I actually bought an issue of New 52 Catwoman yesterday … and am going to recommend that you do the same.
Given your feelings on how Catwoman has been handled since the reboot, you are either thinking “Why would I need any encouragement to do that?” or wondering what exactly could cause me to make such a statement and whether or not I’m ‘really’ sure that’s what I want to say. In which case, yes, yes, it is.
Now, my recommendation is not without some reservations but if you have missed having someone you can recognize as Catwoman and can afford it, please give DC your vote of approval by purchasing a digital or print copy of this issue. If not, and you are interested in reading it, then find a way, even if you cannot give your financial vote in support of the writing and art on this issue of Catwoman.
Originally, I had planned on giving Catwoman’s Zero Year issue a cursory flip-through and then moving on, since it seemed more promising than the regular New 52 fare for her but I did not have particularly high hopes since it was still in the New 52 DC universe with its particular editorial mandates, aesthetics, and continuity, but I was so impressed by it that I ended up purchasing it (after giving it a very thorough flip through and tearing up a bit over having a recognizable Catwoman back and several nods at her previous continuity).
On a second, proper read-through, some problems do stick out, and I will get to those, but this issue ‘is’ an enjoyable, coherent read and an enjoyable and also recognizable take on Catwoman and a Catwoman-type story. The Catwoman here does remind me very much of the very young Selina from post-crisis, pre-New52 continuity when she first began living on the streets and having to add more nuance to her views on morality (as well as try to survive when she did not quite have the skills or experience and quickly got in over her head). This is both good and bad since while transferring that type of characterization onto an older version of Selina is not necessarily a problem (and she is given wonderfully engaging emotions and expressions by artist Aaron Lopresti), this Selina also has the skills of a much older and more experienced previous continuity Selina.
And that is a problem when this Selina explicitly states that she is not Catwoman, that she is not a master thief, and that she has never used a whip before, and she only has climbing gear because it happened to be in a backpack she spontaneously stole off someone earlier in the day/story. And yet she knows exactly what each of the items in the backpack is, can use the grappling hook, rope, and a police baton to scale a building (in a severe storm), take down two armed guards who she failed to get the jump on, sneak into the building, disguise herself and successfully pass (until she is literally caught spying at a keyhole in a backroom) in behaviour and speech as a member of high society, use a (rather long) whip not just at all but to execute very tricky moves successfully and without injuring herself, engage in physical combat in high heels, bind multiple combatants, and then get back out of the building without getting caught and with all of her loot in tow, again in a severe storm.
I love Catwoman and I am so happy to see her again and in a coherent, concise adventure, but as much as I enjoyed this issue and the visual and narrative nods at the previous Catwoman, those nods just don’t quite make sense with Selina’s previous background and origins removed and with what is explicitly told to us in this issue about her abilities and experience. But I am also aware that this story is meant to be in current continuity and that it can at most slightly tweak what came before it, especially since this creative team was only on this single issue, so a restore to her previous characterization and character origins (which actually make for a very cool, compelling story if you can find all the right issues and get them put in order or if you go here and enjoy someone else having done the work for you 🙂 ) was not exactly in the cards. And it also means including and referring to things such as Selina’s possible kleptomania, which is a creation of her first writer in the New 52, Judd Winick, and not a trait the character previously had, her stealing having originated as a means to provide for herself out on the streets and later, once she resumes thievery under the guise of Catwoman, to provide her a change of employment and new means of supporting herself and those under her care.
So, a number of the problems in this issue are down to the current continuity it must operate in, although it likely would have been possible to tweak the writing and art in order to still pull off the same story but with more sense as to what happens (such as Selina’s unusually good skill with the whip being toned down to fortuitous first-timer’s luck in how and where it hits), but some of them are problems not unique to New 52 Catwoman or the New 52 in general.
I know a number of people like to believe that Selina’s history as a sex worker and confirmed kinky person in the post-crisis, pre-New52 continuity was undone during that continuity (which it was not) and that a number of people have also expressed positive sentiments regarding her having no history of sex work in the New 52, but leaving that aside, regardless of whether or not Selina is a former sex worker in the new continuity, sex work and BDSM can and should still be treated respectfully. And that is not what happens here.
It may not be “terrible” in comparison to other handlings of kinky and working people but there is also no reason to use sex workers and BDSM as visual and narrative code for “the bad guy really is a bad guy and these are terrible people the hero(ine) is surrounded by,” especially as the issue already gives us plenty of proof as to how cold, uncaring, and cruel the antagonist of this story is.
And using them as code for that implies that sex workers and BDSM and BDSM practitioners are inherently bad and terrible. That is ‘not’ an okay sentiment to perpetrate, so, please, creative types involved in making comics and tv shows and other media, stop it with the decorative sex workers and “scary”/”weird” BDSM. Include sex workers and kink and kinky people (and guess what? there’s overlap) in your stories, please, but include them as ‘people’ with their own experiences and stories to tell and not as set decoration or as shorthand for moral degeneration, sin, and evil.
And as for something that Selina could use as a whip and conveniently have right with her, why not a length of the rope she already had in her bag when she first set foot on the building? Or a belt from one of the guards she knocked out? It would be an even stronger nod to previous continuity and also avoid furthering the “the bad guy is a bad guy because kinky and sex worker things happen in his back rooms” thread of narrative implications.
So, again, the comic is not without its problems but it does present a Selina with her own personal moral code and desire to defend the disadvantaged against those more privileged and less caring and those are classic Catwoman traits and something to encourage DC to give us more of.
All images used in this post are property of DC Comics and are used for review purposes.