beccatoria: (diana of themiscyra)
[personal profile] beccatoria
So listen, guys, I usually like to wait a little longer before recommending a run of comics, basically just because, well, comics. Those things go off the rails in big ways sometimes. But honestly, based on what's out so far, I really think that Genevieve Valentine's Catwoman run (which started with #35) is worth looking at, even though there are only three issues and an annual so far.

Here's my pitch:

Selina Kyle, convinced this is her ninth life, looking for redemption as a Gotham mob boss, selling her soul in pieces against a beautifully non-sexualised noir backdrop of business suits, shadows and late-night phosphorescent streetlights, splashed against a charcoal, pencil-sketched palette.

Here's my slightly more detailed pitch, including the backstory of how she got to be in such a situation (because, of course, it was in a different comic) and slightly more about Catwoman's rejection of Batman than is really necessary for a series where he's a minor supporting character, but 1) I am all about people rejecting Batman and 2) I'm trying to keep spoilers for Valentine's run to a minimum and sticking with the type of stuff you might get in a blurb, so I need SOME way of explaining to you why this run has such a perfect set up.

In Batman Eternal (the weekly comic that's running right now), bad shit is going down. One of the ongoing plot threads is Carmine Falcone's return. For those who don't know, he is traditionally the non-superpowered crime kingpin Batman takes down early in his career. Sometimes it's implied that Batman's destruction of "traditional" organised crime left a vacuum filled by the costumed villains. Falcone certainly subscribes to this and he's setting out to fix it and reclaim his territory.

The new element introduced is Selina Kyle's father - Rex Calabrese, head of the Calabrese crime family and thoroughly estranged from his daughter. It's made clear that she knows who he is, but also that he's been in prison most of her life and she doesn't care to be in contact. It doesn't look like he ever had a role in her life as much of a parent. However, she agrees to see him and then aggressively rejects his offer to back her as the new head of the Calabrese family because he thinks stuff's getting crazy out there and someone needs to bring stability.

Instead, as Catwoman, she goes on a tear, setting the gangs up against each other in an attempt to burn them down around her. Batman, in rigid, paternalistic tones, warns her that this is going to explode in her face. It does. She almost dies and she fails to save a child. I think it's important to note that the child was involved in the situation for reasons beyond Selina's control, but her plan to rescue her involved first putting her into greater danger. She tried for the hat trick: beat the bad guys, save herself, save the civilian, and it didn't work.

It's a fine line to walk - when you write women in superhero comics, well, in any heroic fiction, competence is the double standard. Women don't get to fuck up. And fucking up when Batman warned you is a particularly dicey proposition. When Catwoman's written well, though, it throws shade on Batman's hypocrisy and lack of compassion: here is a man with a revolving door of dead and traumatised sidekicks and an interpersonal style that borders on abuse. He tries to manage and control Selina and it backfires spectacularly. He tries to take it back and it's too late. The fact we see this from Selina's point of view, in her comic, matters. Her aggressive rejection of his pity because her redemption isn't about him; he doesn't understand that they're doing exactly the same thing.

Like I said, it's difficult to write well, but the fact that Catwoman is an impulsive, reckless character is important to me. She is fiercely talented but she's also self-destructive. She jumps into situations without an exit strategy and relies on guts and cunning and cleverness and sometimes blind, dumb luck to get herself back out. It's a life she's comfortable with because she's the only casualty: it's not a failure she'd ever have to live with. She teases Batman and loves danger and under it all she is furious. She is rageful and angry. That's why she walks that line of anti-heroism so well. She's out to get back at the whole damn world - that's why she's flashy, that's why she steals from people who can afford it and who'll hate her for it instead of people who can't stop her. She does what she does because the world is broken, it's just that she's not interested in fixing it. She's just interested in a giant middle finger that everyone can see.

So when she does fail - when she gets caught by the gangs and her lone operation leaves her stranded and someone else pays the price for her "throw myself out a window" exit strategy - and Batman sees her in pain and tries, clumsily, to take back what he said before? Tries to tell her it's okay, he can help her fix it, why can't she just come over to his side, why can't she just stop being a criminal, he knows she's better than that, let him fix it and her and everything by just letting him be in charge?

She pushes him the hell away and runs off to join run the Gotham mob. Because that is her redemption story. That is her finally deciding she can't cut and run anymore and that she has to take hold of the power that's been offered to her for the greater good. That is her deciding to be the hero Gotham deserves, even if it's not the hero that it needs. Selina Kyle's angsty self-denying superheroic alter ego is the capo di tutti capi of the Gotham mafia.

It would be a more murderous, dangerous organisation without her, but to keep herself in charge, she has to do terrible things. And damn she wants to be judged for it. But not by Batman. He could never understand that she is finally doing things "his way". He just thinks something as trivial as what side of the law she's on makes some kind of difference.

She's selling her soul, piece by piece, because what she wants, personally, matters less than the difference she could make. Even if that means letting some people think she's a monster. Even if it means using that.

No. Selina won't be judged by Bruce Wayne.

This comic has a young woman named Eiko to do that. The daughter of the head of the Hasigawa family, raised to the role but with no love for it. Living her life with discipline and hidden agendas, dreaming of the freedom someone like Catwoman has. Is she naive? Aspiring to a life that Selina finally realised could not serve her if she hoped to affect long-term change? Or is she representative of the path Selina has yet to walk: the toll of a lifetime spent hiding your true nature, spending the lives of others for ever-decreasing victories, until you're left shoring up your own position at others' expense, because you blocked all your own exit strategies?

I don't know, but I'm desperately interested to find out.

Eiko doesn't want to believe that Selina is part of the problem, not part of the solution, but her disillusionment is becoming clear. She is becoming increasingly isolated and convinced she will need to act, eventually, alone. Lone operators don't do well in head-first assaults on the criminal underworld. Selina has learned this. Selina doesn't want to hurt Eiko, but for the first time in a long time, given what she's already done in this comic, I don't know that she won't anyway.

It's thrilling.

Also featured: police investigations, tense relationships with newfound cousins, every single mobster assuming she's there to take the money then cut and run or that she's "too soft", and angry, angsty, accusatory talks with Batman on balconies.

Also featured: quotes from Elizabeth the First, Caterina Sforza and the Pillow Book (because it is as necessary as the Art of War.)

Also: Genevieve Valentine apparently writes award-winning steampunk novels? I mean, I haven't read anything else by her, but come on, that's just cool.

(No but seriously read it already.)
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