Gotham City Sirens: Volume 1

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A while back, I requested a comic that focused on Catwoman, Poison Ivy, and Harley Quinn living together and going on adventures. I thought this was a pipe dream, a fangirl fantasy that would never actually come to be. Silly Jess, never underestimate the comics world. As it turns out, I got my wish, with this comic literally following the exploits of Gotham’s favorite femme fatales as they move in together and go on adventures…more or less.

The girls are trying to go straight in the world, but of course are constantly pulled back into the gritty underworld of Gotham.  Whether being framed for crimes they didn’t commit or tying each other up and demanding information, a standard day for these three always consists of some sort of hero and/or criminal behavior.

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There are plenty of “downtime” scenes, but this isn’t a sitcom in comic form.  The girls kick plenty of butt in each and every issue, making for a surprisingly decent set of stories. Then again, they’re written by Paul Dini, who just has a knack for writing these characters as strong, fierce women with the perfect personal failings to make them feel relatable, even when donning outrageous uniforms and engaging in some serious butt-kicking.

Dini’s writing felt spot-on, making each character unique and fun, while also making it clear that you don’t want to get on their bad sides.  While the writing was perfect and fun and expanded on the characters wonderfully, the artwork was sadly lacking.  It wasn’t poorly drawn or colored by any means, but unfortunately the artists fell into the same old trap of writing an woman-centric comic specifically for the male gaze.

What do I mean by that?

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This. This is what I mean. This isn’t an isolated incident, which could be overlooked. Time and time again this comic graces us with images of each character’s butt and boobs, emphasizing them in the most ridiculous panel layouts imaginable.  Why is Poison Ivy shown from the waist down, from behind? This takes the whole “artistic angle” concept and morphs it to fit what the artists believe their viewers want to see. Sure, I’m sure there are plenty of male readers out there who might pick up this comic for the sole purpose of seeing a few scantily clad, overdrawn characters, but quite frankly, that’s what the internet and fan-art is for.  The comics should be about the story and the artwork, and for me these images were far too common.  They took me out of the story, and I found myself rolling my eyes throughout most of this trade, knowing that Ivy, Harley, and Selina would no doubt be posed in the most ludicrous positions possible whenever I turned the page.

In summation: story and artwork good. Overt sexualization of your women characters for the sake of being “sexy”, bad.

Thankfully, Dini’s stories were interesting enough to salvage this comic for me. Yes, the artwork was frustrating beyond belief, but his stories drew upon countless pieces of continuity, helping ground the issues in Gotham’s lore while still being able to exist on their own.

One of my favorite throwback storylines follows up on Selina’s sister Maggie.  This comic summarizes everything that happened to her with Black Mask (helpful, since that particular trade isn’t currently on “the shelf”).  Distraught over what she’s suffered and essentially having broken from reality, Maggie believes her sister is possessed by a cat demon, and that it’s up to her to save her.

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Maggie herself becomes possessed by an “angel” who makes her much more powerful, and tries to take down Selina.  Selina makes it out alive, but her sister is still on the run, determined to save her sibling from the demon possessing her.  I enjoyed the reference to a smaller side character, one who doesn’t pop up outside of a Catwoman comic too often.  Dini manages to tie his stories into the main continuity really well, expanding on storylines that haven’t been followed up on in a while and helping make a more complete picture, even for smaller characters.  It’s a skill not all writers have, but I like that previous relationships and alliances are referenced in the story, adding a sense of history to everything that’s going on.

Overall, the stories here are great, and I’m looking forward to reading the second trade.  That being said, I’m also hoping that the artists change, because I can’t stand looking at these girls’ awkwardly contorted bodies all for the sake of getting their butt and boobs visible in the same panel. NOBODY STANDS LIKE THAT EVER, LEAST OF ALL WHEN THEY’RE STRIKING A DEFENSIVE/OFFENSIVE FIGHTING POSE.  I don’t understand why certain artists can’t grasp this concept. Seriously, I’ve tried to mimic some of the poses I’ve seen in comics before (in the comfort of my totally empty living room. I do have some dignity, after all), and they’re completely ridiculous.  They don’t make sense for anything, other than that maybe it creates an appealing visual for anyone in the vicinity (at least maybe when other people do it. I just fall over).

Am I ranting? Absolutely. This is just a major pet peeve of mine though, and frustrates me that the comics industry is completely alienating HALF of their potential readership.  I’ve vented on this poor trade’s post long enough though, and since I know I could go on for another 2,000 words, I’ll stop now.

My compromise for this? Let them make a Batman: The Animated Series spin-off based on this comic, using the original artwork style. Now THAT I would watch the heck out of, please and thank you.

-Jess

Catwoman Vol. 1: Trail of the Catwoman

Catwoman has always played jump rope with the line between good and evil or, as she puts it, she “lives in shades of grey.”  Most of the time though, she’s favored the unlawful side of that line, with her conscience winning out occasionally as she reaches out to help those in need.  Still, much of her time was spent on the run, looking for her next big score.

With  this new incarnation of the Catwoman series, we begin to see a shift in Selina’s actions.  After having faked her death, Selina is drifting, unsure of who she is or what she’s doing with her life.

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With the help of Doctor Leslie Tompkins, Selina tries to take a little time to herself and allow for some self-reflection to figure out her next move.

Of course, right around that time is when her old friend Holly shows up on her doorstep and tells her that someone’s been going around brutally murdering local prostitutes.

So much for her time off.

Remembering her own life on the streets and knowing that the police and the rest of society won’t do anything to help these girls, Selina takes it upon herself to step in.  She creates a new, updated Catwoman costume and returns to the masked life she knows so well.

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Selina hunts down the killer, but learns that he doesn’t mean to commit the crimes. He is afflicted with some sort of rare condition which allows him to change his appearance, yet has caused him to be horribly disfigured as well. Although this man fights Catwoman and even tries to kill her, she shows him mercy and hands him over to Batman so that he may receive the help he needs.

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Here we see a shift in Selina’s personality.  She has always been most concerned with herself, but she has a certain weakness for helping others.  That weakness has always been present, but it is now manifesting itself as the main drive behind her actions.  Along with Holly (whom she’s hired as an assistant of sorts) Selina decides to become a savior to her little corner of the world, righting wrongs as she learns about them.  Of course, she has no qualms about breaking a law or two now and again, and instead uses her own skewed moral judgement to decide when doing so is necessary.

The stories collected here deal with a variety of issues, from prostitution to drug smuggling.  This version of Catwoman reminds me a bit of Green Arrow, with a very clear idea of what’s right and what’s wrong. Selina simply doesn’t obide by the same judicial code as her peers.  She’s not a true villain, but she’s not a true hero either.  Anti-hero might be an accurate description, but even that doesn’t seem to fully encompass what she is.  Her opinions on justice differ greatly from most, yet in her mind they are very clear-cut.

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She has no grand illusions about changing the entire social structure of the city.  Instead, she focuses on helping individuals, people who have no where else to turn.  It’s an admirable cause, truth be told.  While Batman may claim the same motivation, he isn’t as in touch with the streets as Selina, making her actions a bit more effective for individual cases.

I really enjoyed this comic, primarily because we see a new side of Catwoman without her character completely changing.  She’s still a bit selfish, and she almost always has her own goals at the forefront of her mind, but she’s actually doing some good in the world.  Watching this slow transformation unravel is fascinating, and creates a far more intriguing character than if Catwoman was just a simple thief.  I’m curious to see how this new Selina Kyle interacts with others, particularly Batman, and I hope the “criminal with a heart of gold” element lasts.

Catwoman’s a great character, and it’s awesome that you can finally root for her in these stories.  She may not be perfect, but she’s doing the right thing most of the time, which is a huge step in the right direction.

-Jess

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