Patrick: Comic books aren’t exactly a safe space for women. Like any medium with a long enough memory, comics carry some pretty ugly baggage when it comes to the depiction and treatment of female characters. It seems things are even rougher for residents of Gotham City, arguably the quintessential “comic book city” — not only are the police corruption and organized crime families stuck in the 1930s, but an awful lot of those gender politics linger there too. You needn’t look any further than the most recent Catwoman series to know what I’m talking about. A lot of the same specifics that plagued that series are present in Batman Eternal 27 — themes of sexual slavery, Selina’s dangerous naivety, gratuitous ass shots, even a cameo from Mr. Bone — but the issue manages to present these problems as a contrast to the world Batman Eternal seems hellbent on cultivating. Is the BE team’s Gotham a better place for female characters?
Last week, Tim Drake walked the Bat-family though the various terrors that are beset upon the city, but this issue finds Batman back in action, combining his punching skills and his detective skills to get to the bottom of the gang war, and hopefully reveal the location of Hush’s hideout. Catwoman tags along, though I’m not totally sure why. Interestingly, this story is more about why Selina would quit helping Batman, rather than how she started helping him in the first place. With her connections to the organized crime families, Selina almost makes for a more intuitive player in this drama than Batman, anyway. Plus, she seems to be handling herself just as well in the fight with the mob goons as Bats is.
It’s immediately after the punching and kicking that some of Bruce’s institutionalized sexism kicks in, and he starts mansplaining the situation to Selina, chastising her for causing chaos between the families. In the most poignant scene of the issue, Catwoman challenges Batman’s privilege — he could choose to be unaffected by the decades of chaos that bubbled under his nose, but Selina was not; he was able to rely on a family, she was not; he always had the financial means to achieve his goals, she did not. I love that even as she’s conceding the sack o’ cash to Batman, she suggests that he donate it to Child Services, as if to remind him how much easier it was to be orphan when you also get to be a Wayne. I’m a sucker for any time Batman’s sob-story is held up to any scrutiny, but hearing it come out of Catwoman’s mouth puts a decidedly gendered spin on the argument. Then Selina exits the scene in the most Catwoman way possible:
I’ve got no concept of the physics at play here (is she somehow falling up? maybe the whip is acting like a helicopter?), but the far more glaring logical visual error here is Selina’s body. There’s that magical pervert trifecta: ass, tits, face — all in one panel. If you’re asking yourself why that pose on this character is so damn familiar, it’s probably because you’re remembering the cover to the Catwoman Zero issue from two years ago. It was a pretty mild scandal at the time — at least big enough to get a second take at it — but the controversy came and went a lot less noise than that over Milo Manara’s cover to Spider-Woman #1. But seriously, take a look: even the redrawn cover is pretty anatomically awful.
So what’s that about? How do we reconcile Selina’s speech with this gratuitous (and confusing) drawing of her escape? I was actually worried about the direction of Javier Garron’s artwork from the first page, which depicts the Arkham receptionist in comedically revealing clothing. A few pages later, Batgirl shows up with a rack like I’ve never seen before. As far as my opinion goes, Garron seemed to be starting himself off at a deficit.
I mean: come on. What the hell is happening in these images? I think we’re being presented with the forms of the female body that readers of Catwoman would come to expect. Even some of the details of the story suggest the reader should have at least a passing familiarity with the first couple issues of Catwoman — between Ibanescu and Mr. Bone, this issue is lousy with the supporting cast of that crummy series. (Incidentally, I won’t hold it against anyone for not being familiar with those issues — you can check out our Cram Session for the first 8 issues here — then let’s never talk about it again.) It’s a dark, moronic series that seems to have a deep well of contempt for its female characters. What Tim Seely and the writing team on this issue have done is to drag that continuity into their much more sophisticated narrative, effectively making the crimes of the former writers of Catwoman, in-universe crimes against Catwoman. She asserts that she is a victim of the crime families’ chaos, not the cause of it, reminding Batman and the audience that the character’s not bad, she just has bad things done to her all the time.
That said, I’m not sure this issue does enough to reclaim these female characters for themselves. While Spoiler is drawn pretty modestly, and all three of the main lady characters (Spoiler, Catwoman and Batgirl) all more-or-less achieve their goals, there’s maybe just too much cheesecake to justify my feminist reading of the issue. Plus, when Babs is about to enact her rage on Bard, she does so dangling from the tip of a big wooden dick.
Well, Spencer, I talked about one thing for a thousand words. How did you like this issue? It’s cool to see Croc on his continued quest to round up his “people,” but I don’t know what he was fighting on those first couple pages. Also, kind of a bummer to see The Flamingo go down so easily — dude can be such a pain in the ass if you let him.Spencer: I’m pretty sure Croc was fighting some of Deacon Blackfire’s victims from Arkham Asylum, although admittedly, both of those storylines have dragged on for so long without any real story development that I’ve basically stopped paying 100% attention to either of them (Is Batwing even still alive?).
Anyway Patrick, I really like your feminist take on this issue. Catwoman has long been my favorite character whose book I never actually read, and that’s because she’s so often poorly written and unnecessarily sexualized. If Seeley and the other writers are indeed trying to reclaim Selina’s agency, though, then I don’t think think they let artist Javier Garron in on it, because he too unnecessarily sexualizes Selina and other female characters, and not in any “parody” kind of way that might fit with Patrick’s reading but in a “this is the depiction of female characters we rally against” kind of way, which is a shame since, writing wise, Selina, Steph, and Babs are well represented.
In fact, it’s easy to see why Selina is destined to become the next Gotham kingpin. Catwoman shows quite a detailed, nuanced understanding of the gangs of Gotham and is more than competent enough to take them on, be it head-to-head or pitting them against each other. Patrick already said that she makes a more intuitive player than Batman in this area, and I think that’s the general gist of this issue: for all his trauma, Batman is still quite privileged, and there are others whose lives on the street grants them a more intimate knowledge of life in Gotham than Bruce may ever have.
Selina has a leg up in terms of gang warfare, but Stephanie Brown has her digital presence working to her advantage (giving me hope that even I could find a place within the Bat-Family). Batman always seems to be in-the-know, but he also seems to have his habits and routines the same as anyone else, and it takes someone with some distance to be able to notice these and point them out before they backfire in a big way. This information does more than just help Batman, as Spoiler is able to use it to manipulate Batman into defeating the Flamingo for her; knowledge is the best weapon in the Spoiler’s arsenal, to the point where she can even teach Batman and a thing or two about Gotham, and that’s certainly going to be the key to her importance (and perhaps even her very survival) as Batman Eternal continues.
In a way, even Croc’s crusade plays into this idea, as the importance of his community to many of Gotham’s forgotten children was completely unknown to Batman for quite a while. Say what you will about Croc — I’m still not 100% sure about this new gentler Croc the New 52 has established — but he’s certainly more invested in Jade’s well-being than her uncle the zookeeper/crime boss.
Batman’s allies — his “family,” as Selina calls them — have had a prominent role in Batman Eternal, and the last few issues have shown why the likes of Alfred, Tim, Barbara, Jason, and Julia mean so much to Bruce and have such a vital purpose in his operation, but issue 27 makes the argument that Batman also needs outsiders — people who have experienced life in Gotham in a different capacity than Bruce and who have grown up in the shadow of the Bat — in order to keep him at his best. This is what characters like Catwoman, Spoiler, Harper Row, and perhaps even Killer Croc of all people can do for Batman, and it should be interesting to see if/how stubborn ol’ Bats takes them up on their knowledge.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?