Sunday, June 16, 2024

The Trial of Batwoman Is About Bruce’s Jewishness

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Out of all of the multitude of ways that Tynion could have crafted Detective Comics 975, this was honestly not anywhere near what I expected. And that’s a great thing, because what we got, which could have been some weird continuity-based sniping contest (how weird would that have been?) or even an actual “trial” with Kate having to answer for her own actions…holy crap was this magnitudes more layered and evocative than anything else really could be.

I’m sure it’s no surprise to anyone at this point that the Trial of the Batwoman had little to do with Kate at all, and was basically only about Bruce’s psychological and emotional state.

You may recall the connection that was made with Kate’s tattoos (which are once again absent in this issue for some reason) in Batwoman #1, as a sort of camouflage Kate used to throw people off of the fact that she was a Jewish woman in an area of the world that basically wanted her dead for already being queer. It relies on a common misconception about burial rites for Jewish people that hasn’t held true for some time, at least in many reform and some conservative congregations. It’s the kind of thing that you’d need to do excessive research in order to even find.

As we’ve seen in the past, that’s more or less Tynion’s and Bennett’s modus operandi when it comes to, of all things, Kate Kane. Probably because she’s the one who essentially demands that approach, as to do anything less lands you with a product that is either comically terrible or truly abhorrent. Don’t believe that this is happening again? Well, for those of you who’ve never been to a Jewish funeral, this is what we do:

I’m talking about the sequence of friends and family shoveling dirt into the grave. As far as I know, nobody else does that. Christians certainly don’t. So, why the attention to that particular detail of burial rites when you could easily just skip over it and nobody would even notice. Hell, I wouldn’t have noticed! Why call attention to it, not once, but twice? Because it’s important to not only Kate’s narrative here (which is so intrinsically about being true to herself it’s ridiculous), but Bruce’s emotional state in the present. It’s why he called the meeting at all.

The “trial” itself is little more than a farce for Bruce to validate a decision he doesn’t even want to make. He already knows there’s nothing he can do to really stop Kate, because even if he tried that would only encourage her. It’d also make him quite the hypocrite with Jason around, even if he has been making the effort to be less lethal lately. That, and pushing her away sends her right back to Jacob. But that’s something we’ve kind of known for a long time now, just not in this full context.

I remember thinking it was a little weird as to why Bruce was so insistent on Kate being field commander for the Knights at the beginning of Tynion’s run. There was logic to his decision, but it came from a place that felt almost rushed. That, and the fact that none of this was even his idea made me question whether or not this team was a sustainable narrative device. Or, well, sustainable in-universe. Yes, it was about family, and teamwork, and acceptance, and “fixing what once went wrong” in the Batfamily’s history, but after that, positioning Jacob as this complex foil to Bruce, and developing Kate further into one as well…turns out it was never designed to be sustainable, in and out of canon.

The Colony was always too big an idea, too important an aspect in the Wayne-Kane family makeup for it not to ultimately be about something larger than a contrast of ideologies. Bruce created the symbol of the Bat to invoke fear, but everyone uses it, and sees it, in a different way.

And so we circle back to the title of this article, a claim that is, I’ll admit, at first glance a bit of a stretch. Yes, we already knew Martha was Jewish, and thus Bruce is too (trust me, you don’t get to opt out; even if you convert). And that Bruce’s parents are kind of his whole thing, but the conclusion Babs (who hasn’t been written this perfectly since 2012) comes to may be deeper than she lets on. And it’s already pretty damn deep.

This retcon originally came out of the New52, and it was something I wasn’t entirely on board with initially. Mostly because it was an Andreyko thing, but also because it called into question Jacob’s faith. I mean, his name is Jacob, so it was just general doubt, but that’s more than enough for people to start the erasure parade. Because how could Batman possibly have a Jewish mom?

But it grew on me, once I thought about it more. The idea that the Waynes, the Kanes, the Cobblepots, and the Elliots being the four “ruling families” of Gotham since its founding in the 1600s, having been at each other’s throats for centuries was something I loved because it meant that this old, old Jewish family had been up against three anti semitic economic powerhouses and never slowed down.

And yes, that is the inherent implication. Obviously, the Waynes, Cobblepots and Elliots weren’t anti semitic in their most recent generation of heirs, but the history is there basically by default. Renee once stated way back in 2006 that the Kanes owned the half of Gotham that the Waynes don’t. Hyperbole or not, that’s probably still the reputation. Why is this important? Because it’s about survival.

Maybe you know this, maybe you don’t, but there are few things that Jewish people do that isn’t for the sole purpose of survival. Five millennia of historically documented purges, hatred, and mass exile, combined with the magic of epigenetics will do that to a people. Every major holiday and tradition is centered around survival, or the celebration of it. In fact, Detective Comics 975 was published on Purim (well, the morning before because we do it by sundown, but still). Considering how the concept of a coincidence doesn’t exist in Judaism, or Hebrew, well, that’s one step, now isn’t it?

This is the holiday where we are obligated to get piss drunk to celebrate that time a Jewish woman was so hot that a king decided not to listen to is dickhead vizier (or his stupid hat) when he wanted kill all of the Jews because, plot twist, that was his wife! There’s also the other lesson of that tale, as God is not referenced once within the story: you cannot wait for divine intervention when you can do it yourself. You don’t rely on miracles.

And that’s exactly what Kate did when she killed Basil. She didn’t wait for the JLA, or for Bruce to pull something out of his butt. There were no other options, but I’ve already gone over that in great detail before. More than that, though, it is a visceral reminder that there is something intrinsically different about her side of the family. The curious part here is that this works in two ways: military and Judaism.

Kate’s actions are informed by her background as a soldier, and as Jewish woman. In this context, they go hand in hand, but for the reader it could just as easily be only about the military service history of the Kanes if they’re just not aware of the the Jewish stuff. Which is the vast majority of the audience, unfortunately. Even so, the fact that it works both ways, well, that’s a lot when it comes to interpretation. It’s not an easy thing to pull off, especially when combining them makes it hit that much harder.

Because Martha would have taken that shot. Zero hesitation. Her family is military and she’s Jewish; survival and “the needs of the many” are quite literally in her blood. I don’t care how good-natured or kind Martha may be presented in the very few glimpses we get of her in Batman’s entire publishing history; the New52 retcon makes the question Babs asks one that isn’t rhetorical by any measure. It has an answer, and it’s not something Bruce can really accept. Partially because it means that thousands would have died due to his inability to do what was necessary, which isn’t a comfortable realization to have when his entire goal is to make sure what happened to him never happens to anyone ever again.

You know, just like Kate and Jacob.

She and Jacob said much the same thing about twenty years prior, in that very same spot…

Anyway, whether or not future writers will dig in to this new, and frankly rich, depth of his character—the Jewishness—remains to be seen…but they probably won’t. Fact of the matter is, Bruce being Jewish isn’t something that changes his character at all. It only enhances and gives greater context to what was always there. The World’s Greatest Detective. His unwinnable war on crime. The man who molded himself into an effectively unkillable and unbeatable force of will. Did Andreyko know this when he pitched it? Pbbbth, probably not. Does that matter? Nope.

Thing is, though, is that Bruce doesn’t have to let knowing what his mom would have wanted him to do change what the Bat means. Frankly, it shouldn’t. The Bat has grown so far beyond just him (see: everyone in attendance) and it’s been like that for quite some time. Above all else, Bruce needs to understand that just because someone operates differently than him doesn’t mean they’re wrong. It’s something he already does when it comes to Diana, Clark, and even Selina. Also like, Jason.

And no, I’m not saying Bruce was trying to drag Kate away from her Jewishness. Rather, Bruce was trying to deny his because looking at the path Kate was heading down, as I’ve laid out above, raised questions he didn’t want ask. Because he knew he wasn’t equipped for the answers. If his family is as important to his motivation as we know it is, and Kate is the strongest connection to his blood relatives he has, well, how can this not be about his Jewishness?

Bruce will never be a soldier, but that doesn’t mean he can’t accept where he comes from. It’d only make him stronger, both as a character and as a person, if he did.

Images courtesy of DC Comics

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