The return of Batwoman - as a lesbian socialite

Fifty years after she first graced the pages of a comic book, Batwoman is to return to the world of superheroes - as a lesbian socialite.

After an absence of almost 30 years and following months of feverish speculation among fans of the genre, Batwoman will make an appearance in the July issue of a comic called 52, produced by the legendary publishers DC Comics.

Her real identity is Kathy Kane, described as a "lesbian socialite by night and a crime fighter by later in the night." Kathy Kane was also the name of the original Batwoman's alter ego, created in 1956.

She became Batman's ally in his fight against evil but was always in his shadow, merely making occasional appearances in the comic named after him.

In her initial incarnation, she was hardly a feminist icon - she was never given her own comic, carried a handbag, and spent time with her niece Batgirl swooning over Batman and his sidekick Robin. The first Kathy was killed off in 1979 -murdered by an assassin.

But in a world where parallel universes exist and people have X-ray eyes, anything is possible - including Batwoman's reincarnation.

The New York Times reported at the weekend that Batwoman would return to52, a comic launched this month that features a number of superheroes, including Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman.

No one has seen the new Batwoman, although it is known that her past includes a romantic liaison with Renee Montoya, a lesbian former police detective who has also starred in the 52 comic.

A spokesman for the lesbian and gay pressure group Stonewall said: "I think anything that promotes diversity is a very good thing and we welcome the introduction of characters like this.

"A lot of lesbians and gay men are fans of these comics and it is good that the publishers are beginning to recognise that, and feature people who reflect the society we live in.

"Lesbians and gay men may also identify with the genre because comic book characters are often misfits who are left on the margins of society and have to fight to be accepted."

According to The New York Times, the re-invention of Batwoman is part of a wider attempt by the comic book industry to feature more people from different minority groups in tales of derring-do by much-loved superheroes.

DC Comics is re-launching Blue Beetle, formerly a white hero, as a Mexican teenager with mystical powers. And Marvel Comics, DC's great rivals, have introduced the character Luke Cage to its best-selling New Avengers; he is a black street-fighter who last month married his white girlfriend.

But while DC may be embracing diversity when it comes to its heroines, it appears it is rather more protective of its male characters' sexuality. Last year the company took legal action against a New York art gallery that housed an exhibition of watercolours featuring Batman and Robin in "intimate" positions.

The popularity of adaptation films featuring comic book heroes, such as X-Men, Batman Begins and The Fantastic Four, has revived an industry that was previously in decline, and provided new material. Sales are now increasing by 25 per cent annually, and the adult comic sector is worth £5.5m a year.

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