AboutJody Houser is a writer, a geek, a webcomic-making person, and an Angeleno.
WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE DARK KNIGHT RISES
As a Batman fan, one of my favorite things about Nolan’s trilogy is the variety of comic story lines that he draws inspiration from and weaves into his own vision of the character. Watching The Dark Knight Rises, I ticked off the same mental checklist as plenty of other moviegoers. The Dark Knight Returns, Knightfall, No Man’s Land, etc.
But there was one element that reminded me of something else altogether. The hero defeated by the monster that had taken control of the city, while their love interest stood by and watched. Banished to a distant, inescapable prison, helpless and powerless in the dark. Advised on the the only means of escape by a friendly fellow inmate who helped them survive. And finally, the hero ascends (against all odds but never doubted by the audience), climbing up sheer stone towards a circle of light high above. They escape out into the world for the final battle, much to the shock of the villain.
I’ve seen that in a comic book movie movie before: Supergirl.
For those who haven’t seen it, Supergirl was a 1984 spin-off of the Christopher Reeve Superman movies. It’s one of the better female-led comic book movie out there (though that’s really really not saying much) and is a bit of campy eighties superhero fun. I’d rank it as slightly better overall than Superman III (also not saying much). It’s one of the reasons I became a superhero fan early on in my life.
After watching The Dark Knight Rises, I had to pull out my Supergirl DVD to see what other similarities there are. Several jumped out:
- The trouble starts when a woman stumbles across and steals something precious to the hero—an object that played an important part in motivating the hero to put on a costume. (Selina in TDKR, Selena in Supergirl)
- Said thief lives in a what is supposed to be a bohemian dump (but it looks pretty awesome) with a rather annoying roommate/bff. (Holly in TDKR, Bianca in Supergirl)
- A city is threatened when a sphere with a bunch of lights that was intended to be used as a source of power is utilized by the villain as a weapon, putting the hero on a ticking clock counting down to doom. (fusion generator core in TDKR, Omegahedron in Supergirl)
- The female lead by turns plays meek as a disguise and maims men who offer unwanted come-ons. (Selina and Kara)
- Said female lead never actually refers to herself by the alias that most fans know her by. (Catwoman and Supergirl)
- The hero falls for a romantic interest that comes from a whole different class/world. (Selina and Ethan)
- Said romantic interest strikes a key blow in the final battle with the villain. (Selina shooting Bane, Ethan releasing the Omegahedron)
- British guys who are treated like crap by the people who are supposed to be their closest ally. (Alfred and Nigel)
- Science-savvy mentors/father figures with a mischievous streak. (Lucius Fox and Zaltar)
- League of Shadows vs Power of Shadow
Another interesting link? Helen Slater, who played Supergirl, also voiced Talia al Guhl in Batman: The Animated Series.
Granted, many of the ties are either superficial or common superhero movie tropes (Bruce knew that cutting-edge science is ALWAYS used for evil at some point). But even even with that in mind, even considering how different in tone these two movies are, there’s something wonderful about those little reminders of the stories that made you fall in love with superheroes in the first place.
One of my favorite announcements out of the DC Comics New 52 launch was news that Catwoman would be getting her own series again. As a kid, the Jim Balent-drawn Catwoman series was what really made me a comic book reader. I’d picked up a few issues of The Batman Adventures (the Batman: The Animated Series tie-in comic), but Catwoman was the first book I actively hunted down in the bookstore spinner month after month.
I wasn’t particularly a fan of the recent Gotham City Sirens, even though it did have some good moments. While I do like all three of the leads, the “wacky roommates” thing always read more like a gimmick than solid storytelling. A new series for Catwoman seemed like just the thing for a character who had become bogged down in an often-bland ensemble book.
And then #1 actually came out and everyone everywhere exploded into a big frothy mass of rage.
The thing is, there’s actually a lot of good stuff in Catwoman #1. We have the first new supporting character for Selina in years, a retired showgirl-turned-fence named Lola (and you have to love Selina’s delight in a showgirl actually named Lola). The coloring is gorgeous. So is some of the art; I’m not a fan of Guillem March’s bodies when they go wonky, but I really dig the character he puts into his faces. There are plenty of seeds planted for both backstory and future plot threads.
And then we have Selina herself, who in most of her recent incarnations has had a childhood crappy enough to make Bruce Wayne’s early years look like Leave It To Beaver. That looks to be the case in the latest book too, judging by the brief flashback we see. And it’s pretty clear that the end result is a very damaged individual. Selina clams to have “people” in her life, but all we see is her deflecting when it comes to making a genuine emotional connection. Her friend (her word choice) Lola asks how she’s doing? She brushes it off and focuses on business. Batman shows up to check on her? She wants to keep their interactions strictly on the physical level. Paired with the image of child Selina crying in the corner as someone she cares about is gunned down, you have some really meaty, heartbreaking characterization.
So why didn’t issue #1 focus on that?
The problem isn’t that Catwoman wears lacy bras and has anonymous masked sex. The problem is that the breasts and the sex splash are emphasized at the expense of the actual story. The first issues of Batwoman and Wonder Woman both showed far more skin than Catwoman, but people aren’t up in arms about those books because of the way it’s presented. It’s there, yes, but it’s not the focus. It doesn’t feel artificial or gratuitous. And it’s not being sold as sexysexydirtysexy.
For me at least, there was a disconnect between what was happening in Selina’s life and the way it was packaged for the audience. A person who has a violent breakdown in public, squats in a stranger’s apartment because they have no real home to go back to, and can’t even have a real conversation with someone they’re having an ongoing (if casual) relationship with is tragic, not sexy. And there’s nothing wrong with tragic! Characters who are obviously broken in some way are often the ones who have the most interesting journeys.
Look at Batman and Wolverine, who are both pretty screwed up by the trauma in their past. They’re compelling characters who don’t need sex to sell their story to readers, even when sex plays an important role in said story. Why can’t Catwoman be granted the same courtesy, especially when DC Comics themselves refer to her as part of their “pantheon of remarkable, iconic women characters”?
If you’re relying on shock value and titillation to sell your story, you’re doing a disservice to your story and your audience. It’s certainly not only women who are alienated by bad portrayals of female characters. It’s insulting to imply that male readers will only read books about women who are “sexy enough”, regardless of the quality of the writing. I have plenty of straight male geek friends and they care just as much about good storytelling as I do. This is an era where guys across the Internet proudly admit to watching My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, after all.
There has been plenty of fantastic commentary about some of the more troubling portrayals of women in the DC Comics reboot. But I tend to approach comics (and pretty much everything else) as a writer/fan of good writing first and foremost. The frustrating thing for me was how damn close Catwoman #1 was to being a solid launch. Ironically, it was all of the “adult” packaging made it feel much more juvenile than it should have.
There’s the potential for some really intriguing stories in this series. Just tell them instead of hiding the plot behind lingerie and awkward-looking sex scenes. And everyone already knows that Catwoman is supposed to be sexy. Show us something new. Isn’t that what a reboot is all about?
Here for your reading pleasure, courtesy of DC Comics, are new preview pages of Catwoman.
Catwoman, as you can see, has a lot of bras. They are one of her few possessions. I am not making this up. To quote the dialogue about what some bad guys will find when they toss her home:
“The won’t find anything except bras, books, wine and catfood.”
I am so looking forward to seeing Anne Hathaway as Selina.
Of all the possessions she listed, bras probably are the hardest to replace. Can’t get them at the library. (I’m assuming here, I’ve never actually checked.)
I actually really, really like this preview. There’s more of a sense of fun and personality than I’ve seen with Selina for a long time, but it doesn’t really feel like a 90s rehash either. It feels new. Can’t wait to read more.
Also, Selina’s face on that last page is killing me.
Last night I went to the midnight launch event at my regular comic book store, House of Secrets in Burbank. The place was more packed than I’ve ever seen it, which was really a fantastic sight. There’s life in the direct market yet.
I hung out and chatted with friends for a while. Drove home. Changed into PJs. Brushed my teeth. Checked my email a few times. It was only then that I finally opened up my shiny new copy of Justice League #1 to read.
Why wait so long (“so long” being about an hour) to crack open the comic? There’s been so much doomsday talk about the New 52 being DC’s last resort and DC as one of the big two being a cornerstone of the entire comic industry/direct market. And DC only launched one new title this weeks. So at 1AM, my very tired brain somehow boiled it down to the fate of all comic books everywhere forever and ever depends on this single issue.
Of course, that’s neither accurate or fair. Still, DC did make a bold statement letting Justice League #1 stand alone. Honestly, I didn’t really feel like the issue is strong enough to justify such treatment (or the $3.99 cover price). But I thought it was a fairly fun read.
I have personal issues:
Overall, I am looking forward to the other new DC titles I’m picking up and I know I’ll be reading a few others that my friends are buying as well. I’ll give Justice League at least one more issue (I doubt I’ll be buying very many monthly books over the long run; I usually prefer to wait for trades). And at the very least, it is nice to see a comic that’s trying to be fun again. I’d definitely be interested to hear what brand new readers think of Justice League #1.