J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman, the writers who are currently responsible for Batwoman, have announced that they are leaving DC Comics because the creative environment has made it impossible for them to tell the kind of carefully-crafted stories they cared about. Among the storylines that got scratched? An on-the-page wedding between Kate Kane and Maggie Sawyer, who are engaged. As Williams and Blackman wrote in the letter announcing their resignation:
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.
This is depressing in the extreme, both for what it says about for support for artists and their visions at DC Comics–as the TV writer Javi Grillo-Marxuach tweeted, “I fondly remember a time in the DC universe when the biggest enemy was the joker, and not the editor.”–and for what it says about how unaware DC seems to be about the optics of this particular part of their editorial interference.
There are a couple of possible rationales DC could offer for why they decided to kill a wedding storyline in the first place, but none of them make the company look very good. They might suggest that a wedding between a gay couple is overtly political, though given that Marvel Comics made an event out of Northstar’s wedding last year, DC would hardly be in danger of blazing any sort of trail. They might argue that weddings don’t play well with male readers, but that’s effectively an admission that they aren’t terribly interested in female readers. DC might claim that they lost trust in Williams and Blackman’s ideas for Kate Kane, but they why did they allow them to supervise the character for so long? And if they claim that they thought the relationship between Kate and Maggie wasn’t working, why, as appears to be the case, be okay with them being married off-screen?
We’ll see what rationales DC offers up for these various management decisions in coming days, but the larger problem for the company seems to be that they’re either unaware or unconcerned of how problems like these will be perceived. Either it hadn’t occurred to them that readers who were invested in the relationship might care about seeing it through to its conclusion, or that killing a wedding issue might be construed as squeamishness, lack of courage, or outright homophobia, or they view the story as marginal, are unaware of how fast stories like these spread, and believe that the reaction to it is inherently inconsequential. In either case, that’s a sign of a company that’s unaware of how the market and media have shifted around them, and unprepared to build its readership base in a considered way. Maybe Kate Kane’s wedding got killed by management incompetence rather than homophobia. But an inability to read the market and media cycle, and to make decisions that will avoid getting you labeled homophobic and clueless is a management problem.