THE COMIC COMPENDIUM: Catwoman – The New 52, Vol. 4 (2011)

Ed gets to grips with funny book sexuality in Selina Kyle’s New 52 redux. 

Who made it?: Judd Winick (Writer), Guillem March (Artist), DC Comics.

Who’s in it?: Selina Kyle/Catwoman, Bruce Wayne/Batman.

Original run: Catwoman #1-6, ongoing series.

Released: November 2011.

Out of all the New 52 titles, Catwoman’s is probably not one you would expect to receive extensive media coverage. While she’s a firm fan favourite character, in all honesty, the only reason the mainstream care about her is because she’s a beautiful young lady in a very-tight fitting leather costume. It’s in part down to the sexualisation of the character that the “climax” of the first issue happened at all. People on the Internet can claim that comic writers and creators demean women with this sort of thing, but it’s down to the media and weirdoes on the Net that create a hysteria about comics like this, as well as the increasingly mainstream focus on racy content.

Depending upon how you feel about such topics, this comic is either evidence of the sexism in the industry or a great example of how to get people to sit up and take notice of your new title, in this case by causing a shit-storm. I am, of course, talking about the now-notorious Batman-Catwoman sex scene at the end of issue one. The amount of complaints laid upon this book for having two major characters boinking were pretty goddamn high. For a while, you could barely escape from the issue on comic-focused websites and forums, and even some areas of the press.

My feeling about the situation is that having two characters fuck and be portrayed in their underwear is not the end of the world. Look at television, films and video games – many of these display scenes of sex and people scampering about in their undies, so why is having this happen in a graphic novel the end of the world? At the end of the day, Batman and Catwoman are two people who run around rooftops in tight leather outfits, so having the two of them get a bit kinky is surely quite a natural response. This comic is surely also proof that Batman family titles aren’t particularly suitable for children or young people, despite the long-lasting belief and stereotypes surrounding them. Yet there’s more to Catwoman than just two protagonists having it off, a scene that is not as gratuitous or out-of-place as its detractors would have you believe, as the attraction and romance that springs from this moment remains throughout these issues, becoming a major aspect of the story as a whole.

We begin with Selina Kyle already firmly established as Catwoman, although her origin story is slowly revealed throughout the run. We also learn about how the title “heroine” operates as we meet her fence, a close friend and confidant who alerts Selina to potential “jobs” whilst also selling the proceeds from any previous hauls. It’s when something happens to her friend while Catwoman is dealing with “personal” business that Selina switches from a light-hearted cat burglar (boom-tish!) to a full-on vigilante who, rather than just laughing off any misfortune, starts to take the world more seriously. Though, in going off by herself, she ends up getting embroiled in a situation she would have been better off avoiding.

Although the plot is rather simple, it’s the little touches that remind you it’s a Catwoman title rather than just another generic series, with Selina attending a ball arranged by one Bruce Wayne, a character that she instantly decries as a boring playboy while waxing lyrical about Batman’s personality. An interesting concept is that Selina appears to be less wary about people discovering her identity than most costumed types, something that she is warned of and something that I have no doubt will be built upon as the series progresses. One of the characters who secretly knows her identity is the previously mentioned Wayne, despite her efforts, so she’s not quite as clever as she believes she is.

To remind you that it’s a superhero series, we also have a mobster who’s a bit different from the average crime boss, as well as a super-villain in the employ of a corrupt group who have the power to make her life more miserable than it already appears. We also have all the obligatory feline references which have become synonymous with Catwoman, such as when Selina’s apartment is raided by gangsters and she grabs all of her cats rather than any valuables. There’s also an obvious reference to having “nine lives.” I hope that, like the sexual content, these elements were insisted upon by DC rather than having been intentionally included by writer Judd Winick.

Winick is best known for introducing storylines involving homosexuality and HIV into mainstream comics, breaking the boundaries of industry convention, which is what makes Catwoman quite disappointing in some respects as the storyline could not be more generic if he tried. There’s absolutely nothing about this that genuinely stands out even though the sexual aspects of the series have been overplayed on the Web. Yet, despite my gripes, Winick doesn’t really do anything wrong with the series either, as while it is rather basic, it’s still well-written. It’s like with a plain cheese pizza – it may just be cheese on a dough base, but that’s not to say all cheese pizzas are the same (I may have been peckish while writing this). Exploring the relationship between Batman and Catwoman in this new continuity is a necessity and the dual relationship that she has between Wayne and his alter-ego is genuinely interesting. Winick has also left himself a lot of wiggle room to explore the characters, meaning that the series has plenty of space to breathe. It’s just a shame that, as previously mentioned, DC weighed in on the plot and made the hornier aspects an absolute necessity. It would have been interesting to see what other facets of the character we would have been treated to otherwise.

I must admit to being ignorant of the name Guillem March, but a quick Google search makes one thing clear: he’s certainly a fan of the female form. It’s worth questioning whether the series would have gathered as much controversy if another artist had been involved instead, as March seems to insert a rounded bottom or a ridiculously perfect pair of breasts whenever he possibly can. While it may all be titillating rather than explicit, it goes slightly beyond the necessary and just accentuates the dirtiness of the entire enterprise. Yet that isn’t to say that the art is poor. Due to the inking, the lines are a strange mix of both clear and rough which works quite well for a story that is a mixture between light and dark. The character designs are almost certainly influenced by manga, especially the unrealistically proportioned women, while the backgrounds are detailed enough to look interesting without detracting from the foregrounds.

While there was a right uproar about the sexy content of Catwoman in the media, you have to wonder whether there was only a right kerfuffle because it happened in a comic? Doesn’t it seem strange that the mainstream will happily review a film, TV show or book (such as “mummy porn” like 50 Shades of Grey) with sexual content, and in the case of films and TV shows nudity? What makes comics like Catwoman so unacceptable and shocking? Is it because people still wrongly believe comics are purely for children? It’s not like they aren’t well-known for their female characters whose costumes consist of a few pieces of spandex, so why are people so shocked when characters who have always been sexual actually have sex? If people bother to take a second to check, they’ll see most comics have a rating system just like any film which should alert parents and readers to the content inside.

Catwoman is almost certainly an over-sexualised title, but I don’t believe that it deserves the criticism that has been aimed at it, as the themes and images are no worse than you would see in every other type of media available. Sadly, the complaints surrounding it take away from the fact that Catwoman is a decent comic which, while not suitable for children, is a good addition to Selina Kyle’s slightly dodgy past. In fact, it may even be one of the better examples, because at least it doesn’t have bloody Catgirl in it…

Useless Trivia

(Via Wikipedia)
  • The original and most widely known Catwoman, Selina Kyle, first appears in Batman #1 (Spring 1940) in which she is known as The Cat.
  • Later on in New 52, Catwoman is confronted by Steve Trevor, who offers her a spot on Amanda Waller’s new Justice League of America. Selina initially refuses, but accepts the offer after Trevor promises to help her track down a woman who has apparently been posing as Selina. It is later revealed that Catwoman was chosen specifically to take down Batman should the JLA ever need to defeat the original Justice League. The teams eventually come into conflict in the publisher’s “Trinity War” crossover.
  • In the alternate universe Earth 2 continuity, Selina Kyle and Bruce Wayne have married, and their daughter, Helena Wayne, is that universe’s Robin. There is initial animosity between her parents over Helena’s forays, but either Selina has reformed or was never a supervillain in Earth 2’s universe. It is revealed in issue #0 of Worlds’ Finest that this Selina was killed while trying to stop what she believed was a human-trafficking ring, thus showing she was actually a hero.

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