Posted by : Wendy B Friday, 23 September 2011

Last night, I read Catwoman #1 of DC's New 52. I liked it. In fact, it only took a few pages for me to like it, pausing at this one to admire everything going on. I liked the pace and nature of her introduction and I like that she doesn't skimp on lingerie and that she made sure to grab her "babies" which figured just as prominently as ber boobs in her escape. I liked her inner monologue and the way she wrote off her belongings, but you knew she hadn't really written them off. I Iike that there was some small level of history and depth with that flashback and her violent revenge against that guy that wasn't enough to sate whatever emotions were burning up inside her. Violence didn't work. Sex (no strings attached) possibly provided the temporary fix in the end. That's how I read it. As a someone who has never really known Catwoman (or DC) beyond movies, TV shows and glimpses. 
Others viewed this differently, with DC Women Kicking Ass saying that Catwoman had been reduced from a classy woman to Batman's "Fuck Buddy" (hey now, it was Batman that showed up uninvited and apparently tries not so hard to fight it! Has he been diminished by this encounter?) The Big Sexy Problem with Superheroines and Their 'Liberated Sexuality goes far deeper into the issue.

NOTE: I'm not going to discuss the Starfire aspect mentioned in this blog because (A) I have not read that comic, and (B) there is no way to disagree with the points made when you see images like this, which are, of course, nothing new to the industry
I'm a super hero!
The money shot that most people have latched onto in Catwoman, however, is the one where Batman and Catwoman have sex on a rooftop. [...] The problem isn't the plot point. If you're an adult, you've probably seen dozens if not hundreds of movies that included sex scenes. The mere fact that a piece of media depicts a sexual act doesn't tell you very much about how that scene is going to make you feel. You might be titillated, or bored, or grossed out, or any number of things. Your reaction depends not on the facts of what happens, but on the way it's presented. And while as with all aesthetic opinions your mileage may vary, this does not look sexy to me; it looks like a creepy fanfiction drawing.
So here is my first problem with this point of view: I don't find this image sexy either, but, considering the context riding up to this point, the image works. This is sex in its base form, with Catwoman desiring something to deal with the turmoil inside her. Violent revenge didn't work earlier in the evening. Perhaps she could have drowned herself in drugs or alcohol, for example. But as it turns out, Batman was there. Instant need fulfillment (which Catwoman actually speaks of herself.) Angry, stress-relieving sex.

Creepy fanfiction drawing? Perhaps, if the context was "O HAI WE CAN HAZ SEX NAO?" But it wasn't. There was context there for Catwoman (though we don't know Batman's motivations).  Could the scene have been done with more subtly? Of course it could. But in the context of that moment where her need was urgent and demanding, I felt it worked as is - with the key point being that the "costumes stayed on." They didn't need to know who each other was. It was not a scene intended for subtlety, romance or coyness.

*Was it there merely to titillate? Sex sells, right? Well of course that's part of the 'charm' of the image choice, but I guess I'm naive in believing that there might be something more behind it. I like to look at things from different angles and try to avoid biases. Mostly.

Fan service? Was it considered fan service when Michelle Pfieffer was straddling Michael Keaton years ago?  I disagree with this whole fanservice label. Or rather, I feel that, thanks to the internet making fans believe they practically own the rights to all of these characters, writers and artists etc. are stuck in a catch-22 of damned if you do, damned if you don't.

For example, the end of Buffy S8 featured pages upon pages of softcore Buffy/Angel porn. We'll ignore the fact that the whole cosmic world creating sex plotline was stupid and just focus on the fact that Joss Whedon confirmed once and for all that his OTP is Buffy/Angel (with a few minor thoughts for Buffy/Spike). Or did he just do it for the fans? Did Buffy/Angel 'shippers just win some sort of lottery? We won't know unless we ask Joss -- but we know Joss reads fan forums and may have been heavily influenced and may not even know himself.

Point being, fans have their claws so deeply into these characters now that ANYTHING -- well, more specifically, ANYTHING SEXUAL -- is going to be considered fanservice in either the positive or the negative, depending on which "team" a particular fan is on.

The new Voodoo comic was also mentioned in the Comics Alliance article because of Voodoo's opening stripper scenes. No, that scene is not particularly empowering, but was the same anger raised when Priscilla was channeling goddesses in her original miniseries?

Now, if we want to argue DC Women Kicking Ass' point about Catwoman formerly being a sexy but CLASSY lady (an image which the new Batman movie seems to be working with) that Batman truly loves, then I can understand the concern.

And that's the heart of problem: all of these sexuality/personality/physical changes are part of the DC reboot, which means established (mostly female?) characters have been altered drastically and all of these changes are happening at once. For me, I know little about the characters, so it's all fresh for me. I liked Catwoman #1, being the first real issue of any of her comics that I read. For me, this reboot is working in some places. I know that's no consolation for older fans though, many of whom I know are very unhappy with what they have read, or have refused to read The New 52 at all. Take Voodoo's stripping and Catwoman/Batman's angry sex out of the reboot -- would the reaction be the same? Unfortunately, we'll never know because they are a part of the reboot. They have been forever altered for fans of their former selves.

*ETA: My friends have pointed out that out Judd Winick has a history of writing sex into his comics in a similar manner as this, with the intention being mostly shock value. My personal interpretation of the scene still stands, but I will be wary of such scenes in this comic in the future and hope that the book and character will become more solid as the story arc progresses.

4 Responses so far.

  1. Paul says:

    I could not disagree more! PUN INTENDED!

    I just read it, it's cheesecake but yes, it's not that bad. It's just not particularly good. I gave it 3 out of 5 stars

  2. https://plus.google.com/u/0/102543948831967474502/posts/iGmhXbKGJoS

  3. Becca's review : http://beccatoria.livejournal.com/155349.html

  4. Awesome - thanks. It's really interesting to see this in contrast with some of those other comics you mention that I hadn't read. You already know I agree with you on the substantive issues. Like, I can see why some people wouldn't like it, but man, I just lack the outrage. And you make a very good point that anything ends up looking like fan service to someone. Unoffended high five? :D?

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I also write about geek culture at Women Write About Comics, and I review genre fiction at The BiblioSanctum.

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