It’s a guaranteed way to get attention, and as a result it’s every lazy writer’s and publisher’s promotional storytelling trick of choice. Sex in comics has a somewhat unhappy history — the popular conception amongst non-readers that comics are in some way “for kids” hasn’t helped, with anti-comics campaigns on both sides of the Atlantic being inspired by the “corruption” of younger readers by inappropriately “adult” material*.
The other problem with sex in comics is that it is invariably done so very badly. I’ve gone on at some length in earlier columns about how too many artists seem to think that when they’re drawing women “sexy” and “badly proportioned” are in some way synonyms — and to be honest male characters doesn’t often fare much better, and that’s before we get to the issue of stereotypes. To be frank, I find the way that some “sexy” comics portray women and female sexuality to be offensive to the point of mystification – I genuinely don’t understand what they’re trying to do.
Which brings me to Catwoman. I’ve been a fan of the character for as long as I can remember – all the way back to my first glimpse of Julie Newmar in the '60s Batman movie starring Adam West and Burt Ward as the dynamic duo. I must have been about six or seven when I first saw that, and there’s something about the character that has kept me going back to her ever since***.
I haven’t always been loyal to the comic though. There have been times when the costume was just too silly, (even now they occasionally give her stiletto heels, for goodness sake!) the way she was written just too much of a gratuitous fetish fantasy. I dropped the title from my pull list a couple of years ago, and when I saw that she was on the roster for the New 52 I didn’t bother adding her. “Why bother?” I thought, “It’ll just be more of the same old same old….”
As it turns out, it would appear that I almost made a mistake on a par with not picking up a copy of Sandman #1 when it first came out.
It is fortunate then, that I am lucky enough to frequent an excellent comics shop where the staff know what their customers like and will point things out when they know we’re missing something. Indeed, so keen was Matt-the-comic-shop-guy that I didn’t continue to miss out, he said that if I bought Catwoman #2 he’d give me a copy of the second print of #1 and if I didn’t like it he would personally refund the cost of #2.
That told me two things. First, that Matt was very sure I’d like the book, and that I had very little to lose on the deal. So. I took the plunge.
What can I say? Matt’s money is most certainly safe.
The “new” Selena Kyle is everything I liked about the character distilled and concentrated into the very essence of Catwoman. She no longer knows Batman’s secret identity, but the sexual tension is very much still there -– and very much addressed, I have to say. I’ve read comments suggesting that the sex scene between Batman and Catwoman in Catwoman #1 was either gratuitous or too graphic, and I have to say that if I’d read those comments before Matt made his money back guarantee offer, I might well have declined, assuming that this was more of the “oooh, let’s make Catwoman really sexy” attitude we’ve seen in the past.
I’m glad I didn’t make the mistake of dismissing this book as mere cheesecake however, because it isn’t. This Catwoman is certainly sexy, happy to use her sexuality to manipulate and distract opponents, perhaps even something of a sexual predator. But she’s not written in a gratuitous manner. And she’s certainly not portrayed as a mere sexual plaything, in the way she has been so often in the past. She’s confident and assured and very, very much in control. I like it!
It’s just another example of how well DC has handled the whole New 52 thing – and it’s really working out. DC’s market share has increased markedly, to the point where they account for slightly more than half of everything that Diamond distribute -– a position they could only have dreamed of just a few months ago.
Regular readers will know that I’m very seldom wrong, but I must confess that DC has forced me to develop a taste for both my words and humble pie – I’ve had to eat a lot of both since the first New 52 books hit the shelves. I’m sorry to keep going on about it, but I genuinely find it hard to take in. The whole history of marketing stunts in comics says that things like this don’t work. What DC is proving here is that if you want people to buy a lot of your comics, what you have to do is make them worth reading.
Comics like Catwoman really are.
Gossip in the comics shop at the weekend was all about whether other companies**** would try to do the same sort of thing. A very big part of me hopes so. A bigger part of me fears that if they did they’d screw it up.
But, as a meme that came across my Facebook page recently said “Those who say it can’t be done shouldn’t get in the way of the people doing it”. DC has shown that radical works. Ditch the baggage, make good books. The readers are clearly out there!
*The most obvious examples of this are the now infamous book Seduction of the Innocent (1954)** by Doctor Frederick Wertham, and the brouhaha it created in America which eventually led to the creation of the Comics Code Authority, and the outcry against the UK’s weekly Action! comic in the late '70s, but there have been others, and there will no doubt be more.
**Interestingly, (to me at least) when I needed a copy of Seduction as a source for my University Dissertation, I had to get my University Library to order it in from the British Library, a process which took three weeks. Yesterday I downloaded it as a .pdf file in under eight seconds. I really, really love the internet!
***I can’t for the life of me imagine what that is…
****Let’s be honest. We meant Marvel.