Sunday, February 26, 2006

Implications of Catwoman #52

Kalinara's spoilerific post, "An Idle Thought: Killing in the DCU," covers recent developments in Batgirl, Manhunter, and Catwoman, and got me thinking about how things played out in Catwoman #52. (Ragnell's got a post about Manhunter which touches upon similar themes, but I haven't read through it all because I haven't caught up on my reading of that comic, yet. Shelly reviews CW #52 here.)

Needless to say, spoilers to CW #52 follow in abundance.

A quote from Gabriel Garcia Marquez fits, with regards to Black Mask: "Never has a death been more foretold." His demise at Catwoman's hands is intimately linked to Selina Kyle's post-OYL fate, and has been an open secret in CW-related discussions at Newsarama, The Pulse, and Wizard magazine. So yes, Black Mask's was a death foretold.

However, similar to my reaction to seeing Selina's mind-wipe in issue #50, I wasn't surprised so much by what happened as I was by my reaction to it. Before reading the issue, I wanted Black Mask to die. And, let's be honest: this being a comic book world, I wanted him to suffer while dying, and I wanted it to take a long time. There was absolutely nothing to redeem that sociopathic bastard. The character is depicted as an avid sadist; in a previous story-arc he had personally tortured Selina's sister, Maggie, and forced her to watch while he tortured her husband to death. So yeah, this was a death foretold and a death desired.

But, in spite of my need to see Black Mask's life extinguished, I have to admit that the moment I saw the panel in which the bullet leaves Selina's gun, I was uneasy with the fact that she was the one who had pulled the trigger. Now, I know she's killed before, and has even "killed" Black Mask once before (that time it didn't "take"), but this troubled me as I considered the meta-level implications of the act, considerations tied into the architecture of the current DC Universe (an entity that's emerging with greater cohesion than it's possessed before).

The mind-wipe depicted in #50 chapped my hide because of my empathy for the character that Ed Brubaker had taken such care to develop; the shooting of Black Mask got under my skin because I'm uneasy with it's potential to permanently hobble the character: what will it mean for Catwoman to be one of those people in the presently-configured DCU who have killed someone? It's interesting to note that Wonder Woman, who headlines one of the other DCU titles that I read with avidity, is in the same problematic position.

And just what does it mean that several prominent women have been placed in must-kill situations? The most obvious result is that Superman and Batman get to occupy the moral high ground, their capes impressively flapping about them as they shake their heads and look down upon their murderous, less-controlled, female comrades. Will these "transgressions" be held up as cautionary tales? Opportunities for learning and healing? Continued scape-goating?

Here are the "before" and "after" facts of Catwoman's case as we head into OYL:

Before OYL Selina Kyle was Catwoman: assertive, self-assured, and the heroic defender of the East End. The Batman respected her talents and methods, and told her so in issue #48. She had a network of friends, supporters, and a protege who looked up to her.

After OYL: Selina Kyle is no longer Catwoman. She questions her past heroic activites, because of that long-ago mind-wipe by the JLA. (Zatanna: "Selina, go from villain to hero.") The Batman pities her because of what the JLA did to her. She has killed Black Mask, and is living on the lam. Oh--and she has a child.

Now, it being comic books, anything can happen, and Selina could very well be back as the Catwoman at some point down the road. But even if that happens, as I've said, her having killed Black Mask, no matter how compelling (or even legal), will certainly change the way some in the superhero community think about her and treat her. And if figures in that community do "understand" what she's done, it'll be because they "excuse" her actions because she was just a woman under a lot of pressure.

It looks to me like Catwoman has been taken down a few pegs, that's for certain. And I do wonder: why would the architects of the DCU believe that to have been necessary? How does that fit in the grand scheme of things? And I'm not being ironic, or rhetorical, here, either. I'm curious to know the answers; any comments, solutions, or suggestions are welcome.

Finally, some Catwoman-related links (and an image):

Cat Scratches, a LiveJournal community devoted entirely to CW.
East Side Gotham, a hearty compendium of all things related to Selina Kyle.
Darwyn Cooke's sketch of Catwoman, from Solo #5:


Comments:
It's been interesting reading everyone's take on this. I suppose in part, one's reaction will vary depending on whether or not you believe some killings can be justified. Are Superman and Batman really taking the high road or are they simply out of touch? Not everyone can find another way. And some folks would say that not everyone has the courage to do what Selina did.

Way back when, in Magnum PI, Magnum killed in cold blood. A man with diplomatic immunity had killed his close friend and military contact and the most that could happen to the guy was that he'd be deported. So Magnum arranged an ambush and with no witnesses, blew the man away. The episode ended with the camera on Magnum as he fired his gun.

There is a difference in killing in defense and killing that is in essence an execution and in the latter, you'd better be right that the person you kill is the one who deserves it. It's a moral quagmire and one that can be debated without resolution for centuries, and has been.

I think you can look at the fact that the females were put in this postion in more than one way. That it is the usual sexism. Or that it is finally equal treatment, in that the females are allowed to be more agressive, are allowed to make the hard choices, and are then allowed to be shown dealing with that. These are the things that make characters more interesting, that add complexity to them.

I'd rather Selina be shown grappling with what she's done and is capable of doing, than Bruce acting out on Gotham and anyone who tries to get close to him his basic dysfunction that stems from his parents' murder. There have been times I want to shake him and say "Grow up, already." I'd love to see in many of the male characters the growth I've seen in many of the females recently.

I suppose that's one reason I love Roy Harper so much. He's had so much personal crap to overcome, and he has overcome it in a stumbling, very human fashion.

Hmmm.... I've made this so long, it could be a post unto itself. :)
 
I wish I could say something comforting, but you've already seen my rants about how absolute morality rules superhero comics. Murder is always wrong, even though in real life it's often good and moral (self-defense, execution, soldiers, police, etc). For whatever reason, TPTB want Selina to be a "bad" person, by making her do a bad thing. Sure, any situationlist would point out she's justified, but as you say, the puritanical, pithy, patronizing male heroes rule the day.

Murder is not a dirty word; it's not always wrong, even if it's so much more convenient and tidy to believe it is. Unfortunately, that's rarely acknowledged in the bat-books without being overtly condescending. So now Selina will be a conveniently bad person, even though she did the right thing that helped the most people. The needs of the many are not automatically less worthy than following a strict code, nor does it immediately become some horrible slippery slope. There should be no need for exuse. There should be respect for the one who puts the needs of the many ahead of a prefered moral code.

But there won't be. You know those bad people. They can't help themselves. They can't stop from getting worse. They sure as hell can't change for the better (on their own). Those poor infantile heathens need the heroes to guide them to the light. *sighs* I pretty much dread the moral superiorty/condemnation scene that will eventually occur between her and Batman, not as a 'shipper, but for the near inevitable scape-goating.... I let this person bear my weaknesses, and then I blame them for doing what I cannot.

There needs to be a balance between codes and needs. It's both healthy and right.
 
Thanks for your comments, Shelly and KKG!

Shelly: my only qualm about this plot development stems from what it means for the character's future in the context of the DCU as it's presently being formulated by types like Geoff Johns, DiDio, and Co. In my mind, CW isn't changed or tainted at all by what she's done, but I'd be surprised if the DCU architects agree with me on this.

KKG: you put your finger on the scape-goating element that really bugs me about all this. When that inevitable Batman/Selina scene arrives, we'll almost be able to hear what Batman will really be saying:"Thank you, thank you, thank you, Selina, for doing this, because it allows me to look/feel/act so good."

While I can't be sure if the OYL child will or will not be with SK for an extended period of time, I am fairly certain that the fall-out from the righteous murder of Black Mask will affect her for a long time. If this turns out not to be the case, it will have been the result of some Elseworlds level reality shift --and who knows, isn't that what Infinite Crisis is supposed to be about?
 
You might be right about the future for Selina, but I've never enjoyed playing that guessing game. If they screw it up, I'll be annoyed, maybe drop the book. But I prefer to see what they do with it. I've enjoyed most of what Johns has written and what DiDio has brought to the DCU.

I think a lot of what folks feel about Batman in this and the situation with other characters, ie Wonder Woman, depends on their own perceptions of the character. Me? I've thought Bruce has been a pompous ass for a while now. He's often right, but he's as often wrong. He came out looking bad to me due to the OMAC mess. I think Black Mask needed to be killed and Selina was probably one of a very few characters, as developed over the years, who could do it. Batman certainly couldn't, not without it being a complete character/personality shift. IMO.

And of course, he has to act superior to Selina or to anyone else who kills, given his feelings about it. Look at how he treated Dick when Dick joined the Bludhaven police force? Was Bruce right? Was Dick? Or were they both right for what they are and believe?

I think someday, when more women are writing comics, especially in the DCU, and are in charge of decisions overall; when there is a better balance between male and female characters, we'll finally see a wider spectrum of character personalities. Because right now, for a male hero to do what has become the female job (as either damsel in distress -- a role only males like Jimmy Olson was allowed to assume -- or the character to perform the morally ambiguous act) would garner an outcry of a different sort.

I look at the characters, not at their roles in the greater picture. I've never really read things into how gender issues play out in comics. I grew up with what would be considered anti-feminist views and became a feminist, not because of what I saw in fiction, but because of what I saw in the real world and from my parents teaching me that everyone deserves the same chances.

I know I have more to say about this, and have already said some of it on my blog. I think I'll use these comments to put together another entry on the topic. :)
 
Hey guys! Now this is just my theory, I believe that Catwoman killed someone, but I y do not believe that she killed the actual Black Mask, the one I believe she killed was fake. I do not believe it would be that easy to kill such an impotant villan, such as Roman Sionis a.k.a. the Black Mask. I mean he is a criminal mastermind, so I am sure we will see him around again. In my honest opinion, Black Mask is still alive and killing, er I mean kicking. Well guys let me know what you think, email me your comments at monavie.dude@yahoo.com
 
It's happened before, and might happen again: all's possible in comics.
 
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