By now, everyone in the comics blogosphere is more than familiar with the controversy that arose from the recent Catwoman #1. In case you don’t know, here’s a quick and dirty synopsis: Batman sneaks into Catwoman’s room, she pounces him, he initially resists but quickly gives in, they start making out, clothes start coming off, the end. It is then suggested that these events were leading to a sexual encounter. The four pages of story at the end of this issue seemed to get a lot of people hot and bothered, with many bloggers weighing in on what kind of role, if any, that human sexuality should play in the lives of fictional super-heroes.
“This must be what nerds think feminism looks like,” said contributor Andrew Wheeler at Bleeding Cool about the scene between Batman and Catwoman. “The scene is dressed up as female empowerment, but it’s not there for female readers.”
According to Wheeler, writer Judd Winick and artist Guillem March made a book that intended to stir up its audience by waving sex in their face throughout the issue.
What others are choosing to see as depraved, misogynist or prurient, I see as honest. This is an honest representation of how these characters might interact in real life. It’s not a pretty one, but Catwoman isn’t exactly a hero, is she? She’s a self-centered prostitute/jewel thief. Let’s not forget that.
The thing people are leaving out is that there was, in fact, context surrounding the sex. Before the sex took place, Catwoman was feeling pretty down on herself. Then Batman showed up and she jumped all over him, pushing past his attempts to stop her. With that in mind, I’d like to offer an alternative to Wheeler’s conclusion: perhaps Catwoman just enjoys getting laid after a really bad day. Maybe Batman is just the vulnerable weirdo in her life that she takes advantage of sexually when she needs her fix. It’s not very heroic, but it’s a pretty common thing, and it makes perfect sense for these two characters. Surely Catwoman should be allowed to act that way in an effort to portray her as a well-rounded character with flaws and foibles. Furthermore, it was a new development in the relationship of the two characters, and I was intrigued to see how it would impact their lives in the future.
In Wheeler’s post, he says that the scene at the end of the issue between Batman and Catwoman reduces years of sexual tension to “drunken Halloween sex.” Here Wheeler seems to imply that sexual tension is good and acceptable between the two characters while sexual release is bad. Perhaps some people would find that more relatable, as it seems to be what our society demands of us.
His statement also assumes that Winick has no other sort of tension planned to take the place of the tension that has been removed. I mean, the situation between the two people still seems pretty awkward. After all, Batman appeared pretty takenaback by the whole thing initially. It seems like the incident was mostly raw impulse, without the characters having come to any sort of arrangement beforehand on where they stand with each other romantically. So that could potentially lead to some drama.
It’s still a sexually charged comic, to be sure, but I don’t know why that in itself is bad (it’s also a pretty violent one, but fanboys don’t mind that, only sex). I mean, for years DC Comics has had a blond female super-hero character whose sole equivalent to a traditional super-hero emblem was a hole cut out of her shirt to show her cleavage. It seems strange now to grumble about a female character for being too sexy when she’s covered from head to toe in an all black costume.
According to my issue of Catwoman, this is a T+ rated book that we’re talking about. Something intended for slightly older readers, like a PG-13 rating in a movie, so ostensibly it contains nothing worse than anything you’d see in a James Bond movie.
So, we have a T+ rated story about a woman who dresses as a leather cat and steals things when she’s not trying to get a rise out of the Caped Crusader. She’s Batman’s femme fatale, after all, but like I said earlier, she’s also a former prostitute that takes to the streets in all leather and a whip. I didn’t go into the comic expecting subtlety and nuance.
While I certainly don’t think every super-hero comic needs to brazenly illustrate the characters’ sex lives, I would like to see it not be so ridiculously taboo. I’m a sexually active guy in my mid-twenties, and sometimes I like reading about characters that have the same weaknesses and impulses that I do. I just wish my fellow readers could be as brave and honest about sex as these fictional characters are.