Along with all of DC's other titles, Catwoman was rebooted in 2011, and the story began again at issue #1. This volume compiles the first six issues. It is written by Judd Winick, whose somewhat dark sense of humour can also be found in the newWonder Woman, and illustrated by Guillem March. The story line has changed a little, as has the look of the character, but as for her personality, the new Catwoman has remained basically the same: a smart, sexy cat burglar embroiled in a love-hate relationship with Batman.
Reading Catwoman is a bit of a guilty pleasure for me, so much so that I debated not reviewing this book. The overt display of female flesh in this book makes enjoying it feel a bit pervy. The cover image shows her in her skin tight catsuit with the zip halfway undone revealing loads of gratuitous cleavage as she leaps backwards out of a window holding a bag of diamonds. All I can really say in defence of this image is that at least she doesn't have an Escher spine.
The very first panel of the comic is a close-up of her breasts in a lacy bra, visible for the first page as she hurriedly gets dressed while fleeing from armed thugs who are breaking into her flat. I feel like I should disapprove of this sort of thing. Certainly quite a few readers have complained about the sexualisation of the character. The thing is that Catwoman was always like that, so it's not as if old fans of the title can complain that this is a new image for her. Catwoman does what it says on the tin. If you want a squeaky clean heroine you can try Batgirl or Wonder Woman. If you would rather read about a sexy thief with a conscience and lousy impulse control then Catwoman is for you.
Many fans were upset by the redesign of some of the female characters in the New 52 titles. In particular there has been criticism of the costume change for Harley Quinn, whose outfit is now considerably skimpier than it used to be. There have been a few changes to Catwoman's look too but they are more subtle. She's still in the black PVC catsuit she has worn in recent years, with the addition of infra red goggles shaped a little like cat's eyes. Unlike some versions of the character such as the one in the recent movie The Dark Night Rises, this Catwoman has short hair, an untidy black mop that looks like it has never seen a comb. In one of the cover pictures a roughed up, snarling Catwoman is shown brandishing a baseball bat. With that expression, the goggles and a rip in the cowl of her suit allowing a tuft of hair to spill out she is reminiscent of the foul mouthed independent comic hero Tank Girl. This may be intentional, since the title has a little of the same anarchic vibe.
A Tank Girl-esque Catwoman brandishes a baseball bat.
Catwoman is technically one of the villains of the DC universe, but while she has no compunction about stealing, Catwoman doesn't kill people. Her refusal to cross that line is presumably one of the reasons Batman never captures her, which he could probably do any time he wanted to. She treads a pretty fine line in this volume when she comes across a Russian gangster who once murdered another girl in front of her. She does not kill him, but arranges events so that he will be killed by other gangsters. His death is arguably not any less her fault even though she didn't actually pull the trigger. Despite this, and her poor planning and frequent bad decisions, you can't help but admire her determination. In this volume she goes toe to toe with a heavy with actual superpowers and manages to come out on top using nothing more than her street smarts and her bull whip.
One of the things I love most about Catwoman is how screwed up she is. For all her skills as a burglar, she has a self destructive streak a mile wide and a limited ability to plan ahead. In this volume the risks she has been taking result in the destruction of her flat and most of her belongings, put her friends in danger and nearly get her killed more than once. Towards the end of this volume she comes to realise this and finally reaches out for help to try and reign in her impulses before something worse happens to her. It will be interesting to see how that pans out in the next volume, Catwoman Volume 2: Dollhouse.
This latest incarnation of Catwoman is sexy and talented but flawed, and it is her flaws that make her a likeable and interesting character. The art in this version is superb, from the way the light hits her catsuit to the action sequences and the tastefully depicted sex scene.
Is it sexist? Maybe. There are certainly plenty of pictures of the hero's breasts and PVC clad bum, and she does use her feminine wiles to manipulate male characters. But Selena also has other things going for her, such as her wits, her athleticism and her sense of humour and the sexy stuff is just to be expected for this title. For Catwoman fans like me this new version of the title will remain a guilty pleasure, and it will undoubtedly bring in plenty of new readers to boot.
I am a little bit surprised to se that Cat's imagery has become so heavily sexualised. Then again, you said well enough that this was always one of the determining features of her character, and her existence.
The whole idea of the characters being so multi-dimensionally complicated, and growing richer over time, is probably what has always endeared me to the Batman diagesis.
I was a little bit disappointed when D.C. tried to put references to Cat in the Arkham Asylum game; seriously? She was probably one of the most 'normal' characters in the whole city!
I'm not sure if her reboot still depicts her as a orphan living by her wits, and living moment to moment, but I am in two minds about that too.
Yes she does kick a lot of arse, and not take any flak. This earns her devoted fan-girls as well.
I also enjoy the perhaps unintended development that she is the flipped side to Bruce Wayne, in nearly every way.
Then again, it could be said that the idea of a woman who is simply materialistic and constantly changes her mind is another sexist aspect of hers. That is as opposed to Wonder Woman, or even Tahlia al-Guhl.
If it turns out that these tendencies and lack of fixed loyalties are actually manifestations of kleptomania, A.D.H.D. and Tourette's Syndrome, then God Speed, D.C.!
Whatever the flaws, it will still likely be better than that shocking Halle Berry movie!