Sex and the DC: Differing Takes on DC's Gender Issues

A column article, Comics Bulletin Soapbox by: The Comics Bulletin All-Stars
This may as well be the year of DC. And for many reasons: the company took the bold move of relaunching their entire line of comics, specifically in order to breathe some much needed life into their titles and to lure in new readers who have either abandoned comics or never got into them in the first place. But it's also been a year of controversy for DC, one which has found them at the center of an ever growing debate over gender equality in comics. The most recent controversy has centered around the depiction of female characters in two of the relaunched titles from last week, Catwoman and Red Hood and the Outlaws. Regardless of your take on the issue, it's doubtless that you've seen it extensively argued in nearly every comics publication and with good reason: this is the biggest subject in comics at the moment. Rather than offer regular reviews of these titles, the editors of Comics Bulletin instead decided to use them as a springboard for a discussion about this complex issue, with multiple perspectives and takes from our diverse roster of staff writers and columnists.

Catwoman: Talking a Big Game
by Karyn Pinter

You know what, I'm just going to flat out declare my undying love for Selina Kyle. I fucking love Catwoman. You know who else I love? Guillem March, and the combination of the two make me so damn happy. Guillem illustrated Gotham City Sirens and actually wrote my favorite issue - issue #8 – and now Guillem's back on DC's revamping of Catwoman! That fact alone guaranteed I'd be buying the comic. Of course, I must give credit where credit is due, and Judd Winick did a good job.

I know a lot of people were hating and ragging on his "dirty, sexy comic" saying it was sexist, but how? He talked a big game and brought exactly what he said he would to the table. Why is everyone so surprised? Yes, this Catwoman openly talks about and implies sex between Batman and Catwoman – nothing X rated - but come on, it's not like we didn't know they were doing it in the previous books. And, oh no, Judd had Guillem draw Catwoman with her bra exposed and we saw her in sexy poses! Has anyone bothered to look at what Vampirella wears, or Psylocke, or Sara in Witchblade form, or Storm in the 70's, or Emma Frost, or Red Sonja, or Wonder Woman before those stupid pants, or Power Girl and her huge tits, or practically 90% of women in comics ever?

This is Exactly How You Get Rabies

How could they give Catwoman boobs?! What woman has breasts? That's downright preposterous. Catwoman is sexy. She's sexy fully clothed and like most women, she wears a bra. Don't think male characters are any different, how many times has Namor jumped out of the water in his tiny little green shorts, all wet and buff like a sexy Michael Phelps? In every fucking issue!

Who Compared Me to Michael Phelps?!

Catwoman will always be sexy, that is her role in the Batman comics, she's been seducing Batman since 1940. That's her power; that's her weapon. Just like Adam gave into Eve and her fruit of forbidden knowledge. The infallible Batman has a weakness and it's called Catwoman. She needs to be seen as a huge sex symbol because we need to see why Batman keeps falling for her. The Joker is evil, he is Batman's arch enemy, we openly see the things he does and we hate him for it – shooting Barbara Gordon, killing Jason Todd to be two large examples. Batman is attracted to Catwoman, we can see why, she beautiful, mysterious, fearless, a fighter, smart, has a love for running around rooftops dressed like an animal, she has no family except those she chooses, just like Batman.

Catwoman, Before the Incident That Turned Her Skin Green

Selina Kyle is ever changing, I think out of all the Bat characters she's probably changed the most, she's come a long way from villainess to supposed amnesiac, back to villainess, to prostitute, to reluctant good guy, to pretty much full blown good guy, to a mother, then not a mother, back to reluctant good guy teetering on the edge of villainy, and now we've come full circle to once again a criminal. Winick's Catwoman is just the next evolutionary step. He's written a woman who's beautiful, street smart, can speak Russian, and is tough, but she doesn't have anything to hold her back. There's no Holly Robinson, no baby Helena, only Selina. She's not a role model and doesn't care to be one. She's not out to hurt and maim, it's not her MO. It's just that some people have it coming. She's a woman who takes what she wants when she wants it, whether it be money, jewels, a penthouse hotel room, or kinky sex with Batman in said penthouse. She excludes people from her life unless she wants or has need of them. She looks out for number one, that's her main priority. This doesn't make her a dumb floozy, she's self aware, emotionally and sexually. What's wrong with portraying that?

Those Are Some Sexy Arrows, Right There

Why does a woman have to stand up for something to be a powerful character? Does a woman have to battle sexism or harassment to be considered a strong female figure? Why can't she show some skin and screw who she wants to screw? Isn't that independence, being able to throw out the idea that a woman has to be monogamous? I'm writing this review while wearing a Hooters tank top, does that make me an object? I drink, fight, think my breasts are awesome. I like this Catwoman comic, does that make me a horrible woman? I don't think it does. This Selina, this Catwoman, isn't weak. She's not being pushed around, she fights for herself. Any woman and every woman should fight for themselves that's how we make ourselves stronger. A Catwoman who is slapped around by Batman while wearing a burqa would piss more people off than a Catwoman who bolts out of her house in her bra before it explodes. I don't know about any of you but when I'm in a rushing to get my ass out of the house to work on time I run through my house half naked too, I'm sure my neighbors love to watch me drink coffee in my bra because my shirt is still in the dryer. Do I do a bunch of back flips while trying to get to my car? No, but if I were capable of doing so, I totally would.

I think too many people are caught up in the provocative argument over this comic that they haven't or refuse to look past Selina's tits. Gulliem draws beautiful women. I think it's obvious why he was asked to come back and draw Catwoman. Absolutely Catwoman is drawn in an overtly sexual way, I can't deny that her breasts are greatly featured, but you know, Gulliem draws some nice breasts. Catwoman isn't egregiously out of proportion either, she's not walking around with giant Dolly Parton boobs. Gulliem can draw all the T&A he wants, be thankful he's got talent. Plus his covers have always been a highlight. One of the few things that kept me coming back to Gotham City Sirens was his cover art, and even I can appreciate the use of hot pink. Haven't men been painting and sculpting nude women since for practically ever? The Rape of the Sabine Women, Agnolo Bronzino's Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time, all classic art that feature naked women, not to mention babies getting trampled in the case of Sabine. How about Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People? A famous painting depicting a woman, Liberty, waving the French flag and holding a rifle while leading the revolutionaries to victory. She also happens to be bare breasted. Is female nudity needed in any of these works? No, clothes could have been painted on them but it's there. Do people condemn them because of the exposed flesh? No, they are considered priceless art. People argue that the artists are portraying the female form in a non sexual way in these painting, but how do we know? Maybe Delacroix was a boob man and wanted to share his love for his favorite part of the female form.

Delacroix Wishes He Had Painted This

Now who's to say Winick and March weren't showing their own appreciation for the female form when Selina was drawn? How do we condemn comics showing no nipple when Kim Cattrall won a Golden Globe for fucking on HBO? I think a lot of us agree that Samantha on Sex and the City was the most entertaining part of that show, it's like we came for the questionable fashion and stayed for Samantha's sexploits.

When it comes to the story… let's face it, nothing will beat Ed Brubaker. That guy is a master of his craft and people regard his Catwoman as the best, and maybe it is, but that doesn't mean any other Catwoman is trash. Brubaker got lucky having Darwyn Cooke draw his comic. Darwyn has a certain class to his art, very 1950's pinup, very early Playboy. If any other artist had drawn Brubaker's Catwoman, it may have garnered the same heat as Winick and March's. Why? Because Catwoman is a sexual character. Winick may not be a master of the criminal suspense genre, but I think he wrote a good Catwoman story. I was entertained and isn't that what comics are all about? What I read was a Catwoman comic where Selina was behind the mask, she had her whip, she flipped around and acted like she usually does. I've been reading Catwoman comics since I was eight years old, ever since my mom took me to see Batman Returns. I still have my #1 issue of 1993 Catwoman, the embossed cover where you could actually feel up Catwoman.

Karyn Feeling Up Catwoman

These comics have been the same since Selina got her first comic series. The Catwoman formula isn't a hard one to figure out, Winick just chose to take it a little further by showing guiltless heavy petting between Batman and Catwoman, and some undergarments. I walked around my office with the comic, asking people what they thought of it, and asked them to both read and then just look at the pictures. I even got my pal from the comic shop on the phone asked him what he thought after reading the issue. I pretty much got the same answer from everyone - Catwoman is supposed to look like that, she's sexy. My co-worker, who sits right next to me, grabbed the comic off my desk when I was at lunch and she loved it saying, "How do you stop? It's addicting." This is someone who never reads comics and she's now read Catwoman twice and has made me promise to bring her the second issue. Shouldn't that speak for itself? That a real woman, a mother and wife, can get into this "sexist" comic and be hooked eagerly awaiting the next book? People really just need to accept that Catwoman is a dirty, sexy girl, always will be, she wouldn't be any fun if she weren't.

I think, honestly, when it really comes down to it my point is this: It's a Catwoman comic, what the fuck were you expecting?

Karyn Pinter has been writing for Comics Bulletin since 2008. Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area and was one of those kids who was raised by TV, babysat by the likes of James Bond, Mary Poppins and Darth Vader. In college she spent her days critically analyzing Dorothy’s need to befriend a lion, scarecrow and man of tin and writing papers on how truth, justice and the American way ultimately lead to Superman’s death.

Karyn gladly accepts bribes in the form of carnitas burritos and/or Catwoman paraphernalia.

A Response from a Female Comic Fan
by Sara McDonald

There's been a debate that's recently come to the forefront of the Internet comics discussion, and it's one that's very near and dear to my heart: The portrayal of women in comics. Comics Alliance editor Laura Hudson recently posted a heartfelt and genuine post about how a couple of the comics in the DC "New 52" relaunch made her feel as a person who both reads comics and has two X chromosomes. It touched a lot of nerves on both sides of the issue, and stirred up a lot of debate online. A lot of the response has been positive and supportive, from both women who understand exactly where she's coming from and men who can sympathize with her point. But since this is, in fact, the Internet, there's been a lot of boneheaded things said in response to it as well. Some of which, as someone who also has two X chromosomes, make me less than happy.

I think some of those responses have genuinely meant well, but they've missed the mark. And as someone who has to deal with this issue every day, I'd like to take a moment to stop keeping my mouth shut and instead respond to some of the things I've read over the past couple of days that have given me pause.

Before I get into that, however, I'd like to give a brief history of my life as a comic book fangirl, so you'll know exactly where I'm coming from when I say all this. I'd like to just be able to say "fan," but I really can't here, because the fact that I'm a girl has in many ways shaped the sort of fan I am – for better or for worse. In my experience, it's been impossible to simply be a fan without my gender somehow coming to play. (I want to note here that this is my experience. I'm not trying to speak for all women, though I'm sure there's some women out there who can relate.) I started out at a very young age as a cartoon fan. I loved anything animated, and probably would've watched cartoons all day, every day if my mother had let me. And when I say a "very young age," I mean just that. Two, three years old, and cartoons were my life. I was also, very much a girl. I knew I was a girl, and I liked being a girl. So when I watched cartoons, I looked for other girls in them I could relate to. As a tiny future-comics fan growing up in the 80's, Rainbow Brite and She-Ra were my idols. I dressed up like them, I played with their toys, I pouted when my mother told me I had to turn off the TV and go to bed. I didn't go looking for fandom, and I didn't wake up one day and decide to be a part of it. And I certainly didn't do it because I wanted more boys to find me sexy. I have always, always been a girl who loves cartoons.

Don't Ask

But do you know what else I loved? He-Man and Transformers. Man, did I love me some Transformers. I didn't matter that the main characters weren't pretty blonde girls on Transformers. They were simply awesome, and I could get just as into them as anything else. Giant robots that turn into cars! What could be better than that? I didn't even realize they were supposed to be "for boys" until one day I went to McDonald's because they had some snazzy new Transformers Happy Meal toys. However, when I got the Happy Meal I'd anxiously waited for, there was no Transformer toy. There was a Barbie. A plastic hunk of immobile Barbie to be precise. And while I liked Barbie just fine, it wasn't what I wanted. I had gotten it because the woman behind the counter had seen a little girl and had automatically given me the toy "for girls." Not even five years old, and I was already being told what group I was supposed to be with. It was the first time I was told, "Okay, well, you may like this thing, but it isn't really for you."

From that point on, my mother always had to tell the cashier the Happy Meal was "for a boy." But I wasn't a boy. And I didn't want to be a boy. I didn't understand why what was between my legs had any bearing on whether I wanted Transformers and Hot Wheels or if I wanted Barbie and Strawberry Shortcake. I still don't. I liked the things I liked just as earnestly and just as much as all the boys I knew. Why was it theirs and not mine, too?

It wasn't until elementary school, when I was around eight years old, that I discovered comics. It was, in fact, through my love of cartoons. It was the early 90's, and X-Men: The Animated Series ran on FOX. And I loved it. Loved it. It was quite easily the highlight of my week. And as I had with the cartoons I liked in the past, I gravitated to and related to the female characters. Now instead of She-Ra, it was Rogue. Not only was she a strong, competent woman, but she was from the South – just like me! I wore a little brown jacket because it looked like hers and was furious my mother wouldn't let me bleach the front of my hair white. And when I went to the grocery store and saw that there were stories about Rogue and all the other X-Men I could buy and read at home, my first comics were purchased.

Thanks, Sugah!

I read comics on and off from that point on until now, twenty years later. For twenty years – roughly two thirds of my life – I have been a loyal fan of comics. But time and time again, I have been told that these comics, these things that I love, have spent more money on that I even want to think about, and devote part of my week to each and every week, are not really for me. Not completely anyway. Anytime I go into a new local comic book shop, I enter with trepidation, wondering how I'll be received. Will someone ask me if I'm buying something for my boyfriend/brother/husband/son? Will someone look at me with disdain and then use his body to block me from the comic I want to read because hey, girls don't belong in here? Will someone ask me if I'm only in there because I think an actor in a comic book movie is hot? Will someone turn to me and tell me with a snide look that they don't sell "any girly manga" in there, so I should just leave? It could happen. All of these things have happened. To me.

I could be wrong, but I doubt there's a lot of male fans who get asked if they're buying X-Men solely because of Anna Paquin's butt. Or if they're in there because their girlfriend asked them to pick up the new issue of Punisher. They're in the realm of the Transformers Happy Meals, and I'm supposed to stay outside and be happy with my hunk of pink Barbie plastic. All because one part of who I am that makes me different from them.

So when I look at an issue of Catwoman (who, by the way, I also loved as a child, to the point that it was the only DC comic I ever bought for years and it was my Halloween costume for two years in a row) where Catwoman doesn't have even have a face for several panels, I feel like I'm being told I shouldn't be having the Happy Meal I want all over again. Sure, I can read the comic if I really want to, but it's not really for me. It's for a single-gender audience. It doesn't matter how much I love comics, how much I'm willing to spend to keep them in business, or what they mean to me as a fan for the last twenty years. Because I was born a girl and not a boy, I will never be part of the real, intended audience. And that sucks.

I've never wanted comics to be re-written so they're all about tampons and kittens in people clothes, or whatever a certain sector of the male audience thinks female readers want in comics. I love superhero comics. I love them for what they are and what they can be. I can guarantee you I get just as excited when Captain America throws his shield or Thor yells "I say thee nay" as any man ever has. I don't even want women in comics to suddenly all have tiny breasts and wear baggy costumes. Because hey, the men have crazy muscles and tight costumes, too. Cheesecake and beefcake are both part of the aesthetic. I just don't want to be actively offended by what I'm reading. I don't want to be told while I'm trying to read and enjoy something I spent my money on that it isn't really for me. I don't have to be courted; I'm already buying comics. I would, however, like not to be driven away.

The Kind of Cheesecake We Can All Enjoy

As for the Catwoman and Red Hood and the Outlaws comics, I'm upset for very specific reasons, not just because I didn't get my feminist ranting quota in this week. I'm not upset just because Starfire is in a bikini or because Catwoman and Batman had on-panel sex. I'm upset because those comics were not about women being sexually empowered or liberated in any way. They were about the male readers getting a chance to ogle each one of Catwoman's body parts and getting to fantasize about having no-strings-attached sex with Starfire. And in the meantime, all the women who love and read comic books are slapped in the face. And just like being told a Transformers Happy Meal isn't for me or that I shouldn't be in a comic book store if it doesn't sell "girly manga," I'm told that in order to be a comics reader, I have to be complicit in my objectification. And you know what? I'm not okay with that. And as a person who likes to be treated like one, I have the right to be upset about that.

However, a lot of people don't seem to think I do have that right. I've read several comments over the last couple of days that I can mostly lump into a few basic questions, which I'd like to take the chance here on my own blog to respond to:

Shut up, you stupid feminazis! I like sexy comics. And boobs!
These people don't really even warrant a response, other than seriously, grow up or fuck off.

If you don't like what's happening in comics, you don't have to read them.

No, I don't have to read them. And I'm not going to read Catwoman or Red Hood and the Outlaws past that first issue. But is this really the ideal solution? Nope.

I'm exactly the sort of reader DC should've been courting with their re-launch. I love comics, primarily superhero comics, but aside from a few here and there, I've never read DC. I do, however, spend money on comics every week – at times more than I spend on food, if I'm being completely honest. Ideally, I'm a good prospective source of future revenue for DC. They wouldn't have had to sell me on the idea of buying comics, just on the idea of buying their comics. Had the re-launch been compelling and something I felt I could jump into and become a reader of even though I didn't know the ins and outs of DC history the way I do Marvel, then maybe, my weekly comics dollar wouldn't have been going all to Marvel. However, since DC seems to have instead gone out of their way to actively offend female readers and send me the message that they're totally okay with alienating me if it means they can sell their sexy new books, then they've lost me. It doesn't matter at that point if there's other books in the New 52 that wouldn't offend me. I'm not going to spend my money to find out. Companies have one real shot to sell their products to the consumer, and with things like this, they've blown that.

No Issue 2, Then?

Furthermore, if I love superhero comics, but feel like I'm being alienated as a reader because of who I am, then why should I just shut up and not read them? If I'm not okay with the status quo, then I don't get comics? Those are my choices? Yeah, no. I'm not going to shut up and turn my back on on something I want to enjoy just so someone else can look at cartoon boobs.

And really, let's be completely honest here. Comics are not in the best shape financially they have ever been. "If you don't like it, don't read it" is not the attitude anyone needs to take, especially the companies themselves. All it does is alienate consumers and hurt the industry further. This is a time when comics need to be embracing everyone who wants to read them, and that means women, too.

What are you so upset about? It's just a sex scene! You must be a prude.

I'm not a prude. I don't care if Catwoman wants to have sex with Batman. I don't care if Catwoman wants to have a threesome with Batman and Alfred in the Batmobile while Nightwing watches. What I do care about is any female character becoming a sexual object instead of an actual character. The sex scene was really, only icing on the cake. We see every part of Catwoman's body, dressed in tight leather and sexy underwear, before we ever see her face. That isn't about showing consensual sex between two adults. It's about titillating the audience (read: the male readers) at the expense of the female character's humanity. It's very hard to explain to someone who's never been a woman and never gone through the experience of being sized up like a faceless piece of meat, but it's a sickening feeling. It's certainly not something I find sexy or entertaining.

But there is much more going on in that comic than just a sex scene. It's about using sex to sell a comic because hey, why would the men who buy comics (because, after all, comics are for men) want to buy a title with a female lead if she isn't "sexy." My problem with that comic was not simply that there was a sex scene. I was bothered from the very beginning, when it was clear right off the bat (no pun intended…) that it was about Catwoman's T&A, and not about a developed character. That comic existed to sell an image of sex to men, and the female readers who hey, might actually enjoy a story about Catwoman, were left completely in the cold.

But Sexy T+A Worked So Well For Halle!

Furthermore, If I had picked that comic up as a little girl (as I did do as a child with Catwoman comics) I wouldn't have seen a female character I could find strength in. I would've been told that my worth was in my body parts, not in who I am. I can tell you from experience little girls get that message enough. The fewer places they have to hear it from, the better.

You must have a problem with sexually liberated women.

Nope. I'm a grown woman. I have sex. I have no problem with sex. I have no time for "slut shaming," and I certainly don't care who other women sleep with. It's my personal choice as an adult woman who I sleep with, and it's every other adult woman's personal choice as well. Not my business, and not anyone else's either.

But what a lot of the commenters on Red Hood and the Outlaws seem to be forgetting is that Starfire is not a real person who made the choice to have lots of anonymous sex on her own. She is not a "sexually liberated woman." She's a character, who was written by a person – specifically, a man. Starfire's preening in a bikini and talking about how she wants to have sex with people whose names she won't even remember is not about celebrating the sexually-liberated woman of the Twenty-First Century, throwing off the shackles of male oppression. It's about giving men the chance to fantasize about having a hot chick with big boobs want to do them without any consequences. Don't believe me? Look at the responses to Starfire's "liberated sexuality" by the male characters in the comic. They ogle her and they discuss their own sexual conquests of her. It's not about Starfire and her adult choices regarding sex. It's about male fantasy.

Did Lobdell Ghost Write This?

So no, I don't have any problem with sexually liberated women in real life. What I do have a problem with is wanting to read a comic book and being given softcore porn that objectifies the female body and twists actual sexual liberation into some sort of bizarre amnesiac nymphomania where women have sex with whatever men cross their paths and then literally forget all about them. That's not liberation. That's not even just a little cheesecake. That's offensive. Period.

It's just a comic. Geez, why are you so upset over something that's just entertainment?

This is a problem on two levels. For starters, why are we cheapening comics? If anyone says that comics aren't art, or that they're a throw-away medium, there's a lot of ire on the Internet. Yet if someone then says that comics should be better than their most base form, we all need to shut up and accept it's "just entertainment?" We can't have it both ways. Either comics have the ability to be more than cheap thrills or they don't. This is a turning point for comics, and they can either raise the bar and prove themselves worthy of surviving or they can sell out to the lowest common denominator and fade away into obscurity. Pandering to the lowest common denominator is not the right choice to make if comics want to survive as a medium.

Furthermore, offensive entertainment is a problem. I'm a woman. I don't like feeling objectified. I don't care if it's "just entertainment." Sexism is gross, demeaning, and upsetting. And no, I'm not going to shut my mouth and brush it off because hey, it's just a comic book! Compliance is what allows things like this to continue. And if you really think telling a woman to just be quiet and get over it because she's silly to get upset about something that makes her feel cheap is okay, then you've just proven my point.

Well, Catwoman's a villain, so really, what does it matter if she's all sexed up? She has no morals.

Catwoman's moral code is not the point. I certainly didn't want to be a thief when I picked up Catwoman comics as a child. I did, however, want to be strong like Catwoman. And yes, I wanted to be pretty like Catwoman – the same way a lot of little boys wanted to be strong and handsome like Batman or Captain America. So does it really matter that Catwoman is technically the "bad guy" when she's objectified body part by body part? No. She's not being objectified because she's the bad guy. No one's putting the Joker's leather-covered butt in our faces. She's objectified because she's a woman.

Also, it's not like the problem is just with Catwoman, or the "New 52." This isn't the first time this has happened in a comic and sadly, I'm positive it won't be the last. It doesn't matter who's being objectified this time. It only matters that once again, it's happening, and once again, female comic book readers are just supposed to accept it as the status quo and part of their experience as fans. It's beyond gotten old.

Now With 52% Less Clothing

And as for the whole implication in that it's fine to portray a "slut" as long as she's a villain is so backwards and offensive I'm not even going to go there. I'll just tell you flat out: it's wrongheaded and gross. For so many reasons it could be its own epic blog post.

I understand why women get upset, but this is always going to be in comics, and women have to understand that, too.

This is the one that quiet honestly, upsets me the most. It's the response that seems supportive on the surface, but the underlying message is that all us hysterical women are just freaking out for no reason. What we just don't understand is that men like what they like, and so we have to smile and put up with a little objectification now and then if we're going to be comic book readers.

You know what? No. I am sick and tired of being told that what I want and need from my comics comes second to what men want to read. I have been a fan of comics for almost my entire life. I've paid my money for not only the books themselves, but the movies, the toys, the clothes. I've spent hours reading comics, discussing comics, loving comics. Why on Earth is my opinion and what I want to see in comics so much less valuable than someone else's? Just because I was born with a different set of reproductive organs, I have to be passive in what I read, while a certain sector of men get to be catered to? That's bullshit, plain and simple, and I am not okay with it. Yeah, this is the Twenty-First Century, and I am liberated with a mind and voice of my own, and I'm not just going to sit down, shut up, and be reduced to my parts because hey, comics are really for boys.

I realize there are niche comics. But these comics are superhero comics from one of the "Big Two." These are the flagships, the ones who should be welcoming to everyone. And when things like this are allowed to exist without comment, that isn't the case. You can have cheesecake, and sex scenes, and women in tight costumes without being disgusting about it. You can have characters with breasts the size of Emma Frost's without limiting your characters – and, by extension, your female audience – to just those breasts. Batman isn't all about his biceps, so why is Catwoman all about her boobs?

Exactly. Batman's All About Chest Hair, Not Biceps.

There's plenty of room in comics for them to be "sexy" and smart. There's plenty of room for female characters to be good-looking and strong. It doesn't have to be an either/or situation. We don't have to tell the women who walk into a comic book shop and want to give the comics industry their hard-earned money that hey, this isn't really for them. No medium grows by limiting it. When the industry is in a position where it needs all the new readers it can get, pushing anyone away, especially with something as pointless as a bunch of panels with boobs on them, is not a mistake they can afford to make. And really, if the only way you think you can get someone to read your comic is by selling them softcore porn, it is seriously time to rethink the quality of what you're putting out and why people might really not be buying it.

So yeah, there's women who read comics. Women who love comics. Women who want nothing more than to hand their money right over to the comics industry so they can keep reading what they enjoy. And a lot of us love, in particular, superhero comics. This isn't a Boys' Club anymore, no matter how much some people want it to be, and it's time we all accept that and treat every comic book fan with an equal amount of respect.

Because in the end, we're all fans. We're not fanboys and fangirls. We're not black fans, white fans, gay fans, or straight fans. We're FANS. And the comics we love should be for each and every one of us.

This piece originally ran on Sara's blog, Ms Snarky

Sara McDonald started reading comics in the third grade, and now puts her English degree to good use talking about them on the Internet. She currently resides in Western Massachusetts with a roommate, three cats, and an action figure collection and spends the time she isn’t reading comics working for a non-profit. You can visit her blog at Ms. Snarky’s Awesometastic Comics Blog.

The Cat and the Bat
by Ray Tate

It wasn't love at first sight. Originally, Catwoman went by the name of the Cat and eschewed a costume, preferring instead the high class couture of a professional female jewel thief. Though physically attracted to Batman, the Cat saw him as an obstacle.

Catwoman however eventually did fall in love with Batman, and visa versa. Their passion so deep, she, a criminal, willingly gave up her life to save Batman, the ultimate scourge against the lawless. Catwoman survived of course. Due to the sacrifice, she temporarily lost her memory and her want to commit grand larceny. It didn't stick, and since the 1940s Catwoman and Batman have been doing a courtship dance.

In the 1960s, Julie Newmar imbued Catwoman with dripping sexuality, but the camp atmosphere of the television series tempered the raw enticement. It was okay to show Ms. Newmar in a slinky outfit and allow her to express feline allure because the whole show was all in fun. Besides, Diana Rigg as Mrs. Emma Peel and Anne Francis' Honey West already broke the ground.


Almost immediately after Silver St. Cloud departs, Selina Kyle returns to the pages of Detective Comics. She ignites a relationship with Bruce Wayne, not Batman. Though giving up her criminal pursuits, Selina assumes her Catwoman guise when she attempts to find a magical means--the Catman's cape--to cure herself of a life-threatening condition. Later, she resumes her Catwoman career, but as Batman's ally. She also learns his secret identity.

During this time, at the very waning days of the Bronze Age, Catwoman and Batman/Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle are inseparable. You would have to be most naive to think that all they did was hold hands. Even as a kid I knew that off panel Batman and Catwoman were shagging like bunnies. They were adults. Adults had sex. I was looking forward to it.

Catwoman and Batman on earth-two definitely made love. There was no question. After they were married, the couple had a daughter: Helena Wayne. This version of the Batman/Catwoman relationship resurfaced years later in The Birds of Prey television series. There, with no safety net of a parallel world, Batman and Catwoman, unmarried, had a daughter named Helena, who became the Huntress.

Her Sense of Style Came From Her Mother

As with Tim Burton's and Michael Keaton's Batman, the Joker takes a greater hand in carving the hero's destiny. Incorporating The Killing Joke and the events of Secret Origins of the DC Universe, the Joker cripples Batgirl and on the same night orders one of his gang to kill Catwoman before Helena's eyes.

Although Batman and Catwoman do not consummate their relationship in Burton's and Keaton's Batman Returns, it's very clear that they're both willing. As they dance at Max Shreck's party, Selina Kyle, essayed beautifully by Michelle Pfeiffer, whispers in Bruce Wayne's ear: "There's a big, comfy California King over in Bedding. What say we...." Later, Batman practically begs Catwoman to abandon her vengeful desires: "Why are you doing this? Let's just take him to the police...then we can go home. Together." Do you think they're going home to bake cookies? Maybe after some mind-blowing sex.

So now, we have a new DCU where Catwoman and Batman occasionally tango. I don't see the problem. The sex scene itself was well done. The story flows into the scene. The strange, costumed coitus doesn't stop the momentum of the plot.

Catwoman is meant to be read by a mature audience. Before she and Batman make love, Catwoman infiltrates a Russian mob hangout complete with friendly natives and working girls. It's telling that Catwoman chooses to disguise herself as a bartender. She would rather not be manhandled by strangers unless it's absolutely necessary. This scene foreshadows a difference in tone from the previous pulp by Brubaker and Cooke as well as the burlesque of Jim Balent. It's not subtle. It's not teasing. It's a more honest sexual tone mixed with action.

What? You Thought All That Sexy was Organic?

Some Americans feel uncomfortable talking about sex and seeing sexuality portrayed in any medium. I'm not one of them. Catwoman's justifiable bare-handed killing of the man who murdered her mother/friend/sister (?) is far more startling than actually seeing the resolution of sexual tension that began long ago. To paraphrase Sarah Michelle Gellar, "Batman and Catwoman are getting some action. Good for them."

Ray Tate's first online work appeared in 1994 for Knotted. He has had a short story, "Spider Without a Web," published in 1995 for the magazine evernight and earned a degree in biology from the University of Pittsburgh. Since 1995, Ray self-published The Pick of the Brown Bag on various usenet groups. In the POBB, as it was affectionately known, Ray reviewed comic books, Doctor Who novels, movies and occasionally music. Circa 2000, he contributed his reviews to Silver Bullet Comic Books (later Comics Bulletin) and became its senior reviewer. Ray Tate would like to think that he's young at heart. Of course, we all know better.

Context is Everything: Why Sex Isn't the Issue
by Nick Hanover

For whatever reason, a lot of people have taken this issue of Catwoman and Starfire's depictions in their respective books as some kind of war on sex. These people have attempted to frame the debate as prudery versus progression, where on one side anyone with a problem with the depictions has a problem with the act of sex while everyone else is adult and mature and sex positive.

But this isn't the issue.

Nearly no one is surprised by Catwoman and Batman having sex. There are almost certainly people out there who object to that relationship, and it being presented at all in Catwoman #1, but for most of us that scene is not what's offensive about that comic. You see, context is everything, and in the context of Catwoman #1, Catwoman and Batman having sex is just icing on a very offensive cake. To hone in on it and attempt to make it the only point of contention is to entirely miss the real point, which is that Catwoman and Red Hood may feature sex but they are not sex positive titles.

Are Your Legs Freakin' Huge or Are You Just Happy to See Me?

Within the context of Catwoman in particular, that scene could even be argued to be the most progressive moment of the title, as it at least displays some personality on Catwoman's behalf and, most importantly, allows her the dignity of having a face. For a significant portion of the issue, Catwoman isn't allowed that dignity of identity, instead being reduced to curiously framed and presented close-ups of her various physical assets. The message being presented by these scenes is that Catwoman is less a character and more an item, a commodity that can easily be reduced to hypersexualized portions that serve no purpose other than to gratify a certain sect of reader. That it has been done to her (and others) before should be beside the point, what matters is that it's continuing to happen and a growing number of us are becoming increasingly more vocal about our unwillingness to tolerate it any longer.

That's because most of us actually do enjoy sex. Most of us have no problems with characters having sex because we ourselves have sex. But I'm going to also suggest that most of us have sex with people, who have faces and identities and defining traits and foibles and all the other things that make us human. That Catwoman is a character, in a work of art that is designed as entertainment, is inarguable but there is no reason why we can't strive for better characterization in that entertainment. There is no reason why Catwoman can't fit into Judd Winick's self professed desire to make the book sexy before anything else and offer characterization as well, like any number of strong female characters in this medium and others have already demonstrated is possible. There's also no reason why Catwoman needs to be reduced to select representations of her figure simply because she's a woman, either, and Winick's writing in this area can't help but recall the decidedly lacking in story world that is porn.

No, Seriously, Have Lobdell & Winick Been Writing These?

Struggling even more with that particular element, though, is Scott Lobdell's Red Hood, which is even more explicitly designed as an extremely stereotypical male fantasy, even in the sections that don't feature Starfire. While Winick at least builds up Catwoman's pursuit of Batman and therefore signifies that Batman is a character that she has a well thought-out desire for, Lobdell has literally stripped Starfire of all characterization in order to instead turn her into a plot device meant as wish fulfillment. Starfire doesn't just have sex with the other characters in her respective title, her only real role in the title seems to be to serve them, either sexually or physically. You could perhaps read some kind of sexualized submissiveness into Starfire (and if she turns out to be a polyamorous figure who in particular is driven by a sexual fantasy of being degraded and used that would certainly be different), but her alien culture and lack of long term memory only seem to serve as devices that enable her to be the perfect adolescent male fantasy, a woman who is only around to do your bidding and has no capacity to question that or any emotional response to it at all.

It's a plotline seemingly ripped right out of any number of porn scenes, and if porn is what we're aiming for there's nothing wrong with that. But context is everything and the context of both of these titles is a relaunch that was built around luring in new readers and reenergizing comics. Removing the art from both of these titles, could any of us say these are great comics? Is there anything about either of these female characters that truly reenergizes our interest in them? Or are they hollow shells built around the kind of adolescent titillation we claim comics is unfairly associated with? This relaunch was meant to be a fresh start, an opportunity to prove to the naysayers that superhero comics can be art, or at the very least can be well-crafted entertainment. This was an effort meant to at least partially shake up archaic notions of what comics are and yet each week there is some disconnect like this, whether it's Catwoman and Starfire or Amanda Waller. It's not prudery to expect your comics to actually be adult when they say will, it's not an anti-sex stance if you expect the sex in your comics to at least be well-handled rather than degrading. We are an industry full of smart people and yet so often we can be so dumb. We're better than this kind of characterization, of this kind of poor treatment and we should start showing it.

When he's not writing about the cape and spandex set, Nick Hanover is a book, film and music critic for Spectrum Culture and a staff writer for No Tofu Magazine. He also translates for "Partytime" Lukash's Panel Panopticon.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

by Joe Mulvey

Let's start this off by saying EVERYONE has the right to their own opinion. And I sincerely enjoy the hell out of reading well-crafted arguments for either side of this recent discussion regarding the actions of Catwoman and Starfire in their respective books last week. But in all honesty, I DON'T GET WHY PEOPLE ARE GOING NUTS AFTER 1 ISSUE! Yes I'm a man, there's no hiding that fact. So if my DNA somehow impairs me to fully comprehend or understand a certain aspect of this whole situation, feel free to inform me on what it is I'm missing.

Catwoman #1 sets up Selina Kyle as a master thief, who lives on the edge. We're introduced to her as she narrowly escapes from her home after some enemies have attempt to kill her. Her life of crime and its consequences are pretty well laid out within the first few pages. And as the issue goes on we see Catwoman reveal a short temper and a willingness to IMMEDIATELY act on her impulses. While undercover in a Russian club, she blows her cover to exact revenge against a man that wronged a friend of hers, in the past. She uses her sexuality to trick him into lowering his guard before delivering the vicious beating. All valid character points that start to paint the picture of what this new DC Catwoman is supposed to be. And at the end, as Catwoman reaches her new hideout, we see that Batman is there. What seems like an arbitrary fight scene turns into foreplay as the two end the issue having sex. Really? That's it? That's what so many people are bitching about?

Pretty Sure Cosmo Recommended This in Last Month's Issue

These are primal characters that live their lives on the edge, putting on costumes and making choices that no sane minded person would ever make. So we can enjoy other aspects of their fantastical adventures but all of a sudden when it comes to sex, we're supposed to stop and apply some sort of realistic standard and belief system to it? She's objectified in some way because of this act? I've heard that this character moment is a knock against all females in comics. That's absurd. It's one characters impulse in one issue. (For now anyway. Don't get me wrong, if this series gets rebooted under the name Cathouse by issue #6 than I will gladly eat the shit I have coming) My point is before people jump to conclusions, just let the story play out. Sex is one of the most powerful motivators in life, so let's se where it takes this story.

Now if the argument here is that you can't give this book to a kid, I'm pretty sure Catwoman was never the ideal role model who's book you would pass along to little girls. She's a villain. A crook. A thief. She wears black leather and uses a whip. She's had sexuality at the core of her character for as long as I can remember. And that's great because that's who she is. WE ALL KNOW THIS! Wolverine bangs, kills and drinks and he's not screamed at for demeaning vertically challenged Canadian men everywhere.

Put the Shirt Back On, Wolverine

Beyond Catwoman, the sexual outrage was also directed at this weeks #1 issue of Red Hood and the Outlaws, where Starfire was introduced as a character that's very open and honest with her beliefs on sex. She's an alien who wants it when she wants it. She doesn't want relationships and she doesn't belong to any one man. That sounds like a pretty progressive character actually. I don't have much experience with her character before this issue but I saw nothing demeaning about her character. If anything I saw a strong female character who's will and abilities dwarfed that or her two male counterparts.

I've always been astounded that people can read a comic and read about people dying, planets exploding or cities getting wiped out and the value of human life in comics is never put on trial for people to debate. Wolverine can tear through an entire army of soldiers but the question never gets raised about his or the comic makers disrespect towards the armed forces. Because most readers realize it is a story. It's FICTION.

As a guy who grew up reading comic books, I don't take the fact that almost EVERY single comic book male character has ABS that you could grate cheese with, as an insult against my gender. (Seriously Professor X looked like a retired Abercrombie & Fitch model) I just saw that as the tropes of the genre. AND IT'S FINE! It's never undermined me as a person because of how people, in a FICTIONAL style of storytelling decide to depict the appearances and actions of FICTIONAL characters I enjoy reading about. Why anyone seems to bring up the physical appearance of women in comics as part of misogynistic rant is beyond me. Male characters have every bit of a stereotypical appearance as their female counterparts. It's not misogyny it's consistency.

DC is trying to do something to boost an industry that desperately needs it. All I'm saying is at least give them a chance to tell their stories before you scream at them to tear it all down.

Joe Mulvey is the artist behind the soon to be released Scam and can be found at Joe Mulvey Art where he also runs a series of popular interviews helping convert people to comic fandom.

Breast Awareness: Judd Winick's Creepy Vision for Catwoman
by Dave Wallace

It's not outside the realms of plausibility to think that the first page of Judd Winick's art directions for the first page of the first issue of DC's new Catwoman book might have looked something like this:

Page 1, Panel 1: Close-up on CATWOMAN's chest. She's pulling on her leather catsuit in her apartment. Don't worry too much about showing her face--all we really need to see in this first panel are her substantial BREASTS. Maybe stick a little cat in the background if you have to, but make sure the BREASTS are the biggest thing in the panel.

Panel 2: We zoom in slightly as she pulls on a glove with her teeth whilst simultaneously pulling her costume around her with one hand. Don't worry that this pose doesn't make much sense, as this book is all about pulling the character into weird-but-sexy poses! Just try to maintaining a focus on the character's BREASTS (if you could make them look a little bigger in this panel, even better).

We see several pairs of knickers in the background, and a high-heeled shoe flies through the air for no apparent reason. We need to remind readers this is a female character we're dealing with, after all!

Panel 3: A longer shot this time, perhaps of CATWOMAN bending over to display her CLEAVAGE whilst at the same time sticking her leather-clad ASS out. She's still not fully dressed yet--one of her BREASTS hangs out of her leather catsuit, as though she's forgotten how to dress herself halfway through putting her clothes on. Again, don't worry too much about her face, as no-one reading the book is going to want to actually connect with the character on an emotional level.

Two bras, a pair of knickers and a bottle of wine are the most significant items randomly flying around in this panel, demonstrating that this Catwoman is one sexy, confident female!

Panel 4: A close up of a box of cats being grabbed by CATWOMAN as she leaves her apartment. Although this might (again) be a highly anatomically improbable pose, it would be great if you could sneak at least one of her BREASTS into the background--perhaps showing a bit of her red lacy bra at the same time? That's the kind of thing you'd expect a seasoned, street-level superhero character to wear, right?

PS. Don't forget, it's all about the BREASTS.

Don't believe me? Have a look for yourself.

Now, I'm not opposed to sex or nudity (partial or otherwise) in comics. Indeed, some of my favourite books have featured both of these things heavily. And frankly, if any mainstream superhero comic is going to deal with sex and sexuality, Catwoman is a pretty good choice, right?

The problem is, this book presents Catwoman's sexuality in such a crass manner, with such obvious pandering to the masturbatory desires of male adolescent readers, that it completely overwhelms the vague hints of a legitimate superhero story that lurk beneath the near-constant slew of T&A.

The opening sequence is a great example. After the aforementioned opening page, with its focus on Catwoman's breasts and underwear above all else, the second page shows a group of muscle-bound, burly (and apparently hastily-sketched) armed men bursting into her apartment, before the third page--a splashpage--gives us our first look at Catwoman's face as she immediately leaps away from her would-be attackers (no sense of her standing up to these men is given whatsoever). At this point, she still has one breast hanging out of her skin-tight black leather costume.

That Can't Be Good for Support

To appreciate the ridiculousness of this staging, imagine the same idea being applied to a male superhero. Can you imagine Spider-Man leaping into action with his penis flopping half-out of his red-and-blue tights, only to immediately run away from the Green Goblin and Doc Ock with his tail between his legs (so to speak)? Or Batman swooping down to confront a mugger whilst sporting a pair of assless chaps, with every panel focusing squarely on his pert gluteus maximus?

Me neither. I wonder why that is?

From just the opening pages of Catwoman #1--in which a well-known superheroine is presented as little more than a pair of breasts with a black catsuit attached, and displays next to no laudable or heroic characteristics whatsoever--the book could be considered quite sexist. That's certainly the impression that I got when I read them. But considering that Catwoman has always been a highly sexualised character--sometimes in quite a classy manner--I decided to give the book more of a chance to win me over.

Unfortunately, this kind of thing continues throughout the book. The problem isn't just the 'cheesecake' art (for which I acknowledge there is a certain place in comics). It's also that the book's writer fails to capture Catwoman's 'voice' at all convincingly. Instead, it feels like what it is: a man not trying to imagine how a strong, sexually-confident woman might actually sound, but instead presenting a character who speaks and thinks how a hot-blooded male would want a strong, sexually-confident woman to sound.

I Actually Wore the Same Uniform as a Bartender

It goes without saying that the two approaches are very different. One attempts to explore the character as a legitimate personality, and encourage the audience to empathise with her. The other serves the character up as an object to be enjoyed by the audience with a degree of separation; to be 'entertained' by her, but not to consider her as a real character so much as she is a vessel for the sexual and violent impulses that the book's creators seem determined to pour into the isssue.

Sadly, beyond this general sense of sex and violence (mostly sex), there isn't much more to the story beyond a series of scenes that serve only to provide a platform for the sexual content--rather than having this content actually serve the story. As such, it feels gratuitous, and gives the impression that the book has been created with the goal of providing a sex story above all else, rather than a superhero story, or a story about a compelling and sympathetic lead character, or a story with a compelling or intriguing plot.

In fact, the structure of the issue as a whole is not dissimilar to that of a pornographic movie. The peaks and troughs of sex scenes and 'story' scenes seem designed to give readers a breather between scenes of titillation, and there's a strong sense that the entire issue is little more than a lead-up to its much-talked-about climax.

Unfortunately, in keeping with the cliché of such pornographic 'stories', there's very little actual plot here. Just like porn, the sexual scenes don't serve the story at all; what little story there is exists only to facilitate the sex.

Truly, This Must Be Some Kind of Record

This wouldn't be so terrible if the sexual scenes actually had some worth in and of themselves. Indeed, more than one real-life pornographic movie studio has appropriated the characters of Batman and Catwoman in recent years for the purposes of porn “parody” movies (which have received a fair amount of attention from the comics press).

However, the sexual scenes that are included in the book are presented in such a flat, leaden and workmanlike fashion that they don't really work as erotica any better than they work as a superhero story. Winick seems to have confused sexuality with sensuality, providing plenty of the former but underpinned by none of the latter.

In the book's defence, artist Guillem March makes a pretty decent job of what he's asked to do. His storytelling is clear, his characters are consistent, and he handles the 'cheesecake' nature of the assignment well, even going to far as to include more than one female body-type (rather than simply making every character conform to the standard proportions of female comics characters. You know what I'm talking about).

Unfortunately, March's weakest moments come in the final pages, which present one of the least sexy sex scenes (try saying that three times fast) that I've ever read in a comic, thanks to some downright creepy facial expressions and uncomfortable body language that makes it look as though the characters have been drugged. It's a sequence that would barely register on the radar of most comics fans--that is, if it didn't happen to feature Batman and Catwoman apparently explicitly engaging in sexual intercourse. In costume.

More Drugged Than That Face?

And this is where where the ultimate purpose (and, presumably, selling point) of the book makes itself known: that it's essentially a sex comic, but one that features a fairly graphic coupling between two of DC's most high-profile and well-known company characters.

Now, I actually think that it's pretty interesting that DC is tentatively experimenting with placing two of its flagship characters in a largely sex-oriented story that seems designed to titillate with sex and nudity more than to genuinely capture readers' imaginations. I just think they've chosen the wrong writer for it, and frankly, it could have been a lot better if they'd had the balls to make the book as erotic as it could have been. Perhaps with actual nudity, or at least some genuine sensuality to the depiction of the characters.

Hopefully I've made it clear by know that my problem with this book is with the clunkiness with which Winick and March employ the sexual elements, rather than with the sexual elements themselves.

However, I can't deny I'm slightly concerned that some readers--especially younger, more impressionable readers--might read this first issue of Catwoman and think that this is what a book about a liberated, sexually empowered woman looks like. For me, nothing could be further from the truth: as I said earlier, it seems clear to me that the character is being depicted in a manner that appeals to what men might want from a book about a sexually-confident superheroine, rather than trying to capture what the life of a sexually-confident superheroine might actually look like.

You Know, Like This

It isn't as straightforward as saying that Catwoman #1 is a sexist comic, or a book that's offensive to women (and frankly, as a male reader, I'd never presume to make that judgement anyway). Although it's certainly a story that falls squarely into the bracket of sexual exploitation, it's worth bearing in mind that Selina Kyle isn't a real woman being exploited; nor is Bruce Wayne a real man exploiting her. The only people being exploited are readers who might have bought this comic expecting a decent superhero book.

Instead of (or perhaps as well as) sexism, Catwoman #1 commits a separate offence: that of simply not being a very good comic. Taken as a straight superhero book, several problems--including its lack of plot, its distracting preoccupation with sex, and its absurdly exaggerated focus on Catwoman's body over her character--prevent it from being a satisfying read. And when judged on the criteria that one might apply to an 'adult' comic--albeit one featuring Catwoman and Batman--it's far too tame and soulless to be erotic or arousing.

If there's anything the book succeeds in, its creating a muddled mess of a story that simultaneously sets Catwoman's character back by a substantial margin by reducing her to base sexual elements, whilst also destroying much of the positive development of the relationship between her and Batman that we've seen over the years (in such stories as “Hush” and Batman Incorporated #1 and #2).

I'm not disappointed in it because I think it's offensive; I'm disappointed in it because it's a pretty terrible comic.

Postscript: Artist Richard Pace sums the issue up more succinctly than I could ever manage:

A journalist and sometime comics reviewer, Dave Wallace was raised on a traditional European diet of Beano comics, Asterix collections and Tintin books before growing up and discovering that sequential art could -- occasionally -- be even better than that. He has an unashamed soft spot for time-travel stories, Spider-Man, and anything by Alan Moore or Grant Morrison, and has been known to spend far too much on luxurious hardcover editions of his favorite books when it's something he really likes. Maybe one day he'll get around to writing down his own stories that have been knocking around his head for a while now

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