All the Fells: Bannerdale Crags

Bannerdale Crags

Bannerdale Crags – The Northern Fells 2,230′ (140)

Date: 20 September 1991

From: Bowscale Fell

Bannerdale Crags was supposed to be the route to Blencathra on the first of my three attempts on the mountain, the other two of which were successful. In order to maximise the number of summits I could visit in a day, I planned to approach from the unfamiliar east, from Mungrisedale, using Bowscale Fell and Bannerdale Crags as stepping stones. Unfortunately, cloud spreading low on Blencathra and refusing to budge to any tolerable level put the mockers on the ultimate aim. I don’t remember much about Bannerdale Crags itself, except the high level traverse to it from Bowscale Fell, a long section of which was right along the edge of the crags themselves. Being a bit nervous of such things back then, I scrambled away from the edge by 2-3 yards and followed a pathless route on grass with no steep edges until I levelled out onto the summit. Bannerdale Crags ended up being not much more than a bridge between two parallel ridges on that walk, between Bowscale Fell in the north and Souther Fell, along which I returned, in the south.


The Infinite Jukebox: Joy Division’s ‘Transmission’

I still call myself lucky. From March 1978 to March 1980, I lived in Nottingham, whilst Joy Division were emerging from raw punk roughness to the thing of intensity and beauty that they became. They were here and I wasn’t. Yet I saw them live, and I saw them twice, and the number of people who wish that they could have that experience far outweighs the ones who got it. I wasn’t there, but I still had that. Like I say, lucky.
‘Transmission’ was, effectively, the band’s first single. ‘An Ideal for Living’ was an EP, ‘A Factory Sample’ was a double EP with Joy Division only getting one side out of four. I was first exposed to it on an early Saturday evening when, the luck again, I was the only person in a TV room whose set was dedicated to BBC1 (the other room was for ITV) and was able to switch it to BBC2 for the first episode of Something Else, a youth magazine and music programme, each episode to be created in a different city, by their own youth. The first episode was from Manchester and it featured Joy Division.
This was only the band’s second television appearance, and it was to be their last. They played ‘She’s Lost Control’, which I knew well from the album I’d been incessantly playing since I heard ‘Insight’ on Peely’s show and recognised Joy Division as the unknown, unnamed, completely mysterious band I’d seen supporting John Cooper Clarke at the Playhouse at the end of February. But ‘Transmission’ was completely new to me.
At first, I wasn’t totally sold on it, not like how I was sold on ‘Love Will tear Us Apart’ when I heard them play it in October, supporting the Buzzcocks at the Apollo, Ardwick. Unknown Pleasures was phenomenal. I knew it well, I understood its rhythms, the shapes the music took, the range the songs explored. It is still the most accomplished and complete first album I have ever heard.
Against that, ‘Transmission’ was a bit penny-plain. It was simple, almost absurdly so. A straightforward, one paced song that set out to get from one end to the other without the least delay or distraction, a rhythm rather than a record. On the simplest of levels that defines the song, but it’s far from so simple as that. A couple more hearings – on John Peel, natch – when it was released and it all slid into place. Quite simply, ‘Transmission’ is the Unstoppable Force in music.
It opens with an aura of sound, through which Hooky’s bass cuts, concentrating upon a nagging, insistent, almost unvarying note, beneath which Steve Morris lays an almost metronomic beat and above which Bernard Albrecht lays a filigree of dark guitar notes. The song hits its beat instantly and refuses to let it go.
Curtis joins in, his opening line ‘Radio, live transmission’, repeated twice. Albrecht cycles a riff on upper and lower register notes. Curtis resumes, a four-line verse of almost apocalytian splendour, yet which is merely – merely – about a relationship in the process of being shattered, territory to which Curtis would return in less abstract form in ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’. A second verse brings the subject closer to home: We would go on as though nothing was wrong, Hide from these days, we remained all alone, Staying in the same place, just staying out the time, Touching from a distance, further all the time.
Touching from a distance… one of those lines that can’t be imagined but only known. One of the defining lines of Joy Division’s brief life, those moments that make you stop, that bypass the mind and go straight into the nervous system. Deborah Curtis would adopt it as the title of her book about her husband, which is only right and proper.
Touching from a distance… The song is getting harder, the sound thicker, Hooky and Morris maintaining the beat, Hooky doing the journeyman work of maintaining its perfect tempo, Morris adding even more definition, frills that are architecture, that emphasise the urgency and the drive whilst Albrecht layers more and more licks and riffs into the insistent sound.
Dance, dance, dance, dance, dance to the radio, Curtis repeats. His voice is still comparatively flat, the mantra stripped of insistence, but without once increasing the tempo, the song is getting faster, psychologically, the sound deeper and more brutal, the situation more desperate and Curtis is gradually losing control, his voice getting ragged, his passion growing. Another verse, coming closer to breaking apart, no language just sound, the radio replaces communication, synchronises love, if this still is love, to the beat, the mindless beat yet the beat that Joy Division have fastened onto and transformed into something malignant and inescapable, the Unstoppable Force, and Curtis screams into the wind, ‘And we can dance!’, extending the word, holding onto it as if it is the final inch of his sanity.
And everything is off the leash now. With Hooky behind him in a parody of a harmony, the mantra returns, Dance, dance, dance, dance, dance to the radio, over and over, no longer advice, not a suggestion but a demand, an imperative. You must, you must, you must, Dance, dance, dance, dance, dance to the radio, caught up in the music and its force, dancing because it’s the only thing that resembles order, resembles control, dance until the music ends but it will never end…
And it ends the only way it could, by relinquishing itself. A last guitar note, sudden and withdrawing, the simultaneous winding down of the tempo by Hooky and Morris, the palpable release from something that had so totally absorbed you.
It wasn’t a hit. Only John Peel played it. Even in late 1979, Radio 1 still didn’t want to give house space to those nasty punks with their unsmooth sound. It was never going to be a hit. It unsettled too much, it took you in too deep. The radio felt on more secure grounds with Paul McCartney and policemen with balloons tied to their feet. You could dance to the radio, but don’t ever dare to dance, dance, dance, dance, dance to the radio, because you could never be quite sure just where that beat came from.
Lucky. I have always known that when it came to Joy Division, I was.

Long ago and far away: Sonny Ramadhin R.I.P.

It was before me and my time, and there is no adequate television or film footage to give me some idea for myself, but Sonny Ramadhin was a giant and a legend for how he bowled for the West Indies in the Fifties, and I have only ever heard both praise and awe for his abilities, and his partnership with his brother in spin, Alf Valentine. How strange to think of a West indies team carried on slow bowling? In truth, I didn’t know that he was still alive but now he has left us, aged 92. Never will his like be seen again, not even by those of us who never saw the original, but know when to revere the greats of the beautiful game.

All the Fells: Bakestall

Bakestall – The Northern Fells 2,189 (187)

Date: 17 April 1994/12 September 1996

From: the Dash Valley/Skiddaw

My two visits to Bakestall couldn’t have been more different, though both were on days of clear weather, sun and not too much heat. The first time was one of my Sunday afternoon leg-stretchers: a lowish, usually isolated fell to tackle after arriving from Manchester, getting the legs in gear for more serious walking the rest of the week. I drove into the Dash Valley, opening and closing gates as I went, parked up at the road end and continued on foot, under Dead Crags, and up the zig-zag trail beside Whitewater Dash until the lip of the valley. Then I turned off on a steep rise, along Birkett Edge, to reach the level of Bakestall. I remember toiling up under the sun, sweating profusely, and thinking (unwillingly) of a couple of people I worked for who would be horrified at the idea of what I was doing constituting a holiday activity. They would have been completely incapable of understanding what I got out of this. Years later I took that idea into the revised opening chapter of what became my first completed novel. At the top of the Edge, I had a grassy traverse, some of it along the kind of edge of a cliff path that I hated due to my incipient vertigo, before completing a gentle uphill walk to Bakestall’s slight summit. There were paragliders about, decorating the ground with shadows, as I descended the further side of the fell on the increasingly steep slope back to the Dash Valley path, the far side of Dead Crags, and an easy walk back. The second time around, Bakestall was the bonus on a long Skiddaw massif round, ascending via the Long Side ridge and descending from the North Top via Broad End. Bakestall was off the direct route of descent, but it was a hundred yards of grassy walking on a negligible gradient, from the back, so I added it. This visit emphasised what Wainwright said about the fell being not a separate fell geographically but a feature on a larger mountain but who cares? I was happy to count it as a destination both times, once in itself and then as a way station on a long, roundabout descent that included smaller, even less separate points on a slow retreat from a classic last day Big Walk.

Film 2022: Merci pour le Chocolat


The current film season, which now extends to seventeen films, is very short on productions in my native language, of which there are actually only four. The rest are made up of five Spanish, seven Japanese and one French. This is the French film. As you will have expected, it stars Isabelle Huppert. And, like my long ago introduction to her in one of my all-time favourite films, La Dentelliere (The Lacemaker), it is again directed by Claude Chabrol.

In all the time I’ve known of Merci pour le Chocolat I have automatically translated it literally, as ‘Thank you for the Chocolate’, so my first surprise was when the sub-titles gave the film’s title in English as Nightcap, which I assume to be one of those cultural differences: the French have a phrase for it that they would instinctively recognise whereas we little-travelled Englanders have to grasp for its meaning. In its way, this was apt for the film.

It began with the marriage of Marie-Claire Muller, known casually as Mika (Huppert), the owner of a reknowned Swiss-French Chocolate manufacturers based in Lausanne, to Andre Polonski (Jacques Dutronc), a highly regarded concert pianist. Or rather, it’s their re-marriage. This and a lot of additional and important background exposition is delivered painlressly via the gossip between the guests, though we don’t get everything laid out on a plate for us: enough to frame the picture, but with quite a few significant pigments yet to be painted in.

For instance: whilst we might learn that Mika and Andre married when she was only eighteen, and that Andre has an eighteen year old son, Guillaume (Rodolphe Pauly) by another wife, who has a very warm relationship with his stepmother, it is not until later, and in stages, that we learn that Guillaume’s mother, Lisbeth, a noted photographer, was Mika’s sister, that Lisbeth died in a car accident on Guillaume’s tenth birthday, and that Mika was adopted, her real parents wholly unknown.

The film at first paints a picture book setting, a well-off family, content with each other, financed by Mika’s Muller Chocolates and Andre’s concerts and tutoring. Guillaume, in contrast, is a youngish idler, eighteen only in years, directionless. It’s nice, comfortable but also superficial, which is, of ourse, because it’s the calm before the storm.

Enter Jeanne Pollet (Anna Mouglalis). Jeanne is the cuckoo in the nest, the invader who will stir up and ultimately destroy this scene. Not in the obvious way you might assume from so blunt a statement: she is not here to seduce Andre, have her way with him. Not in that sense.

Jeanne is introduced from an oblique angle. Two ladies of a certain age, one being Doctor Louise Pollet (Brigitte Catillon), director and owner of a criminal forensics lab, and the other an old friend whose name I didn’t catch, are having lunch whilst their respective teenagers Jeanne and her boyfriend Axel are playing tennis. When the youngsters join them for lunch, Madame spots a newspaper item about Mika and Andre getting married. She blurts out mention of the clinic where Jeanne was born, something that quite clearly her mother doesn’t want to discuss but which she goes on to tell in full.

For not only was Jeanne Pollet born the same night and in the same clinic as Guillaume Polonski, when Andre arrived from his concert, he was told he had a daughter and was shown Jeanne. It was a mistake, and an easily understandable one, checked into very thoroughly and everyone swears to it that Guillaume was Andre’s and Jeanne belonged to Louise and her late husband, Jean. But Jeanne is a talented and aspiring concert pianist, and the coincidence opens up doors in her mind of the even greater coincidence of her being Andre’s daughter. Hence she forces herself on the family, attracts Andre’s attention as a protege, and Mika’s as another surrogate child.

But that’s not what the film is about. It toys with the notion late on, when we learn that Jeanne was conceived by artificial insemination, and we momentarily flip to the question of whether Chabrol is going to reveal that, by some impossible coincidence, Andre is after all her father, genetically, but long before then we’ve seen where the story is going and it’s somewhere else entirely.

What we do see, practically the moment Jeanne crashes the Polonski household, is that Mika has something on her mind, something buried within it that’s suddenly brushing the surface. Being Huppert, this is done without words or facial responses – overall, Huppert performs as a normal, basically happy woman who has the life she wants, which is not the sort of role we normally associate with her – but with her body, and a couple of momentary silences. We feel the change of atmospehere, recognise it as something different from the placid bonhomie we’re getting. And there’s one moment we know is artificial, even though it happens offscreen, as Mika knocks over the flask of drinking chocolate she’s prepared for Guillaume. Even before Jeanne tells her almost-sibling that she saw Mika’s reflection do it, we know that this was deliberate.

Jeanne has boyfriend Axel, a trainee at Louise’s clinic, analyse the chocolate splash on her sweater. It contains Pohypnol. Andre is dependent, we later learn, on sleeping tablets. He uses Rohynol. His wife after and before Mika, Lisbeth, died driving to the pharmacy to renew his prescription for sleeping tablets: she fell asleep at the wheel.

It all adds up. My one complaint about the film is that it makes its intentions far too clear and obvious from a long way out. You suspect Mika, but instead of being unsure, and ultimately misdirected, as to where Chabrol is going with her, we end up in the place we expect, and that diminishes the film for me, though that is not to detract at all from how the cast play it, which is superbly.

I’m not going to go into any more details, but the film ends with a confession, of sorts, by Mika, which demonstrate just how uch of an iceberg lay beneath her surface. I don’t necessarily pretend to accept her explanation of herself, which comes from her knowledge of herself as an adoptee, a complete unknown, and leads to a compulsion to destroy good things. Andre’s response is to go to his piano and play Liszt’s ‘Funerailles’, the piece he has been tutoring Jeanne on. The credits role over a held shot of Huppert’s face, removed to one half of the screen, all but immobile, save for a vey slow gathering of a tear in one eye, until she slides sideways, into the ciuch, and curls up in an almost foetal position, as the camera slowly tracks up and round the room to view her self-enclosed pose from above and one side: obliquely. It’s an incredible final shot.

I find myself with little to say about Merci pour le Chocolat, except that it was wonderful, and it held me, intent, for its entire length. It’s not up to the level of La Dentelliere but then only one thing is, but I look forward to my second chance to watch it.

All the Fells: Arthur’s Pike

Arthur's Pike

Arthur’s Pike – The Far Eastern Fells 1,747 (146)

Date: 28 April 1992

From: Loadpot Hill

Geographically, Arthur’s Pike, and its neighbour and near-twin, Bonscale Pike, aren’t really separate fells, just two points on a long ridge descending from Loadpot Hill, and I climbed them that way. Wainwright treated them as individual fells because of the craggy frontages they present to Ullswater’s lower reaches. Seen from behind, as part of a wider walk that treats the two fells as the final stage of a descent from the higher and broader ridge, Arthur’s Pike is completely unimpressive, just a broad, grassy mound off the (literally) beaten track, the northern end of the Roman Road from High Street. I left the path, descended to cross the beck and wandered up the back of Arthur’s Pike to put my claim on the summit. It might have made a better walk in its own right, working up from the east side of the Lake, maybe an afternoon on a day when the weather wasn’t all that certain in the morning, but overall, Arthur’s Pike, and it’s twin, felt like draining walking, grassy trudging with little underfoot to justify them as a separate expedition.

On Writing: Endings

I don’t know how general this feeling is, though I’ve heard other authors speak of it, but there comes a moment in writing a novel when you realise that all the work has been done, and all you need now is let the words flow along the channel that is waiting for them, that the end has already been defined in your head and all you have to do from here is let it happen. It doesn’t matter how near or far you are from that final line, it’s set, and the shifts and swings of what is left are no more than a familiar landscape across which you are walking, your feet performing steps you no longer have to work out. And then it’s done. That’s not to say that clean-up work isn’t still necessary, but the job is done. The characters you’ve lived with have done everything that was asked of them, and once those last lines have been recorded, they can get on with whatever else they’re going to do, free from your oversight. And you, instinctively, start looking for the next group of characters that you will, very quietly, slip into the middle of, to watch and take notes as you discover what happens to them, whilst the other lot recede from view, unobserved.

Tonight I finished another book.

All the Fells: Arnison Crag

Arnison Crag – The Eastern Fells 1,424′ (128)

Date: 30 April 1991

From: Patterdale Village

Arnison Crag is another of those lower-level fells that are more of a buttress to a higher, substantial fell than an entity in its own right. It’s part of St Sunday Crag, one of two eastward projecting ridges that descend towards Patterdale and Ullswater, offering small summits at the end of their thrust. Arnison Crag is the lower of the two ridges, curving around the outside of Birks, and I climbed it as part of a first ascent of St Sunday Crag. The usual, indeed only sensible route of ascent is from Patterdale Village and in Wainwright’s day, and when I did my climb, involved a walk past the village rubbish heap – very edifying – before curving round uphill by a wall. It was a fairly scruffy ascent, with little to see, and with views over Ullswater only beginning to improve in the upper stages of the ridge. Once I had reached the summit and taken in the view of the Lake, which was not merely the highlight of the view but the only highlight of this part of the walk, I didn’t hang around but made my way along the ridge to where it abutted on the sidewall of Birks, the high ridge, at Trough Head. The two ridges didn’t fit and I had to climb down into the little hollow between, Trough Head, and climb out to find a path now following the broken wall that led to Birks’ summit. Arnison Crag was not as unattractive as Armboth Fell, but apart from its view, it was without anything to recommend it for another visit.

Not Quite Nine Lives: Catwoman – Part 2

Cat 52 - 18

Between series 3 and series 4, Catwoman starred in two series that I don’t have access to. One was a six-issue mini-series titled When in Rome, drawn by Darwyn Cooke, that I did once read as a Graphic Novel from Stockport Library, but which I remember almost nothing of, whilst the other was the twenty-six issue series Gotham City Sirens, in which Selina lived with, and co-starred with Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn. That takes us up to the next reboot.
It’s an idiot’s game, predicting your own response to a comic book series before reading even a single issue, but given that Catwoman’s next run at DC – her fifth series overall, but her third ongoing – was under the aegis of The New 52, DC’s attempt to cut its own throat, I don’t expect to like this very much. Nevertheless, let’s read it before condemning it out of hand, shall we?
The creative team at the outset of this was Judd Winick and Guillem March, neither of whom I know. It started with Selina’s latest apartment being bombed to buggery by two big masked guys with guns, included her beating some new historical pimp to buggery and finished with Selina jumping Batman and fucking his brains out. Sorry for the crudity, but you can’t exactly suggest that the issue was being subtle.
Oh, and there’s been a bit of a crucial retcon, and Selina doesn’t know who’s behind the mask. This is not a propitious start.
Issue 2 obeyed the prominent American trope when it comes to sex: Catwoman’s costume gets pretty ripped up but her bra doesn’t come off.
It’s all a new dynamic, which was the whole point of the New 52, but it’s a dynamic that, like every other New 52 series I saw, was utterly stupid. It’s all big panels, lots of action and Catwoman being continually over-confident, like some sort of amateur. And don’t forget the zip on her costume springing open down to her bra like it had teflon teeth. Only issue 5, and that prediction’s looking like the crosshairs on a Kalashnikov.
They threw in another Zero issue, even though it was then seventeen years after Zero Hour, to set up Selina’s new origins and covered it with one hell of a broken-back, tits and arse Catwoman pose that made Adam Hughes’ sexy covers look like the nice, innocent, pin-ups they were. This was written by Ann Nocenti, who chucked out Frank Miller’s prostitute shit but inserted her own shit about some notion that Selina’s name wasn’t really Selina and something Russian instead.

Cat 52-22

I’m trying to shoot through this series in big gulps, so I don’t have to spend too many sessions on it, but honestly, it’s not easy. I’m trying to work out exactly why I think it’s crap, and what there is about it that is more than just a difference in portrayal. This Catwoman is a bumbler, getting by on luck and desperation, which is a major factor, but the main thing is that this is New 52 Comics, and the name of the game is hysteria. Hysteria and dirt, represented in big, bold, swinging panels of brash art, heavy on the action in a cynical manner.
I can still read, and enjoy superhero stories, but I can increasingly not tolerate the modern stuff, where everything is but another shade of dark.
Ann Nocenti replaced Winnick in issue 13, with a new art team, but the story was all but incomprehensible in its addiction to big panels, hyper-movement and lack of explanation. It was all a lead-in to yet another bleeding Batman cross-over, this one being Death of the Family. You know my opinion on these by now. In terms of coherence, it was worse, though it was interesting to note that, through the medium of The Joker, Nocenti introduced the idea of diminishing the effectiveness of Batman by having him marry Catwoman.
And Catwoman’s near-instantaneous rejection of the idea. Near instantaneous…
Issue 19 was another cross-over, this time with something involving the Justice League that wasn’t identified and which I didn’t want to know any more about. Unquestionably, this is God-awful stuff.
Several years ago, during the New 52, there was a comics website I was fond of, called something along the lines of ‘How many days has it been since DC last screwed up?’ It got updated very frequently. I can barely remember anything from it but I assume I read about Zero Year, which took place on the second Anniversary, across all the issue 25s. I can’t speak for any other series but in Catwoman it dropped with a dull thud into and interrupting an ongoing storyline that took Catwoman underground. The story was a lot of rubbish, but breaking up its momentum? That was like infamous Marvel Fill-in issues from the Seventies, except that they weren’t planned. And there was only one issue left so bravo for killing off the climax.
Then there was another crossover. Another story without an ending in this comic.
I’m sure you’ve worked this out for yourself, but this series of Catwoman is not something I’m enjoying having to plough through. In fact, I’m spending most of my time trying to remember if I have ever read something as bad as this before, and failing to think of anything. Because when I was buying comics in floppy form, I would simply stop buying them. But this series I’m stuck with, through its leaps of illogic, its erratic introduction and disappearance of supporting characters and things like Selina, out of nowhere, burning her costume and swearing never to be Catwoman again, for all of five pages.
One thing I must concede in favour of this series is one of Catwoman’s supporting characters, her reclusive tech support, Alice Tesla, a pretty redhead who dresses in archaic clothing, a self-confident genius who, for all the deliberate quirkiness of her set-up, actually behaves like a normal human being.

Cat 52 - 30

There was another New 52 override in issue 35, this one Future’s End, set five years later. These constant features are adding up in my mind to a lack of basic confidence in the ongoing material, a growing desperation about organising ‘events’ to hold the whole new 52 crap together. As for the Catwoman stuff, the art was bloody awful, closer to thumbnail scribbles than completed pencilling, and the story, about Selina Kyle trying to rebuild Gotham as a mob boss, was illiterate. Worst of all, it went on for months, written by Genevieve Valentine, whose first comics work it was.
The set-up, which was sprung out of nowhere, was that Selina discovers that her father was the late boss of the Falcone branch on organised crime. Selina gives up being Catwoman to take over as Head of the Family, looking to get crime organised enough that they can rebuild a shattered Gotham City, as well as manage things so that ordinary folks can be left to enjoy reasonably unaffected lives. Batman, of course, disapproves of Selina’s manoeuvres.
What was disturbing was that, although this sequence was supposed to be five years in the future, that aspect gradually faded away, and the story became the world of now. The shattered Gotham aspect disincorporated. This was further emphasised when The New 52 was not rebooted as DCYou, oh no, it’s not a reboot, and a new storyline began in issue 41.
It also coincided with the ‘Death’ of Batman, which wasn’t going to help anything.
This storyline just went on and on, until I realised that it was going to be the only thing going until the series ended. Black Mask was yet again Catwoman’s own enemy and once again she killed him because he made it necessary to do so, only this time he didn’t die but was saved by Penguin at a price which amounted to everything.
It turned out I was wrong about this grim, convoluted but mostly dull story lasting forever, as it was ended in issue 46. Not that it was a cliché or anything like that but it ended with Selina leaving Gotham yet again, to return as she always will with every bit of this forgotten. Sigh. Bad writing is not just bad in itself but it forces the future to repeat its worst moments.
There was another change of creative personnel, though you should pardon the use of the word creative here, especially with regard to another artist who couldn’t draw anatomically convincing people.
About the only good point in this last story was the return of Alice Tesla, who’d been absent from the whole Genevieve Valentine schmear, but of course not only did artist Inaki Miranda draw her looking ugly but he didn’t even try to maintain any visual continuity so far as Tesla’s individual mode of dress was concerned.
That little story concluded in the over-size issue 50, along with two back-ups, one that tried to re-define the Black Mask again, this time as an actual mask, and the other which featured Catwoman breaking into the Justice League’s Hall of Justice, at Batman’s request to test their security.
That left two issues. They were used to complete the redefinition of Black Mask, not to mention provide Selina with another ex-lover from before her career as Catwoman – how did she ever find the time to steal anything? – but it was all just shite. At least it was over.
I went into series 4 expecting to hate it and I’m not particularly gratified at being proved right. It was a mess from start to finish, aiming for incomprehensibility within its own confines, and assisted in achieving that goal by the sheer number of times understanding it was rendered next to impossible because of events in other comics that I didn’t have access to and frankly wouldn’t want to buy if only out of sheer resentment at the attempt to force me to buy them.
Crossover series that have crossovers in ongoing titles are acceptable, as long as you can choose whether or not to read the extra bits. Crossovers between two titles, limited to a short number of issues and relatively self-contained, are also bearable. But the constant jerking of the strings of an ongoing title to serve a supposedly more important series is despicable as far as I’m concerned.

Cat 11

There’s no real prospect of my coming to a definitive conclusion about the fifth Catwoman series when that’s the one currently ongoing of which I have the first thirty-four issues available to me. The series, written and drawn by Joelle Jones, was started in the wake of Tom King’s Batman no. 50, the non-Wedding issue, where Selina left Bruce at their rooftop non-altar and left Gotham again, this time for California.
At least this time she should be receiving a characterisation that, to some degree, matches the one drawn by King. I hope.
There was a metafictional joke on one of the two covers to issue 1, telling readers to read Batman 50 first, followed by an opening scene with Catwoman shooting at Police Officers, two of whom she killed. Meanwhile, the real Catwoman (you mean you hadn’t guessed?) wasn’t sleeping.
To be honest, the art’s poor. It’s anatomically correct, mostly, but it’s angular, full of heavy black lines and the panels are busy and fussy. The first story lasted six issues. It didn’t really go anywhere, for all its action. It created a new enemy for Selina, but one that was too mean, vicious and cruel to be taken seriously, and it brought back her sister Maggie, still more or less catatonic from series 3.
I don’t want to pick on too many individual issues but no. 7, first of a two-parter, saw the Penguin come to town, blow up a ferris wheel to get Catwoman’s attention then she fights a whole string of thugs, one after another, taking up half the issue with nothing but filler, to reach him. The kicking wasn’t even interesting. The second part had still more page-filling fighting, with the same feel of having nothing to say, and at the end this ‘two-part’ story was ‘to be continued…’ Not that it was, in any real ‘continued’ sense.
Jones, by the way, was no longer drawing the series, merely writing it, but the art wasn’t much different.
What was happening now was basically a serial story, confused by muddled, achronological story-telling, spread out by long action sequences of minimal interest. By the end of the first year’s worth, I knew I wasn’t going to get any entertainment out of this series, let alone interest.

Cat 30

The second year began with yet another crossover, the second and third parts of which were written by Ram V. It took on the local colour of pointless action, but it strayed into new/old territory, no doubt in preparation for Catwoman’s forthcoming return to Batman, by showing Selina still overwhelmed by her feelings for Bruce. Then Jones returned, on art as well as script, obviously having decided that coherence is no longer a desirable element in story-telling.
The crossover, incidentally, was Year of the Villain, a year here counting as five months. It’s also twisting into stuff like Death Metal, The Batman Who Laughs, all the stupid, depraved shit I refuse to go near. This is doing nothing for my appreciation of the series.
The whole Villa Hermosa thing ended in issue 21, in time for the Catwoman 80th Anniversary Special. Selina finished her business and went home to Gotham, taking her sister Maggie with her, though the whole thing came over as less a completion as a recognition of failure, which had the effect of writing off the series to date as a waste of time.
It was also Joelle Jones’ swansong as Paula Sevenberg took over the writing. Her first issue was tagged as taking place before issue 21, for no reason discernible from the story, which was negligible. She was gone next issue, written by Ben Northcott and Sean Murphy – did it really take two writers to come up with a piece of nonsense like that? – but these were just fill-ins before the next crossover.
At this point I’d like to apologise to anyone who is getting frustrated by the way that I am continually describing issues of this series as, basically, crap, without saying why they’re crap. Quite simply, reading them is trying my patience without having to go into them in any depth. Long action sequences that serve no purpose but to fill out pages are reminiscent of the industry’s worst excesses, but once upon a time you could rely on such things having a shape, a pattern, a professional skill: some merit of their own.
As for the stories, they are empty of any narrative nutrition. They are actually causing me to re-re-evaluate my impression about Tom King: his stories, for all their flaws, are at least about something. As are, and you’ll never know how much it pains me to say this, those of Geoff Johns. Catwoman is about nothing more than filling pages. But what else could it be when it is so regularly shattered by the need to serve someone else’s story?
Writing a Batman Family character’s series is a mug’s game. Now Catwoman had to play a role in the Joker War, which brought back Ram V. As this was issue 25, it was deemed worthy of an extra-length anniversary special, which is a point in itself but not one, I hope, about which I need to be explicit. It added up to two stories, one the crossover and the other Selina Kyle’s return to where she most feels at home: no, not the East End, we’re calling it Alleytown this time, in case anyone thinks we’re really returning anywhere we’ve actually been already.
The new direction is a familiar one: Catwoman, Queen of Crime. None of your hero-stuff, none of this being in love with Bruce Wayne any more, just straightforward being the best at what she does (what is this? Wolverine?) And now she’s going by Lina, after eighty years, sigh, how radical.
I’m steadily approaching the present day by now, which means things like Infinite Frontier and Future State, current states that I know of only in the abstract and have no interest in discovering in depth. This DVD goes into 2021, up to issue 34: will that end on a cliffhanger? In the meantime, the series may lack originality or interest but it is for once being written professionally, and coherently.
Fittingly, issue 33, my penultimate, ended on Selina wounded, defeated, by the rogue Azrael, Karl Valley… and being rescued by Batman. It gave the illusion of a high, of things being set right again, even if only for a moment. The instantness of Bat and Cat, bridging all gaps. But then it was a cliffhanger after all, a story uncompleted, and I didn’t mind not knowing the end, because after all, I know the end.
Reading all these Catwoman comics, that are still only a part of her story since the end of Crisis on Infinite Earths, has only been enjoyable in parts, and virtually all of that belonging to part 1. Almost everything in part 2 has been an exemplifier of why, after nearly sixty years, I’m finally growing out of superhero comics, because they’ve grown away from me. Even more than ever, only what I choose to be real is what is real for me.
All of these past two posts have been read and written since the appearance of Batman/Catwoman no. 8. Issues 9 and 10 have arrived but made no difference to any of my comments. How long it will be before I reach the end of that series, I can’t even guess, and whether I’ll keep it after that I have no idea. But it portrays a Catwoman that I can believe in, whose independence doesn’t need to be constantly flaunted, and which remains real and vivid even through a deep love for the Bat.
No other Catwoman need apply.