|Cover by Guillem March|
Catwoman #1 (September 21, 2011)
Writer: Judd Winick
Penciller: Guillem March
Colorist: Tomeu Morey
Letterer: Sal Cipriano
At this point, I’m not even sure what I can say about this comic without A) echoing what others have said before me or B) ranting and ranting until I pull out all my hair in frustration and collapse in a fit of well-placed anger.
Before I got a hold of Catwoman #1, I had already heard negative things about it from co-workers, friends and Laura Hudson’s fabulous article over at Comics Alliance. Even Comic Book Resources, which I have clashed with in the past, gave it a scathing review.
But, I knew that it was unfair of me to simply take the word of other people without reading Catwoman #1 myself. I knew I had to give it a shot and try not to let the opinions of others color my reaction to it. Now, you can probably argue that this was an impossible feat and I walked into Catwoman #1 totally biased. As a feminist and a Catwoman fan, however, I know my reaction to this comic would have been exceedingly similar even if I had read it blindly.
Regardless, it would always be:
Catwoman #1 opens with a gigantic red flag for anyone even remotely versed in feminist theory. This is the first page:
Answer two questions for me please: 1) What do we see here? 2) What do we NOT see here?
If you had trouble figuring out my train of thought, we don’t see Selina Kyle’s face at all. We only get cut-out images of her body; in fact, her body is served to us in parts: her chest in the first panel, her arms and of course, chest in the second and then an almost fully-body in the last. She is dissected, essentially.
With this first page alone, I immediately thought back to one of the preeminent and extremely influential feminist essay, Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema by Laura Mulvey. I’ve read and referenced this article numerous times (it can be found in it’s entirety here and I highly recommend it). Though her focus is on cinema, her arguments can be applied anywhere, even comic books. Mulvey argues that in visual narratives, the overall appeal is the pleasure of looking, or scopophilia, and taking over the object of the gaze and controlling it (37). Furthermore, the object of this controlling gaze is typically passive female while the bearer of the gaze is active male (39).
“In their traditional exhibitionist role women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact so that they can be said to connote to-be-looked-at-ness,” Mulvey argued (40). “Women displayed as sexual object is the leitmotif of erotic spectacle: from pin-ups to strip-tease…she holds the look, and plays to and signifies male desire.”
Bingo. We have a feminist framework to work with this extremely embarrassing and offensive comic.
Mulvey’s arguments are actively at play here in this comic, from the overt sexuality of Catwoman (written decidedly not as self-fulfilling but rather as a desperate ploy) to the literal presentation of her as a woman. She is her body and correspondingly, simply an object of desire and nothing more, Winick and March seem to think. There is nothing more dynamic or deep or even real about Selina Kyle; there is only her sexuality, which she uses as a weapon.
I am fully aware that Selina Kyle has always been a very sexual character and I also understand that she does use this to her advantage. And you know what? I’m okay with that. I really don’t mind if a woman wants to portray herself sexually if she chooses to; it’s not my style but hey, whatever works for you.
I only take umbrage if this is all there is to her. And based on Winick’s writing of Selina’s narration, there is nothing more to her. She never considers any other way of life, never seeks out different solutions to problems or even sees herself as anything else but a sex object. It was depressing.
When Catwoman is written well, she is amazing. She’s one of the most interesting and dynamic characters in the Batman universe. As a feminist and a genuine Catwoman fan, I take massive affront to this superficial, lackluster and frankly exploitative re-launch of a truly great character.
She wasn’t even given an interesting storyline: some bad guys break into her apartment, she crashes a den of Russian mobsters and prostitutes and then has sex with Batman. There was no conflict, no tension, and no true insight into her as a character. Instead, it felt that the entire comic was simply leading up to the embarrassing and unnecessary sex scene. Again, I have no problem with the idea of Batman and Catwoman having sex (and some could argue that it’s empowering that Catwoman is the one doing the seducing but that’s not enough for me to forgive the rest of the comic) but I wonder just what was gained by the inclusion of this scene. It didn’t really add to the plot; was it just for titillation? If so, then Winick is a much weaker writer than previously feared.
I also found March’s art severely lacking. The anatomy was ridiculous and rather grotesque and while there were some cool aerial perspectives of Gotham, it all felt rather fanarty, especially that shudder-worthy sex scene.
I’m thoroughly disappointed in this comic and find it very troubling. I sincerely hope that this is not a hint of things to come for DC. I can only find comfort in the fact that so many others also found Catwoman #1 deplorable.
 Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Feminism and Film. Ed. E. Ann Kaplan. New York: Oxford U P, 2000. 34-47. Print.