Fans were justifiably upset at the recent news that J.H. Williams III and W. Hayden Blackman would be leaving Batwoman, but with all the editorial troubles we've seen since the New 52, is anyone surprised?
This departure has turned into something of a PR nightmare, considering the main reason behind the creators’ exit. Batwoman was introduced back during the weekly comic event 52, and made headlines when it was revealed she was a lesbian. Her storyline was one of the main features of 52, along with fellow LBGT character Renee Montoya, who had previously been outed in the fantastic Gotham Central series. A number of back-up stories featuring Batwoman fleshed out the character, as J.H. Williams III and Hayden Blackman prepared her for her own series, which would debut along with the New 52.
Easily one of the most visually striking comics on the market, Williams’ unique style and experimental paneling made the book an early favorite of the New 52. The tight scripts and always changing story stayed true to their unofficial motto of “No Status Quo”, and the character of Kate Kane prospered, cracked, loved, lost, and grew before our eyes. Former Metropolis Inspector and current head of Gotham’s Major Crimes Unit, Maggie Sawyer, became a very important person in Kate’s life, who proposed to Maggie twice over the course of the series.
It’s obvious Williams and Blackman had a great love for both of these characters, and wanted to take their relationship to the next level. Unfortunately, this is where the problem begins, as they were told specifically that they could not marry the characters. Obviously questions were raised on the moral implications of this decision considering the ongoing debate on gay marriage, and the forums exploded with discussions on this departure. Williams and Blackwell released the following statement about their exit from the series they have been with since the beginning:
From the moment DC asked us to write Batwoman — a dream project for both of us — we were committed to the unofficial tagline “No Status Quo.” We felt that the series and characters should always be moving forward, to keep changing and evolving. In order to live up to our mantra and ensure that each arc took Batwoman in new directions, we carefully planned plotlines and story beats for at least the first five arcs well before we ever wrote a single issue. We’ve been executing on that plan ever since, making changes whenever we’ve come up with a better idea, but in general remaining consistent to our core vision.
Unfortunately, in recent months, DC has asked us to alter or completely discard many long-standing storylines in ways that we feel compromise the character and the series. We were told to ditch plans for Killer Croc’s origins; forced to drastically alter the original ending of our current arc, which would have defined Batwoman’s heroic future in bold new ways; and, most crushingly, prohibited from ever showing Kate and Maggie actually getting married. All of these editorial decisions came at the last minute, and always after a year or more of planning and plotting on our end.
We’ve always understood that, as much as we love the character, Batwoman ultimately belongs to DC. However, the eleventh-hour nature of these changes left us frustrated and angry — because they prevent us from telling the best stories we can. So, after a lot of soul-searching, we’ve decided to leave the book after Issue 26.
We’re both heartbroken over leaving, but we feel strongly that you all deserve stories that push the character and the series forward. We can’t reliably do our best work if our plans are scrapped at the last minute, so we’re stepping aside. We are committed to bringing our run to a satisfying conclusion and we think that Issue 26 will leave a lasting impression.
While early feelings after this news was released focused on possible homophobic motivations from DC Comics, they were quick to point out that they weren’t against gay marriage, just marriages in general. This obviously coincides with the current state of many of DC’s formerly married couples like Superman and Lois Lane, or even the disappearance of Wally and Linda West’s family from the New 52 line. In a spin move from DC that came from left field, Aqauman and Mera were recently confirmed as in fact NOT being married in the New 52, despite no evidence provided in Geoff John’s fantastic Aquaman series to back up this statement.
This also isn’t the first time DC has dealt with same-sex controversies, with earlier ‘scandals’ dating back to the infamous “Seduction of the Innocent” by Fredric Wertham, who posited that the relationship between Batman and Robin was directly responsible for children adopting a homosexual lifestyle, among other ‘delinquent’ behavior. The Wertham study is largely regarded as a misguided look at comic books that forever altered the industry and put an end to any comics that were seen to negatively impact the youth of America. More recently, DC dealt with backlash from Orson Scott Card’s comments against same-sex marriages as he was set to write a story for the upcoming Adventures of Superman series. Artist Chris Sprouse backed out of the story, which was shelved indefinitely.
This is, by far, not the only hiccup we’ve seen from the editorial squad at DC since the start of the New 52. The fast paced and somewhat cutthroat attempt at keeping 52 ongoing titles is obviously going to see some winners and losers, but a new ‘practice’ of writers leaving before their run even began started to pop up. While a lot of the earlier series cancellations can be attributed to low sales, many comic creators have stepped forward to discuss their reasons for leaving and the editorial intervention on their respective series that resulted in so many problems.
Static Shock writer John Rozum was one of the first to speak out about his treatment in the New 52, which led to him leaving after the fourth issue. He outlined his displeasure at his treatment by both his editor Harvey Richards and artist Scott McDaniel, and he wasn’t alone. J.T. Krul was soon replaced on Green Arrow, and superstar artist George Perez left Superman after the first arc and wasn’t shy speaking about some of the issues happening behind the scenes.
“Unfortunately when you are writing major characters, you sometimes have to make a lot of compromises, and I was made certain promises, and unfortunately, not through any fault of Dan DiDio, he was no longer the last word, I mean a lot of people were now making decisions; they were constantly going against each other, contradicting, again in mid-story.”
Gail Simone and Ron Marz both left their series (Fury of Firestorm and Voodoo, respectively) due to differences with the editors. The Before Watchmen controversy caused tension with creator Alan Moore and in part resulted in the permanent departure of Chris Robertson, who wasn’t afraid to state his feelings of the company he left:
“Sorry. In a better world, characters like the Legion would be owned by a more ethical company, but sadly not in this one. The short version is, I don’t agree with the way they treat other creators and their general business practices.”
Rob Liefeld then left all three series he was working on at the time (Grifter, Savage Hawman, and Deathstroke) citing editorial differences as well as “Massive indecision, last minute and I mean LAST minute changes that alter everything. Editor pissing contests.” Gail Simone was removed from the succesful Batgirl series, and then returned shortly due to a huge fan outcry.
These types of stories continue, and unfortunately keep mounting as multiple series announced new writers who are then removed or leave voluntarily either before their run or early in it. Andy Diggle left Action Comics after only two issues, leaving Tony Daniel to finish the arc, until he also stepped down. Jim Zubkavich was hired on for Birds of Prey, but was replaced by Christy Marx at the last minute before a single issue. This caused Nick Spencer to speak out, who had experienced the same type of treatment when he was slated to take over the Supergirl series pre-New 52:
“Seeing lots of ‘that’s how it is in this business,’ stuff in regards to the day’s news. It really isn’t, and it certainly shouldn’t be. To be a little more direct: the way DC treats a lot of their freelancers is absolutely abhorrent. When it happened to me on Supergirl, I didn’t say much, because I didn’t want to dwell on the negative. But when you see it happen to so many good people, and the damage it does to their careers, their incomes, etc…It’s just not okay. I don’t understand the need for it, and I wish it were otherwise. I love DC, love the characters, and I know I did some of my best work there. And I’m very happy for my friends who have been successful there. But I would tell any creator – especially newer, younger ones – to be extremely careful in doing business there.”
This is unfortunately just a small sampling of the problems we’ve heard from creators having to deal with the current editorial regime at DC Comics. For even more horror stories you can check out this definitive timeline of DC’s departures, which carries forward to current problems such as the third introduction of a rebooted Lobo in the New 52, the removal of Kevin Maguire from the upcoming Justice League 3000, and of course the exit of Williams and Blackman from Batwoman.
So what does it all mean? While many accusers seem to point out an obvious apprehension to gay marriage, DC’s track record with LBGT characters is pretty good. They certainly don’t shy away from including these characters, which was evidenced by the revelation that the New 52 Alan Scott, AKA Earth 2′s Green Lantern, would be gay. DC was also quick to announce Marc Andreyko as the new writer of Batwoman, who has handled a few successful series for DC, most notably the Kate Spencer-led Manhunter. Andreyko is also openly gay, which led many fans to think of his hiring as a PR move to deal with the recent gay marriage backlash, but Andreyko is a fantastic writer who will definitely add to the story of Batwoman, regardless of his sexual preference. He is slated to take over for issue #25 of Batwoman, with Jeremy Haun on art.
But for how long? If these editorial problems keep popping up across the New 52, will it discourage more creators from working with DC? How can the fans be expected to follow some of their favorite creators and storylines when anything and everything can be changed at the last minute? These are questions that we can only hope the DC Editorial staff are asking themselves after recent developments, but given the last few years it might be too much to expect a change that fans can get behind.
What are your thoughts on the New 52′s documented problems? Do you feel the creators should be treated better, or is the editorial staff right in their attitude toward their universe and the continuity they are building? Sound off in the comments section below!
Images: DC Comics