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.
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.
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.
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.
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.