Catwoman: The Anniversary That Eventually, Kind-of Got Remembered

In case you missed it, Catwoman finally got her own A Celebration of 75 Years hardcover collection. And it is very possible you indeed missed it. I could (rather rightly) blame life circumstances for my missing the book’s release date, but in the course of trying to track down a table of contents to sate my curiosity (and then to write this when I found out a certain comic was included) I found more people surprised to hear that she had one and that it was already out than information on the book’s contents.

This … may speak to the amount of care and effort that went into curating the collection and to promoting its release, even given the spotty nature of collections in general. And it may make it not all that surprising that I have to give a content warning. Over a celebration/best of collection. So, discussion of the selections for the collection under the cut and warning for rape/rape aftermath and domestic violence. And general whorephobia and terrible narrative treatment of women.

I'm also bummed because this collection actually has a good cover, which ... not all of her trades do. To put it mildly.

But mostly warning for the cover and first page of the issue they picked to kick off the post-Crisis, pre-New52 section of the collection/continuity.

Before I get to talking about that comic and its inclusion in this volume (and as basically the opener/intro for that Catwoman and her continuity and character), I do want to give a run down of the included comics since, again, it was ridiculously hard to find information about it and the book has been out for over a month (and all of the other books in the 75 Years series have issue names and numbers in their product descriptions).

Golden Age:

  • Batman #1 1940 (her very first appearance, as The Cat, and the first Batman comic – his character had previously appeared in Detective Comics)
  • Batman #3 1940 (Catwoman’s first appearance in-costume)
  • Batman #65 1951 (52 page special issue featuring a reformed Catwoman helping out Batman with his crime-fighting – the amnesiac flight attendant origin was introduced in #62)
  • Batman #69 1952 (another reformed-via-a-second-bump-on-the-head Catwoman helping Batman issue – she will be back to villainhood at the start of ’54 and out of the comics by the end of that year due to the Comics Code Authority)

Silver Age:

  • Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane #70 1966 (“The Catwoman’s Black Magic!” – Catwoman’s first Silver Age appearance – Catwoman hypnotizes Lois into becoming her sidekick and turns Superman into a black cat and locks him in a cage of kryptonite)
  • Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane #71 1966 (“Bad Luck for a Black Super-Cat!! – continuation of the Catwoman story in the previous issue – Catwoman gets caught, Superman gets cured)
  • Diana Prince: Wonder Woman #201 1972 (“The Fist of Flame” – Wonder Woman sells her fashion boutique in order to finance a trip to find and rescue her friend, who was hired by Catwoman to find a priceless gem and then kidnapped by a cult – Wonder Woman and Catwoman team up after being kidnapped too)
  • Diana Prince: Wonder Woman #202 1972 (“Fangs of Fire” – even more evil baddies, double the mystic gems, dimension hopping, and more Wonder Woman Catwoman team up)

Bronze Age:

  • DC Superstars #17 1977 (the death of Golden Age/Earth Two Catwoman after being blackmailed out of retirement)
  • Batman #323 1980 (“Shadow of the Cat!” – Catwoman returns to the pages of Batman and so does the Cat-Man – one guess as to which one actually committed the cat themed robberies in the issue)
  • Batman #324 1980 (“The Cat Who Would Be King” – continuation of the previous issue’s story and cover captioned with “Is this the end of the Catwoman…?” – spoiler, it isn’t, but she spent both issues dying of a mystery disease which is sent into remission by a scrap of Cat-Man’s mystic cape fabric)
  • The Brave and the Bold #197 1983 (“The Autobiography of Bruce Wayne” – features expanded, modified origin for Golden Age/Earth Two Catwoman, who stole some valuables in order to fund escaping her abusive marriage and liked stealing so much she became a professional thief – also the story of Golden Age/Earth Two Batman marrying that Catwoman)

Post-Crisis:

  • Catwoman v. 1 #1 1989 (Catwoman: Her Sister’s Keeper #1 of 4 – we’ll … get to how I feel about this selection in a bit)
  • Catwoman v. 2 #28 1996 (“Larceny Loves Company,” the start of a multi-issue storyline I rather enjoy, although Jim Balent was starting to really slip on the cover art)
  • Catwoman v. 3 #20 2003 (the start of the story arc collected as Wild Ride for the original paperback volumes of Brubaker’s run. also known as Selina and Holly’s DC(universe) road trip)
  • Solo #1 2004 (“Date Knight” -Tim Sale penned short vignette that is pretty much what you’d guess from the title of it)
  • Catwoman v. 3 #52 2006 (the Will Pfeiffer penned issue where Catwoman violates her personal code of no killing (and of trying to save even antagonists from getting killed) and kills Black Mask)
  • Gotham City Sirens #1 2009 (first issue of the Catwoman-Harley Quinn-Poison Ivy headed series that was the Catwoman book after her own series ended)

New 52:

  • Catwoman v. 4 #35 2014 (first issue of the recently ended Genevieve Valentine run and start of the mob boss/mafia heiress storyline)

Alternate Continuities:

  • Batman: Gotham Adventures #4 1998 (DCAU Catwoman busts up an illegal animal testing lab and then ends up kidnapping the head of the company after the local animal rescue says they would have to put some of the cats down due to limited medicine and other resources. Batman investigates the disappearance and traces it back to Catwoman and they have a falling out after Selina scratches the woman’s face for punching one of the cats in the face. Granted, Catwoman had also threatened to kill her if any of the rescued cats died)
  • Batman ’66 #5 2013 (Batgirl foils (Eartha Kitt) Catwoman’s attempt at stealing the tiger topaz from the science museum)

The overall lineup is actually pretty darn okay (I’d probably have a ball reading the Silver Age selections – fun fact, at its high point that Lois series was the third highest selling comic book, beat out only by Superman and Superboy) and around half are Batman-free, which is much appreciated given that the book is Catwoman: A Celebration of 75 Years, not Catwoman: A Celebration of 75 Years of Batman. There even seems to be a pretty good pattern to each of the sections, with an origin/return story and a couple of adventures (granted, Bronze Age goes in reverse order and is very Batman heavy). However, that is where my major problem comes up because of what they chose as the origin/return/opening salvo story for post-Crisis Catwoman (and here’s where that content warning comes in).

Seriously. At the rate this series does it, I'm surprised one of the cats or someone's sandwich didn't start lecturing Selina too.

Don’t worry. After we punish our heroine enough, and make it clear what we think of rape survivors, she gets to become Batman’s enemy. Who he concern trolls and lectures.

Seriously. The 4 issue mini opens with Selina being raped, Holly (who this comic really tries to emphasize as really young) is raped near the end, and then Selina's nun sister is threatened with rape in order to drive home how horrible Selina in and Selina has to save her in order to start her redemption.

Were you not sure that we’re going to punish her for her sins? And punish all the bad women we meet in this comic in the same way? Don’t worry, here’s a handy title page with a quote for you.

But don't worry. Some good women will come along to tsk at the dirty dirty woman and then a vice cop will come talk to her in the hospital, where she gets put next to a man left to die on his cot. And the vice cop later blames Holly for her rape and refuses to help her.

And the actual first page of the comic. In case the cover didn’t send the message clear enough.

Her Sister’s Keeper is a four issue mini series meant to expand on the origin for post-Crisis (big, continuity resetting event in the mid 80s) Catwoman given in Batman: Year One and to test the waters for giving Catwoman her own solo series. All I can say is thank goodness she still managed to get her first solo series after this (likely because of her popularity in Batman Returns).

For me, Her Sister’s Keeper is just a poor read in general, irregardless of the poor job it does meshing itself with Year One and of the serious misogyny and whorephobia it has going on. But, it also has all of that going it and hopefully someone reading would notice that first. Not that they necessarily will though. I’ve seen plenty of Catwoman fans who dislike the story, not for all its victim blaming, whorephobia, and narrative punishment-by-rape for “bad” women, but because it includes former sex worker Catwoman. And also fans who like it over other versions because they say it feels more authentic and true and shows the “reality” of sex work.

I’m … frankly disgusted and horrified by that. All of the versions of post-Crisis Catwoman’s origins vary from reality in some ways in regards to her pre-Catwoman sex working days (and other origin stuff – mystic ninjas, folks, mystic ninjas), but this story, her first standalone origin story post-Crisis, the only one written by a woman til the end of the 90s (and the only female-written one dealing directly with her time in the East End), is the one, the only one, that goes out of its way to be grossly violent and judgmental and to conflate sex work and rape and sex work and domestic violence and to punish a teenage girl (Holly) with rape for being a youth sex worker and/or the ward of a sex worker (Selina).

All the various versions of her post-Crisis origins involve Stan the Pimp, man of the trope that won’t die, but in every other one, including the infamous Frank Miller’s original contribution, he’s the equivalent of that terrible manager you can’t wait to be rid of and … Selina gets rid of him by leaving (sometimes with a parting punch), taking Holly with her, and becoming self-employed.

Her Sister’s Keeper‘s Stan is also Selina’s boyfriend and is in fact the person who raped her just before the start of cover/page one. But that aspect never gets brought up consciously. The attitude in both the “help” and judgement Selina gets is that she got raped because of her job and that that’s the way her job is. The offered “help” is self-defense training with an incredibly arseholeish version of Wildcat Grant. No one ever asks if she needs a place to stay or help in getting away from whoever hurt her. And no one ever asks Selina’s side of her life and motivations (according to her nun sister, Selina is a runaway but no one ever questions the claim that it was due to foolishness/rebellion of youth/etc). She is the sad, pitiful, punished version of the Sexy Lamp in comics (basically, there’s a problem if you can switch a female character out for an inanimate object and not have it impact the plot).

She is also a murderer in this version of the story, because not only does her origin story need to be ridiculously about men (both Stan and Batman) and her truly horrible looking suit from a man (seriously, she decides to don the outfit Stan bought and forced on her with threat of further violence as her superhero/empowerment oufit??), but she needs to kill one so we know she’s not like other people. And because the narrative won’t actually deal with the Stan issue as her boyfriend raping her and her being in an exploitative situation where her boyfriend steals her earnings and abuses her but it still wants Stan to get his. And also because the narrative has “good” girl Maggie get abducted by Stan and have her virtue (I kid you not) be in danger by Stan because of Selina and Selina has to save her and atone for … being a rape survivor and in a domestic violence situation. This is while also having Holly raped by a cop while Selina was out saving Maggie and having the narrative dismiss it, after having the cop who “just wanted to help” Selina say Holly is a liar.

She literally calls it disgusting and refuses to wear it. Empowerment I guess?? Also - whose idea of fetish wear is this??

Too bad the worst thing about this series isn’t that outfit.

Originally I thought they might just skip including an origin story for post-Crisis Catwoman. Both so they wouldn’t have to say anything about the sex work and because most of her origin comics (and the thing is, she has multiple ones – her origin story isn’t just the smallest share of Batman: Year One and this monstrosity) are annuals and thus might be of a size larger than they wanted to include.

I would have been disappointed, but also relieved, since disqualifying post-Crisis Catwoman origins for including sex work means Her Sister’s Keeper would have been skipped.

That clearly isn’t what happened though and they a) ironically picked the version/story that doesn’t deal with sex work at all (sex work does not equal rape, people, and rape and threatened rape are all there is in HSK) b) picked the version rightly rejected by the rest of the continuity and that is graphically violent and both agency-denying and victim-blaming. Catwoman is a passive witness to her own superhero origin story. You messed up, DC, you messed up.

The stories after that are a pretty good selection over all (I’d have liked an additional issue of Brubaker’s run and issue #1 would have been perfect as a substitute for issue #1 of HSK because his run was a revitalization of the character and deals with sex work and violence against sex workers in a delicate, compassionate, ‘understanding’ way – and the Pfeiffer story is … not great,especially given that main universe Catwoman decidedly does not kill) and could be handed to younger Cat fans depending on age and what they can handle (again, barring the Pfeiffer story where she kills Black Mask). But – opening with issue one of Her Sister’s Keeper kills the value of the subsequent sections because it doesn’t respect the character and doesn’t respect its own readers.

It’s the very worst version of her origin story and may be the first origin story some people read for that Catwoman, since her very first solo series is out of print and Ed Brubaker’s run was only recently collected into new trade paperbacks (and the bulk of her origin story is still in the 90s series and annuals). A celebration volume should be just that and should offer a mix of familiar favourites and new gems (or at least new entertainment – Catwoman using a magic artifact to turn Superman into a cat, folks!). Her Sister’s Keeper may be harder to find material but it certainly isn’t a gem or a highlight of that third of Catwoman’s history and should not have been included in Catwoman: A Celebration of 75 Years.

 

All images above belong to DC Comics and, well, I’m certainly not interested in most of them. Material discussed above is from Catwoman: Her Sister’s Keeper, written by Mindy Newell for DC Comics. Supplementary info about the celebration book’s contents compiled by me using the magic of the internet and very blurry eyes and tired hands.

2015 is kicking me on its way out (yay health and non-health-related crises eating up the rent money) so donations would be much appreciated. I’d like to keep a roof over my head and also keep on writing.

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