July 28th, 2010
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.
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:
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.
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.