Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Bette Kane: Wash Out Sidekick or Most Determined Hero Ever?

I've been trade waiting Batwoman and skipped one to get to the Wonder Woman team up. There was also a few issues of Detective Comics that weren't released in trade. I recently backtracked to fill in the gaps which creates an interest portrait of Bette Kane.

I covered the basics with who the character was pre and post-crisis so let's get into who she is in the Batwoman series. We first meet the "new" Bette Kane in Batwoman Elegy. Jake Kane mentions her being in town saying it would be nice if Kate saw her. Much to the family's surprise she does show up and Bette is happy remarking that she hasn't seen her cousin since she arrived in town. Kate ignores her for the most part as she's soon distracted not hearing Bette admit to being lonely. This sums up the problem with their relationship. Kate is often focused on Batwoman work, her love life and the conflict that comes from learning the truth about Alice. Bette admires her and tries to spend time with her with little to no success. During the Detective Comics arc "Cutter" she's shocked to see Kate since her older cousin has ignored all her various attempts of communication. It's not until a case that she bothers because it's connected to Bettes' college.

Partly to see if she's okay but also to see if Kate can get any information. This arc has Bette struggling with trying to get on with her life after being a crime fighter. Judging by her text book it invades her studies and she just can't let go. Interestingly enough she's able to drop tennis which is something that carries over from her post-crisis self. There's also a picture of her and Robin although how and why she became a hero hasn't been shown. Morrison of course had Kathy Kane who's supposed to be her aunt by marriage although that connection hasn't been seen outside his writing. Bette has been out of practice long enough that she's rusty. (*1) After she finds out the truth about Kate she asks to be let into her world. Here's where things get a little meta.

Kate burns the Flamebird costume saying it's not suitable for field work because of the colors. This is intriguing for several reasons the first and most obvious is the nod to Robin which her character has always been connected to. Now there have been a few explanations for why the Robin costumes are bright. The latest was in Futures End Grayson where Batman has Dick (and apparently all Robins) use it as a training tool. The brightness attracts more attention meaning the sidekick won't use the shadows as a crutch and always is alert. To see Bruce and Kate have different opinions on this issue is fascinating on its own. It might even suggest she doesn't take the Robins seriously. Destroying the costume away also strips Bette of her identity to force her to start over. Kate wants her to earn the right to a identity and not what she gives her. There's also the idea that the costume means Bette doesn't take this as seriously as Kate who views the mission as a job complete with a uniform.

During this time Kate's having family issues with her father as well as coming to terms with her sister being Alice after believing she died for years. She did briefly works with him to save Bette in the "Cutter" arc but she makes it clear that Bette has to pick a side. Bette never does due to a series of events but I don't think she would have in any case as she doesn't see things like Kate does. Take for example Catherine Kane (not to be confused with Kathy Kane) who became Jakes' second wife. Kate doesn't like her or seem to give her much of a chance. The only flaws we see in Catherine is that she thinks Kate dressing in a tux isn't proper attire and doesn't like the attention it draws. Something Kate loves since it bothers her step-mother. Bette remarks that Catherine actually isn't a bad person which we later see is true. While terrified to learn that her niece by marriage and step daughter do dangerous things she nevertheless supports it saying she's even willing to nurse them back to health. We even learn that Jake married her for her smarts which makes sense as he always seemed sincere in his affections. He never struck me as a man to marry for money either.

Another Robin comparison happens when Batman gives some jerky advise to Batwoman about Bette. (*2) This time it's directly linked to Jason Todd as he mentions the dangers of sidekicks and where that road might lead. (Which is maddening for more reasons I won't get into here.) Like Bruce with Jason we have Kate not able to give Bette the attention she needs. Overly stressed with her life Kate takes it out on Bette saying she's not good enough earning a slap to the face and a verbal smack down in return. (*3) Needing to prove herself Bette throws herself into a fight she's not prepared for severely underestimating her foe. This is yet another connection to Robin specifically the dead ones. How they apparently recklessly rushed in. Now I can and have argued for the Robins in those cases. I believe that Jason for instance wasn't rushing in to prove anything but was rather trying to save his mom. He might not have been in top form because he was distracted by the need to protect her though.

Bettes' behavior here is more comparable to what is present with Stephanie and Damian (*4) in their deaths. Stephanie had been fired and was trying to make amends for her part in the gang war. Damian was upset that he was being kept out of the loop and his whole life was about proving himself to his parents. It's debatable if their heads seemed to be in the game more than hers. All of them are certainly understandable. It makes sense with Bette as she's deeply affected by what Kate said and seems to be denying those words more than bantering with the bad guy. Am I saying this makes what Kate said right and that she's not hero material? No. If I believed that heroes shouldn't have flaws I won't like any of my favorites. But like the dead Robins Bette gets brutalized, horribly so. Most of her teeth get smashed out, she's cut open before falling into a coma. We also get details on her injuries.

Jacob Kane: She was cut open from groin to sternum. She nearly bleed to death and her heart stopped twice.

Holy crap, just think of that damage for a moment. The fact she even made it to the hospital is amazing. Why isn't this talked about more? Why did I never hear about the extent of the damage until reading this some time after it was released? While many have pointed out the sexualized nature of Stephanie's art I never heard anyone mention the symbolic nature of the attacks on Bette. It's just that a lot of crap gets thrown at Bette Kane from some villains that have serious issues against women. In "Cutter" she's targeted by a man that is cutting off body parts of women off to make his Stockholm syndrome girlfriend look younger. (*5) Then we have this monster made out of a twisted man that hurts other girls and a supernatural hook that loves cutting into victims. When he attacks her the way he acts is very sexual and disgusting. Again look at how Jacob Kane describes her ordeal above. (*6)

Bette herself isn't drawn like Stephanie was, she looks to be in agony even as the DEO take advantage of her state. At her stay in the hospital it seems like her parents--or at least her father doesn't visit her. We don't know any real detail about her parents besides her mother being asked about organ donations. Perhaps they don't live in Gotham since Kate assumed she was just visiting and Bette is only in Gotham to go to school. Kate herself is upset of course but she only sees her cousin at a distance. Some measure of victim blaming is place on Bette (another Jason/Stephanie nod) as Kate refers to her as just a dumb kid in a costume.

Jacob visits her the most coming so often he's mistaken for her father. He remarks that their not as close as they should be and admits to her all the things he can't say to anyone else at that point. What I love about their scenes is that he's not presented as prefect either. He's there partly out of guilt as he realized that he loved Beth more than Kate because she was less like him. I found this particularly interesting as he says Bette would have been closer to Beth because she was the adventurous one. Which suggests she's like Beth not a surrogate to Kate. Over the course of his visits he tries to get her to wake up through various means. Reading to her, talking, pleading and mostly telling her to be like Kate. By the time her heart stops for the third time he feels close enough to her to think of her as his own as Jacob refers to her as "my Bette."

When none of the other methods work he tells her the rest is up to her, promises to teach her what Kate couldn't and puts a mask over her. Bette wakes up asking if she can keep the mask which he happily tells her she can. I like this because it really says so much. Not only has Jacob not given up on her when things look their bleakest he has accepted her for who she is. Not only that but he'll help her achieve her goal something Kate told her wasn't possible. It's a beautiful moment for both characters, followed up by their doubts later on when she stays at his home. He doesn't know if he's teaching her well enough and Bette doesn't want to appear weak even though she's still in a lot of pain. In fact she sees it as a potential test and thinks how Kate had a shorter recovery rate after being stabbed in the heart. Sure that's an intense injury but so is being ripped open. Spurred on by proving herself or not the fact she's still willing to fight after what happened is incredible something even Kate is amazed at and shows respect by returning her salute.

Getting respect has been pretty daunting for Bette as the DEO in particular make various jabs at her. Kate tries to shut Chase down when she mocks her saying she hasn't earned the right to judge. Chase scoffs pointing out the flaws she sees in Bette's fighting style and says she's too dumb to be afraid. While this hasn't been mentioned post-Flashpoint Bruce has said Jason was never scared enough. Perceived lack of skills was also mentioned with Stephanie and Dick once claimed Jason didn't know what he was doing (which is bullshit.*7) The difference is that Chase does admit to Bones that Bette is improving with each outing and suspects she'll figure out Batwoman is working with the DEO. The first impressions and uncertainty many have regarding her skill is shown with Jacob training her.

He admits to his wife that he knows she'd be doing this even if he didn't help her because she's so stubborn. During a training session he shows Catherine the video of Bette fighting him and his army buddies. They both see her weaknesses as she's too slow and makes too much noise for a op that needs to be silent. Catherine and his friends (the Crows) think he's being too hard on her though. While her style isn't perfect it's unusual enough to catch enemies off guard. Bette herself refuses to stop the practice sessions until she's perfected it. When she's tasked to bring in a DEO agent for them to interrogate she doesn't allow herself to hesitate. She's also the one to realize her uncles' methods aren't working and uses the mans' ambition to get the information they need. This proves that there's more to her then a jumping in head first mentality. It's also a subtle hint to her college life.

Bette is also able to put a bug on Kate without her knowing it which alerts the rest of the family to Alice being alive. Whatever was the original outcome of the "save Alice" plotline was lost due to the changing of writers. Bette has apparently been phrased out with brief appearances since. While she might not be the standard hero I think her struggles have made her journey more interesting. I used to think Kate Kanes' Batwoman was the only strong female presence in Gotham in the new 52. I haven't cared for this version of Batgirl and Birds of Prey has mainly been a miss. I think Bette is up there with Kate now as my favorite of the Gotham girls. (*8) Not only is she human she never gives up and endures a lot to show that Bette Kane--no matter what codename she uses--is a badass hero.

*1 Kate isn't shy about pointing this out although Bette mentions fighting Deathstroke. Originally this was meant as a group effort with the Titans. The line has since been edited so Bette means by herself which is actually more badass. Either way Kate doesn't think skill won, she thinks Slade wasn't having a good day.

*2 I've heard that this was originally supposed to be Dick Grayson as Batman but either way it's a shitty thing to say about Jason. In Bruce's case in present canon it makes me act more like an ass. He vouched for Jason when Superman was concerned about him. Depending on when/how Batman INC. takes place Jason works for him as Wingman too.

*3 Another comparison to the Batman/Robin dynamic as Bette sees Kate as a control freak which is confirmed by other characters.

*4 I know Damian hadn't died at the point the storyline was written. It was still being plotted at the time and does work in the comparison so that's why I'm mentioning him.

*5 I would say it was ironic that they wanted her ears since Kate has problems communicating although her mouth would have fit better. 

*6 I'm not sure if this means she can't have kids as I was confused the first time through. Jake starts taking about having kids and begins to say she'll know what he means then trails off. I thought he realized she couldn't then on the second read through saw he was stunned that she moved. Maybe she can or maybe he thought she'd adopt?

*7 Bruce spent months training Jason while most versions have Dick jumping into the Robin mantle as soon as he knows Bruces' ID. Jason's death also had nothing to do with the supposed reasons DC suggested like "challenging the Joker."

*8  I'm waiting to see if other ladies join their ranks in Batman Eternal.

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