So the DC relaunch is three weeks in and there’s been a lot of good comics coming out. I have, however, seen more than a little criticism of one of my favourite women in DC, Selina Kyle. The criticism seems centered around the beginning and the end of that book. In the beginning we see Selina hastily dressing to flee her apartment. The last page is a full page art piece of Batman and Catwoman engaged in fore-play1.
I’m sorry to say it, folks but if you don’t want a woman who is overtly sexual and sexualized you probably shouldn’t be reading Catwoman. Firstly she is cat-suited in an inherently fetishistic outfit. Disregarding the golden and silver ages, you understand. Secondly she uses a whip as a weapon, which according to perhaps the most broadly used origin story she learnt to use during her prostitution and professional domination days. An origin story I strongly suspect is still canon in the relaunch due to some of the flashback art. She also uses seduction as a weapon, against good and bad guys alike. She’s never been above flirting with the police, Nightwing or Batman to get out of trouble any more than she has been against flirting with Two Face, the Falcones, Ivy, Harley or anyone’s goons to get into trouble. She also has sex with Batman, as shocking as it seems to be for some critics of Catwoman #1. None of this was new, nor did I think it was badly handled in Catwoman #1.
What really bothers me about the criticism is that it is focussed on the first 2 pages and the last page. Almost no one references the 15 or 16 other pages of this book. If they did they’d see things like:
Catwoman passing the Bechdel test. For those who are not in the know, the Bechdel test (traditionally applied to movies) “is a simple test which names the following three criteria: (1) it has to have at least two women in it, who (2) who talk to each other, about (3) something besides a man.” Catwoman passes! In fact the scene above is an extract from a two and a half page conversation. That’s a long time in a book like Catwoman to take out of the action budget. I sincerely hope Lola is a recurring character, she’s already endeared herself to me.
We also see Catwoman posing as the Bartender at a Russian mob party full of escorts. This marks perhaps the first time I can think of when a character in a comic book or comic-book based film, presented with a party full of escorts decided to disguise herself as something other than one of the escorts. It also introduces us to the idea that Catwoman is poly-lingual and eaves-dropping on the Russians’ native-tongued conversations.
We get a hint of her traumatic past in flashback.
Oh and we get a reminder that Catwoman is not a good guy. Even if the victim of her brutal violence totally had it coming, even if the book sets that up with a bright shiny light, this beating is savage, brutal, bloody and drawn out. It’s also interesting to me that it’s very much not why she was there. This is a flash of violence. This is Catwoman seeing red. Are we in for a Selina with a dangerous temper? Personally I hope so, it’s a twist on her character I like.
But above all I want to talk about shoes. Over the years we’ve seen some overt sexualization of Catwoman, as I mentioned. That being the case let’s take a moment to appreciate that even if she is having sex with Batman and even if we do see a fair bit of her red lacy bra in the opening scene we are still looking at the most practically dressed Catwoman ever.
There’s a distressing tendancy to put Catwoman in the high heels of her dominatrix past, of the sexualised stereotype. Look at the movies, for example. Even Dark Knight Rises has released stills of Hathaway in high-heels along with her catsuit. I thought the driving motivation of the Nolan movies was a believable Dark Knight, something grounded in reality. Why, then, is the master cat-burglar running around on the least stable platform humanity has devised as an every-day shoe?
What does Catwoman wear post relaunch?
If the only aim of Catwoman today was to sexualise her and turn her into nothing but a sex symbol why does she speak Russian? Why is she still a thief? Why does she have a temper that will force her off-task to beat a man to within an inch of his life because he wronged her in the past?
And why is she in good, practical, grippy boots?
N.B. I’m not going to be writing an in-defence of Starfire. The relaunch of her character has been horrific. I’m not going to be writing an in-defence of Harley Quinn’s new costume. It’s a travesty that kills her character. I’m not going to be writing an in-defence of Karen Starr being reduced from Power Girl to bit part in Mister Terrific.
In no way am I saying there haven’t been mistakes in the DC re-launch. I’m just saying give Catwoman a break. She’s a bad girl, so it’s very easy to judge her, but give her a chance to shine.
1 I’ve actually seen at least one commenter describe this page as depicting Batman penetrating Catwoman, which if you look at the art work is a physical impossibility and belies the bias of the comment as far as I’m concerned.