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Saturday, September 15, 2012

My Love/Hate Relationship with Catwoman

Or more precisely, my love of Catwoman and my hatred of how she is sometimes depicted.  Catwoman is a fabulous character -- tough, smart, sexy, morally ambiguous enough to be interesting without being evil, and someone who can hold her own against (or with) Batman over and over.  Originally she was an antagonist and sometime-ally who did what she did for the thrill of it, but as part of the general "refrigeration" of female characters in comics, Batman Year One established her as a former prostitute from a troubled childhood, who turned to crime to improve her lot.  For better or for worse, Miller's background for her has stuck ever since.

That has not prevented her from being a great female character.  At least, sometimes, and that's what's so frustrating.  In the 90s I started reading the Catwoman comic, because I liked the character and I was finding my way into comics, and because I loved the idea of a monthly title devoted to a woman.  The problem was that the comic really wasn't very good at all.  There was a lot of faux feminism, mainly in depictions of Catwoman fighting against evil men trying to keep her down, but any actual feminism was undercut by the way she was drawn (total cheesecake), the way men good and bad related to her (always a subcurrent, or heck current, of sex involved), and the way other women were depicted (the worst being a storyline that was supposedly about unfair beauty standards, but was really about how old women are literally insane with jealousy).  After a few years I couldn't take it anymore, and I quit the comic.

Well, a few weeks ago I finally made the connection -- the artist responsible for the 1993-1999 Catwoman was Jim Balent, the "talent" responsible for the abhorrent Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose. (For those of you with strong constitutions, this highly entertaining recap of a notorious Tarot storyline illustrates just how pornographically insane that comic can be.  So not SFW.) No wonder I felt like taking a shower after reading an issue!

Fortunately, Balent's run ended, and after various cataclysmic events in Gotham, Catwoman's comic started again, this time with writer Ed Brubaker and artist Darwin Cooke.  Have I mentioned how much I love Cooke?  This run was a much needed corrective against the 90s Catwoman, and I loved every issue.  This was a comic I'd be delighted to give a young girl (well, not too young).

Of course, with the huge reboot that was D.C.'s "New 52," apparently the powers-that-be decided that the current Catwoman just wasn't sexy enough.  The cover of first issue of the new comic promised us we were back to the cheesecake art, the bizarre anatomy, the omnipresent sex, and the total objectification of an awesome female character, and that promise was fulfilled by the last page.  Laura Hudson wrote an excellent piece detailing just why this (and the way D.C. treated other female characters) was so offensive.  (It's also NSFW, but this time in the service of feminist critique.)

One step forward, two steps back.

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