Posted by: erikmona | October 5, 2011

NEW 52 REVIEW 32: Catwoman #1

Catwoman #1
Writer: Judd Winick
Artist: Guillem March

Jesus Christ, where to begin? This disaster of a comic has already been savaged all over the internet for being a paper-thin piece of exploitative trash, so it should come as little surprise that I thought Catwoman #1 was garbage. A lot of the reviews I’ve read online (and it was hard to avoid them, as this book and the same week’s Red Hood and the Outlaws caused immediate controversy) have condemned the book for its exploitation or its undermining of the Catwoman character. That’s all completely valid, but even beyond those elements the issue has a host of technical problems worthy of comment.

As to the characterization element, I understand that Catwoman has emerged as a less exploitative character than the Jim Balent Torpedo-Titted fetish queen from the 90s, but I never read any of the more modern take, so that’s the version of the character I’m most familiar with. This issue is probably the first Catwoman story I’ve ever read since she got the black rubber bodysuit with the goggles. So while I guess I sympathize for the audience pining for a more complex version of the character based on recent portrayals, you’ve got to go into a reboot with your eyes open and understand that certain elements of a character are going to change. That’s a given.

It’s clear that DC is trying to produce a wide variety of comics for a wide variety of readers with the New 52, and by a mathematical analysis, two comics out of 52 being cheesecake titles isn’t really that egregious, in my view (I’m also counting Week Four’s Voodoo, which I’ll get to eventually). It’s less than 5% of the total offerings of the full editorial slate. I get that a lot of people don’t like cheesecake comics, but it’s clear that they’re popular and they have an audience, so it’s probably naive to assume they wouldn’t try at least a couple of them. And given Catwoman’s publishing history, as well as the raw sex appeal of the character in virtually every media expression from Julie Newmar to Michelle Pfieffer to Halle Berry, Catwoman is the obvious choice.

But even if you accept that the presence of cheesecake comics is a given (and a lot of people don’t), Catwoman #1 is a pretty shit cheesecake comic that devolves into the equivalent of officially sanctioned slash fiction. The book is rated T+, but by the time you get to the last page you’ll think it should have been rated TMI.

The story opens on Catwoman’s giant tits in a big red bra. We see her tits pull on her costume and her sharp-fingered gloves. Then her tits grab her cell phone. Finally, a little bit of one of her tits grabs her pet cats. We don’t see all of Catwoman’s face or any shot of her complete body, just close-ups on her boobs completely disassociated from the character. It’s attention-grabbing, to be sure, but unless you are the kind of kid (or man-child) who beats off to his DC comics, the message it sends is: “What you are about to read is not likely to be heavy on story. Also, check out these sweet tits.”

Pages 2-3 are a capsule of what’s wrong with the issue artistically. Page 3 is a splash page of a half-dressed Catwoman (with one boob still flopping about) crashing out of her window and across the street. On the opposite page, page 2, we see the crooks who are busting into her place with heavy firepower. The splash page has tons of detail, from broken shards of glass to clear (albeit grotesquely disfigured) outlines on Catwoman’s body as she flies through the air. The crooks on page 2, on the other hand, look as if they were doodled in one rapid go, with twisted arms, hilariously teeny heads on impossibly broad shoulders, and bull-thick necks. They look like the kind of crew you’d expect to find standing in the background of an early Image comic, only the image guys would have used tighter lines, and arguably would have drawn figures with better anatomy.

Hey, speaking of Image, the three crooks are all wearing skull half-masks highly reminiscent of Rob Liefeld’s old Youngblood character Chapel. Where else did we see that costume before? Oh, yeah! These guys are dead ringers for Massacre, the new arch villain of Batwing we saw in Week One’s Batwing #1…. Also by writer Judd Winick. What’s the deal? Is Winick secretly a Youngblood fan? It seems unlikely the crew of white thugs breaking into Catwoman’s apartment in Gotham City is related to a black supervillain/assassin in the Democratic Republic of Congo, so what up? Does Judd Winick have only one bad guy description in his arsenal? Until we hear otherwise, I’m going with the Youngblood hypothesis. I’m going to start checking the supporting casts of his books to see if Badrock or Prophet show up.

On the top of page 4, Catwoman sticks a three-point landing, and March’s illustration is so deformed that it looks like Catwoman’s right knee is sticking out farther than her head (her boob is still sticking out, though). I will say that the bottom of this page shows a big shot of Catwoman’s face as she watches her apartment blow up that I really liked (her mouth is twisted in a kind of annoying expression that you might expect from a cute Disney princess), but most of the anatomy in this allegedly “sexy” cheesecake book is twisted and malformed. If you don’t believe me, just turn the page, and you get a bizarre shot of Catwoman’s foreshortened leg as she jumps toward you with all the grace of a funhouse mirror image of one of those inflatable floppy-armed creatures they put outside used car lots to drum up business.

Surely the point of a cheesecake comic is to fill it with sexy drawings of the human body, no?

Then there’s a semi-touching scene between Catwoman and her friend and fence Lola (she really was a showgirl, the captions tell us, but the character’s shoulder-wide hips suggest otherwise). Lola tells Catwoman of a ritzy penthouse she can crash in while the owners are away, and also gives her info on a Russian job.

The Russian job turns out to involve a crime family that has worked hard to achieve a foothold in Gotham. Catwoman goes in disguise in a sexy red wig and cool sunglasses to… listen for clues about interesting stuff to steal, I guess. The Russians begin talking about a painting of a horse that has been with their clan for centuries, and just as Catwoman decides to steal it, she recognizes a face in the crowd.

This dude scares her, because “he’s supposed to be locked up.” This triggers a sepia-tone flashback of, presumably, Catwoman as a child. She’s in a corner crying while this man beats up and eventually kills a woman right in front of young Catwoman. I think that maybe the guy was a pimp and the woman was her mother (and a prostitute), but there aren’t enough clues for us to say one way or another. Why is Catwoman’s mother speaking Russian, anyway? Is “Selina Kyle” really a Russian name? WTF is going on? We don’t really get to find out.

We do get one more glorious shot of Catwoman’s titties, though. She decides to track down this mystery man to the bathroom, and while she does she opens her blouse to reveal her lucious cans, this time slung in a lacy purple bra. The guy tries to play it cool, but Catwoman steps forward to embrace him. Then she smashes his face into the sink, putting a giant crack in the surface that would be impossible to do with a face. Then she knees him in the face, shooting blood everywhere. Then for good measure she slashes his face with her sharp fingernails repeatedly, spraying blood all over the place (but not her face). Her blood-drenched hands are completely clean one panel later, so I guess no harm no foul.

Then Catwoman goes home to her apartment. And who should be waiting in the shadows for her, but Batman himself! He expresses concern for her in the aftermath of her apartment getting torched, but she moves in for an embrace. While they nibble on each other’s necks and gently finger the pointy ears on each other’s costumes, Winick’s captions tell us that Catwoman and Batman don’t know each other’s secret identities (apparently a change from the pre-reboot DCU). Then we get another bra shot, as Catwoman tells us “And he seems angry. But that doesn’t slow either of us down. Still, it doesn’t last long. And most of the costumes stay on.”

That last line accompanies the final splash page of the issue, which shows a partially naked Batman straddled by Catwoman, presumably mid-coitus. I say presumably because, even though Batman’s shirt is pushed up revealing a bit of his chest, and even though Catwoman has unzipped the zipper down the front of her costume, we’ve seen from previous panels that said zipper only seems to extend as far as her navel. So unless Batman has been stealing Gingold Juice from his stretchy buddy Elongated Man, methinks a little more of the costumes are going to need to come off if he is going to drive the Batmobile into the Catcave, so to speak.

So there you have it. DC’s bold new direction for this title is to show Batman and Catwoman having sex in a scene with all the emotional resonance you might expect from a similar image posted to a teenager’s Deviant Art account. The whole scene seems exploitative and skeezy, and most of all it just seems kind of lame.

And in that respect, the last page is a mirror of the first 21.

Status: On the Bubble.


Responses

  1. Deviant Art is right on the nose. & as for cheesecake– there has been tons of well received cheesecake, even in the feminist readership. Birds of Prey is a perfect example. You can’t get more pin-up then a girl in fishnets & a tiny leather jacket…but when you have that same woman kicking ass & being a CHARACTER it transforms from “objectification” to “sexy.” The fact that DC editorial seems unable to recognize that there is a difference between “sexual object” & “sexy woman” is a big root of the problem.

  2. I think Voodoo, which was still pretty thin, was significantly better in both the cheesecake and the “comic book” department.

  3. hmm !:)

  4. You’re bang-on here. The Darwyn Cook Catwoman was smart, sexy and well-drawn — too bad you missed it. I get March has his fans at DC, he comes across as a lazy Jordi Bernet clone.

    Have to disagree with you on Voodoo, though, while it was drawn significantly better, if sterile and unengaging, I found the writing to be far worse.

  5. I kind of like the art and the twist ending on Voodoo, so I’m not being as harsh as I should be. Neither was a great comic, it’s just that only one of them filled me with hate. :)

  6. Catwoman filled me with hate as well. The art was horrible. The story wretched. I kept thinking while reading it, “They cancelled Power Girl for this piece of sh*t?” Find and read the Power Girl run. It’s awesome.

    I do second the suggestion to read Darwyn Cooke’s take on Catwoman and add the further suggestion to read the Jeff Leob/Tim Sale version as well.

  7. I’d guess that I’m a target for the New 52.*

    Disclaimer: Newbie in all things canon or what is a good inker or a penciler, or who screwed who’s story or character.

    There may be more mature men reading these things than you might think. Many of us look past the porn.

    First, I didn’t have the weird image perspective and distortion issues you had. I assumed stylistically that it was normal, weird angles like that old scary video game Alone in the Dark (the first one)

    I think the soft-porn drawings took away from the story – it was self-indulgent and immature. I agree with most of the criticism… but I would debate that it was sexist. Many of the Elizabethan plays of their time had half-bodiced women and open sexuality by strong women encapsulated in a thematic, and (at the time) statement about societies norms. It brought in audiences, caught attention, and then the play went on. Hundreds of no-name plays in towns and cities across England.

    In the first 4-5 or so pages, I tried to see what was going on underneath the the porno scenes as they went by.

    What I read, as a newbie to comics, was a story where Catwoman was under attack from some past indulgence, she did some exposition, but it was as bad as the critics say it was. But it was only 4-5 pages in the beginning. I am not sure what to think about the sexy-clothe-myself scenes while flipping-and-flying meant — even in slo-mo, she must have a friggin 30 Dex. Whatever…

    Oh and by the way… I have cats, (I have had cats my whole life. From age 0-44, there has never been a household without a cat. Even in college.) they would have never survived this. Claws, pooop, peee pouring out the cage…

    OK story…

    Maybe mom was a concubine for a Russian gangster and had to learn Russian just to survive?

    My wife is Russian, Been in the US for 7 years. She tells me it’s common knowledge among common russians that the Русская Мафия (US based or not) often prefer long term partners, but 2-3 mistresses at a time (I know, it sounds sick, but my wife knows someone who got stuck in that…) you are required to learn some Russian, with modern systems like Rosetta Stone, where any woman (American, Hispanic, Filipino, Serbian, Nicaraguan, etc…) can learn most of the basics in 90 days.

    I liked the scenes with the hippy showgirl. (Hippy with hips, not the late 60’s stereotype)

    So she goes to a Russian Mob (RM) party, sees a bad dude from her past (mom maybe, addressed above) and beats him bloody.

    (cue: “should violence get away with a rating T, while sex is T+” discussion)

    Of course Batman wasn’t in fornication in the last scene. I don’t even think it was meant to assume that. This was good ol’ fashioned dry-humping.

    It’s the worst kind of super tease. Catwoman knows it.

    I predict, Catwoman will be super sexy, maybe one or two more issues through out the run, but be a B+ series when all is said and done.

    * See my other comments in Erik’s DC New 52 reviews.


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