Yes, along with Red Hood and the Outlaws and Suicide Squad, Catwoman stands at the forefront of the current controversy ensnaring DC regarding the depictions of its female characters. (Combine this with DC’s deficit of female writers and artists and, well, implications get really awkward.) Granted, DC has been oversexualizing its female characters for a while now; lovingly drawn ass- and boob-shots ran rampant through many books, but with the relaunch DC seemingly abandoned any notion that they wanted to build a stronger female readership, aiming squarely at the adolescent boy demographic. As such, the company seems to be going the way of early Image and Top Cow, trading quality stories for loads and loads of cheesecake. Beautifully pencilled cheesecake, mind you, but cheesecake nonetheless.
But, then again, this is Catwoman. The very definition of sex-bomb. This is a character notorious for using her feminine wiles to seduce, undermine her foes, and achieve her goals. Goals primarily consisting of stealing whatever shiny thing catches her eye or executing abject revenge on those who cross her. Not the most moral or kid friendly of characters. For these reasons, it’s a bit unfair to lob her in with the criticism surrounding Red Hood and the Outlaws (a similar argument can be made over Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad but we’ll get to that book eventually). Starfire is a hero (regardless of what Scott Lobdell might have to say about that) so reducing her to a male fantasy of what a “liberated” woman should be (a sexpot with no ambitions beyond riding her male cohorts) is a big deal. It shows a profound lack of respect for both the character and the reader. But in Catwoman’s case, if you fail to make the character sexy, then you fail to understand the character.
But enough analytics. Let’s jump into the book, shall we?
Our story begins with Catwoman fleeing her East End Gotham apartment out the window as two skull mask-wearing thugs pursue. As she leaps across rooftops with family of cats in tow, her apartment explodes, giving our anti-heroine the hint that someone in Gotham City may be holding a grudge. Unperturbed, Catwoman seeks out her friend (and fence) Lola for work, landing her in a strip club frequented by the Russian mob where she scoops info on a painting desired by both sides of two opposing mob families. Of course, per usual Catwoman antics, a covert intel operation can’t go smoothly as Selina digs her claws into a mobster responsible for the death of a friend. Cover exposed, she escapes with trademark Catwoman subtlety:
Returning home, Selina receives a surprise visit from the Batman himself (who cameos in nearly every chapter/issue, as if there weren’t enough DC books with Batman in them already) and after a short argument over Catwoman’s dangerous lifestyle and dubious morality, they proceed to…well, that thing issue #1 pretty much got notorious for. Postcoitus, Catwoman steals the aforementioned painting and arranges an exchange with both sides of the warring mobs at — where else? — a charity event hosted by Bruce Wayne. (Oh, the irony. The…kinda been done a thousand times, overplayed irony.) Chaos ensues with Catwoman gleefully soaring above it all while Selina’s growing recklessness looms ready to bite her in the ass. And, whoo boy, does it bite hard. As the shit hits the fan, lives are lost, eyes blackened, bones broken, and the GCPD launches an army at our feline femme fatale. And now Catwoman must stare her life in face and make a decision. Will she suffer responsibility and abandon her escapades while she’s ahead? Or will she take this game to the next level?
Yet again, we have a book that begins without an origin story. Catwoman is Catwoman: thief, acrobat, good with a whip, love interest, and occasionally enemy of, the Batman. Although, many changes to continuity are evident: Catwoman does not know the secret identity of Batman, she’s had an ambiguous age reduction down to her early to mid-twenties, Selina Kyle’s tenure as Catwoman is implied to be fairly short, Holly Robinson is nowhere in sight, and any history Selina may have with Harley Quinn or Poison Ivy (per Gotham City Sirens) or any other Batman villains (Black Mask is apparently alive and well, per recent Batman issues) are left completely unstated. And there’s no indication that we’re looking at flashbacks to a younger Catwoman either, a la current Action Comics and Detective Comics — all events seem to be taking place in the present. (For new readers this means absolutely nothing, of course.)
The line between sexy and exploitative runs thin and parts of Catwoman Vol. 1 jump liberally from one side to the other. And sadly, both writer and artist share the blame for this.
Guillem March’s art is gorgeous and he has experience drawing the character from Gotham City Sirens. In my last review, I criticized Doug Mahnke’s art for his weak facial expressions. By contrast, March’s faces flutter with expression, conveying the wry, the sarcastic, the mischievous, the enraged, the regretful, and so on. Action scenes dance off the page, alternating fluid motion, as in Catwoman’s high flying escapes, with rock hard starts and stops, as in the numerous beatings that get administered throughout the book. Character models display exaggerations in anatomy that lend themselves to the flow and emotion of the images (although at one point I’d swear Catwoman would have to dislocate both her legs to achieve a certain landing pose). Colors are muted without being boring, the washed out shades used to accentuate other colors, such as the green of Selina’s eyes.
On the flip side, we have the aforementioned cheesecake. In particular, Catwoman’s boobs appear to have free will, overflowing every outfit she wears as if they’re trying to escape. And given that they expand to the size of her head in certain panels, I wouldn’t be surprised if they actually did have brains of their own. Selina appears in her skivvies more times than I can count. And if you have a latex/leather fetish!? Not a page will be left splooge free.
And then there’s Judd Winick. Admittedly, I haven’t read much of his stuff but what of it I have read tells me that he has a real talent for crafting dialogue and interesting plot lines. Buuuuuut, then again, he is the guy who brought Jason Todd back to life and, frankly, I can’t help but hold that against him. Whatever Jason Todd may have been prior to A Death in the Family, his resurrected form is nothing but an obnoxious, simpering, hypocritical dickweed who only ever felt interesting to me in Grant Morrison’s Batman and Robin where he was just an out-and-out villain rather than an anti-hero. But of course, absolutely none of this reflects on Catwoman; these are merely my personal hangups. In fact, Winick creates a nice thematic arc for Selina that somehow ties this volume’s story together into a whole despite most of the issues being episodic. The problem…well, we’ve seen this arc before:
You mean to tell me the Catwoman lives…dangerously!? Shock. Of. Shocks. And the consequences of her action end up biting her in the ass!? NO!
Winick’s plotting and prose remain engaging regardless, however, and the book is certainly a good reintroduction for the character. The problem then becomes the level of exploitation. And while Winick has gone on record saying that he wanted to create a “sexy” and “mature” book in Catwoman, he seems to have forgotten what “maturity” actually means. Frankly, there’s just a lot of explicit crap in this book that I could have gone without, particularly in the first two issues. I don’t need to know how rough sex between Catwoman and Batman gets. I don’t need to know they kept most of their costumes on during it. And I certainly didn’t need a full page spread of…well, you-know-what. A mature story is one where the plot and characters are engaging and at no point is the audience talked down to (think of the worst kids movie you’ve ever seen) or pandered to (your average Michael Bay film). Catwoman has shades of real maturity but then you also have the puerile scenes I’ve described above, quintessential examples of immature attempts to seem more “adult.”
Overall, I do recommend this book…to adults. See, despite how much space I’ve dedicated to it in this article, the faults I take issue with in Catwoman lie least with Judd Winick and Guillem March, as I see it, and most with DC’s marketing. I say this as a huge fan of Adam Warren’s Empowered series, a book overflowing with sex, near-nudity, and adult humor — the perfect example of porn-with-plot. (And while Catwoman can’t challenge Empowered for near-nudity, damned if it doesn’t try.)
The differences here are twofold: 1) The level of self-awareness in Empowered as far as its exploitative content is leagues above Catwoman to the point that it’s hard to call it exploitation. The very fact that it’s exploitative is key to the narrative, the character, and a staple of Empowered’s humor. 2) Dark Horse markets and packages Empowered appropriately: for adults, shrink wrapped and pasted with parental advisory stickers. The individual issues of Catwoman come with a “T+” rating (the trade carries no rating whatsoever), which is ridiculous in its own right — less for the sexual content of the book and more for the level of violence (something that can be said for most Batman-related titles). This book really isn’t for anyone below the age of sixteen and DC’s marketing doesn’t reflect that. DC wouldn’t be receiving near as much flack if they just knew how to present their books properly rather than obfuscate with a bullshit ratings system and a warped perception of what’s “teen appropriate.” I honestly fear for the poor kid wandering the comic shop who picks up this book and has the image of Catwoman fully mounting Batman burned into their retina, forever tainting their perception of two of DC’s iconic characters. (And let the record hereforth remember that Batman is a bottom.)
If you want to make more adult oriented books, DC, fine. That’s what you have Vertigo for! Mainline books should at least have some semblance of being for all ages. Both in how they present violence and sex. It amazes me how few DC writers and editors learn from animated series like Batman TAS, Justice League, and Young Justice where being forced to fit within a TV-Y7 or TV-PG rating forces them to be more creative and subtle. And if there’s one thing a lot of DC books are lacking in currently (Catwoman especially), it’s subtlety.
Regardless, Catwoman Vol. 1 is a good book and I enjoyed it thoroughly (certain eye-rolling moments aside). While it retreads ground we’ve seen before with Catwoman coming to terms with her own reckless lifestyle, Winick at least has the courtesy of providing us with some funny lines and a decent story. It’s a good start to what could be an interesting series, provided Winick uses this launching pad to explore some new avenues in the future.
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