…you have them standing there and they’re standing in the same shot — and then we have Wonder Woman, you know, all three of them in the same shot. Even just for a test, you really have to go, “Wow, that’s crazy!” Not only is it the first time that I’m seeing them, it’s the first time they’ve ever existed together on screen in a movie. And that’s kind of a huge deal. Even just Batman and Superman standing next to each other… [I]t’s kind of epic.
– Zack Snyder on costume tests for Batman vs Superman.

Now, while the phrase ‘all three of them in the same shot’ pleases me I can’t get behind Zack’s enthusiasm about how special this moment is. As a DC fan I get it, it’s exciting to me. These characters haven’t been together in live action before. This is a first. It’s just that the concept of icons on screen together is no longer special.

The Avengers

Zack, it’s been done. You can’t just impress us with putting heroes together any more. You’re going to have to do something truly special.

An Open Letter to One Million Moms

I am a long term comic book reader and whilst I support your effort to protect children I am afraid I am somewhat confused about the campaign to write to DC and Marvel in objection to their depiction of gay characters. I would like to support any action to protect children but I can’t commit to something I feel I do not fully understand. As I am sure you feel the same way and would not incite such a campaign without becoming fully informed on the subject at hand I would appreciate it if you could clarify a few points for me before I agree to write a letter supporting your cause.

DC comics’ announcement that they will re-introduce a character as gay comes as part of a now nine-month old initiative to relaunch the brand. Many other things have happened in these nine months that, if homosexuality is a worryingly imitable and corrupting influence on children, are surely also of concern.

You speak of the concern that a child might want a boyfriend like Batman. This seems to imply that in other respects you are content that Batman is an acceptable role model. Does this mean that you support his having entirely anonymous, fetishised sex with a complete stranger in (what is effectively) public? In one of the first issues of the relaunched DC line a man had the skin of his face severed to create a grizzly skin-mask, without anaesthetic. This also happened in a Batman book. As did men and women being cut into pieces and then fashioned back together into patchwork corpse puppets.

Nor does it stop there. Wonder Woman, it has been revealed, is the descendant of a people who are serial mass-rapists and serial committers of mass-infanticide. The rape is even depicted, though not graphically. In their defence it’s made clear the Amazon women no longer commit infanticide of all males born of their rape-culture, simply sell them into heretical slavery to the false-god Hephaestus, but as mothers how can you condone either behaviour? And oh yes, that false god is one of many of the greek pantheon of heretical gods that is a regular character in the book, in violation not of a verse of the book of Romans but of the 1st commandment itself!

Catwoman is shown as not simply a villain instead she is presented as an anti-hero. She has a book series of her own in which she is seen fornicating, committing theft after theft and even beating a helpless man to a very violent, bloody and disfiguring death with a baseball bat. Whilst she also stands up for the defenceless in other regards, does that really make up for her other behaviours?

Even Bunker, a new character introduced to the Teen Titans, a book surely aimed at Teenagers by its’ very nature, is both gay and Catholic, conflating the subject of homosexuality and religion.

Now, seeing as all these and other issues exist I can come to only two conclusions. Either you are aware of these things and have concluded that they are all perfectly acceptable for your children whilst the idea of re-introducing a character as gay is not or rather than consider them perfectly acceptable for your children you give you children the credit that they are sufficiently complex individuals to not find these behaviours imitable or laudable but are concerned they will be encouraged to emulate this character’s coming out, despite the already existing characters of Bunker, Batwoman, Renee Montoya and others that they have successfully avoided following into homosexuality up until now.

I look forward to your answer and having my confusion assuaged so that I can confidently write in support of your campaign to protect children from the threatening idea that a man or woman might be gay and still be a good person.

Thank you,

Simon Aplin

What’s So Bad About Suicide Squad, Then?

This is a question I get asked a lot. I am vocal about my dislike of Adam Glass’ take on the Suicide Squad and on Harley Quinn in particular. My reason is, largely, one of continuity. You see, the Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad is unrecognisable as the Harley Quinn of DC’s history. There’s been a relaunch with the new 52, yes and that’s a valid argument. My counter-argument is that Harley’s changes seem far more substantive to the nature of the character than most other characters’ have been. Whilst there have been fundamental changes to the character we can sum it all up with costume changes.

Superman Side By Side

Superman’s red trunks are gone, there’s more definition to his suit but over all, he’s Superman. No question about it.

Batman Side By Side

Batman is Batman.

Wonder Woman Side By Side

Wonder Woman’s a tricky one, having gone through a last-minute costume revision just before the relaunch but she’s still Wonder Woman. A little silver in place of bronze, back to trunks instead of pants… she’s Wonder Woman. If anything, more iconic after the relaunch as her ‘new 52’ look is closer to the classic than her Odyssey style.

Though not pictured, Green Lantern, Aquaman, Catwoman, Poison Ivy, Black Canary and many others are still recognisably true to themselves with tweaks rather than changes made to their looks.

Harley Quinn Side By Side

Harley is… gone. The argument used by DC is she’s been brought more in line with the book’s tone and Rocksteady’s look for Harley in the Arkham Noun games. I have the Arkham City figure stood infront of me as I write this and I see a blonde haired, flesh-tone skinned girl in a black and red diamond-patterned outfit. It’s not her classic look but it’s closer than the abomination we see monthly in Suicide Squad. That said, if it’s to bring it in line with the book’s tone… I’ll buy it. You see, the tone of Suicide Squad is ‘confused mess without any sense of continuity’.

Can I back that up? Read on…
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Cats and Birds

Meaningless, Stupid Things

So, when I’m writing about DC comics lately I’m trying to avoid spoilers. For the issue I’m talking about. Issues about previous weeks’ issues are pretty unavoidable, though. That said…

I was tempted to start with a complaint that the DC release schedule seems to be set up in such a way that week by week my favourite characters are forcing me to reassess which are my favourite books in the relaunch. Then, after a moment’s thought I realised… that’s not a bad thing, that’s a fantastic thing! I can’t remember, before the relaunch, the last time that my favourite books and favourite characters were jostling for position multiple times in a month. When I was this engaged with the stories and characters.
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Give Us Back Our Harley

“The thought was, let’s see her operate outside of the Joker, not being obsessed 24/7,”
Adam Glass, Writer of Suicide Squad 2011, TV Guide Interview

This is a fantastic idea. It was a fantastic idea in Gotham City Sirens, the recently ended serial telling the story of Harley, Selina and Pamela trying to rub along together as friends. It was a fantastic idea in Harley & Ivy, the serial that saw the eponymous duo getting into misadventures. It was a good idea in Harley Quinn when she worked with Harvey Dent, in Secret Six… a good idea but not an original one. Adam’s bold statement of the thought behind the Suicide Squad rendition of Harley Quinn just belies a woeful lack of understanding of who Harley is and her history in the DC universe.

“She’s still funny, she’s still sexy, she’s still a little crazy. This is Harley if she’s moved away from home, her chance to shine on her own.”
Adam Glass, Writer of Suicide Squad 2011, TV Guide Interview

To take your points in order, Adam.

1) No, she isn’t. Humour is a subjective thing, admittedly, but Harley is not what she was. She should be a jester, who fell for the Joker because he made everything funny. It was all for laughs. It put a smile on her face. Harley is a ray of sunshine. Psychotically deranged sunshine. I haven’t seen any evidence of this in the new 52.

2) Harley’s sexiness did not come from her wardrobe, ever. Even when she got out of her iconic costume in Gotham City Sirens and dressed casually the appeal didn’t come from her wardrobe. Harley’s outfit in the first two issues of Suicide Squad was not sexy. There was nothing alluring about it, it was just sexual which is a different thing entirely.

3) Maybe she is still a little crazy. Actually, if she’s calling anyone but Mistah J “puddin'” then she’s clearly lost her mind completely. What she isn’t, though, is skating on the edge of madness, laughing at the absurdity of it all as she goes.

In short, the character presented in Suicide Squad is unrecognisable. Not least because Harley Quinn isn’t clown white, she wears clown white. Whilst I have no problem at all with her pursuing other romantic interests, I do have an issue with her calling Deadshot “puddin'”. Mr J is puddin’. Ivy is ‘Red’. Selina is ‘Kitty’. Harley nicknames the people precious to her. Are we supposed to think she’s gone so far past the boundries of sanity that she thinks Deadshot IS Joker?

It would seem that the team behind the book know what’s up here, too. The sudden and inexplicable (not to mention unexplained and unremarked) costume change between books 2 and 3 is a clear sign of retreat and acknowledgement that mistakes were made. Keep acknowledging it, guys. One of the most unique, delightful and charming villains of the DC universe’s fate hangs in the balance. Give us Harley Quinn, the real Harley Quinn. Trust me, we’ll all be better off.

“Ha! And here you thought I was just another bubble-headed blonde bimbo. Well, the jokes on you! I’m not even a real blonde!”
– Harley Quinn, Harlequinade

No, Harles, sorry, you’re not… for some reason you’re a half-black haired, half-red haired caricature of yourself. But hang in there. Writers come and go but great characters are forever. I hope.

And Then I Fell In Love With Batwoman

Friends of mine, who know my personal history with this sort of thing, will probably get a chuckle out of my falling for the openly lesbian member of DC’s costumed hero lineup. To them and to the world I say, not that kind of love.

Until this week’s releases I had a very clear idea of my favourite books in the DCnU lineup.

  1. Batgirl
  2. Catwoman
  3. Batwoman

One thing that’s obvious right away is that these are all women. If I can bring you back from your stunned, shocked revelry I’ll hold my hands up and say that as far as I’m concerned that’s not a coincidence. You see for a man to deal with his problems with physical superiority and even violence is pretty much the defacto expectation. When a woman does it, it’s subverting the stereotypes. Subversion is always more fun than convention. Not to mention these characters all have little wrinkles that make their ‘so I put on a costume and fought back’ story a little more interesting. The recovering invalid, the anti-hero criminal and the openly gay. Oh and they’re also well written books. Let’s not forget that.

However, right now, the list has been reordered.

  1. Batwoman
  2. Batgirl
  3. Catwoman

Sorry, Selina.
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In Defence Of Catwoman

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.

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