Last night J. H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman announced that they’re leaving Batwoman after 26 issues due to editorial interference that included being “prohibited from ever showing Kate and Maggie actually getting married.” Williams followed up the posting of his letter on Twitter with the comment “But must clarify- was never put to us as being anti-gay marriage.”
No one except those who were in the editorial board room knows if this decision was based on a company policy against DC’s LGBT characters getting hitched. It would seem odd in light of the company’s increasing comfort with prominent LGBT characters including Batwoman, Midnighter, Apollo, Sarah Rainmaker, Alysia Yeoh, and Alan Scott. What we do know is that DC erased every major character marriage — most notably the marriage between Superman and Lois Lane — when they relaunched the DC Universe in 2011. That suggests DC may have a policy to limit the marriage of title characters — no matter their sexual orientation. DC has never declared that limiting marriages is a policy.
No matter the justification for denying the marriage, the departure of Blackman and Williams once again brings negative attention to DC’s editorial department, who seem to have an increasing problem of not trusting some creators while putting too much faith in others.
The story Williams and Blackman have been telling is unique in the DC Universe, as they’ve had the freedom to tell it in a bubble without needing to shape their arcs around pesky multiple-title event storylines. Batwoman and Batman, Inc. were the only Bat-books given the luxury to sit out both “The Court of Owls” and “Death of the Family.” The result, free of crossover interruptions, is a complete story that can be read straight through from the first issue. Its lead character is also one of the best developed characters in the new 52.
Batwoman is consistent seller. While sales have been slipping in the last few months (as have most DC titles) it typically held steady above 30,000 units. When held up against some of the other Bat-books that number isn’t great, especially when you look at the brief boost those titles receive from crossover issues. Catwoman, as a comparable female-led example, consistently lagged behind Batwoman by roughly 4,000 units in the months leading up to the October and November 2012 “Death of the Family” crossover. It was only that crossover that pushed Catwoman past Batwoman by 4,000 units in October and nearly 25,000 units in November. Interestingly, Batwoman saw her sales slip in that month from around 40,000 on average to 35,000 in December and January. Catwoman dropped like a rock to 35,000 in December. Both titles have continued to slide with Catwoman returning to her position of having lower sales than Batwoman.
It’s interesting to see such a sharp decline, because both books had seen consistent numbers before the “Death of the Family” crossover. Even though Batwoman didn’t take part in the crossover her sales have suffered along with Catwoman.
Batwoman should have seen a bump in the February issue where Kathy Kane proposed to Maggie Sawyer, but those numbers were well below what they were prior to “Death of the Family.” This brings us to DC’s second big problem: marketing.
As Rich Johnston noted on Bleeding Cool in February there was zero marketing around the historic proposal issue of Batwoman. DC broke important ground by showing the first known lesbian proposal in the history of superhero comics, but they let it quietly pass while instead focusing on the much easier to promote death of Damian Wayne in Batman, Inc. Seriously, the death of a Robin, especially Batman’s son, is going to sell by word-of-mouth alone.
It may be harsh to suggest the marketing department at DC is lazy, but I wouldn’t cast that aspersion if Batwoman’s proposal were the only place we saw a failure to promote. The best example in the last two years is DC quietly bringing on award-winning author China Miéville to write Dial H. My local comic book shop at the time (a well-established shop with a history going back more than four decades) ordered five copies of Dial H number one and didn’t know anything about Miéville. When I explained Miéville is a well-respected author with multiple awards under his belt (including three Arthur C. Clarkes, a Nebula, and a World Fantasy) the shop manager was surprised he hadn’t heard more from DC. Dial H was a perfect opportunity to get new readers into comic book stores, but it would have required DC’s marketing department to think outside of the established character box.
As of this writing DC still hasn’t responded to the overnight kerfuffle, but no matter how they respond what it comes down to is DC’s main problem isn’t marriage equality. DC’s first problem is an editorial department intent on reducing their creators’ breathing room while depending on crossovers to produce brief sales bumps. DC’s second problem is having a marketing department only interested in promoting established titles.