Catwoman

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Before you go any further you should read (or remind yourself of) what Amy had to say about her in his ancient Rogue’s Review. It’s a little bit woolly in places but it’s also full of great ideas and he covers most of what I have to say here and then some. Not only that, he manages, in true Poodle style, to anticipate popcrime and Morrison’s it all happened approach to the bat-characters, but instead of focusing on Bruce he spends his energy on Selina. His take on her relationship with Holly is especially cool.

Stop heading down. His is better. Go read and come back.

Now me:

As much I enjoyed Brubaker’s run, I contend that the character has been sanitised. Yes she remained an ex-prostitute, and Ed didn’t shy away from some small stabs at social relevance, but ultimately it’s not the social issues, as much as it’s nice to see them get an airing, or Catwoman’s past life in the sex trade that concern me, it’s the lack of this:

selina

I like characters who are difficult, they’re interesting, but interesting can prove a problem if you’re a superhero. Batman can weather a smidgen of forceful personality because his humanity is such a big part of his appeal, Superman less so. Superman just needs to be good in some nebulous way. Spider Man can suffer interminably and like the ladies, but the second he gets a bit political or starts to exemplify a more active, less genre-led morality (see his recent willingness to kill and maim Kraven), you risk complaints. Before you even get into a conversation about superheroes as icons rather than characters, or actualizations/representations of principles or moral arguments or whatever, there’s the reality of servicing high dollar value corporate entities month in month out to contend with, a reality which doesn’t leave much room for contentious human quirks.

Partially because of lesser expectations when it comes to sales, anti-heroes like the modern day Catwoman get a lot more wriggle room, and as someone who was brought up on 2000AD I want my anti-heroes with as much spice as possible. It doesn’t get more challenging that Dredd taking out a mugger with a hi-ex bullet or Nemesis’ nigh-on psychotic crusade against humanity, or, heading across the pond, Amanda Waller’s lethal control freakery, or the Punisher, but it doesn’t get much more stimulating, either. That isn’t too say that I want Catwoman to start murdering civilians, but I would love for someone to bring back a bit more of the supervillain, to be more concerned with the whether or not the character is compelling than whether or not she’s likeable.

catwoman-in-rome

There’s a reason why she carries a whip, wears skin tight plastic, and beats up on men. There’s a reason why she spent so many hours strapping Batman, that paragon of masculinity, into deathtraps. There’s a reason why she bestrode the world in the pop-criminal guise of a cat, an animal that won’t be tamed. Miller has Catwoman locked as a dominatrix almost from the get-go, and while the idea of a dom villainess is hardly original I don’t remember it ever being thoroughly hashed out in the modern superhero genre – it has real potential. Miller’s Catwoman, despite possessing some admirable qualities, is hard-faced, bossy and rude, she’s reckless, and she may or may not have much time for men. Like Miller’s Batman, she proves that you don’t have to be merely likeable to be attractive. Quite the opposite.

Without losing sight of her better nature, I’d go further. I’d ratchet up the panther-eyed mistress, deliberately make the audience uncomfortable. I’d make her by turns more conspicuously selfish, distant and vicious. I’d play up her recklessness, the thrillseeker with the night air on her face. Writers, most notably Brubaker, have tried to bring out some of these elements, but they always fall shy of taking any real risks. There’s always a feeling that Selina should learn from her mistakes, or at the very least that she should view certain actions as mistakes. The Catwoman I have in mind wouldn’t necessarily see what happened to her sister in the hands of Black Glove as in any way her fault, and my Selina Kyle, as much as she loves Holly, would still be prepared to take risks with her life if she thought the pay off warranted it. I want a fiercer Catwoman, a more showy Catwoman, one that demands to be the centre of attention and that likes nothing more than to trample the competition beneath her stiletto boots. I want to see the fangs, to feel that she’s dangerous and predatory, not merely tough and devious. This Catwoman’s soundtrack is Venus in Furs.

There is of course an unspoken assumption here, that we want Catwoman to have her own book, that we want her to be the star of the show rather than the mysterious femme fatale. The two, it seems to me, are to some extent mutually exclusive, although I could imagine a writer pulling a just when you thought you knew who you were dealing with out of the hat to considerable effect, I’m not sure that kind of approach is sustainable with her in the role of the protagonist. Mind you, Carter Beats the Devil makes a very good case for the opposition on that score, so maybe it would be workable (has there ever been a protagonist more consistently mysterious than Carter?). Either way, mystery is an integral part of my idealised Catwoman. As Amy points out Catwoman isn’t just a criminal, she’s a super-thief, more than a match for Batman, in his words “the Harry Houdini of crime” (or better yet the Dorothy Dietrich. She’s the one character who can give Batman a run for his money in the disappearing stakes, both in the interior and exterior sense, the one villain it should be perilously difficult to lockdown, both in the pen and in life. The character’s totem and noir underpinnings scream out for this approach, and while writers like Brubaker have taken us some of the way there I maintain that the Catwoman gracing the racks is far too knowable for my liking.

And if Catman can have a Catmobile, which according to Gail Simone he can, then Catwoman demands a Kittycar.

Next: Clayface

12 Responses to “Alphabetical villain thing: All the Cs part 2”

  1. RetroWarbird Says:

    I knew a girl like Selina Kyle once. Could never get a read on her (and I’m very observant). Always flaked out and changed up and left me off-guard. Spent the better part of three years chasing her to no effect, and I’d still kill to find out.

    Catwoman’s a lot like Riddler, I think. Although her attitude is definitely more rebelling against the old order than his attitude of just using the world as his personal playground because he’s that damn smart. And she’s far more wanton than Riddler. He doesn’t like it when things don’t go according to his designs or Batman fails to save a civilian from an accidental collateral damage. Catwoman would be quicker to brush it off.

    They stand out as my two favorite Bat-Villains because they’re thieves, and frankly … theft is a crime, but not a heinous one. That’s the beauty of it – it falls under Batman’s “war on crime” but where do the Bat’s priorities go? Joker’s murdering people on the corner of Kane and Sprang, but Catwoman just robbed one of the world’s most priceless antiques! (Of course he’s going to go for the murderer – Batman consistently chooses human life over property.)

    But where Riddler’s motif is all about the game of wits itself – proving to Batman that he’s not SOLE OWNER of the city – there are people worthy of dueling him (a very ego-centric, infamy-craving take on popcrime), no, where Riddler is all about the game itself, Catwoman is all about the “chase”.

    They both have “Catch Me If You Can” written all over them … but their means of attracting attention and choices of escapes couldn’t be more different. (Not to say I don’t think Riddler is incapable of cat burglary – what the hell else would explain that green skintight outfit?)

    I enjoyed the Rogue Review of Catwoman immensely, and love the idea of her being hard to pin down (Remember when she was part of a Terrific Trio with Batman and Jason Todd, and her pet panther Diablo had mauled a Syrian terrorist?). The one thing I would like to see, is acknowledgement that she had a mentor. That she’s the disciple of the “World’s Greatest Thief”.

    Because Bruce Wayne didn’t just lift free weights and learn to be an urban ninja. He traveled the world and had training.

    Selina Kyle didn’t have TIME to be a lowly street-walking prostitute. She would’ve been too busy learning her craft from some old pro. And moreover, if she indeed has this sister Maggie Kyle (Who became a Nun)… worthless wannabe brother Karl Kyle (The King of Cats), and possible relation to the Falcone Crime Family? It seems even less likely.

    I love what Tony Daniel just did with her. He gave her a protege.

  2. Tolliver Says:

    “And if Catman can have a Catmobile, which according to Gail Simone he can, then Catwoman demands a Kittycar.”

    Or perhaps a Pussy Wagon

  3. Zom Says:

    Indeed

  4. Brimstone Says:

    Yeah, we all know the girl who’s crazy (actually mentally ill, which Selina is not) or just ‘crazy’ (unpredictable, hard for MEN to pin down. I dated someone like that, and it was dangerous and scary and hot as hell… so that’s the basis. but make her one step ahead of everyone, even Batman
    i’m thinking about River Song, the one woman who knows more then The Doctor (Doctor Who), but with the danger ramped up to 11. you’re not sure what you’d do if you’d caught her, but you know you want to

  5. The Satrap Says:

    Selina is improbably stacked in the last picture. She looks more like a fertility goddess than a feline. Since it’s Sale and not Jim Balent however, it has crisp pencils, nice design and clever touches like the stolen jewelry she’s wearing. It’s perfect, really, speaks to her skill –she’s stealthy, even when loaded up on trinkets– and her flamboyant ways. She must know that the market value of the stuff she’s nicked and worn shoots up, the rapscallion.

    Being more concerned with “whether or not the character is compelling than whether or not she’s likeable” is definitely the way to go. She’s a super-thief, as you and Amy point out, which raises the issue of what super-theft should be exactly about. The anti-capitalist (or, more exactly, anti-wealth) aspect which Amy raises is obviously a part of super-theft, but it’s perhaps too obvious. Since the breaking-and-entering strikes me as more important than the actual taking of things, I’d regard CW’s super-thievery as a form of –for the most part– salutary irritant, meant to bring about some form of change or growth (in herself, which would fit in nicely with her constant reinvention, her victims, in Batman, her pop audience, take your pick). That’s obviously a cliché, trickster stuff, but as Selina’s colleague Mr. Nigma can attest, our po-faced supercomics can’t do tricksters to save their fucking life. Could her burglaries be a kind of parody of the very notions of inspiration and grace, maybe, of the intrusion of the Socratic daimonion in the spiritl? Good thing I’ll never be allowed near these venerable properties. At any rate, when Amy says in his review that CW “undermines the hard surfaces of the known world viewed from the roof of Wayne Corp” he’s not being woolly, he’s on the money.

    As for the River Song thing, no offence, but no heavens, no. That’s Fonthill Merino sheep levels of woolly. A very fair criticism of New Who is that it pretends to solve the show-not-tell problem by overacting the telling. Well, River Song, that’s telling for you. Forget about Mr. Moffat’s much vaunted “storytelling ability”, she’s pure authorial fiat, as piss-poor an example of a Mary Sue femme fatale as one’s likely to find.

    Actually, this declarative crap, the attendant fetishisation of the characters, the blatant flattery of the audience which they entail and the poisonous ideological baggage which ultimately goes with the latter, that’s all something which New Who shares with a certain movie I’m somewhat fond of ranting against. Audience flattery is a key concept here. New Who is merely mildly annoying, though, and it draws from a broader set of sources than inbred superhero fictions. The episode with “Starship UK” and the space whale in particular is a ripoff of one of the most infuriating and yet important sci-fi ur-texts of the last few decades, Le Guin’s “The ones who walk away from Omelas”. Some essential, insidious flattery in there. I’ll have to comment at length on the relationship between all this unsavoury canon in some future thread hijack or the other.

  6. RetroWarbird Says:

    I’ve been trying to think of how to work the dominatrix angle into my thoughts on Catwoman. I know there’s a connection there, and it’s not a “fuck you, men” connection like Frank Miller thinks it is. But it may well be “Fuck THE Man”.

    A whip is the weapon of the slavemaster. By stealing, pop-culturing and living above the law, Selina is “showing everyone” (which is in direct contrast to her usual level of sneaky secrecy) that they’re all slaves to “The Man”. And I think some of it could easily stem from super-heroics being such a “boy’s world”. She’s very much a “girls can play this game, too” girl. But all this stacking of possibly meanings behind her existence just adds up cumulatively back to that woman who is hard to pin down. She’s a cosmopolitan girl with a lot of big, bright ideas. And a WOMAN with LOTS of IDEAS scares the LIVING HELL out of MEN.

    In the 20′s women ditched their braziers and sat on flagpoles. In the 60′s they started getting good jobs. In Gotham City in the DCU … it takes a little bit more of an extreme approach.

  7. RetroWarbird Says:

    Right … lost track of the dominatrix thing. Sexual liberation is part of that too. Liberation in general. Everything is free. She’s free. The things she obtains are free.

  8. The Satrap Says:

    Selina is “showing everyone” (which is in direct contrast to her usual level of sneaky secrecy) that they’re all slaves.

    This wins the thread. While Batman says “criminals are a superstitious and cowardly lot, I must be a creature of the night, black and terrible”, Catwoman says “everybody is submissive, so I must bring a whip along”. This is how you fuck with Brucie’s head.

  9. Steven Says:

    “You see in this world there’s two kinds of people, my friend. Those with whips, and those who dig.”

    But really The Satrap, you might be over-thinking the character if you assign to her motives of Socratic parody or koan-like attempts to initiate inner growth. That’s what The Riddler’s riddles are for. Catwoman just steals stuff; no clues, no gimmicks, no deathtraps.

    (Okay maybe some deathtraps.)

  10. The Satrap Says:

    you might be over-thinking the character…

    It is a distinct possibility.

    That being said, inspiration is most definitely a she, as this alpha male can attest.

    Do follow the link, it’s quite hilarious.

  11. amypoodle Says:

    FUCKING LOL.

    i haven’t read it yet, but…

  12. Dan K Says:

    Personally, I don’t buy the dominatrix thing and I don’t buy the class war angle either.

    I don’t really have a problem with the idea of Selina as a prosititute or ex-prostitute but, come on, the dominatrix thing is just Miller. It works for Frank because that’s the kind of thing he does. Suggesting that she commits crimes and beats up men as some sort of sexual fetish seems to me to be a bit creepy and misogynistic – like I say, it’s Frank.

    To my mind Selina would work better as the kind of casino courtesan that are usually drawn hanging off the arm of gansters but never normally given characters or personalities. As such, she would know plenty of douchie guys who deserve to get fleeced for evry penny, and perhaps a few who deserve to get karate-kicked out of a second storey window.

    Likewise, Catwoman shouldn’t be stealing things as critique of inequality, she should steal things because it’s fun and exciting – or otherwise to get her own back on some dirtbag ex-boyfriend.

    You have Batman taking on the bad guys because of his principles – and it’s awfully worthy and noble and rather too stuffy and serious for Selina. Catwoman does it for the kicks. There are some parallels between the two of them, in otherways they are polar opposites.

    Anyway, thats just my tupence-worth

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