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Batwoman's not-so-secret secret

July 5, 2010 |  7:52 am

OK, this is obvious: Superheroes do what no one else can do. Not only do they leap tall buildings in a single bound, etc., they also transgress other kinds of boundaries. (And I'm not talking about fashion ones, like what is happening to Wonder Woman.) They take the law into their own hands, dealing out Old Testament-style justice and, sometimes, even restraining themselves as they try to find the high road and the philosophical silver lining. One of the more famous moments in comic book history ("with great power there must also come -- great responsibility!") sounds like Stan Lee riffing on a maxim by Lord Acton.

And then there is Kate Kane, the heroine of "Batwoman Elegy: Deluxe Edition" (DC Comics: $24.99), a character who struggles as much with the impact of her sexuality on her life as her decision to be a masked crimefighter in Gotham. (There was a buzz, you might remember, in 2004 when a "Green Arrow" character was said to be HIV positive.) Available in bookstores on Wednesday, this book has an unexpectedly American theme -- its release hardly seeming coincidental with the July 4 holiday.

What is that theme? Not only have Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III (with colors by Dave Stewart and pencils by Todd Klein) given us a thrilling story of Batwoman's battle against an enigmatic villain named Alice (she's inspired by Lewis Carroll), they show us Kate Kane's origins. She's the daughter of two U.S. soldiers. Kate's a thriving Army cadet herself until she is placed, she tells her father, "under investigation for violating article 125." "Article 125," her father reacts. "That's homosexual conduct. ... Why couldn't you tell him what he needed to hear?" Kate's response to her dad: "I'd have been lying."

What happens next? Her father gives her a long look and then acknowledges her honor and integrity. Of this scene, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow writes in an introduction:

In a single, wordless panel showing Kate's father's reaction after she tells him why she's been separated from the Army, artist J.H. Williams III captures both a turning point between characters and a nation's point of decision. It actually feels, right now, in America, the way Colonel Kane looks in that panel, hurt by the plain open ask of his daughter's green eyes.

-- Nick Owchar

Photo: Detail from "Batwoman Elegy: The Deluxe Edition." Credit: J.H. Williams III