One year in, and "The New 52" has now shifted to "The 52." How's it been? Steve Morris investigates in a series we're calling "One Year Later."
I’ve mentioned before about some of the DC titles using somewhat blatant shock tactics to garner early attention, but the final page of Judd Winick’s first Catwoman issue was perhaps the most talked about story for the first month of The New 52. This was the page where Catwoman and Batman apparently had sex on-panel, with both their costumes on. Obviously this developed a lot of talk from people asking why DC felt the need to have their anti-heroine mount Batman so soon into her relaunch, and if the male-view offered from artist Guillem March was necessary. The first few pages, if you remember, showed Catwoman’s boobs as she went about getting ready for catwoman-ing, only gradually revealing that there was more to her than some cleavage.
…There were a few issues with the first issue, it seemed.
But then Winick did something really weird: he managed to justify it. We had here a younger Selina Kyle than before, who was inexperienced and chaotic, causing trouble for everybody both purposely and accidentally. Everything she touched turned sour, and Winick spent no time at all in ruthlessly breaking her for this flaw. Issue #3 was the moment when the character snapped into focus for readers, and suddenly the book’s rushed, racing momentum started to make sense as a character trait. We were used to seeing a Catwoman who stands up to Batman without any fear, and has a great time, you see — but what Winick did was show us the other side of that. After first giving us the prototypical Catwoman, all sexual, tightly-clothed and Batman-bothering, Winick then pulled a switch on readers and showed us the toll that keeping up this persona has on Kyle’s psyche.
There’s always been a struggle for DC in making Catwoman a heroic protagonist, because she’s meant to be a villain turned reluctant aide to Batman. She’s not meant to stop crime, so much as she’s meant to be a time-bomb vigilante destined to implode one day. As a result, most of the famous runs with the character had to glamorize her villainous side, making her seem like an action hero when she’s really a crook. Winick crushes this viciously in his run. Viewed from Batman’s perspective, this is the same Catwoman we’ve always seen. But when you go into Selina Kyle’s psyche, you see just how broken she is. This was a frequent theme in the run.
After getting her friend killed in issue #2, Winick has Catwoman tied up, being lectured by the newest supervillain in her life. But she pays no attention to him. She stares at her dead friend’s body, simultaneously brimming with emotion and already trying to repress her feelings. Catwoman is no longer the cool, detached antihero. She’s a person in over her head, whose mission has claimed another casualty. Batman would be steeled by the death — Catwoman is furious and guilt-ridden. She escapes and tracks down the villain, aiming to beat him to death. Then Batman comes in and stops her, and she has to escape via the only method she has — distracting him with her sexuality. Crushed, she then curls up in an alley and cries herself to sleep, totally wrecked by her own life.
It was a great issue, not least because it showed the gutter-level of Gotham City in a way we haven’t seen in years. Morrison and Snyder are more interested in grand epic stories, but Winick boiled the city down to a pulp narrative, and brought out something fascinating. Rather than a typical femme fatale, Catwoman became a realistic (ish) character study of a troubled woman attempting to make a grand gesture of change. Only, Batman is the only person who can do that. Without his unique persona and mind, anyone attempting to follow his lead is only going to cause trouble for themselves and for others. Catwoman was a liability.
Issue 12 wraps up Winick’s run, leading to Ann Nocenti in issue #13. And while the run didn’t tie itself up, that feels rather perfect, in a way. Winick was careful to show ramifications to everything Selina did, and to make sure readers understood the extent of her mistakes. Her victories were something to be cheered, but every mistake rang out louder and led to something else down the line. I’m of the opinion that Nocenti will probably switch the characterization around a little once she comes on, but these #12 issues told a fast-moving, boundlessly energetic story about the character.
It may have lacked a little focus at times, but the work done to build Catwoman as a character was stellar. It was, despite what you may have heard, an excellent year for Catwoman’s series. But perhaps not so great for Catwoman herself.
For more not-so-new-52 coverage, check out Steve's other One Year Later essays:
- One Year Later: Animal Man/Swamp Thing
- One Year Later: Demon Knights
- One Year Later: Suicide Squad
- One Year Later: Catwoman
- One Year Later: Batwing
- One Year Later: Aquaman
- One Year Later: Wonder Woman
- One Year Later: Birds of Prey
- One Year Later: Justice League Dark
- One Year Later: The Flash
Steve Morris is the head and indeed only writer for Comics Vanguard, the internet's 139th most-favorite comic-book website. You can find him on Twitter at @stevewmorris, which is mostly nonsensical gibberish you may enjoy or despise. His favorite Marvel character is Darkstar, while his favorite DC character is, also, Darkstar. He's on Team X-Men, you guys.