Today, Taylor and Suzanne are discussing Catwoman 36, originally released November 26th, 2014.
Taylor: Among other things, comics are known for their ever-evolving and unpredictable story lines. Despite the flux going on around them, however, the hero of a comic book, for the most part, stays the same. If you put a criminal in front of Batman or any other A-list hero, you have a pretty good idea of how they’re going to react. Catwoman, an A-list hero in her own right, is a little tougher, though. Put a criminal in front of her and you’re never quite sure how she’ll react. Across various titles and years, Catwoman’s motives have remained as finicky as the cats she uses as her namesake. In her new incarnation, many things have changed for Selina, but the thing that remains the same is her unpredictable and ultimately unknowable agenda.
Unsurprisingly, running the Calabrese family is a complicated affair. Selina has the outward agenda of trying to make all of the crime families in Gotham rich, but the inward agenda of trying to get rid of the large cache of guns that have come into her possession. As such, she’s walking a tightrope and a single misstep could spell the end of her and her family. To make matters more complicated, the Yakuza have contacted Selina about moving a shipment of heroin into Gotham. Selina agrees, but only ensure the drug doesn’t make its way to the streets of Gotham. Meanwhile, her plans for ridding the city of crime have hit a snag with Ascolat Incorporated making its appearance, backed by an evil presence.
This is my first experience with a Catwoman comic of any kind and it’s gratifying to have it exceed my expectations in many ways. Chief among its virtues is the tone that writer Genevieve Valentine has injected into this series. While I can’t speak from direct experience, I’ve heard enough about previous Catwoman issues to know that the writers haven’t always treated their subject with the respect normally afforded to a titular hero. Valentine, however, sees Catwoman as something more than the writers who came before her. For Valentine, Selina is a strong and intelligent woman first and Catwoman second.
Ultimately this means that Catwoman takes a back seat to Selina in this issue. This is an interesting move because it basically separates Selina from what has previously defined her. Divested of her alter-ego, Selina finds that things aren’t always as easy as they used to be. Nowhere is this more apparent than when she needs information on the Ascolat Corporation and has to get it through the “proper” channels.
The reasons for Selina not wanting to complete this job as Catwoman are opaque. If her goal truly is to rid the city of crime as fast as possible, why would she not use all of the resources at her disposal to realize that goal? It’s a confounding move and one that is hard to digest as being logical. The rub of it, however, is that Selina seems so confident and assured in her direction, that I can’t find fault with it. I might not understand what her motives are, but Valentine has written this character in such a way that this decision makes sense.
Adding to her mercurial ways is how Selina responds to someone else wearing the Catwoman disguise. While contemplating her next move on her rooftop, Selina set upon by Eiko, who is wearing the Catwoman costume. Turns out that Selina has some thoughts about what Eiko has been up to.
Understandably, Selina is upset that Eiko has stolen her persona, and — more to the point — that she is using it to crusade much in the same vein as Batman. While the former is an understandable since no one wants their identity to be stolen, the latter seems an odd choice. If Selina isn’t using the Catwoman mantle to stem the larger tide of crime in Gotham why does she not want it used to foil the smaller scale issues such as robberies? Ultimately this raises the question of whether Selina wants to retire Catwoman once and for all or if she is keeping her in the closet for different circumstances. Whatever the case, her motives revolving around her alter-ego are hard to divine. However, instead of this being frustrating, I find it deepens the character. It keeps the reader guessing about who she is, what her motives are, and what she’ll do next. For me, that’s a much more exciting read than knowing exactly how she’ll react.
Suzanne, do you feel the same way? Are Selina’s shifting motives a source of intrigue or frustration for you? Do you think Selina can successfully navigate the waters of crimelord and city savior? Also, what do you think of the art? It’s a far cry from the typical style used by the DC house artists. Do you like it?
Suzanne: Catwoman works best as a character when she walks the tightrope of heroine versus antihero. My favorite Catwoman stories (Batman: Dark Victory, anyone?) boil down to one essential factor — her agency. She defines what role to play as situations present themselves. I describe her as one of the least predictable characters of the DC Universe. Taylor, I love that comment you reference about Eiko ruining Catwoman’s reputation as a thief. Selina wants to rebuild Gotham, but on her terms in a very specific way. Her sense of morality fails to translate as a standard vigilante. Grant Morrison deftly summarizes this contradiction in Batman Inc. 1-2 when Catwoman helps Batman defeat Lord Death Man but cannot resist a good diamond theft. (Check it out if you were sitting underneath a rock a few years’ back.)
Selina Kyle is also a loner at heart, now making decisions for a large and increasingly complex crime network. The comparisons to Queen Elizabeth are apt; she has to contend with more workplace politics than most CEOs. Though I doubt that Selina can maintain this delicate balance for long. I’m impressed by Valentine’s handling of Selina so far, especially her inner monologue. She gives readers just enough detail to be intriguing. I like Selina’s role as almost an omniscient narrator, knowing more than the reader and hiding most of her intentions. Her initial reaction to the heroin shipment was so definitive, it contrasts abruptly with her acquiescence with the Yakuza’s demands a few pages later. In that way, readers mirror Eiko’s skepticism about Selina’s easy agreement to the deal.
The action in this issue is relatively muted, aside from the dynamic two-page spread of Catwoman fighting her “imposter.” For a lesser artist, a dialogue-heavy issue like this could result in a stiff display of characters in boring poses. Fortunately, Garry Brown — who worked on the short-lived Iron Patriot — particularly excels at framing and body language. Speaking of body language, did anyone else notice the posture and relatively intimate body language between Selina and Eiko throughout the book? Brown’s storytelling highlights the importance of their relationship to the developing plot. Will she become Selina’s protégé or potentially undermine her relationship with the Yakuza?
I’ll admit, I read the first few pages of Catwoman 35 and didn’t necessarily connect to it. But I’m thankful that I took the time to read a second issue — it’s a crime drama that has the potential to be true to the spirit of books like Gotham Central.
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?
Suzanne, the body language between Selina and Eiko is interesting, and so much of this series is presenting the reader with information without really analyzing it, so it’s hard to say what that intimacy is trying to express. I really like the idea that Eiko is trying to use “Catwoman” for the wrong purposes, and that Selina would object. I think it’s a perfect observation that if Catwoman “should” be anything, it’s an expression of Selina’s agency. Can that extend to Selina’s desire for peace in Gotham? Should it? All great and awesome questions quietly being engaged in this series.
A very tentative read on her motives regarding the Ascolat Corporation: I believe that it speaks to Selina’s commitment to work the angles of a legalized-ish crime boss in two ways:
1.) Where the person in charge has to delegate certain responsibilities to her underlings in order to foster a sense of community, purpose, and organization;
2.) Where she has to consciously distance herself from her former guise of the Catwoman, in order to further cultivate her role as a leader and public figure in charge of the family.
Delegating responsibility is a show of trust in other people’s skills and competency, an area where Selina needs to display her faith in those members of her community (even though she is a loner at heart, as Suzanne points out). Not to mention, if she did everything herself, that kind of maverick work would breed resentment and disillusionment among her coworkers.
I think it speaks equally to Selina’s specific irritation of Eiko using her guise to complete work in Catwoman’s name because of her intentional remove from that guise as well as her using the Cat identity in the “wrong” way. After Selina’s dedication to the role of public figure and matriarch of the Calabrese Family over her very private and very personal statement of Catwoman (one whose purpose is very much at odds with her current work), she would feel irked if some young up and comer came and stole her identity without her permission or blessing.
I wonder if there’s any way that Selina could see the value of someone else being Catwoman. It’s interesting to consider that even if she could somehow get Eiko-Catwoman to behave the way she wanted her to, the very fact that someone other than the woman behind the mask is pulling the strings would probably ruin it for her, right? I love the tension there, though, and I don’t think I’ve seen something similar in other stuff before. Usually the people taking on the mantle of a superhero are protoges os the original heroes.
Which isn’t to say that Selina couldn’t offer some kind of guidance to Eiko, it’s just not likely that they’d end up on the same side.
I love the idea of the persona of Catwoman being such an independent operator that even if Selina isn’t the one behind the mask, she’d still chafe at the thought of Catwoman taking orders from someone else–even her!
I agree, Patrick–Valentine has set up a very interesting dynamic between Selina and Eiko. It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out.