Monday, September 26, 2011

Catwoman #1 - A Review

In my efforts to review all of the New 52 titles, I have tried my best to go into each title with untainted opinions. I struggled to put aside all my previous preconceptions about writers, artists and characters whom I haven’t enjoyed in the past. I also tried to avoid reading any other reviewer’s work until I had read the books for myself. No book tested my resolve in this matter more than Catwoman #1 and – I must admit – I am amazed that it has fallen to me to point this out...

You have all been played!

Blasted by many critics as misogynistic and shallow, Catwoman #1 is actually a brilliant parody of “bad-girl” books. But like most great parodists, Judd Winick and Guillem March’s work has been mistaken for that which it means to mock. This is unfortunate but inevitable given the history of the literary world. A failure to distinguish between parody and the art being parodied led to the satirical novel Naked Came The Stranger being embraced by the romance novel fans it was meant to alienate. And we all know how Jonathan Swift’s Modest Proposal briefly made Irish babies legal game animals in Great Britain for a certain number of years.

The issue opens with a gloriously over the top scene in which Catwoman is forced to flee her apartment, half-dressed and with numerous kittens thrown into an unsecured cage. She just barely escapes before the building is blown up and turns to her fence – an ex showgirl named Lola – for a place to stay and another job. Set up to spy on a meeting of Russian gangsters, Selina takes time out for some personal revenge only for her cover to get blown and things going very badly. The issue ends on a romantic note, with Selina being confronted by Batman on some matter of business which quickly turns to pleasure.

Winick’s script is a masterstroke of satire, not seen in the comic book world since the early days of Frank Miller & Jim Lee’s All-Star Batman & Robin. Indeed, the very last page of the issue is a sly wink and a nod to Winick’s creative predecessor, with Catwoman’s note regarding having sex with their costumes mostly on being a clear tribute to that work and the scene where Batman has sexy costumed sex with Black Canary.

We haven’t seen comedy like this come from Winick’s pen since the days of The Adventures of Barry Ween and thank goodness it is back!

Of course this book is all in good fun, but Winick showcases his technical proficiency as a writer as well. To give away one bit of clever foreshadowing that might be lost on some readers, Selina notes as she leaves her apartment that the men chasing her “won’t find anything except bras, books, wine and cat food.” One might wonder why Selina specifies bras, rather than saying “underwear” or “lingerie”. This becomes clear on the last page when it is revealed that Selina clearly isn’t wearing any panties under her costume, suggesting – on reflection of the earlier text - that Selina doesn’t own any. This also showcases her strength and independence in a subtle fashion, showing that she will not be contained by the conventions of modern society.

Winick has found the perfect partner in crime in artist Guillem March, who matches him in the comedy department, slipping clever comedic cues into every panel of this book. Consider the first page, in which we see Catwoman cramming kittens into a cramped kitty cage. Would Selina Kyle ever own a cat cage? Of course not! Would she ever endanger or discomfort kittens in the manner we see her doing so here? Certainly not! But what some see as a sign of poor planning is actually a subtle cue that we are not meant to take this book seriously at all. The following pages continue this brilliant visual satire, focusing upon Selina’s breasts, buttocks and comically oversized thighs – all drawn in the bad-girl book tradition, with the readers not even getting a look at her face until the third page.

Ignore the slings and arrows of those who need the joke explained to them. Viewed with the right attitude, this book is hilarious. So consider what I’ve said here and I think you’ll know what to expect from Catwoman #1 and its’ creative team in the future.

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