Super-Heroes Getting Laid

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.

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Mike Greear is a journalism graduate from the University of West Florida currently living in New York City. During his time as an undergraduate, he reported on everything from Presidential campaign stops to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, eventually working his way up to being the editor-in-chief of the University of West Florida’s student newspaper, The Voyager. Since graduating, he worked briefly as a reporter for Foster’s Daily Democrat in New Hampshire, reporting on crime and municipal stories in the city of Rochester as well as interviewing Republican primary candidates, before returning to Florida and freelancing for the Pensacola News Journal. He now resides in Long Island City, writing weekly columns for and hoping to break into the comics scene.

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  1. Thanks for the article, Mike. I do think that you’re right to point out that super-heroes ought to be able to have sex and that the violence has gone unaddressed, in all this concern with sex. I did make those points a week and a half ago (if you don’t mind the plug), although I consider this a suitable expansion on what was admittedly addressed only briefly there.

    Without relitigating that firestorm all over again, my own problem with Catwoman #1 wasn’t the sex, although I do think it’s so important to point out what you have. The real problem was the sleazy, shoddy way the issue was done. The flashback is incomprehensible. And the “I’m a tough avenging woman” combined with T&A was incongruous and confused, to say the least. I don’t think there’s any way to argue those points.

    But yes, those ought to have been more clearly the complaints, rather than merely “OMG, Batman and Catwoman getting it on.” Because, as you say, there’s nothing wrong with that. The complaint simply mustn’t be about sex itself, nor about it being inconsistent with these characters, which it isn’t. But that’s not to say, as an addendum to what you’ve written here, that one can’t agree with much of what you’ve written and still have quite cogent complaints about the way this issue was executed, which does mean a hell of a lot.

    Again, thanks for your thoughts. It’s an important point.

    • Mike Greear says:

      Thanks Julian. I apologize for the redundancy, I’ll try to catch that sort of thing in the future. I do appreciate you weighing in here, and it makes me happy to know that someone else felt at least somewhat close to how I was feeling. All I saw around the internet was one angry post after another about how inappropriate the issue was. In one instance a parent let their little kid read the comic just to tweet the kid’s confused and awkward responses as some kind of passive-agressive dig at DC (even though it’s rated T+). After a while I just couldn’t take it anymore and had to write something in the issue’s defense.

      • I didn’t mean to say it’s redundant, and I don’t think it is! I think it’s an elaboration, an expansion, and it’s worthy of its own article. And I enjoyed seeing these concerns through your perspective.

        Even though I didn’t like the issue, I feel very strongly that super-heroes should be allowed to engage in adult situations, including sex. I don’t want super-heroes to only be for kids. And you’re completely right that this is fairly consistent with Catwoman’s character. To denounce the sex itself is regressive, in my view, and opposed to all of the advances comics have made as a mature medium.

        On the other hand, I didn’t happen to see some of the responses you saw, and I’m glad I didn’t! What I read mostly focused on sexism, and I think it’s important to focus on that. I also agreed with a lot of the criticisms that weren’t focused on the sex itself. Hence, my own approach was to try to get people to distinguish between sex, even somewhat lurid sex, and sexism, because they simply cannot be permitted to become entangled. Sexism, we can and should debate. But I shall not debate whether sex is a part of the human experience and whether super-heroes should be allowed to reflect that.

        Kudos for making that argument, Mike. And you made it in your own way, which itself makes the article worthwhile and interesting.

        None of which should be taken as an endorsement from me of the comic in question, which I think was very confused and shoddy. It’s simply to say that the objection can’t be — must not be — to the sex itself.

  2. I’m reminded of something Jim Steranko mentioned in the History Channel documentary: Superheroes Unmasked. In one of his issues of Nick Fury, there was a panel that made it pretty clear that Fury and a female “companion” were going to have sex despite not actually showing them in the act. The censors felt this was too “risque” and opted for a close up of Fury’s pistol in its holster–something Steranko laughingly endorsed as being an even better way of getting the point across. We can appreciate the imagery here and its symbolic nature without being beaten over the head.

    This calls to mind a recent article here about Calvin and Hobbes where “good” creators shows some respect for the reader. Respecting readers means that creators don’t shy away from adult themes but they can be addressed in a way that also respects readers’ sense of intelligence and ability to use their imaginations. Winick and March didn’t need to avoid the potential for sexual tension and responses from Batman and Catwoman, nor should they have skipped it; however, I think it was the way it was done that moved them out of intelligent, thoughtful storytelling into something that simply feels more “cheap” than anything else. A simple zoom out to a silhouette of the two costumed city dwellers woven in an embrace would give readers more than enough of a cue to use their imaginations at that point. We know these two people are social-deviants who eschew social conventions. They have violent, strong, and dominant personalities–chances are that we can make the inference that these traits carry over into other aspects of their lives. But Winick and March take this too far and negate the possibility for readers to come to these conclusions and picture it for themselves. There is no need for “blood in the gutters” (or sex, in this case) as they’ve left it all out there.

    • Mike Greear says:

      They could’ve zoomed out to a silhouette if they wanted the scene to be romantic or cute, a bit of a wink to the reader, but I don’t think that’s what the scene was about. I think it was about Catwoman getting what she wants and taking advantage of Batman sexually because he’s got a soft spot for her and she exploits that when she needs gratification. Like a female Don Draper. She’s not a good person.

      At least that’s what I think. I could be wrong.

      • Mike, I have to admit that the Don Draper reference is a bit lost on me as I’ve not watched “Mad Men.” But I’m going to really go out on a limb here and assume that based on the critical praise the show has garnered thus far, there is a certain cinematic, artistic quality in which Draper’s behaviors are contextualized. I’m not sure enough of this sort of “legwork” was done leading up to everything we see.

        And while I do agree with much of your character assessment of Catwoman, I find myself viewing the manner in which the creative team attempted to capture and display those traits was “shoddy” at best. She’s not a good person, as you point out, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t deserve to have her representation done respectfully–even if she’s in the mood to be disrespected!-)

  3. David Balan says:

    The problem I had with Catwoman was not at all the use of sexuality in a super-hero story – human beings are sexual, and sexuality can be a part of any good story.

    It was how that sexuality was used. It was very much there simply to please male readers, and it portrayed a very, as Julian so well put, incongruous woman. She’s tough and unforgiving, yet flaunting her sexuality everywhere after being a prostitute? Erm, no. I’ve met people who used to be in that business, and seen people who still are.

    In each and every case, selling your body for money does not equate to empowerment or confidence. Never have I seen that in my experience.

    Catwoman doesn’t give an honest portrayal people, women, or sexuality. This is not to say that sudden sexual impulses are wrong, or that fetishes and leather are wrong, or that pornography is wrong, or that free love is wrong, or that sexuality in a super-hero comic book is wrong – all these things are fine. It is not at all a moral problem I have against Catwoman. It is a truthful one.

    Beyond that, it’s also full of a hell of a lot of pandering and blatant T’n'A to sell books rather than contribute to the story. And that’s just really poor craft.

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