Friday, November 04, 2022

What is: The Catwoman? A Criminal.

Of Batman's Five Top Villains, I find Catwoman least interesting.  This is literally the first post I've ever made tagged with her name. The Penguin, The Riddler, and Two-Face are all definite and potentially interesting characters. The Joker's rather abstract, but he's iconic and variable enough that you can do a lot with him. Catwoman, however, is just... a lady-as-cat metaphor and occasional femme fatale. There are 10,000 catwomen in comics; she's just the one who snagged the actual NAME first.

Although she was originally called 'The Cat' and they stopped calling her that immediately because it sounded STUPID and still does so... stop CALLING her that.

But that doesn't mean I think it's okay to misportray her; it doesn't mean I don't think she has definite characteristics that should be adhered to. To wit:

The Catwoman is self-centered. 

Catwoman: "It's me and you against the world!"

Batman: "What about Robin?"

Catwoman: "Well, I'll have him killed. Painlessly, of course."

This scene is, of course, played for comedy.  But the beauty is in the immediate, innocent logic of her reply, which she sees nothing wrong with.  Catwoman's not so much about being immoral as about being amoral.

Look, it's nothing personal.  She doesn't have anything against you. She just doesn't have anything for you either. It's all about her; she'll be on your side if that seems advantageous to her at the moment, and if not, then not.

If only there were some sort of avatar for this attitude.

Batman '66 got it. Batman '66 NAILED it.

And who can blame him?

If you can't get this right, then go write Batgirl.

The Catwoman is a criminal, not a hero.

This one is the crux of my list and of my complaints about how Catwoman is mischaracterized. Catwoman isn't a hero. She's not an anti-hero. She's not your naughty girlfriend who will punish you with her whip when you've been bad.

No, I'm not looking at you, Tom King.
I'm looking right through you.

One of the worst things that has been done to the Catwoman is reform her. Again and again.

It's not character development. It's sexist bullcrap.  

One of the posts that has received the most attention (and hits) over the years is this one, in which I simply noted that in the real world there are way way more male criminals than female ones, so that parity in the numbers of male and female villains in comics wouldn't be very realistic.  

And realism is essential to good comics.

Many (putative) comics-blogging feminists railed against what they viewed as the sexist idea that 'women couldn't be as evil as men', which, obviously, wasn't what I was saying.  I'm sure they can be and whether they can or not is irrelevant; the fact remains that statistically they are not as criminal.  What I really wish is that people would stand up for the rights of female comic book villains to remain villains.  Because every time a comic book villainess gains enough popularity, writers turn her (either progressively or suddenly) into a hero.  

We've lost Batman's three highest profile female villains to this insidious process: Catwoman, Poison Ivy, and Harley Quinn. 
Thank god Nocturna escaped.
In her nocturnaballoon.

Who's next? Orca the Whalewoman? Baby Doll? 

We don't do this male villains. The Joker is popular; nobody tries to use that as a reason to turn him into a hero//anti-hero.

Well, except for Sean Murphy

And, of course, the same people who made Harley Quinn the hero of her own animated show.

Because, you know, if we like a GIRL, then she can't really be BAD. She got a bad break or is misunderstood or was mislead.  Or got amnesia from being in a plane crash, and so went from being a stewardess to a thematic costumed criminal overnight.

That's Selina Kyle's ACTUAL GOLDEN AGE ORIGIN, because writers were already wussing out before the Silver Age arrived. A smart writer many years later retconned this as a LIE Selina told to give herself the opportunity for a fresh start. 

Just like any woman, all she really needs to give up her own plans and career is to fall in love!

Batman #15 (1940)
"If I had the chance to marry a handsome billionaire, I'd give up my life of crime."
Impressively noble, Selina.

Where's the feminist outcry over this continual, repeated rehabilitation of female villains and Catwoman in particular?  It galls me infinitely that no critics and only one character (and only one writer) has called BS on this trope as applied to Catwoman.

The character? The Joker, who took it upon himself to simply fix the issue in Detective #570 (1987).

The writer? Enemy of Society Mike W. Barr. You cannot imagine how much it me pains to admit, "Mike W. Barr got something important right and everyone else got it wrong."
But truth is truth.

Stop sugar-coating it. This is what every attempt at making Selina Kyle into a hero is about: "domesticating" her into a girlfriend for Batman, from a wildcat to a housecat.  I'm not a huge fan of the Catwoman, but even I get royally ticked at this. I'd be a much bigger fan if DC didn't insist on regularly declawing one of their most iconic female villains just to satisfy male fans who want to imagine her as their naughty girlfriend and female fans who want to identify with her as a strong female lead who isn't saccharine. 

I could say something about how a similar role as a domesticated secondary character has befallen Golden Age badass heroine Black Canary,  who's gotten stuck as Green Arrow's Girlfriend.
But I won't.

The Catwoman is not a killer.

Generally, this point is consistently held (the Batman '66 version notwithstanding).  Usually it's because it's a genuine moral line she draws and that's legit; there are plenty of criminals willing to commit crimes but not willing to kill.  Sometimes it's portrayed more as a practical consideration; nothing is worth that rap.  

It's worth noting that in The Batman, Catwoman is willing--eager--to kill someone. Batman simply convince her it's not in her best interest to ruin her own life by becoming a killer.

The Catwoman is a thief.

This may seem like a stupidly obvious point, but for a comics villain it needs to be made. The Catwoman isn't a terrorist, or a blackmailer, or a criminal performance artist, or a serial killer, or a thrill-seeker, or a mob boss, or a gangster, or a revenge-seeker, or an ideologue, or a fanatic, or an obsessive, or a lunatic, or an anarchist, or a mad scientist. She's a thief. She's steals stuff. Sometimes she has henchmen (usually only if it's a convention of the medium, such as in Batman '66); sometimes she's working a more elaborate scheme.

Like operating a beauty parlor. Or a dance studio. Or posing as Kitanya Irenya Titania Karenska Alisov, of the Moscow Bugle.

But generally the purpose of those more elaborate schemes is: to steal stuff.

The Catwoman is not Batman's girlfriend.

Look; we get it. There's an attraction there. There's supposed to be. It was written there from the beginning.

So, she was just wearing old lady make up. With a peek-a-boo blouse.
Did she use wrinkle make up on her boobs? This is what happens when you don't pay attention in Madame Fatal's class, Selina.

But there's a reason for it, and it's really simple, people. Selina doesn't get the hero because she's a villain. Period.  Or forget comic books rules for a second.  The principal indicator of success in a relationship isn't common interests, like fetishistic dark animal costumes, Olympic-level gymnastic combat techniques, and rooftop repartee.  

Not pictured: repartee.

It's common values and complimentary personalities, which Bruce and Selina do not have and have NEVER had. The Batman film got this quite right, which is why they go their separate ways (after an ACHINGLY long motorcycle ride through Golgotha).  The Batman '66 show got this right, episode after episode (except in the third season, where it went unaddressed for... societal reasons).  

Pictured: societal reasons.

The Batman Returns Catwoman understood better than most writers do. "I would love to live with you in your castle… forever, just like in a fairy tale. I just couldn’t live with myself."

Once of the lessons of adult relationships is: being attracted to each other isn't enough.  Loving each other isn't even enough.

Even to Tom King it was obvious it wasn't right for them to be together.
Why wasn't it obvious to his readers?

Bruce and Selina are classic case of people who will always be attracted to each other but are inappropriate for each other.  It's realistic; it's mature. Just let them be what they are.  Stop clinging to this silly fanboy/girl fantasy and let them look elsewhere for romance (if romance they want).  Obviously what they both need is someone who is remotely normal who will put up with their nonsense, a Lois Lane of sorts.

Stop pretending that THIS person makes sense as the Catwoman.

Show the Catwoman some respect. Let her be a person who has sex when she feels like it, whose emotional needs are met mostly solo or with friends and acquaintances, and for whom romance just isn't a priority. 

Or is that just IMPOSSIBLE for anyone to believe... of a woman?


Matthew E said...

100% concur.

Scipio said...

Thank you. Honestly, I wasn't certain I wasn't the only one.

Anonymous said...

I had never thought about it before, about how women are turned good because that "domesticates" them for male fan appetites. But you have a point there.

With that in mind, I've changed my opinion on Catwoman. At the start of your post, I was in the camp of, "Catwoman is a grey-area character who could be a hero except that she's drawn to steal, and even then she picks her targets considerately." But you've persuaded me that she doesn't really fit that. If she had the makings of a hero, she'd be heroic more consistently. She's a thief with positive traits, not a hero with negative traits.

And, you're absolutely right that Adam West had the proper idea about all the Catwomans he had to fight: the attraction was certainly there, but their ideals and principles were simply incompatible.

I like the idea of Batman having a doomed relationship with a villainess, but it's an idea that simply won't work when one thinks about it. Batman is far too rigid about right and wrong. He might sometimes turn a blind eye to Catwoman because she does some actual good when it suits her, but any woman who could be a true match for Bruce, would have to be one where he doesn't have to turn a blind eye. It'd have to be a woman who breaks only unjust laws such that Bruce respects what she's doing, so what are we talking about? A woman who grows marijuana and gives it to glaucoma patients? Not really the stuff of classic villainy.

Scipio said...

"She's a thief with positive traits, not a hero with negative traits."
Well put.

Anonymous said...

I have read enough solo Catwoman comics to know that I don’t like solo Catwoman comics.

- Mike Loughlin

Scipio said...

Catwoman's first solo STORY wasn't published until 1981. Like the Joker, she's been badly overexposed post-Crisis.

Redforce said...

Well, Mr. Garling, I knew you were knowledgeable and insightful on comic matters of DC, but these 3 articles are breathtakingly AWESOME. And I use the word 'awesome' not lightly, for describing things like the first time I saw the Grand Canyon.

Redforce said...

Oops, sorry, I mean 'FOUR'.

Scipio said...

Thank you, Redforce; I just call 'em like I see 'em.

Scipio said...

Redforce; there are five in the series. Either you missed one or one is non-awesome.

Scipio said...

What is there about Batman's life that make you think he'd end up with a wife?

Anonymous said...

Yeah, but I swear I read all five!