Batwoman writer quits over DC Comics' gay marriage ban

Latest high-profile departure from DC cites editorial interference in storylines.

JH Williams III and W. Hayden Blackman, the co-writers of DC Comics' Batwoman series, have announced they are leaving the comic due to DC's refusal to allow the character, the first lesbian superhero with her own solo title, to get married.

Writing on his personal blog, Williams broke the news this morning:

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 [Kane, Batwoman] and Maggie [Sawyer, her fiancée for the last six months] 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.

Williams later clarified that the prohibition on "ever showing Kate and Maggie actually getting married" did mean that the characters couldn't get married at all, whether "shown" or not.

DC's editorial decision does not seem to be based on opposition to same sex marriages specifically, but more on an policy against any character being married. Notoriously, the company split up Clark Kent and Lois Lane in their most recent relaunch of the Superman titles in 2011, following Marvel's similar decision to break up Peter Parker and Mary-Jane Watson in 2007.

Nonetheless, it does seem like an attempt to have their cake and eat it: the company was happy to mop up praise when Batwoman proposed to her girlfriend in February, with coverage in the Huffington Post, and USA Today leading the pack. Those publications may not have been as eager to cover the news if they had known that DC had no plans to allow the storyline to actually come to fruition.

Williams' and Blackman's departure from Batwoman is only the latest in a string of high-profile exits from the company. James Robinson left Earth 2, his series about an alternate DC Comics universe which made headlines for introducing a gay Green Lantern, in May. Star artist Rob Liefeld had an extremely messy break-up with his employers last summer. Josh Fialkov quit two titles before he even started, new announced on the same day that Andy Diggle did the same thing with Action Comics. There have been so many stormy exits that a relatively lengthy timeline has been compiled detailing them all – and in nearly every case, the excuse is the same: editorial interference prevented creatives from doing their jobs.

But there's one piece of good news for DC. Williams' upcoming Sandman Overture series with Neil Gaiman is not affected by his exit from Batwoman. Those comics, so profitable they're selling them twice, will make the company's Autumn a happy one indeed.

The proposal, from Batwoman 17. Photograph: DC Comics

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Why isn't Labour putting forward Corbynite candidates?

Despite his successes as a candidate, the organisational victories have gone the way of Corbyn's opponents. 

The contest changes, but the result remains the same: Jeremy Corbyn’s preferred candidate defeated in a parliamentary selection. Afzhal Khan is Labour’s candidate in the Manchester Gorton by-election and the overwhelming favourite to be the seat’s next MP.

Although Khan, an MEP, was one of  the minority of Labour’s European MPs to dissent from a letter from the European parliamentary Labour party calling for Jeremy Corbyn to go in the summer of 2016, he backed Andy Burnham and Tom Watson in 2015, and it is widely believed, fairly or unfairly, that Khan had, as one local activist put it, “the brains to know which way the wind was blowing” rather than being a pukka Corbynite.

For the leader’s office, it was a double defeat;  their preferred candidate, Sam Wheeler, was kept off the longlist, when the party’s Corbynsceptics allied with the party’s BAME leadership to draw up an all ethnic minority shortlist, and Yasmine Dar, their back-up option, was narrowly defeated by Khan among members in Manchester Gorton.

But even when the leadership has got its preferred candidate to the contest, they have been defeated. That even happened in Copeland, where the shortlist was drawn up by Corbynites and designed to advantage Rachel Holliday, the leader’s office preferred candidate.

Why does the Labour left keep losing? Supporters combination of bad luck and bad decisions for the defeat.

In Oldham West, where Michael Meacher, a committed supporter of Jeremy Corbyn’s, was succeeded by Jim McMahon, who voted for Liz Kendall, McMahon was seen to be so far ahead that they had no credible chance of stopping him. Rosena Allin-Khan was a near-perfect candidate to hold the seat of Tooting: a doctor at the local hospital, the seat’s largest employer, with links to both the Polish and Pakistani communities that make up the seat’s biggest minority blocs.  Gillian Troughton, who won the Copeland selection, is a respected local councillor.

But the leadership has also made bad decisions, some claim.  The failure to get a candidate in Manchester Gorton was particularly egregious, as one trade unionist puts it: “We all knew that Gerald was not going to make it [until 2020], they had a local boy with good connections to the trade unions, that contest should have been theirs for the taking”. Instead, they lost control of the selection panel because Jeremy Corbyn missed an NEC meeting – the NEC is hung at present as the Corbynsceptics sacrificed their majority of one to retain the chair – and with it their best chance of taking the seat.

Others close to the leadership point out that for the first year of Corbyn’s leadership, the leader’s office was more preoccupied with the struggle for survival than it was with getting more of its people in. Decisions in by-elections were taken on the hop and often in a way that led to problems later down the line. It made sense to keep Mo Azam, from the party’s left, off the shortlist in Oldham West when Labour MPs were worried for their own seats and about the Ukip effect if Labour selected a minority candidate. But that enraged the party’s minority politicians and led directly to the all-ethnic-minority shortlist in Manchester Gorton.

They also point out that the party's councillor base, from where many candidates are drawn, is still largely Corbynsceptic, though they hope that this will change in the next round of local government selections. (Councillors must go through a reselection process at every election.)

But the biggest shift has very little to do with the Labour leadership. The big victories for the Labour left in internal battles under Ed Miliband were the result of Unite and the GMB working together. Now they are, for various reasons, at odds and the GMB has proven significantly better at working shortlists and campaigning for its members to become MPs.  That helps Corbynsceptics. “The reason why so many of the unions supported Jeremy the first time,” one senior Corbynite argues, “Is they wanted to move the Labour party a little bit to the left. They didn’t want a socialist transformation of the Labour party. And actually if you look at the people getting selected they are not Corbynites, but they are not Blairites either, and that’s what the unions wanted.”

Regardless of why, it means that, two years into Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour left finds itself smaller in parliament than it was at the beginning.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.