Cleavage, Claws and Catwoman

If any of you follow my twitter, then you’ll know I have been quite vocal about my lack of hope for Anne Hathaway as Catwoman in Nolan’s final Batman flick. Abandon Faith Al Ye Who Cast Anne Hathaway As Catwoman. This is a big deal for me, as I’ve always loved and respected Catwoman as a character. Selina is insane, seductive, reckless and powerful. And Hathaway simply can’t do this (prove me wrong, Hathaway, prove me wrong).

Phew, glad I got that out in the open.

Now, my intense, borderline ridiculous fear of her portrayal is because I have a deep love for Catwoman. She is a fantastic character, easily one of the best in the DC universe. And Catwoman Volume 1: The Game depicts Selina so perfectly, I felt like a little kid reading it: I was so excited, I had to keep putting the book down to talk about it. It is an unbelievable run, and does right by my Selina Kyle.

Okay, well… Admittedly, the cover is a little ridiculous. But it’s spectacle, and spectacke sells. But the storyline is absolutely incredible.

Her googles are modeled after a bra, clearly.

What I think Judd Winick and Guillem March nail right off the bat is how to balance Selina’s undeniable sexualisation and incredible power and strength of character (because while it should never be the end of the conversation, representation is always part of it). Selina is sexualised, and this has always been a thorn in the side of us feminists in the comic book scene.

That being said, we can’t ignore representation and The Game does begin on a troubling note, in that the opening scene involves Selina escaping from her apartment while attempting to pull on her Catwoman costume; this ends with her falling out of a window half-naked. I groaned. Audibly. My thoughts: Please don’t Voodoo Catwoman (yeah, I use Voodoo as a verb for fucking up a female character in a comic run sometimes — I’m bitter, apparently).

While opening the run with this reverse-strip-tease creates a potentially shaky framework for how Selina is going to be portrayed, this scene actually digs deeper than just the superficial: the image of Selina, falling, dodging danger, and half in her Catwoman costume, establishes all the tensions inherent within the Catwoman/Selina Kyle identity. She is reckless, and constantly in danger — but she is never, ever the damsel in distress. Batman is constantly showing up (should we be alarmed that Bruce appears to be stalking her?*). But she never needs him to save her. Importantly, the major fights in Volume 1 all show Catwoman handling herself. While she may or may not be in control of all of the events happening, she is always in control of her own responses. She refuses to let anyone else take culpability for her actions.

We see this characterization of Catwoman in the Arkham City video game, also. As Batman, you’re meant to go save her from Two-Face, but she ultimately frees herself.

Gotcha your nose!

This scene in the game illustrates that the damsel-in-distress dynamic between her and Bruce is a farce and more like foreplay than anything else. We get the sense that she doesn’t actually need him, but that the playing-up and ultimate subversion of these typical roles is part of what makes their hook-ups so hot.

Back to the comic and Selina falling from her aparment: the half-naked Selina-half-transformed-into-Catwoman is actually about illustrating her struggle between being Selina Kyle and being Catwoman, which becomes a major theme that runs throughout The Game. It’s a reboot, and Winick is tackling with how Selina becomes Catwoman in terms of finding and establishing the principle that will be her guiding morality — it may be a grey morality, but it’s a principle of loyalty to those close to her, an acknowledgement she can’t do this alone and fidelity to her own origins, which she has to come to in her own way.

What ultimately sold me on Winick and March’s run, though, is this panel:

I won’t spoil what she just did here. Read it. (Art: March, 2012)

What I loved about this scene is it actually shows the very real force that is Catwoman. Draw her with bulging cleavage all you want, it doesn’t change the fact that Selina Kyle is insane and insanely powerful, especially when her moral code is violated. And the violent Catwoman we get in this panel is inspired from an old vendetta. She is avenging a wrong from her past, not just mutilating someone who stopped her from stealing some jewels. Selina has a code, and The Game illustrates this development perfectly.

While I didn’t want to spoil what exactly it is Catwoman is doing in the above panel (because it is totally worth reading, and me explaining it won’t do the experience justice), I will spoil one part of the run. Catwoman is held captive by Bone, who is furious at her for stealing all his things and kills her only true friend. His precious, precious things, like ugly paintings and boob-diamonds. How dare she. In response to his greedy-hoarder-borderline-Gollum speech, Catwoman explodes: “If this was over drugs! Money! Territory! I’d understand that! But it wasn’t! You killed her over things! Meaningless! Stupid! Things!” (Spoiler finished!)

What is powerful about this assertion is that she acknowledges the superficiality of being a thief. She steals jewels and money because she can. And she eats $400 caviar because it’s part of the game, just like playing the fake damsel-in-distress is part of her role with Batman. Catwoman has different meanings for different people and situations, and The Game shows how she finds which meaning is actually her own. It’s character building and character motivation at the most basic level. And it is done beautifully.

So for Catwoman, her guiding principle is not contingent upon a black and white code of morality as it is for Batman. Catwoman is a character who is constantly straddling lines, jumping between boundaries, unzipping her shirt and kicking ass, refusing to be narrowly captured and categorized. She plays her roles: thief, villain, friend and lover to Batman, but she is constantly subverting and upending these roles. She is never just Batman’s foe, she is frequently his ally. She is not just his lover, she is his confidante and part of his heart (Hush by Jeph Loeb does an amazing job at depicting this dynamic between Selina and Bruce). But she never settles, never stays in one category for long.

It’s what I’ve said before in my Psylocke post: sexuality shouldn’t be the end of the argument. If there’s nothing deeper, then we have a problem. But with Catwoman, there is so much more than just the superficiality of her appearance, and Winick and March get this. And in The Game, you can stop at the superficial level, but you will miss so, so much.

– Kaitlin Tremblay

* Please forgive me, Batman, you know I love you. You and your stalkerish-ways.

6 Comments on “Cleavage, Claws and Catwoman”

  1. I was wondering/anticipating what your take would be on the Nu52 Catwoman, when you mentioned it previously. I’ll admit, it lost me on the weakness of that first issue, and, from what I remember of the comic blogosphere at the time, it lost a lot of other people too. DC made some bad choices in that regard with a lot of their first issues; the half-naked Catwoman, the Voodoo stripper (I’ve actually been told that the stripper thing ends with the first issue, and it picks up from there, but I didn’t actually keep reading), and the Red Hood and the Outlaws issue where Starfire declares that she’ll have sex with whoever because she can’t tell human males apart anyway. I probably should have put more faith in Winnick; His run on the (female-led) team book Exiles is probably one of my favorite runs in comics.

    Have you read any Catwoman from the pre-reboot era? Most of what I know about the character is from when Ed Brubaker was writing her, which was volume 3, issues 1-37, circa the early 2000s. It sounds like she was portrayed similarly to how you describe Winnick using her (with more an emphasis on the thief aspect than the wild aspect), but I’m curious to how the two interpretations stack up. (Will Pfiefer had a reasonably good run too, but I’m less familiar with it.)

    • Admittedly, most of my experience with Catwoman has been through Batman runs, so I’m not familiar with much of her writing in her own run, which could lead to why I was so impressed with the New52 one. That being said, I think, at least in the Batman runs I have read, which is a lot of Jeph Loeb’s stuff, she has always been handled pretty well. But I would love to read the Brubaker run. I’m currently reading Fatale by him and Sean Phillips and absolutely loving it, so I would be incredibly interested to see his dealings with Selina. I’ll have to hunt it out and get back to ya on it ;)

      Yeah, the first issue is definitely off-putting, and I know it can make or break an interest in a run, so I’m hoping that the release of the TPB will see some converts and win back some people.

  2. Just don’t read the Kevin Smith Batman. Ever.

    • Haha, I think you were the one who warned me about the Kevin Smith Batmans when I was first complaining about Hathaway as Catwoman? I have heeded that advice, and have steered clear :)

  3. [...] time for ThatMonster versus Catwoman, Round 2. In Round 1, Catwoman and Judd Winick won by a landslide, winning me over utterly and completely, despite my [...]

  4. […] about Catwoman: who played the best Selina Kyle in movies and who writes her the best in comics. I talk about her a lot. I mean, a lot. I’ve developed a really deep love for her as a character because […]

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