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TBU Shipper Spotlight Retrospective: Conditional Love


Retrospective

The ending of Batgirl #42 and the reappearance in the pages of DC Bombshells #1 of the Kate Kane/Maggie Sawyer relationship that we enjoyed in the Batwoman title got me first thinking about what I am going to discuss here. A myriad of emotions came to me at this time, including anger, resentment, sadness, and loss. I started this conversation in Batgirl to Oracle Episode 104, and I plan on continuing it here, but I cannot say when or how the conversation will end.

 

If you have ever read my Shipper Spotlight articles that began at the inception of the New52, I praised few relationships that were given to us throughout those early runs. In fact, the one relationship that I espoused as the best and most realistic relationship on page was Kate Kane and Maggie Sawyer. In a time when characters were having sex on rooftops with their costumes on (Catwoman), sex on a plane (Nightwing), and, perhaps worst of all, being hailed as a gay incarnation of a Golden Age superhero only to have his fiance killed in issue #3 (Earth 2), Kate and Maggie were diamonds in the rough. Their relationship grew organically, they were strong emotionally rather than physically on page, and they did not fall into bed the first time they met one another.

 

Unfortunately, the pair was not allowed to cement their relationship permanently with marriage vows. Let me point your attention to a quote from Dan Didio (courtesy of the Beat) after it was announced that Kate and Maggie would not be allowed to marry:

 

“Heroes shouldn’t have happy personal lives. They are committed to being that person and committed to defending others at the sacrifice of their own personal interests. That’s very important and something we reinforced. People in the Bat family, their personal lives basically suck. Dick Grayson, rest in peace—oops shouldn’t have said that,—Bruce Wayne, Tim Drake, Barbara Gordon and Kathy Kane. It’s wonderful that they try to establish personal lives, but it’s equally important that they set them aside. That is our mandate, that is our edict and that is our stand.”

 

So why am I upset now? Why am I bringing this up again? This is why:

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Kate and Maggie are the champions needed to lead the charge for DC Comics LGBT characters due to their well-developed and emotional relationship. The marriage of Alysia and Jo, supporting and frequently forgotten about characters, would not have the same impact nor the power to create a lasting change.

 

So, Alysia and Jo…who is that girl again? If you have not been reading Batgirl from the beginning (the Gail Simone beginning) you will have no idea who this character is. I, your friendly neighborhood Batgirl-fan, am here to chart the Alysia/Jo relationship with a side-by-side comparison to, and analysis with, the Kate/Maggie relationship.

 

Alysia/Jo Kate/Maggie
Origin The first time we meet Jo is in Batgirl #31 (‘Wrath of the Ragdoll’), when Alysia and her band of activists are in the Carter Resnik Foundation. They have been recruited to mess up the offices on account of some inhumane experiments, and Ragdoll comes upon them. Jo is, understandably freaked out, and Alysia has to calm her down.   While Alysia wants to help Ramon (another activist friend) and later Batgirl, all Jo wants to do is get out of there (and is an emotional wreck the entire scene). Later Alysia will stay to help Batgirl and forcibly send Jo out of the building.

 

What we learn: Alysia and Jo clearly have activism in common, but we do not know how they met.   Jo cannot handle herself in a crisis and is almost dangerous to have around.

We first see Kate and Maggie interact inside the GCPD in Batwoman #1. While Kate stares sadly at a photo of Renee Montoya, Maggie comes out and they talk. Maggie had previously given Kate her card and they agree to go out.

 

What we learn: Kate is already slightly damaged from her relationship with Renee and Maggie is aware of this. This is also their second interaction in their story, though first on page.   That means there is already some history there.

 

In Batwoman #2, we see their first date at a bar/club, and Kate makes Maggie feel comfortable enough to open up about her difficult day. Kate and Maggie later walk home, enjoying easy conversation, and Kate kisses Maggie on the cheek, saying, “You have my numbers. I’ll leave it in your hands.”

 

What we learn: First and foremost, Kate, if not also Maggie, takes it slow and they build a trust and easiness between themselves before going further.

First romantic interaction In the same issue, after Alysia pushes Jo to go, Jo holds on long enough to give Alysia an open-mouthed kiss, with mascara running down her face. (Later, Ragdoll would recommend to Alysia that she should date Jo.)

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What we learn: Jo clearly thinks she is never going to see Alysia again and is okay with distracting her long enough with a kiss.

 

Discrepancy?: In Batgirl #42, Alysia says that she and Jo walked along the river near where they “first kissed.”  Was the Carter Resnik Foundation near the river, or did the two have a calmer ‘first kiss’ post-Ragdoll?

A very poignant interaction between these two happens in Batwoman #3. After Kate has said many hateful things to Bette in order to protect her and get her to give up being Flamebird, Maggie comes to the door to inquiry as to why she was stood up. Kate ends up breaking down and Maggie comforts her and they later share a kiss on the stairs.

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What we learn: There is clearly something more between these two than just physical attraction.   Maggie and Kate have both had the opportunity to comfort one another, again building the trust and relationship.   Also, the first kisses shared between the two are not under duress and are sweet.

First…physical encounter In Batgirl #32, Babs is about to walk through the front door when she sees…something going on in the common area. We later see Jo run out the door, and Alysia explains “that was Jo,” and ends the conversation with “we’re kind of dating.” Well, that did not take too long, now did it? Isn’t it also dangerous to start a relationship so soon after a shared trauma?

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What we learn: Besides the fact that Alysia does not know the boundaries of the common area? Not much. But apparently, Alysia and Jo are only ‘kind of’ dating.

In Batwoman #4 (perhaps taking place right after the scene in #3, but it is not clear), Kate and Maggie share a love scene interspersed among the background of Flamebird’s mission.   They spend the night and later part with an encouraging talk and a sweet kiss.

 

What we learn: I think this definitely constitutes ‘making love’ and not ‘having sex.’ Plus, there is no awkward conversation in the morning, and the two part as if they already are a full-fledged couple.

Continuation of the journey Jo is next mentioned in Batgirl #33 in a brief discussion between Babs and Alysia:

Babs: Jo seems nice.

Alysia: Yeah, I like her.

Did I mention it was brief? This is basically the same conversation that happened after the awkward moment in the previous issue.

We later see Alysia with someone at the Hooq launch in Batgirl #40. Although we do not see her face, we can only assume it is Jo.

 

What we learn: What do we really know about Jo besides she is some sort of activist, she cannot handle herself in a crisis, she is ok with physical romance in a crisis, she is ‘nice’ even though Babs has not once talked to her, and Alysia is ‘kind of dating her?’

 

In Batwoman #6, the couple has been together for ‘weeks’ and Kate is more concerned with living in the ‘now’ than talking about the past, while Maggie would like to have a deeper conversation. In #7, the two are on a date at a popular restaurant. In #9, the two are on a cruise ship in their finery and the word ‘love’ slips out of Kate’s mouth. In a big moment in #11, Kate opens up about her past and shares with Maggie a box full of photos and stories. Maggie reciprocates and tells Kate about her daughter. They state that they want each other ‘ghosts and all.’ In #12, Kate and Maggie have a huge fight regarding Kate’s constant absences. Maggie tells Kate to leave and not return until she is ready to explain. In #15, Maggie and Kate are still having some difficulties, but the issue ends with Maggie still expressing how much she cares for Kate and wants to keep her safe and out of the madness that she deals with.

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What we learn: This couple is in it for the long haul and the history and interactions between the two have been building up and laying a solid foundation upon which the couple can stand. What’s more, it is a realistic couple with the steady progression and setbacks that many couples encounter.

Engagement That brings us to the aforementioned catalyst to this article. In Batgirl #42, Babs wakes up to find Alysia in the living room with an engagement ring on. Looks like Alysia is getting hitched and Babs is the Maid of Honor.

 

What we learn: Jo was the one to ask and apparently has a job other than activism since she was able to afford that ring.

At the end of Batwoman #17, Maggie sits on a swing set, feeling dejected and like a failure since she was unable to bring the missing children home. Appearing out of the mist is Batwoman with all the children.   In this moment Batwoman reveals her identity and proposes to Maggie. While we do not see the answer on panel, Maggie does call Kate her fiancée in #18.

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What we learn: The couple was going through some difficulties due to Kate’s alter ego and the secrets and lies that it caused. In this moment, Kate was able to be fully honest, and in accepting, Maggie also accepts the truth and Kate, ‘ghosts and all.’

Time Tally Alysia and Jo find themselves ‘together’ in some sense of the word in three issues with two other in-issue mentions. In comic time, the pair has been linked for 12 issues. There is no telling how long that is in real time, but I surmise less than a year. Between first interaction (on page) and engagement, Kate and Maggie find themselves ‘together’ in 10 issues, with mentions in at least two other issues. In comic time, the pair has been linked for 17 issues.   Again, I cannot say how long this is in real time, but given the story arcs, cases, and Bette’s coma, I would say it is close to a year, at least.

 

The Kate/Maggie story does not end there, but I will stop my analysis there since Alysia/Jo are only at the point of the engagement and there is nothing more I can explore at this time.

 

Now within Didio’s quote above, the key words there are ‘heroes,’ and ‘Bat family,’ but do the same rules apply to minor characters associated with the Bat-family? Maggie falls in this category, but so does Alysia, who was once the roommate of Barbara Gordon! Also, if you recall, Gail Simone had some unfulfilled intentions to develop Alysia into a vigilante. Would she then be a member of the Bat-family? The time may be past to talk about this at length, but I also think it is irresponsible as a creator to put a group of characters in a ‘no happy zone.’ This is something that defines Bruce Wayne, perhaps, but the origin stories of the other characters are not Bruce’s origins. Pigeon-holing these characters also overshadows the stories that could be told with a dark veil that they cannot seem to escape. How can we enjoy our favorite characters if they keep encountering tragedy and dark storylines?

 

While a marriage between Alysia and Jo would certainly make an impact in DC Comics (though they are really behind Marvel’s marriage in Astonishing X-Men between Northstar and longtime boyfriend Kyle), the real tragedy is that Kate and Maggie do not get that honor after we have followed that couple for a long time and Kate was one of the only (if not the only) gay-leads to have her own comic (at the time). Unfortunately, Kate is just another casualty in Didio’s happiness-killing edict.

 

We have yet to see how this develops in the pages of Batgirl, but I will be reading closely, and I hope that you all will too! #KateandMaggie

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One thought on “TBU Shipper Spotlight Retrospective: Conditional Love

  1. Michael Ridge

    Greetings, Stella –

    First, I don’t agree with Dan Didio. Heroes can have happy lives and solid relationships. Doctors, police officers, fire fighters and other real life heroes have the same sense of duty and sacrifice that we find in comic book heroes. In real life, heroes date, marry, have kids and are happy. That’s realistic no matter what the current fad is.

    The way you described Kate and Maggie’s developing relationship seemed to be the kind of thing that really happens. I can’t see that a successful relationship is any more inhibiting to good story telling than an established set of super powers or a day job.

    Fletcher and Stewart gave a nod to Gail Simone’s idea of Alysia as a vigilante. The corrupted algorithm identified her as a potentially dangerous vigilante at the Hooq launch party. Probably the worst possible story would have some villain kill Jo at the wedding and launch the career of the costumed “Vigilante, Avatar of Justice” when Alysia calls on ancient gods for the power to avenge Jo’s death.

    Michael Ridge

    Reply

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