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I like the sex scene in Catwoman #1. It’s the rest of it that’s the problem.

September 30th, 2011 by |

This is a response to the overwhelming talk about Catwoman #1 on the internet.  It started, of course, with Laura Hudson’s post on Comics Alliance, which I have mentioned before and which is now up to over 2100 comments.  (If we could match that on this post, I would be pleased.)  Next I heard about Catwoman on the Wait, What? Podcast with Jeff Lester and Graeme McMillan.  They mentioned that Judd Winick made a statement about Catwoman, which he wrote.  The statement goes like this:

This is a Catwoman for 2011, and my approach to her character and actions reflect someone who lives in our times. And wears a cat suit. And steals. It’s a tale that is part crime story, part mystery and part romance. In that, you will find action, suspense and passion. Each of those qualities, at times, play to their extremes. Catwoman is a character with a rich comic book history, and my hope is that readers will continue to join us as the adventure continues.

A quibble or two: Catwoman has almost always been a person who lives in our times, wears a cat suit, and steals, right up to the last issue of her last run, which I believe was in 2011 or 2010.  None of that is new.  The only new thing that you’re bringing to the book is the explicit sex scene at the end between Batman and Catwoman.  Because the cover of Catwoman let me know it wasn’t for me, I didn’t pick it up at the store, so the only scene I saw from the comic, when reading about this, was the sex scene.

I thought it was great.

The art was not my cup of tea, but I thought the sex scene was a good innovation in continuity.  First, I liked the idea for the relationship.  I like superhero romance in general.  I think it can be fun and interesting and sexy,  and it necessarily turns the focus on the characters.  Batman and Catwoman have been mutually involved before, but not, to my knowledge, when she was still a thief.  I think it brings up all kinds of really uncomfortable dimensions to both characters that would be interesting to explore.  What does it say about Catwoman that she either cozies up to a guy who is out there solely to put her in jail or has sex with him in the belief that he won’t take her to jail?  And what about Batman?  He knows she’s a thief and knows where her apartment is and knows that she’s putting innocent people in danger with her illegal activities.  And yet I didn’t see him bring out the cuffs.  What does it say that if Batman is attracted to you, and you have sex with him, he’ll let you get away with a crime?  Suddenly both characters have serious feet of clay, and they’re in a situation that cannot last.  It’s interesting.

What’s more, I was fine with the explicitness of the scene.  I think the fact that it made clear, through art and story, that both of them are angry with themselves for doing any of this, and the last panel, with them collapsed together, not looking at each other, just before all hell will probably break loose was a good cliffhanger, in my opinion.

Ah – but then I borrowed and read the rest of the book.  And learned that all of that ‘romance’ and ‘passion’ and woman ‘of our times’ stuff was ridiculous.

To see why, let’s work back from the end.  Here we have Batman and Catwoman, two people who are deliberately are in a bad relationship, but are so passionate that they just can’t help themselves.  You can make a case for this being a sexual woman, who makes a romantic choice that will pose problems for her later.  Fine.  Interesting, even.

Just before that, Selina is at a party, trying to pick up tips for where to find high-value items that she can steal.  She’s in a red wig and posing as a bartender.  Suddenly she sees a man, who she says is ‘supposed to be locked up.’  She flashes back to a scene from her adolescence.  She huddles against a wall, terrified and crying, as the man uses a gun to kill a woman right in front of her.  Back at the party, the man goes to the bathroom.  Selina follows him.  She finds him with his back to the door, over the toilet, obviously about to pee.  She gets his attention, and the first panel we see of her in this scene is this:

He makes some comment, she moves to embrace him, and then beats the hell out of him.  She smashes his face against the sink, and then claws and hits him as blood splatters everywhere.  Then she changes into her Catwoman suit and flies out of the party, knocking down everyone in front of her and getting down the hall before anyone at the party can even make it out the door.  She’s hurt and sad, and ‘just wants to go home.’

Here’s the big stumbling point.  Why did she open her shirt just then?  I’m serious.  Consider why she would do that.

Well, maybe she was trying to distract him?

No.

The panel before she spoke to him, he was completely relaxed, facing away from her, his pants undone, and unaware that she was even in the room.  Not to mention this is a woman who is a good enough fighter to fight her way through a mobbed-up party, tackle and pin Batman, and leap out into the air to escape a group of guys with guns.  She doesn’t need a distraction to beat up a white-haired man who needed a gun to intimidate an unarmed woman ten years ago.

Maybe she wanted him to see her coming?

No.

There’s no indication that he ever knows her name,  or she wants him to know who she is.  If she wanted it to be real payback she would have taken off the wig, not the shirt.

The lack of a concrete reason for her to do this indicates that this is a gratuitous and inappropriate shot of Catwoman with her shirt off.  That’s not necessarily true.  There is a character-appropriate reason for doing this, but it changes things.

Remember, this is a guy who stopped her cold a panel earlier.  He literally made her flash back to what had to be one of the most terrifying and helpless moments of her life.  And her immediate reaction was to display herself sexually to him.  This display isn’t the same as sexual power.  She’s not grabbing his crotch, or making him sexually afraid, or even sexually intimidated.  She’s trying to please him in order to make herself feel more powerful and in control, even though it’s clear that she can beat him through strength alone.  This is how she reacts to fear, disgust, and helplessness; being sexy.

Go back to the Batman and Catwoman tryst at the end.  Batman is a guy who knows where she lives, who she thinks might know her name, and who she knows ‘should’ be hauling her to prison.  Kind of puts another perspective on it, doesn’t it?  It’s not ‘passion’ or ‘romance’ anymore.  It’s not Selina being sexual.  It’s a response to fear and powerlessness – a need to use sex to win over a man and make herself feel in control.  This makes it pretty sad when she tackles the guy who broke into the apartment she was using as a safehouse and proceeds to have conflicted, angry sex with him.  If we take these two incidents together, this sex scene is not empowered female sexuality, it’s a panic response.

And then what does that say about Batman?  Before, he was a man who ruthlessly hunted down criminals and brought them to justice – but who let it slide when it came to the woman he was attracted to and who had sex with him.  Now we see that sex is Selina’s response to stress and trauma.  In essence, she has a compulsion that makes her try to bargain her way out of difficult situations with sex, and Batman, knowingly or not, is going along with it.  That’s really awful.  It’s a demonstration of how morally bankrupt it is for Batman to have sex with her in the first place, and how deadened she is.  This book is looking pretty dark.  It’s about a woman who’s clearly been abused and whose first, instinctive response to danger is to try to appeal to people through sex.   It still can make sense, though.  It can still be a good character portrait.

Now let’s go farther back.  The first page has her fleeing her apartment as a gang is pounding down her door.

The more astute reader will notice that the voice is flippant, the boobs are front and center, and she has no head.  Given the intensity and bleak sexiness that we see in the last half of the book, this doesn’t really fit in well, but maybe her introductory panel will show us more of her fear –

 

This panel can be summed up as, “Wheee!  Mortal danger is fun and my shirt is just coincidentally open!”

And what about the cover to this issue.  Does it expose the fun she has running free through the night ahead of her attackers?  Does it show her desperation and dark past?  Does it emphasize the romance and passion?

I think we can all agree it shows none of them.

And the reason it shows none of them is none of them exist in this book.  This isn’t a book about a dark, desperate character who clings to sexuality as a way of trying to deal with a crazy world filled with mystery and action and violence.  This isn’t a book about a fun-loving, sexy thief.  This isn’t a book about a star-crossed romantic thief in a relationship with her adversary.  This is a book about boobs, and Selina Kyle will be whatever kind of character she needs to be in order for her breasts to be exposed as much as possible.  When people talk about mindless sex dolls, ciphers, or degrading portrayals of women, this is what they mean.  There’s no character there – no story and no mystery and no adventure and no romance and no passion.  There’s whatever will put the character in a suggestive pose.  So let me change the statement.

This is a Catwoman for 2011, and my approach to her character and actions is tits.  There are tits on the cover and there are tits on the front page and the last page cliffhanger is meant to show the promise of more tits in future issues.  In these, you will find action and suspense and passion, and each of those qualities will go to extremes that cause Catwoman to get her tits out all the time, because that’s the way she responded to everything in this book.  Let’s face it, the only reason that we didn’t call this Catwoman #Tits is because we made a line-wide stylistic choice to start all new books at #1, and we’re not going to change that for a flimsy, inconsequential tittybook like this issue of Catwoman.

 

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25 comments to “I like the sex scene in Catwoman #1. It’s the rest of it that’s the problem.”

  1. Ha this is pretty much exactly what my take from Catwoman was. I never had a problem with the sex. In fact, I’m not sure why we haven’t seen this type of thing from Batman and Catwoman more often–and the way it’s done I think it’s pretty spot on in terms of their relationship.

    But yeah the rest of the book when I finally sat down and looked at it, was very boob heavy.

    Another thing I would say for the artist in this book is that his women do actually have some variation from the standard superhero norm. Catwoman’s arms are actually very muscular, and in general she has a more athtletic body than a lot of her counterparts. Also her friend in the book is drawn with a more curvy look to her than we see say in the new depiction of Amanda Waller in Suicide Squad.

    So unlike the Red Hood book, I can actually sort of get down with the art at least on this one. Whereas the Red Hood book was just so done before, that it was as bad as it was offensive. It was like reading a 90s X-men swimsuit issue wedged in between a Teen Titans book.


  2. A: Yeah ok she’s jumping and backflipping around with her giant tits and a STRAPLESS BRA? I know some girls that are pretty well endowed and they can’t even go for a jog without being in pain if they’re not wearing a pretty heavy duty sports bra.

    B: So the guy who can train himself in all kinds of sciences and martial arts and doesn’t need any sleep to run a multi billion dollar company and fight crime all night can’t resist sexual temptation. I guess maybe it could be a neat character flaw but it just seems amazingly unrealistic to me…


  3. Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaang

    This was real good. What’s interesting, and you gloss over it but gesture in its direction, is how this portrayal actually damages the otherwise fun & sexy Batman/Catwoman relationship. It isn’t about two people making (pretty reasonable) terrible decisions. I think everyone can relate to that. Sometimes you like someone who is bad for you. Not bad to you–bad for you. Which is how I looked at Batman hooking up with Catwoman. “This is SUCH a bad idea” running through their heads up to and until the point they go “BUT since we made it this far…” But this, where it’s contrasted with some type of abuse, makes it look really, really gross and not any fun at all.

    Great autopsy, Esther. I’m not against the idea of sexy Catwoman comics, but c’mon, at least do it well if you’re gonna do it. Boobs are, at this point, more plentiful than water, at least online. Give us something that makes us want to pick the comic up beyond “Look at those bazooms! SCHWING!” because you can seriously just google “boobs” and find hours of entertainment without a bunch of weird abusive stuff harshing your boner.

    Couple other points, specifically about March’s art:
    -He draws great cats.
    -Catwoman gets dressed several limbs at a time? Who does that ever? One leg, then the other. One arm, then the other. Not leg/leg/arm!
    -I’ve said it over and over–drizzling diamonds on your bare chest while chilling on a rooftop is a definite pearl necklace reference and pretty gross, from a “Do I want to read this in public?” perspective. I like how horribly pink that cover is, though.


  4. This may be my favorite article on the subject yet.

    One thing that I’m wondering is how much of this is Winnick’s writing & how much of it is the artist and/or editors? Based on my previous knowledge of his work, Judd isn’t really a “rampent T&A” kind of guy so I’d be pretty surprised if he expressly wrote “Selina struggles to quickly put on her costume but don’t show her face until page 4.”


  5. @david brothers: It’s pink because girls like pink and it’ll totally get them to buy it! (Blargh.)


  6. Laughed really hard at the revised statement.


  7. That’s a lot of love for drawing bras, too. Apparently, every sudden move she makes in her apartment causes an avalanche of lacy undergarments to burst forth. (But her dishes are perfectly lined up in the dishrack, because women who leave dishes in their sink are icky.) Even her eye mask/goggles in the cover art really seem drawn to look like a bra. So it’s not enough to have the boobs everywhere — you have to have disembodied suggestions of boobs floating in through every panel possible.

    Also, I know she’s on the run, but she doesn’t actually seem to have a lot of love or concern for her, you know, CATS, what with jamming them 10 to a carrier and not closing said carrier while she flips upside down and whatnot. I realize the point of Catwoman is not exactly likability, and I’m not a crazy cat person by any means, and I do get that it’s a comic, but for a character who is more or less defined by her kinship with an animal, having her treat that animal with carelessness bordering on cruelty (even if she does call them “babies” and she is ducking bullets) is a problem.

    But, hey, they are great breasts, and their magical ability to remain within the confines of a strapless pushup bra even in the most challenging of action sequences really almost makes the case that they SHOULD have their own comic. Which, apparently, they do now. So that’s, uh… good?


  8. Damned fine points. I don’t agree with all of them, but I’m down with the gist. The most egregious offense, IMO, was the compromising of Batman’s character and mission…but it’s hard to fuss too much since the only difference between that closing scene and past depictions of the character is that this time it was on-panel.

    I guess “explicit” is not the direction I’d like to see these series go in.


  9. @Sarah Velez: It would be interesting to have a objectifying-off between the two books.

    @rizzo: I actually take more of an issue with the purple bra. The first scene is her at home, not expecting to have to be Catwoman. The purple bra makes less sense, since it was her plan to change into her costume.

    @david brothers: I will admit that, among everything, I noticed those cats. They were good.

    The Batman/Catwoman relationship can’t work, in any ethical way other than a flirtation, unless she’s also a hero. Even if they were both perfectly mentally healthy (this book isn’t about Selina as an abuse survivor, that scene in the bathroom was just thoughtless, gratuitous boob), what is Batman going to do, have sex with her and then throw her in jail? That’s gross. Have sex with her and then *not* throw her in jail? That’s also gross. And if he did it, what then? Eventually they’re not going to be bonking, but she’s still a career criminal. If she escalates and he actually arrests her the message is, “Having sex with me buys you out of grand theft, but not anything bigger.” If he doesn’t arrest her it’s, “Well, since you had sex with me, you’re off for life!” It is really morally questionable, which I think is interesting to read about. But, as I said, that’s not what this comic was about.

    @MisfitsTamara: I think he probably did write that she doesn’t show her face until the next page. Not randomly, but because in comics we often see only flashes of characters before their big reveal in an action scene. But there were a lot of ways to do that. They could have shown the items she was grabbing, and her hand, as she picked them up. They could have showed her back, which would have shown us the state of her closet and which things she chose to grab. They could have shown the chaos of the room, or the cats reacting to the chaos. I don’t know if Winick wrote the scene framed as it is, though.


  10. So Batman a victim of being rich and no good parental figures during his teenhood. Make sense if This was Batman as an inexperienced hero. Though I wonder if she could just do a dna test on the Bat-semen she got pump with and blackmail the wanye co. or just have Demien 2.0 and move her cats into the batcave.


  11. Going back over it, I think the only moment of actual enjoyment derived was when I saw the look on her face as her apartment blew. That was the only moment where it seemed like actual genuine emotion was involved. I could cut that panel out and toss the rest of the book.


  12. I both do and don’t want to read your Catwoman as Abuse Survivor book, Esther. It both seriously disturbs me and looks like it could be a gripping psychological thriller at the same time.

    But yeah. It’s good to know that in the time I stopped paying attention to comics, my ticket on the Winnick Hate Train is still valid…


  13. Aside from the money. I honestly have no idea why Judd Winick writes comics anymore. Catwoman is such a joyless, pandering, cynical affair. Can’t he find something do he actually enjoys?


  14. “This is how she reacts to fear, disgust, and helplessness; being sexy.”

    Nah, that’s how Winick reacts to the problem of filling a couple extra pages. Reminds me of a sketch I once saw on Mad TV, of Demi Moore starring in “Young Mother Teresa”: somehow, every one of young Mother Teresa’s activities involved her needing to take her tunic off.

    The dynamic between Batman and Catwoman has long been that he looks the other way to many of Selina’s activities, even during those phases when she hasn’t quite sworn off crime. The in-comic explanation is probably that, Gotham being the hellhole it is, Selina still falls into the hero end of the spectrum. So long as Selina steals from criminals and helps stop threats to innocent folk, Gotham is better off with her than without. Also, tits.


  15. Esther, I thought you ought to see this: http://drawrghhh.tumblr.com/post/10913541037/batman-hes-not-the-hero-gotham-needs-but-he-is

    Great post, btw.


  16. Ahh! Those were ‘diamonds falling from a pouch’ in the bottom pic, not a used Bat-condom.


  17. Is it possible that the sex scene is a feint? The language is vague, the art, while sexual, does not absolutely have to portray actual sex. The lines about it not lasting very long, and the costumes remaining on could be references to the sex stopping as Bruce and Selina’s heads clear.

    I know Winick said somewhere that he wanted the scene to be even more explicit, but it seems to me he could pull a massive GOTCHA with readers’ assumptions, begin #2 with Selina lamenting about Bruce stopping it (or the reverse), and walk away clean.


  18. @Owesome: I’ll second your post about both wanting andnot wanting to read a book using the interpretation Esther offered. It sounds so much better than the Catwoman book we’re currently getting.


  19. @Coleman: At first I thought she was pouring a pouch of diamonds into her boobs. Thanks for giving me the mental image of batman jizz diamonds. :negativeman:


  20. The main error is that DC seems to want to finally print up some porn comix with its big properties but can’t bring itself to

    1) take anyone’s clothes off, or
    2) invite Brandon Graham to pitch.

    I’d really love to see an All-Nude, All-Boinkin’ Superhero Revue by DC’s top talent, a World’s Heiniest, “The Broad and The Balled”, with fewer Ennis super-syphilis frowny-faces stamped all over Conner’s best cleavage, with Rags Morales showing us exactly what’s up with Superman’s hourglass figure and security blanket. The company’s been warming America up for it since 1938 and it would certainly Distinguish them as the Competition.

    But this Parental Guidance late-night-network-Fox doo dah band – it just ain’t cutting it.


  21. @Chunky Style: Yeah, that’s kind of my point. The point *could* be that she reacts to danger by being sexy, just like the point could be that she reacts to passionate attraction to Batman by having sex – but then you look at the rest of the book and you realize it’s just about baring as many boobs as possible. I found that Young Mother Teresa sketch online – that was funny.

    @Maddy: Oh god it burns!

    @Prodigal: Given the requests, clearly I should expect an offer from DC any day now.


  22. [...] in the Good?, Sexy is Good, Right? Sexy Sells, Right?, ‘Sexy’ is Performance Art, I Like The Sex In Catwoman #1, It’s The Rest Of It That Is The Problem, Sexism In Comics Is Not New Here’s What You Should Do About It, TheWherefores, Was Catwoman [...]


  23. shrugs
    Batman and Catwoman always were attracted to each other.
    This comic based on a younger Selina/Catwoman.
    I agree that there is too much intimacy way too soon.
    I prefer the book start off with antagonistic flirting which masks the sexual tension that occurs between them. Then it leading to team-ups. Then the friendship and romance stuff.
    I don’t want to see that Batman lets Catwoman go because he’s been screwing her. That just brings down Batman’s integrity. I am a Bat/Cat relationship fan, and this new Catwoman series is not helping their relationship. Catwoman/Selina Kyle is known to be the iconic love interest of Batman/Bruce Wayne. In the Golden Age and Silver Age, she reformed and joined Batman in crusade against crime. She even did it in the modern age. It will happen in ages after that. It happens to gradually. I want to see Batman and Catwoman take it slow and let the relationship gradually build up and then they have sex. Seeing them have sex on the first page just takes away the suspense in regards to their sexual tension.


  24. “Seeing them have sex on the first page just takes away the suspense in regards to their sexual tension.”

    correction: seeing them have sex in the first issue


  25. I know this is late to make a comment, but I just read this article, and I just have to thank you for pointing this scene out – it’s been bugging me for a while how the worst moment of the issue wasn’t picked out in the coverage. My feminist blogosphere was failing me! Then you came along and saved the day.