Holy Lipstick Lesbian! Meet the New Batwoman

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The Falcon, a Harlem social worker/crimefighter, debuted in Marvel as an ally of Captain America in 1969. Black Panther and The Falcon paved the way for the creation of other African-American and Latino superheroes such as White Tiger (whose alter-ego in the character's first incarnation in the 1970s was named Hector Ayala) in the 1970s and comic book series that focused on them as title characters.

Though Black Panther was the pioneer for black superheroes, he did not get his own solo comic book title until 1977. Gang member-turned crime-busting mercenary Luke Cage (also known as "Power Man") became the first African-American superhero to be the title character of a comic book when Marvel published "Luke Cage, Hero for Hire" in 1972.

Cage and DC Comics' Black Lightning were cousins of blaxploitation cinema's "Shaft" and "Superfly." In the beginning, they tended to be jive-talking, Afro-wearing supermen who battled more urban or ghetto-oriented villains. Cage in particular was known for, among other things, his trademark Afro and open-chested canary-colored shirt with the butterfly collar.

Still, Cage and Black Lightning represented the best comic book characters of that blaxploitation era. Actor Nicolas Cage was such a fan of Hero for Hire that he took his stage name from the character.

But these characters — as well as Black Panther and The Falcon — have not been nearly as successful as Spider-Man, Batman, Superman and The Hulk.

No black superhero -- or any hero of color or outwardly gay superhero -- has had the kind of sustained run enjoyed by Batman, Spider-Man and Superman in their own comic books. None has a hit TV show or blockbuster movie. The Panther had three different solo series that ran in the late 1970s, 1980s and late '90s before its revival in 2005. Cage's books ran between 1972 and 1986 before being revived for two other volumes in 1992 and in 2002.

Milestone Media -- which had a licensing agreement with DC Comics and published comics featuring a set of heroes who happened to be black, Asian and Hispanic -- launched in 1993 and folded after only four years because of poor sales, despite the popularity of characters such as Icon and Static.

"You have to wonder why some characters have been so popular and why some have not," said Inge. "In many ways, we have made a lot of progress, but there are things that suggest that perhaps we have not."

Not Your Daddy's Comic Book

Some critics of gay comic book characters -- and the transformation of Batwoman -- have said the industry is only using shock value to attract new readers. DC Comics has said it is only striving to diversify its characters. Some have said that the industry is ignoring the children who read comic books.

But today's children are more concerned with Xboxes and iPods, not comic books, some critics say. More briefcase-carrying adults and older teens are found more often in comic book specialty shops than children.

"What children do you find in comic shops, anyway?" asked David Jay Gabriel, founder of the New York City Comic Book Museum. "It's the parents' job to monitor what their children are reading."

It remains to be seen how much of an impact the new Batwoman will have on the sales of "52." She may be a cape-wearing gay woman who dresses like a bat, but she's not that unique -- even in the comic book world.

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