Superman's light.
No character has been more symbolic of shifts in superhero storytelling between the dark and the light than Batman/Bruce Wayne.
And one of the best ways to see these storytelling changes is through the fates of his many and varied love interests. When Batman is lighter, his ladies are allowed to be more and do more. When Batman goes dark, it’s often lights out for them.
Conceived by Bill Finger and Bob Kane in the tradition of The Shadow and other pulp heroes, Batman was a violent punisher of criminals. He even carried a gun in his first appearances. While much remains of that original conception, especially the iconic “Criminals are s superstitious, cowardly lot,”—so much has changed as well. Batman comics have gone through ever genre from science fiction to pulp to noir to seriously grimdark and, well, the jury’s out on where he’ll end up on the page.
On-screen, Batman has been everything from the star of a hilarious tongue-in-cheek live-action show, a Saturday morning kid’s show, a stylistic and moody animated series, and a seemingly never-ending series of live-action movies where he shifts from Gotham’s defender to a nearly emotionless killer.
And as Bruce Wayne changed, so did his love interests. Selina Kyle/Catwoman, of course, is the best known but there have also been Vicki Vale, Kathy Kane, Silver St. Cloud, Shondra Kinsolving, Vesper Fairchild, Talia Al Ghul, and Andrea Beaumont. There was even a hint of a romance with Wonder Woman in the Justice League animated series.
Let’s see what happened to these other ladies before we tackle Selina Kyle and check at what stage they appeared in Batman’s life:
Vicki Vale (created in 1948 by Finger and Kane): Status: alive. She’s seen numerous incarnations over the years, even to the Tim Burton Batman movies, and her role as a reporter has basically stayed intact, which is remarkable given her long history. The last we saw of her in the comics, back in 2012, she was still a reporter—a crime story staple -- but not dating Bruce at all. Right now, she’s MIA but at least not dead.
Kathy Kane/original Batwoman (created in 1957 by Edmond Hamilton and Sheldon Moldoff): Status: Dead (Unless you’re Grant Morrison) Not to be confused with Kate Kane, the current Batwoman, Kathy was partially created to show Bruce was a heterosexual. This was the Silver Age of Comics, under the shadow of The Seduction of the Innocent, which wanted comics to be more ‘wholesome.’ In this era, Batman comics took a turn for the silly and bizarre. Kathy was basically created to fulfill a role, rather than be a character. However, by the 1970's, as Batman was revamped out of the campy 1960's and into the more stylish noir 1970's, Kathy was re-imagined as an independent circus owner, far from her ‘crush on Batman roots.’ This originally showed the gains made by women in society over the years. Unfortunately, those gains remain limited, the creators handling Kathy in the late 1970's saw no role for her, and she was unceremoniously fridged because Batman needed angst. This was reflective of the coming darker era of Batman in the 1980's.
Silver St. Cloud: (Created in 1977 by Steve Englehart and Walter Simonson). Status: MIA but has been killed once on the page. A love interest created during the era the stylish superhero noir, Silver instantly saw through Bruce’s disguise as Batman. Later, she walked away from the relationship because she didn’t want to deal with Batman’s bizaree world. Silver was smart and independent and would be a fond memory to Batman readers but, unfortunately, Keven Smith killed her in his Batman: The Widening Gyre, which may or may not be in continuity. Her death certainly fits in with darker Batman stories that began in the later 1980's.
Talia Al Ghul: (created in 1971 by Denny O’Neil, Dick Giordano and Bob Brown). Status: Alive, then dead, still a villain. Talia occupies a unique place in Batman’s heart, given she’s the mother of his son, Damian Wayne. In her original appearances, she was deeply torn between love for her father, the supervillain Ra’s Al Ghul, and her love for Bruce. Later, as the stories took a darker turn, she lost all nuance and became a straight-out villain, even killing her own son. Now? She’s a leader of assassins and definitely a villain. I often wonder if Talia is a symbol of how men seemed scared of deceptive women. Grant Morrison briefly bought Kathy Kane back to have a fun Silver Age story. Then Morrison wrote Talia as a child-killer. Hmmm…
Shondra Kinsolving: (Created in 1992 by Dough Moench and Jim Aparo). Status: Maybe Traumatized?? Shondra, a Black woman, was a doctor and the lover of Bruce Wayne at the time Bane broke his back, a comics story that inspired the events of the movie The Dark Knight. Shondra eventually used her kinetic healing powers to fix Bruce’s back. Unfortunately for such a vibrant and interesting character, she lapsed into something of a catatonic state due to trauma. And that’s where Shondra remained, until a brief recent appearance that might have just been a throwaway line. Yes, despite her being a career women with her own powers, she still was used as a storytelling lever, rather than a full character. Batman isn’t allowed to be happy at this juncture.
Vesper Fairchild: (Created in 1977 by Doug Moench and Kelley Jones.) Status: Dead. Vesper was another ‘creature of the night,’ a radio talk show host, who had an excellent relationship with Bruce, and added to the fascinating cast of Gothamites. Creative teams changed, Vesper didn’t appear for some time and, when she did, she was also fridged, in the Batman: Murderer storyline in 2003. This was part of showing yet another descent of Batman into depression and sadness. So, still, even as the century turned, the main use of a love interest in Batman comics would be to die.
Andrea Beaumont was the first love of Bruce in the classic Batman: Mask of the Phantasm animated movie. In many ways, the movie was about her, not Bruce, an interesting change but, alas, this remains her one big appearance. And we all know what happened to Rachel Dawes in the Nolan movies...
Many of these characters were created as independent career women. But being in Batman’s orbit often reduced them to damsels in distress or in them being killed off, especially if the creative mood decided Batman comics could have no rays of sunshine. Poor Kathy Kane has the saddest trajectory of all, finally rising above her roots as a love interest to show Batman’s heterosexual virility to an interesting character in her own right, only to be fridged as the wheel turned once again in the stories.
But, of course, when one thinks of Batman love interests, it’s Catwoman, created in 1940 by Finger and Kane, who comes to mind. And she’s been through a whole slew of changes related to the alterations in Batman, too. Her origin has been all over the place, from enigmatic femme fatale to amnesiac flight attendant and even to a disappearance from comics from 1954-1966 because of the Comics Code. (Apparently, femme fatales are too sexy? Or perhaps they objected to Selina’s uneasy relationship with morals.) In the 1940's pulp stories, Selina began a femme fatale, carrying her own mystique. Then she vanished for a decade, as Batman storytelling took that more ‘wholesome’ turn. But then came Batman ’66. Selina was back with a vengeance. Iconic portrayals by Julie Newmar and Eartha Kitt put the spotlight firmly on Selina as Batman’s one true love. The comics Selina mirrored the television one. She was a thief but she wasn’t really too bad, and she definitely had a crush on Batman.
Selina was even fully rehabilitated or, at least, a version of her was rehabilitated, when the Earth-2 (an alternate history where the Golden Age DC heroes lived) Batman and Catwoman married and had a daughter. Bruce and Selina lived happily for years but, alas, Selina tragically died when blackmailed back into a life a crime. Boo! But their daughter became the superhero The Huntress. So, yes, this version was fridged but to cause her daughter to pick up the cape and cowl.
Progress of a sort?
Back on Earth-1, the main comics Earth, Selina and Bruce had a relationship much like in the beginning. She committed crimes, he tried to catch her, both were intrigued. Then came the classic 1987 grimdark Batman: Year One story by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli. This Selina was a dominatrix and inspired to become Catwoman by seeing the first appearances of Batman in full costume. All Selina’s other origins had her making a choice independently to be Catwoman and yet this story made her inspired by the main character. That’s not progress. The dominatrix aspect certainly fit with Miller’s grimdark view of of Gotham. For good or ill, that origin has sort of stuck over the years.
To the good: in late 2001, Selina received a stylish noir series of her own, by Ed Brubaker and the late great Darwyn Cooke. She received a new black leather catsuit costume and became much more of an antihero than a villain. But, still, since Batman comics were darker, this series was in a pulp vein, sometimes verging into horror. Selina also had an on-again/off-again sexual relationship with Bruce/Batman and they knew each other’s identity. This Catwoman series is the most adult series Selina has ever starred in and it set the template for the 21st century. Selina in Batman: The Dark Knight Rises has much in common with the Brubaker/Cooke Catwoman.
Later, Selina and Bruce worked together, as lovers and colleagues in Batman: International but Grant Morrison. Yet, recently, Batman comics have shifted Bruce again to a grim, almost suicidal loner once more. That means Selina remains his love interest—who best to understand him but a criminal—but it also means neither think they should be happy because superheroes shouldn’t be happy, or so the story seems to go.
Will Batman truly take a long-term shift to the light? Unlikely, given his stories keep becoming darker and grimmer, including the more recent tales where his nemesis is the Batman-Who-Laughs, an alternate version of Bruce who became the Joker when exposed to Joker venom. That means his ladies will remain either in danger or discarded.
Selina remains his only hope for long-term happiness but given they’re both stuck in this noir/grimdark loop, that hope is a long-shot.
Corrina's latest book, Stealing Love (co-written with Summer Devon) is out now. To find out more about Corrina and her writing, you can follow her on Twitter or visit her Website
Is it possible for Batman/Bruce Wayne to have a long term romantic partner or would he have to fake his own death again? Who is your favorite Batman/Bruce Wayne love interest? Is there one you would like to see make a return? Will Batman get his version of a HEA with Catwoman? Join the discussion on our Social Media using #BatLove