Such hath been our sinceritie in these tymes, not to give any comfort to the hurt of the King or his countries; and now, if these reports which we heare should be true, we might think ourselves evil recompensed, and should be provoked for our defense to use such means as otherwise of ourselves we did never allow or like.
Queen Elizabeth I, 1570
Shelby: Sadly, we are already knee deep in speculation over who will run for president in 2016. As much as I hate the way politics is far more about campaigns than actually accomplishing anything, I have to admit a certain curiosity over Hillary Clinton; will she try to run again? Is it possible I’ll soon see the first female leader of this country? What sort of unique challenges will she have to face, whether based on Ms. Clinton’s previous political history, or her gender alone (be it Clinton or not)? Based on the numerous references to Queen Elizabeth I in Catwoman 35, I suspect new writer Genevieve Valentine has a lot of similar questions in mind.
A word to the wise: I have not been reading Catwoman, nor am I fully caught up on Batman Eternal, so I’m approaching this issue with completely fresh eyes.
Selina Kyle has a new gig in Gotham. After discovering she’s the heir to the Calabrese family, she’s taken over as head of the crime families of the city. Along with her cousins Nick and Antonia, she’s discovered a cache of guns that appear to have no owner. Instead of selling them to the highest bidder and making a small fortune, she wants them out of the city as fast as she can get them there. She’s got a dangerous balancing act to maintain: keeping the families rich and happy while working to rebuild and improve her home. On top of that, she’s got the GCPD sniffing after her, convinced she’s up to no good, a yakuza family to attempt to negotiate with, and a concerned, be-cowled vigilante convinced she’s made a mistake. Easy peasy, right?
I have to say, I went into this story with very low expectations. I love the character, but I’ve been burned on this title before, and I was very skeptical of the idea of Selina going corporate, as it were. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this issue. Valentine does a masterful job of depicting the struggles of a woman in a position of power without becoming preachy or cliched about it. I think the comparisons to Queen Elizabeth and the balancing act she had to maintain best accomplish Valentine’s own balancing act with this issue; I found myself thinking, as I mentioned in the intro, about the struggles women have in positions of power without Selina’s gender ever being explicitly mentioned as a cause for struggle. It’s extremely smart, and a refreshing change of pace for this character, who is too often depicted as a selfish gal who looks real good in leather and has an eye for sparkly things that don’t belong to her.
Artist Gary Brown perfectly complements the new direction Valentine is taking our favorite cat burglar.
His pencils are sketchy and noir-ish, with muted inks and high contrast shadows. The art conveys the darkly dangerous world of intrigue Selina finds herself trying to negotiate. There were some moments where the story was a little tough to follow, because his style doesn’t lend itself well to action scenes with all new characters, but Brown more than makes up for it with the overall mood and tone of the book. I mean, come on, just look at this skyline!
As much as I like the art in this book, though, it really comes back to Valentine’s story and treatment of this character. I am extremely excited to read about a woman in a position of power: a leader, a woman with agency and responsibilities. I can’t think of a single other book on my pull like it; the closest would probably be Charles Soule’s She-Hulk, which is power on a much smaller scale.
One of the things I’ve always liked about Catwoman is that she’s not really a good guy, not really a villain. Like John Constantine, she has always done for herself, done what she feels needs to be done, whether that entails rescuing children or stealing from the rich just because she can. How is that sort of character going to perform in a position of power? Valentine addresses it, as Selina contemplates her old life, saying, “Catwoman was out for herself. Someone like that could never make this machine run, make this city whole. I will.” She’s acknowledging what the character was as she explains where she wants to take the character from here forward. It’s a strong first issue for a new creative team, and one that has me very excited to see where this story will go from here. Patrick, my old friend, what did you think of this issue? Were you as impressed as I with Valentine’s handling of the newly remade Selina Kyle?Patrick: I was very pleased with Valentine and Brown’s take on the character. We’ve been seeing a lot of tonal shifts at DC in the last couple months — Grayson, Arham Academy, Batgirl — all trending away from darkness, with an eye on fun. Catwoman is patently not taking that same approach to reinvention, opting instead to trade in patience and maturity. It’s not the most exciting issue I’ve read this week, but that’s largely because it has so much work to do to establish what “exciting” means for this series.
Shelby, I’m like you when it comes to Catwoman. I always want to have a reason to like it — Selina Kyle is just too compelling of an anti-Batman to be bungled. AND YET, bungle is just about all the creators in the New 52 have been able to do with her – Judd Winick, Anne Nocenti, Geoff Johns in Justice League of America. Those writers wanted Catwoman to be impulsive, stupid and shrill, whose only assets were a consistently erotic whip and an ass that won’t quit. I don’t normally like spending so much time writing about what an issue isn’t, but Catwoman 35 is not this. Brown makes that clear from the very first page, with Selina’s entrance.
This is pretty standard camera placement for a Catwoman comic: nice and low so the butt’s in view. The subversion, of course, is that she’s drawn like a real human being, and while she retains a shapely figure, it’s no absurd bubble-butt filling the panel. Also, check out that whip — instead of being loosely unfurled like she’s a fucking ribbon dancer, it’s coiled tightly, a sign of discipline and control rather than wild sexual fantasy.
I really like the idea that this series is looking to explore the specific struggles of women in power. However brief it was, I was intrigued by the appearance of Eiko Hasigawa — daughter of the patriarch of the aforementioned Yakuza family in Gotham. During her meeting with Mr. Hasigawa, Selina is able to intuit a few things about the family she’s doing business with, but almost all of them revolve around the daughter. First, she recognizes that Eiko is a figure with influence in family, despite her father explicitly stating that she “has no official role in the business of the family.” Second, there’s this moment:
Brown’s doing his best Michael Lark impression and gives Eiko a steely pokerface which almost expresses more by what it’s not expressing. Is she disappointed? Is she masking excitement? Is she working out the next steps needed to move Selina’s plan forward? The point is, she’s critically considering the implications of getting guns out of the city. And then the final piece of observation is that Eiko’s crime-family tattoo is not completed. Well, I use the term “observation” loosely; Eiko comes right out and says “it’s not done.” I originally read that as sorta lazy writing, but upon reflection, I’m convinced that Selina and Eiko are already communicating with each other on a level that transcends small talky pleasantries. Selina’s voiceover in the next panel confirms that she believes the unfinished tatt to be a sign that she’s not committed to her specific criminal organization (“a free agent at heart” — an elegant turn of phrase), and I think Eiko knew what she was implying the second she offered the information that her ink was not complete.
I could read a whole series that’s just this kind of interaction: determining loyalties, testing limits, retaining control of the criminal empire in Gotham. But it’s clear that there’s a little bit of an itchy trigger finger at play here, and it speaks to the series’ patience that we don’t really see Catwoman in costume all issue. Selina has a complicated relationship with the version of herself that goes flipping around the city in a skintight cat suit. “Catwoman” is simultaneously phase she’s glad to be out of, but still romanticizes and takes comfort in. I love Selina’s closing monologue (which comes on the heels of the passage Shelby quoted above):
Sad, maybe, what you hold on to — even when you know better. Dangerous, the worries that come alive at night. Strange, what follows you around.
Selina — and by extension, Valentine — is right: sooner or later, the character is going to have to get back into the suit and start fighting dudes (whip and all). Even before the issue is over, we can see that Selina’s concerns are power than an understated struggle for power — the comic booky threat of Black Mask starts to take shape in the closing pages of this book. Add to that the investigation that those two GCPD officers are conducting on her, and it’s clear that the shit is already starting to snowball. (Shitball?) I cannot wait to see how Selina addresses all of these threats — with or without Catwoman.
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?