Catwoman: Her Sister’s Keeper

I was excited when I came upon this next trade on “the shelf” and realized it was devoted exclusively to Catwoman.  Up until this point, the only villain who had his own collection on “the shelf” had been the Joker. I was intrigued to read a set of stories focusing on a different character.

It turns out, this collection compiled the 4-part Catwoman miniseries originally released in 1989.  It directly followed Batman: Year One,  and clearly draws upon that story’s setting and tone for inspiration.  Indeed, the first scene in which Catwoman appears in Year One is reshown in this collection.

From the onset I was excited about this book.  Not only is this collection written by a woman (the first on “the shelf”, I believe), but Catwoman is also a fascinating character, although up until now her history on “the shelf” has been a bit mysterious.  Her origin story wasn’t covered in any trades I had read.  Surely, with the multiverse gone, her backstory would have changed and evolved as well.

Page one of the comic confirms this with a powerful image:

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This is a far cry from the bizarre cat-head the original Catwoman wore in her first comic appearance.  In those stories, she was simply a thief with little to no history.  This image, one of the first panels in the comic, shows how far she’s come as a character.  We meet Selina Kyle beaten and unconscious in a dark alleyway, barely dressed and flanked by cats.

Even if I hadn’t already been familiar with Catwoman’s origin, this would have been a striking image, and would definitely make me want to read more about the character.

From the first page I was pulled into the story.  I pitied Selina and found myself rooting for her, even though technically she’s supposed to be the villain.  In these comics, she’s less a villain and more a woman seeking retribution.

As with Year One, these stories take place in a grim, godforsaken Gotham, where crime runs rampant and there seems to be no hope for change.  Catwoman appears, not as a tortured hero like Batman, but as an extension of the very world she lives in.

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She is portrayed as a dark, sensual creature, in control but feeling slightly unhinged as well, as though she could snap at any moment.  She is a product of the world around her, and one can’t help but feel bad for the inevitability of her plight.

Although Catwoman has always been a bit of an enigma, her characterization in this collection takes us even further into her fractured psyche.  She is not the cool, collected villain she appears to be in earlier Batman comics.  Here she is crazed, hellbent on revenge, but in a far more believable, realistic manner than other earlier comic villains.   She doesn’t have some insane plot to seek revenge against the entire city; her desire for revenge hits closer to home, making her a truly threatening force.

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The title Her Sister’s Keeper refers to Catwoman’s relationship with her sister, a young nun who desperately wants to save Selina.  The dichotomy between prostitute and nun felt surprisingly appropriate for the character, and not contrived as I would have feared.  Each has chosen a vastly different path in life, yet both care for the other’s safety.  Their relationship, though largely based in subtext, was quite powerful.

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One of the most powerful scenes in the comic occurred when Selina and her sister discuss her role as the Catwoman.  Here her character is perhaps most developed, and she explains the power and control she feels when she wears the costume, compared to the helpless, vulnerable feelings of her unmasked self.  We see Selina as a scared young woman, a stark contrast to the strong, fearless Catwoman.  This makes her character so much easier to relate to while simultaneously drawing a line between her and the reader.  If Selina represents what we as readers feel in our lives, Catwoman represents the escapist mentality we all strive for, to rise above our emotions and become impervious to pain.

It wouldn’t be a Catwoman comic if she didn’t have a sexually charged run-in with Batman at least once over the course of the story.

Luckily, the comic doesn’t fail to deliver, in what is probably the best depiction of their love/hate relationship I’ve ever seen, and it’s only one of their first meetings:

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In this brief scene, Batman and Catwoman flirt and even kiss, before Catwoman gets the jump on him, knocks him out cold, leaves her mark on him, and flees.

This is why she’s so awesome.  She makes out with Batman and then beats him in a fight.  How many other characters can say they’ve done that?  I thought this scene was superbly done, developing the embattled relationship between Batman and Catwoman early on with a well-thought out storyline.  Mindy Newell drew upon the Batman comics of old to create this relationship, but brought it to a new level, one which has certainly stood the test of time.

This miniseries was a mere four issues, but it serves to further set the tone of this new Gotham.  The gritty world from Year One that our characters inhabit is expanded on here.  Crime is an ever-present reality, and there are no guaranteed happy endings.  Characters face real troubles that may not have a solution, and the line between good and evil grows more blurred with each passing day.  This story solidifies the new reality of this world, continuing to prove the Crisis tagline that the DC Universe “will never be the same”.

-Jess

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