Comic book readers meet the reincarnated Batwoman: Wealthy socialite Kathy Kane by day, costumed crime fighter by night and a lesbian.
In July, DC Comics will bring back Batwoman in "52," its yearlong limited series that began in May. Batwoman made her debut in 1956 and has not appeared in comics since she was killed off in 1979.
Now, DC Comics has brought back the female caped crusader and given her a makeover in an attempt to diversify its cast of characters and perhaps appeal to a broader audience. Other previous white heroes in D.C. such as Blue Beetle, Firestorm and The Atom have been reinvented in recent years as Mexican, African-American and Asian characters, respectively.
Character reinvention -- and gay characters -- in comic books are not new.
In 2003, Marvel Comics reintroduced the Rawhide Kid -- a legendary gunman from the Wild, Wild West who made his debut in 1955, when TV's "Gunsmoke" premiered -- as a gay character. The Kid never actually announced his homosexuality but it was insinuated in the limited comic book series.
The first comic book character to come out of the closet was Marvel Comics' Northstar -- the leader of the Canadian group Alpha Flight in the now-defunct Alpha Flight series -- in 1992. Northstar then starred in his own self-titled limited series years later, but received little fanfare.
Since then, homosexuals have appeared in various comics, but only as secondary or supporting characters. The most notable was DC Comics' Terry Berg, who emerged as a gay character in 2001 because he had a crush on Kyle Rayner, the alter-ego of the Green Lantern. The Green Lantern series later drew headlines in September 2002 when Berg was the victim of a hate crime and nearly beaten to death.
Marvel Comics plans to reintroduce White Tiger, a Hispanic male superhero of the 1970s, as a Latina crimefighter this summer. Marvel also reinvented Captain America in its 2003 comic book series "Truth: Red, White and Black," whose premise was that the supersoldier serum that created the star-spangled hero was first tested on an African-American soldier, not the blonde-haired, blue-eyed Steve Rogers.
"Comic books are catching up with the times," said M. Thomas Inge, professor of English and the Humanities at Randolph-Macon College in Virginia. "Other forms of media have been more progressive with gay characters. … We have seen gay characters in [newspaper] comic strips such as 'For Better or Worse' and 'Doonesbury.' But comic books have lagged behind, perhaps because books that deal with serious political and social issues often tend not to sell well."
The first superhero of color in comics can be traced back to the 1940s, when writer-illustrator Will Eisner introduced the Spirit and his young, black, balloon-lipped sidekick Ebony White in newspaper strips. In comic books, the first mainstream black superhero emerged when Black Panther appeared in Marvel's "Fantastic Four" No. 52 in 1966.
Black Panther was the alter ego of T'Challa, the dignified king of a fictional African kingdom called Wakanda who led a double life as a costumed crimefighter. The character had no link to the Black Panther Party, founded by Bobby Seales that same year, in 1966. For a time, Black Panther's name was changed to The Black Leopard.