Robot 6

Grumpy Old Fan | Talking Catwoman with Michael

Catwoman #6, by Guillem March

[In a happy accident, Michael May and I were both planning to examine the current Catwoman series, so we decided to join forces for a special two-parter.]

TOM: For a little while last September, the first New-52 issue of Catwoman was one of DC’s more infamous books. It started literally with a shot of Selina Kyle’s bra, and it ended with her and Batman doing it, as they used to say, like they do on the Discovery Channel. Back then, Catwoman #1 was yet another example of DC Doing It Wrong, trading on cheesecake to sell comics, and ignoring what the likes of Ed Brubaker, Darwyn Cooke, and Will Pfeifer had done with the character in the process.

When I read Catwoman #1 along with every other New-52 first issue, honestly, the sex scene bothered me. It seemed unnecessary in the context of a pretty decent first issue, and it did seem like writer Judd Winick and artist Guillem March were taking a characterization shortcut by establishing Selina firmly in relation to Batman. Granted, it was presented as Selina practically willing Batman into the act — she notes that he “protests,” then “gives in” — but all things being equal, I’m still not sure you want your first issue to end with “and then I seduced the heck out of Batman.”

Nevertheless, I thought there was enough in that first issue to justify a look at issue #2 — including March’s elegantly-rumpled art — and I wound up staying with the book. Re-reading the first six issues, it’s not the most polished superhero comic on the stands, and it is definitely not for everyone. However, I don’t think it’s as bad as the reputation of that first issue might suggest.

For one thing, it uses the serialized format very effectively. Each issue is fairly self-contained (although subplots carry over, obviously), and just about every issue has ended with some kind of cliffhanger. Winick is also good about using just enough exposition to orient a reader, working it into Selina’s first-person captions fairly naturally. The book is told largely from Selina’s perspective, and Winick has a decent handle on her voice. “Cynical and sarcastic” may be the default mode for any number of superhero titles, but the combination of Winick’s words and March’s art — especially the way March makes Selina’s eyes pop — goes a long way.

That said, the book seems committed to a few main topics: Selina’s sexuality, her relationship with Batman, her love of danger, and her tendencies towards violence. If just about every issue ends on a cliffhanger, just about every issue contains at least one bit of voyeuristic cheesecake and one of violence. This makes Catwoman basically a sex-and-death cocktail, where the main character’s addiction to self-destructive behavior turns her entire life into a desperate cry for help. She knows she needs saving, but (for reasons the book lays out) she doesn’t want anyone to save her, until the end of issue #6, when she finally confides in a new ally. She is a Manic Pixie Dream Girl with a heck of a dark side.

From what I understand of Catwoman’s overall character development, this leaves her a few steps behind where she’d been prior to the New-52 relaunch. I hate to admit it, but somehow I missed much of the Catwoman comics from the past two decades, so I can’t speak to specifics. Regardless, Catwoman started off as a femme-fatale villain, committing cat-themed crimes while she and Batman shared various degrees of flirtation; and for forty years or so that was the status quo. Not much was known about her origins, just that she was good at stealing things, she liked cats, and she liked Batman. (One account stated that she used to be a stewardess, and turned to crime when a plane crash gave her amnesia.) When Kathy “Batwoman” Kane was in the picture, Catwoman wasn’t even Batman’s One True Pairing.

Detective Comics #570, by Alan Davis and Paul Neary

In the early ’80s, though, things started to change. Catwoman became less of a villain and more of an anti-hero. She had a backup feature in Batman, and when Talia seemed to split up the Dynamic Duo, she teamed up with Robin to help them take down Ra’s al Ghul. Over the next few years she learned Batman’s secret identity and became Bruce’s significant other. Next to Jason “Robin” Todd, she was a fairly regular part of Batman’s career. That all changed in a 1986 Detective Comics two-parter (#s 569-70), when the Joker kidnapped her and brainwashed her back to a life of crime. Despite the Joker getting a good Bat-pummeling, Catwoman stayed bad.

Not too long afterwards, though, the character drifted back into a grayer area, thanks mostly to revisions in 1987’s “Batman: Year One.” When she finally got her own series in 1993, writer Chuck Dixon and artist Jim Balent took her on globetrotting adventures, not necessarily concerned with Batman or his world. Still, she helped the Justice League take out Prometheus, after the villain had defeated Batman. That series lasted almost 100 issues, giving way to a relaunch under Ed Brubaker and Darwyn Cooke; and that series (more Gotham-centered) lasted almost as long as its predecessor.

Through it all, Catwoman was self-sufficient and fiercely independent, even at her closest points to Batman. She was his equal, not his sidekick or even his partner, which made her a formidable opponent and a fascinating pairing. Whatever demons were in her past had been conquered. Thus, for Winick and March to paint her as damaged and/or dependent practically flies in the face of history. The current series also has a habit of showing Selina in various states of undress, including wearing nothing but her catsuit (no mask, boots, gloves, or gear); and thereby emphasizing her vulnerability.

Even so, I get the feeling that Winick and March are showing Selina in a rebuilding phase, re-establishing certain foundations of her life and career. For lack of a better phrase, she needs help to maintain her independence. She’s acknowledging that help, however reluctantly, as part of this introductory arc — but I know a lot of fans would say she never should have been put in that position. Apparently the sex was just symptomatic.

MICHAEL: My knowledge of Catwoman’s history is even more limited than yours, so my starting point was general impressions formed by Julie Newmar and random Bronze Age appearances I read as a kid. I formed the same opinion as you about her early-‘80s comics appearances: that she was almost Batman’s equal and would have been his equal if a) she wasn’t a guest in his comic book, and b) was a guy. Even so, she always seemed very capable of taking care of herself.

From my perspective, it was the ‘60s Batman TV show that added this element of crazy to her: all the purring and licking herself and the idea that she was self-destructive; that maybe she wanted to be good, but she just couldn’t help herself. Maybe that had already been introduced in the comics by then, but I didn’t notice it until much later.

When I recently linked to the This Is What Women in Superhero Comics Should Be blog, I included a few panels from Darwyn Cooke’s Catwoman and got some criticism about that. The panels were supposed to represent that Catwoman is a complex character, but I can see how someone might possibly interpret that brief exchange as her looking to Batman for validation. That’s certainly the way she seemed to be portrayed on the TV show. And it seems to be the way she’s portrayed in Winick and March’s new series. Though there’s hope that that could change.

I’m with you about that first issue being an unnecessarily shaky start to what’s actually an interesting study of this character. I’m glad that I committed to reading several issues of the series before judging it, because Winick and March’s Catwoman is relentlessly self-destructive at first. Actually, by the end of the sixth issue, she’s still that way, but what’s changed is that she seems to realize that she is and finally wants some help in doing something about it. Up to then, she’s simply made bad decision after bad decision; for no better reason than “it’s fun.” And I’ll argue that she’s been doing that for a lot longer than the current series. What’s potentially cool is that Winick has realized this all along and has been building to this point where Catwoman finally gets control of herself.

I remember when Gail Simone took over Birds of Prey and the first thing she did was tell a story where Black Canary was taken hostage … again. That kind of thing had been a major object of criticism during Chuck Dixon’s run and a lot of readers hoped – based on remarks Simone had made in interviews – that she was going to put a stop to it. What wasn’t immediately clear just from reading the comic was that this was The Last Black Canary Hostage Story. Simone needed to tell that one in order to explain why it would never happen again. I wish I could be more confident about this, but I hope that Winick’s telling The Last Self-Destructive Catwoman Story.

I just don’t know that I care enough to stay with the series and find out. March’s art can be stunning at times, but off-putting at others. He’s got a wonderful gift for expressive faces, but then he’ll throw in some weird, contorted anatomy that hurts to look at. And on the writing side, as much as I’d love see Catwoman grow into the confident, healthy character I vaguely remember from childhood, I really don’t want to have that hope dangled in front of me as she spirals further and further down the drain. Not knowing which way Winick’s going with it, the safest choice — financially as well as emotionally — is just to check out. On the other hand, it’s a testament to how real Winick’s Catwoman feels to me that I don’t want to see her destroy herself. I’m truly torn about whether or not to keep reading.

[Continued in Michael’s next Women Of Action!]

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20 Comments

I like the new Catwoman book. The first issue had its problems but I feel it’s gotten better since the first issue. Definitely more and more dynamic as it has progressed and I do like how each issue is almost self-contained. There is a bit of the grindhouse/exploitation vibe in the series. I couldn’t help but think of Pink Violence movies after the first few issues. Things like Female Convict 701 Scorpion or Rica, just far more dialed down than those films are. Definitely can be oft-putting but while those films are trashy they had style in spades. March’s art has also grown on me as well. At first, at least during Gotham City Sirens, I was unimpressed but lately I’ve really been enjoying it.

My overall familiarity with Catwoman was not the strongest outside movies/TV/cartoons. I remember flipping through some Jim Balent comics when I was younger and checking a few random issues of her later series but I did just get the Trail of the Catwoman by Brubaker and Cooke which was entertaining.

I like this book and I love the character as written by Winnick much more than the clinical Brubaker take. It’s not flawless (it seems rushed on occasion), but the good far (pacing, wit, art) outweighs the bad (“The whip! The whip!! The WHIP!!!”). I’ve always assumed Catwoman and Batman had sex, and if Batman can be drugged, beaten, and stabbed repeatedly in his solo book, I don’t see why Selina can’t take (and dish out) the occasional beating without someone calling it exploitative. The visceral nature of the book, from the sex to the combat, really helps it pop, as does Winnick’s/Selina’s narration.

Surprisingly, I get a similar thrill from the also-maligned Red Hood and …; I say surprisingly ly because I had every reason to not like the book going in (Scott Lobdell! Jason Todd with Starfire! Roy playing second fiddle to Jason!) and find it, too, offers popcorn violence/snark/sex with a heart of gold quietly beating underneath.

A whole line of this kind of stuff would be exhausting and leave me feeling dirty, like a night drinking nothing but wine coolers, but a couple series? Fun and refreshing. Glad Catwoman, at least, is getting some love.

The New 52 Selina is a brand-new character. She is nothing like the Selina I’ve been reading about for the past 25 years, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. All the crap that’s happened to her in the past 5-10 years no longer happened.

Winick and March’s book is similar to the fun-loving, big action/adventure feel of the 90s series, which was divine. The art has a certain amount of cheesecake, which is a nice contrast with the often-brutal fight scenes. My only complaint is the decompression: it really feels like it’s taken a long time to get anywhere. But that’s okay, though, because ultimately I’m enjoying the ride.

Winick and March have captured the essence of a younger, 21st-century Catwoman.

I only read the first issue, but I could tell that Catwoman is bad and is going to be bad, and every preview and cover and review reinforces that opinion.

The fact that is competently made only makes it worse. You cannot really fault some artists for giving women those horrific bodies. They learned to draw by copying Jim Lee or McFarlane or Liefeld, and are only amplifying someone else’s mistakes. That is the only way they can draw. The fault is more in the industry as a whole for those guys being given jobs. But for someone like March, who has a good control of anatomy, and body language, and perspective to purposefully frame Selina’s breasts in almost every panel, at many times ignoring any other part of her body, that is a whole other deal.

Also the story would seem less “wrong” if the image it presented wasn’t the status quo. With the exception of Wonder Woman and maybe a few side characters here and there, every women in the New DCu is damaged and vulnerable, and without control over her life and emotions. And when losing control they need to kill and have sex, which is at least disturbing. Again, it could be ignored if the writer was incompetent and was writing in a mechanic, cliche-ridden boring sort of way, but Winick is not.

Catwoman is the best book to come out of the New 52, story-wise and art-wise.

And dcwomenkickingass: “If you like this title then you are promoting misogyny. Period.” Asinine statements like that are the reason men hate feminists. Please FOAD.

Catsmeow, I think dcwomenkickingass is way off the mark, and I resent (and scoff at) her completely uninformed accusation/generalization, but I don’t hate feminists.

I like that Selina’s clever, witty, resilient, tough, and a badass. The fact that she sometimes gets her ass kicked lends the series drama (Batman got stabbed over in his own book). The fact that she gets laid makes her way more relatable to me than pretty much any other comicbook character. I don’t know why DCWKA would resent me for enjoying these elements of this comic book.

I was talking to my wife about the titles I’m buying and was surprised to find that I’m buying four books featuring female leads (CW, WW, BW, and BoP, although I’m gonna drop BW); I’ve never done that (I bought a few issues of Perez’s Wonder Woman as a kid and then Rucka WW around Infinite Crisis–meh; also got the first few issues of Brubaker’s CW–again, meh, but I think that of everything he does). I think Catwoman is a lot more fun than Wonder Woman but, much as I hate Azzarello’s smug, self-congratulatory “word play,” I think his take on Wonder Woman as a badass of few words is awesome; I don’t see why there isn’t room to appreciate more than one take on the female superhero. That said, I’m not sure my wife would dig any of these books (maybe BoP), but just because I do and she wouldn’t doesn’t mean I’m a misogynist or hate feminists (my wife doesn’t like comics, period, btw). I’m dropping Batwoman only because it’s too melodramatic and the dialog is just too clunky (also, gorgeous as JH WIlliams’ art is, I often find I can’t tell what’s actually going on).

DCWKA, I suspect you’re bringing some baggage to the table, and I don’t blame you for that, but I think you might be happier if you stop ascribing severe character defects and ulterior motives to people you don’t know. If you wanna consider me unenlightened, fine (you might even be right), but saying I hate women, or promote hating women, is way off the mark. Between my wife and my daughter (to say nothing of my mother, cousins, nieces, inlaws, and friends) I consider myself a pretty big fan of women and I have nothing but respect for them (maybe not Michelle Bachmann), if I may generalize too. :P

Sue, I would seriously love to have an intelligent, open-minded conversation with you about the negative aspects of Catwoman.

Hi Michael and Tom, this is the real Sue of DCWKA and I want to let you know the post you have her is NOT from me but some one who has decided to pose as me. Sorry you got pawned by one of my aggressive trolls. Thought you’d like to know.

Thanks for letting us know, Sue. I’ve removed the comment.

Good deal, that quote in no way sounds like the Sue I know. Delighted to see it wasn’t.

Although good LORD she has some of the most obnoxious trolls, ever.

I should add, I don’t mean on this thread…but just some of the people who comment about her on her tumblr. WAY over any reasonable line.

Well, in fairness – Sue can be EXTRAORDINARILY abrasive in her approach. On her tumblr, she pretty much mocks & berates anyone who shows even the slightest bit of disagreement with her stance, before outright deleting any opposing viewpoints, no matter how intelligently they might be presented. So…in a sense, she’s a bit of troll herself…just my two cents.

Well Gail, it’s like that old song says. The troll you make is equal to the troll you take.

I think of all the new 52 comics, Catwoman is the more “cinematic” of them in that it feels like a movie more than a comic book and I like that about it. I’d like to see this as a movie much more than the characters turn in Batman Returns.

As to the faux dcwoman thing, the fact that no one questioned it was Sue might be something for Sue to think about and reflect upon. En Sabah’s comments aren’t too far off the mark. Just my opinion.

I’m always surprised at the capacity of people to be shocked upon finding out that someone hates them.

Also, glad Gail added on that caveat to her first comment. Robot 6 has great articles/opinions/reviews and is one of the less trolly boards around. It’s also wonderfully reactionary/anger free. I appreciate that they don’t just delete any comment that is slightly argumentative or disagreeable with the topic/point at hand.

Cheers

Sue, glad this was brought to your attention. My God, that must be annoying …

@catsmeow: Are you actually telling a woman who has opinions about the portrayal of women in comics to FOAD? To “f*** off and die”? Are you for real? Not only is that way over the line, but that is incredibly misogynistic.

@Catsmeow

“All the crap that’s happened to her in the past 5-10 years no longer happened.”

From what I read about the New 52’s intentions, all the characters are now meant to be at earlier points in their lives, with their powers and skills also still a bit raw.

Maybe the 5-10 years you’re talking about – maybe we’ll see her grow towards that person.

Who knows.

Certainly not me, as I dropped the book with issue 3. That whole “women need to be victims first to be empowered” tone of this book makes me puke. I hated that sex scene with issue 1, Catwoman’s “need” to have sex with a masked man to feel good about herself.

What message does that send to young women or indeed anyone??

“What message does that send to young women or indeed anyone??”

Probably no worse than the message of “It’s okay to steal from everyone even if it gets your friends killed. Hey! Cats!”

Matthew Grayson

March 11, 2012 at 1:48 am

Catwoman is tied for my favorite super hero with Kara Zor-El. I’ve been reading comics since I was three; I’m 36 now. This is the first time that I will not be picking up her title. The sexism and misogyny in this title disgusts me, but I realize that is a part of the New DC, and those of low character where excessive violence, ugly costumes, and darkness appeals to them, and a place where heroes kill, and corporate greed rule. As a result of this, I’m close to ending reading any comic books at all. I no longer collect Catwoman merchandise as I did before either; I have a sick feeling now, and that her zipper is down in almost everything doesn’t help. As much as I prayed for Kara to return after Crisis, I’m at the point where I’m ready to give up getting her title as well. I’m disgusted with her costume, and the lack of hope that radiates from this title is off putting as well. The disregard to fans who at least hoped for their heroes in “Earth-2″ now just more spit in our face with killers as heroes shows to me that, sadly, my time reading DC comics is done. The negative energy from these books literally makes me ill. The trolling and hatred of fans, and their indifference or hatred to what was beloved before make me ashamed to have ever picked up a comic book. If I wasn’t so emotionally invested in the classic heroes Pre-Flashpoint, I’d get rid of every comic and collector’s item I have, and try to forget I ever read a comic book in my life.

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