Hey, everyone! The following essay was written for my Superheroes Unleashed class last fall… I’m slowly but surely whittling down the list of this past year’s school projects that I wanted to share with you.
This particular essay concerns itself with the father/daughter relationship between Metabus & Camilla from The Aeneid – a relationship we discussed in great detail during the heroines unit of that course – and compares it to Kate & Jacob Kane, a father/daughter duo from comic book lore. Kate, AKA Batwoman, is my favorite DC Comics protagonist and I was super thrilled, as always, to geek out over one of my favorite things in an academic setting.
P.S. Batwoman is not the same as Batgirl. They’re… two completely different characters, but people get them confused with one another a lot, though, at least if the people I know are anything to go by. I’ve recommended Batwoman comics to my friends before only to later realize, when we discovered that we were talking about two entirely different stories, that they must have read about Batgirl instead. Oh, well. It happens. Just thought I’d warn you in case you’re only familiar with Batgirl, so that you don’t become confused!
When I began reading Batwoman comics this summer, one thing that really stood out to me was the emphasis on family. Kate Kane and her father, Colonel Jacob Kane, have a very close and supportive relationship.
This fascinated me because I rarely see this in comic books – quite often, superheroes grow up on their own. Captain America, Iron Man, Batman, and Superman are all examples of superheroes who spent either all or most of their childhood alone, because their parents were either dead or absent. Admittedly, Kate’s mother did die when Kate was just a girl, but her father is still there for her and if anything their relationship has grown even stronger.
A mythological counterpart to Kate Kane is Camilla, from Roman mythology. In this paper, I would like to examine the ways in which their fathers influenced these heroines – not only in terms of taking care of them and watching out for their wellbeing, but also in terms of setting them on a particular path in life.
In Virgil’s The Aeneid, Camilla’s father, King Metabus, was driven from his throne by his own people. Fleeing into the wilderness with his daughter, he came upon the river Amasenus. If he attempted to swim across the river while holding the infant Camilla, she would drown, so he bound her to a spear.
In order to ensure that she would safely make it across the river, he promised her to Diana, goddess of the hunt, and said that Camilla would be a virgin warrior and her servant in exchange for safe passage across the river. He then threw the baby across the Amasenus and swam across to retrieve her.
Both baby and father found safety in the wilderness, and Camilla was raised to be a huntress starting in her early childhood. In The Aeneid, Virgil tells us that once her “first firm steps had [been] taken, the small palms were armed with a keen javelin; her sire a bow and quiver from her shoulder slung.” Under Metabus’ guidance, Camilla learned to hunt, and they often hunted alongside one another.
Kate Kane’s childhood and early adulthood are remarkably similar to that of Camilla. For example, both girls grew up to be women with the same careers as their fathers – Camilla and Metabus were warriors, while the Kanes were both in the United States Army. Jacob Kane and his first wife, Gabi Kane – Kate’s mother – were in the military for the entirety of their careers. After graduating high school, Kate is accepted to West Point and joins the Army. Following in her father’s footsteps is all Kate ever wanted, at least originally.
After she is kicked out of the Army for being a lesbian during the days of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Kate returns home and tells her father that she is no longer a cadet there. In Batwoman: Elegy by Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III – Batwoman’s debut into the New 52 – Jacob asks his daughter what she plans to do next. Kate says, “I don’t know, Pop… I wanted to serve… that was all I ever wanted… now that’s gone… I’ve got nothing…”
Fortunately, however, the two of them do find something for Kate to do: In the same book, Batman saves Kate from being mugged, and she realizes that she can use the skills acquired during her time in the military to fight crime. She becomes Batwoman – but not on her own. Kate Kane’s superheroine persona would not be what it is today without the guidance of her father. With her father’s support, she actually traveled all over the world for two years in order to improve her fighting skills. Jacob Kane invested much of the family fortune into the latest technology for his daughter to use in her second life as a vigilante superheroine.
In many panels of Batwoman: Elegy, Jacob aids Kate behind the scenes. He is to Kate what Jarvis is to Iron Man – he doesn’t fight directly alongside her, but rather offers her advice and help when she needs it. When Kate goes out on missions, he sits in front of a computer monitor, watching a live camera feed that shows Kate and whoever she’s fighting at the moment. In this way, he knows who she’s up against – and more importantly, whether or not she’s safe.
One of my favorite sections of Batwoman: Elegy is a scene towards the end when Jacob is worried about Kate. He wasn’t originally a fan of his daughter’s superheroine alter-ego, because he was terrified of what might happen to her. Jacob Kane lost both his wife and Kate’s twin sister – or at least he thought he did – and he doesn’t want anything to happen to his only remaining family member.
He doesn’t want Kate to run around “playing vigilante,” but she assures him that she knows what she’s doing – and that, more importantly, becoming a superheroine means she’s finally found a way to serve after being forbidden from being in the Army any longer. Jacob admits, “…there’s no way you can keep doing this alone. We’re in this together.” They may not fight directly alongside one another, but they are nevertheless one of my favorite superhero-and-sidekick relationships in all of comic book lore.
Camilla and Kate Kane would be very different people without their fathers’ influence. Due to their fathers’ careers and the choices they made for their daughters early in life, both of these girls were set on a course to become warrior women – warrior woman who work in tandem with a mentor. Both of these women can hold their own in a fight, but they also recognize that it’s hard to go it alone, and luckily neither of them have to. They have their fathers to teach them, advise them, and watch out for their safety in a fight.