Catwoman s been around nearly as long as Batman, but often gotten short shrift. It takes a deft hand to write a character who can use her sexuality to influence others but prefers her wit and cunning. Which means Selina usually gets reduced to the sexpot, victim of the male gaze, and sex object (links NSFW). Put it this way: men like to draw her half-naked and sex-sated, but Eartha Kitt’s Catwoman would never be caught in a post-coital haze saying “I’m better than okay. You couldn’t hear how ‘okay’ I was?” *Gag*
I wasn’t sure what to expect with the current run of Catwoman, but I didn’t think I’d like it, the great Genevieve Valentine notwithstanding. I’d never read any of the previous titles or really much of anything from the Bat family (for reasons that will become clear soon), so I had no notion of tone, style, or dialogue traditions. As luck and my immense relief would have it, Valentine’s Catwoman is crisp, razor sharp, and brutally crafty.
Selina Kyle is settling in as the head of the Calabrese crime family. (Events that were set up in the Batman Eternal series influence Catwoman, although there are enough explanations that you don’t have to know what happened before in order to understand what’s going on now.) Selina wants to use her power to affect positive change in Gotham, but first she must play the violence game to gain control of the city’s mobs. Fighting her every step of the way are conspiring male kingpins, fronted by Black Mask, Penguin, and Hasigawa (human but Yakuza). Batman, Spoiler, Killer Croc, and even Catwoman—both of them—step up as reluctant allies, for as much as they might disagree with Selina’s methods or reasons they know she’s the best chance they have of repairing Gotham after being partially destroyed. It all goes from bad to worse when Batman disappears and the police step in to fill the power vacuum with spying technology and anti-crime weaponry that would make the NSA jealous.
Genevieve Valentine took over writing duties on Catwoman in issue #35, and Lee Loughridge on colors. Garry Brown joined her as the artist and Jae Lee as cover artist for #35-40. Starting at #41 David Messina took over as series artist and Kevin Wada on covers, and Gaetano Carlucci handles inks on #44. Issue #45 is set to release October 14, 2015. Vol 6, “Keeper of the Castle,” (#35-41) is out now and look for volume 7 (#41-47) in February 2016. There are previous volumes from the launch of the New 52 of varying interest and quality, but this review is concerned only with Valentine’s tenure.
To Pull or Not To Pull
Selina’s newfound power as a crime boss hasn’t come easy, and there are men within and without her alliances who dream of stripping her of her power. The story is intentionally frontloaded with men. Selina is hemmed in on all sides by hulking, condescending (mostly white) men who think she’s just as unworthy of her title because she’s a woman as because she was handed her title without earning it. The only people sincerely on her side are women, one with an obvious physical disfigurement and the other a QWoC. The only enemies she doesn’t have a plan to deal with (i.e.: kill) are also women—a teenage superhero with a chip on her shoulder the size of Metropolis and a cop with a mecha Batsuit at her disposal.
Quotes from powerful historical figures, mostly women, pepper the script, enhancing and expounding on Selina’s internal dialogue and the larger story arc. (And the quoted people are ethnically diverse!) Valentine writes Selina as clever without straying into childishly petty or sarcastic asshole territory. She sees far more than she lets on and reveals more than she intends, but never makes a move without analyzing all the possible ramifications of her actions.
Eiko herself is worthy of her own comic—maybe with Spoiler as her sidekick? DC, are you listening?—but for now she acts as a support system and foil to Selina. Eiko experiences her relationship with her father, the head of the Hasigawa crime family, as a lifetime of back-to-back games of Go where the stakes are life and death. Selina is playing a similar game as she plots to sustain her own family at the expense of enemy mob groups (ruled by Black Mask) in order to rebuild Gotham. How Eiko’s relationships, both platonic and romantic, unfurl with Selina is a work of art. How To Get Away With Murder recently handled its reveal of Annalise’s bisexuality with a similar tone, that of two strong but damaged women coming to an accord. Selina and Eiko never declare their love and there are no splash pages of naked rendezvous. We aren’t permitted to play the voyeur, which means we have to rely solely on their emotional connection rather than their physical one. Their sexualities are not for our consumption or objectification. Their relationship is as private to the audience as it is to their families.
Of the two artists, Brown’s interiors and Wada’s covers are my personal favorite. Brown uses heavy black lines and dark, bold colors to build a noir-ish atmosphere. The background details are exquisite. He never wastes an opportunity to fill space, but it never feels overloaded—like the scenes in the museum of vivid background paintings complementing the historical quotes and Selina’s emotional state. I fell in love with Wada’s work during his cover phase for She-Hulk, and was delightfully surprised to see he’d taken over cover duties on Catwoman. I don’t even know how to describe what it is that strikes me so much with his style, but I adore it. Remember that Italian erotica artist Marvel hired to draw that porn-y Spider-Woman cover? Wada is the polar opposite of that. I find his work as refreshing as it is gorgeous.
Messina and Lee are pretty amazing as well. Lee’s covers are unusual and unique enough to stand out. You’ll never confuse his style with anyone else’s. Under his pen the characters contort and dance across the page in strange angles that never bow to the male gaze. Messina’s interiors are closer to “traditional” comics art, but with his own twist. Bodies and backgrounds are more solid but still rife with details. Less artsy and rough, more shapely and defined. You can almost feel the characters moving on the page. Kudos to Messina and Lee for mocking up my favorite comic book version of Bruce Wayne. I didn’t know I needed a flannel Batman, but hooboy am I glad I got one.
A few weeks ago I had the sudden realization that I’ve done this column for over a year now and reviewed DC only once. Sure, a few DC characters have made their way into my diversity month posts, but as far as specific series go, the only title I’ve covered is Batgirl, and she had to share a review with new Thor. The lapse wasn’t malicious or intended. The simple truth is I rarely read DC. Not because I don’t like the characters but because I very much do dislike the company itself. Every time I considered picking up Black Canary or Catwoman, I think about what the Finches did to Wonder Woman, what the New 52 did to Lois Lane, what Dan DiDio did to Batwoman. I think about all those DC panels I’ve attended and how dismissive and disinterested the people in charge are about rectifying the diversity imbalance. I think about that awful new DC YOU campaign which plays at minority inclusion while largely featuring straight, white, cishet, able-bodied characters and creators. And I think about that vile Batgirl/Joker variant and how the publisher blamed outraged fans for being offended.
And yes, I recognize that Marvel isn’t much better. What Marvel is doing with Nathan Edmondson and Red Wolf is gross on so many levels, their hip-hop variants concept was a misguided failure, and I’m still angry about that whore joke in the Guardians of the Galaxy film. The difference is Marvel is willing, ready, and eager to give me more options to choose from (even if they don’t learn from their mistakes). Everything I read from Marvel is female-, LGBTQ-, and/or PoC-centric, and the publisher gives me so many titles to choose from that I literally cannot afford to keep up with them all. For DC, I had to ask the guy at my comics shop for recs of series I wasn’t already aware of, based on that aforementioned criteria. He went silent for several long moments, shrugged, mumbled something about a series with a bunch of Robins, and shifted the conversation onto Star Wars. Where Marvel understands that if it plays well with others the fandom will come, DC only seems to do diversity begrudgingly and half-assedly. I’m not naive enough to believe either publisher actually care about representation beyond how to translate my happiness into cold, hard cash, but Marvel is vastly better at faking interest.
The point is that Genevieve Valentine’s Catwoman had a very steep hill to climb with such heavy DC baggage. So you know it’s no small thing when I tell you the series is So. Freaking. Awesome. I cannot stress that enough. It makes me want to go back to Black Canary, Grayson, Batgirl, Constantine: The Hellblazer, Midnighter, and Cliff Chiang’s Wonder Woman, series I let go because I was sick of giving DC money. You may have won this round, DC, but it’s up to you to win the war. I’ll happily accept a Black female Batman, Asian trans Aquaman, [email protected] disabled Flash, or any other new bursts of creativity. Hell, you could even create a whole new set of characters who don’t cater to able, white, cishet men. Take a risk. Step up to the ledge. Be bold. And for Hera’s sake be at least try to be diverse without being so obvious with your pandering.
Alex Brown is an archivist, research librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter and Instagram, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.