Posts Tagged ‘dc entertainment’

h1

Catwoman and Cleopatra: Inkblots of an Age

April 25, 2011

After Practical Cats, a reader asked me to summarize my Cleopatra theory as it pertains to Catwoman.  With shooting under way onCatwoman Inkblot The Dark Knight Rises, and Batman circles abuzz with speculation on what Christopher Nolan’s take will be, it seemed the perfect time.

Briefly: Cleopatra lived and died over 2,000 years ago, and what’s known about her life hasn’t changed.  There is the sensational Roman account, juicy but questionable material dating from a propaganda war with Augustus Caesar, and a drier but more flattering picture of her political accomplishments recorded by the historian Flavius Josephus.  That’s it.  It’s not like any new unauthorized biographies were unearthed in the 1300s, 1500s, or 1800s to account for the drastically differing images of her.  There is only one set of facts from which different ages have formed completely different Cleopatras: from “The Nile Slut” to a childlike innocent, from a murderous man-eater to a savvy politician, from a devoted mother to a tragic “slave to love.”   Obviously, they can’t all be right.  Obviously, what each era chooses to focus on—and what it chooses to ignore—says more about them than it does the real Cleopatra.

Lucy Hughes-Hallett’s fascinating Cleopatra: Histories, Dreams and Distortions does a remarkable job analyzing each of these incarnations and what they reveal about the eras which romanticized and vilified her.  Not surprisingly, it is the spin each age puts on the sexual aspects of her story that is most telling about their attitudes about women in general, and women’s sexuality in particular.   

Cleopatra and CatwomanLike Cleopatra, Catwoman is a sex symbol who has spanned many generations and gone through many incarnations.  From her first appearance in Batman #1, the draw between male and female has always been the distinguishing feature of Bat/Cat encounters.  Tame and subtextual under the early comics code: Batman saw through Catwoman’s disguise in that first appearance by noticing her shapely legs. Amusingly brazen by the time Julie Newmar donned her claws and Adam West’s Batman declared “You give me curious stirrings in my utility belt.”   Of course there is more to Catwoman’s appeal that the physical.  You can’t throw a batarang in mainstream comics without hitting a beautiful and voluptuous woman.  What made Catwoman particularly well-suited to the role as the Batman’s romantic foil was her playful free-spirited disposition.  In an era that was finally acknowledging that sex is fun, the Bat/Cat titillation reached its zenith in Batman #324 when Selina awoke naked in the Batcave after her costume had been torn to pieces.  Batman tosses her a replacement saying she was lucky he’d kept one of her old costumes in his trophy room, and she responds—just barely covering herself with the sheet—that she “got lucky in more ways than one.”

Approved by the Comics Code.  And that’s probably what made it so much fun: the tingle of being bad, of getting away with something a little naughty.  It is the appeal of Catwoman, and in scenes like that, the reader got a taste.

And therein lies one of the essential elements of a successful Catwoman portrayal that has often eluded DC Comics.  A simple comparison of the merchandise dating from Denny O’Neil’s day as Bat editor, where it seemed to be a mandate that her features be distorted by a hostile snarl, to the turning point when a Japanese company, Yamoto Toys, released a limited edition figurine based on manga artist Kia Asamiya’s design.  The sexy come hither pose and naughty grin sold out in days in many U.S. comic shops and was voted The Sexiest Batman-related Action Figure by Wizard’s ToyFare Magazine.  After a second equally successful figurine from Yamoto, again featuring the Jim Balent costume with an appealing pose and smile, DC appears to have got the message.  Recent offerings of the Balent costume from DC Direct have certainly featured an attractive pose and naughty grin.

Catwoman Merchandise, Action Figures and Figurines

But the detour into snarling hostility illustrates how, like Cleopatra, Catwoman has undergone reinvention after reinvention reflecting the insights, fetishes or fears of those doing the re-imaging.  Consider her Bob Kane origin from “The Secret Life of Catwoman,” an airline stewardess who suffered amnesia after a plane crash.  (Yes, amnesia. It’s a comic book.)  In the 1940s and 50s, stewardesses were incredibly glamorous figures.  Beautiful, svelt single girls, traveling the world, meeting exciting people and working side-by-side with pilots!  It is in this story that Catwoman’s real name is revealed to be Selina Kyle.  Selina meaning “daughter of the moon.”  Kane clearly gave his Catwoman a glamorous and romantic cache befitting her status as the Queen of the Night in Batman’s world.  This Catwoman, despite her criminal activities, was far from evil.  She bargained away loot to save Robin from Joker, and on regaining her memory, worked with Batman to bring down a crime boss and ultimately her own criminal brother.

The next origin revealed that the amnesia story was a lie.  Selina Kyle had been married to a rich man who beat her.  When she left him, he tried to ruin her.  Her first robbery was stealing back the jewelry he’d given her and, titillated by the thrill, she continued.  The attitudes expressed by this version of Catwoman are not at all difficult to decode, for the author puts it right in the text: Selina tells Batman she made up the amnesia story to get out of the life of crime because  “I was thirty years old and I didn’t want to die without love… without children.”  That Selina does marry Bruce Wayne and has a child with him: Helena Wayne.  While modern sensibilities may kneejerk at the notion that every woman must pang for motherhood, I submit that the root idea that all humans, both men and women, want love is a timeless and valid one.

Things took a bit of a turn when the in-your-face feminism of the Sixties sent the comics boys into a tizzy.  Consider the mentality of a writer who had the Green Lantern’s girlfriend become evil Star Sapphire for 5 days each month.  How does such a man respond to images on the news of women shouting for equality and burning their bras?  Well, Catwoman donned go-go boots and snarled about “The Battle of the Sexes” and how “No man would ever tame her,” and that same writer gave Batman a new enemy/love interest, a submissive Asian who “was good company even when she was quiet.

Yeah.  Seriously.  Amazing, isn’t it?

The Catwoman of Tim Burton’s Batman Returns is of a period that lost the most fundamental “Look, up in the sky” aspect of superhero comics: the wish fulfillment of a child, the adventures of characters we would all want to be if we could.  To fly, to be strong, to swing across the city on a silken Batline, to have exciting adventures in a world of larger than life color…  In the spirit of remaking all the known characters as damaged human beings that no sane person would ever want to be, Selina was a meek, repressed, overworked secretary whose boss killed her.  All of her ‘empowerment’ was a reaction to oppression and victimization, but it should be noted that this is not really a gender attitude.  The men in Burton’s world fare no better.

Of Frank Miller’s Year One and subsequent comics based on its Catwoman origin, all that any enlightened reader need do is look at the body of Miller’s work.  The sheer number of prostitutes, rapes and castrations paint a vivid portrait of the man doing the writing and his attitudes, but just in case anyone doubts, Rob Bricken has taken the trouble to map it all out in 6 Hints that Frank Miller Might Have Issues with Women.   What all this says about Miller is – well, it’s Miller.  It doesn’t have to represent the rest of us.  We don’t have to be the generation that was so terrified of women’s sexuality they had to demonize it.  It was DC who let this guy with obvious issues about women’s sexuality define a woman’s icon.  It is DC Comics who refuses to remedy or even admit that error.  It falls to other media to do so.

Mr. Nolan, I’m looking at you.  The 21st Century is eagerly waiting to see what “Our” Catwoman will be.

Chris Dee
www.catwoman-cattales.com

Article first published as Catwoman and Cleopatra: Inkblots of an Age on Blogcritics.

Advertisements
h1

Retro-Active and Reichenbach Falls

April 4, 2011

So, it’s common knowledge that DC Comics and I parted ways several years ago. It’s also common knowledge that that is not at all uncommon, and we’ll get to that shortly. Point is, while I delight in the produce of DC Entertainment, I’ve come to view anything from the actual DC Comics division as I would a plate of shrimp that was left in the sun for a day: there’s a high probability that it’s bad and will make me sick if I eat it. You’re free to, of course, but I wonder what the hell is wrong with you (and I’ll just leave the number for the poison control center right here on the counter where you can’t miss it).

Still, DC news occasionally does push its way in front of my eyeballs, and I must say the latest bulletin from WonderCon is… suggestive.

Retro-Active is described as “a wave of one-shots that will pay homage to the spirit of the Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, The Flash, and Justice League of America stories of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s.” These are not simple reprints but a 50/50 mix of new material written into the old continuities presented alongside the reprinted originals.

Now, what immediately pops out at me is the significance of those decades. Bluntly: an era before things were fucked up beyond all repair. There were missteps to be sure, but there was a bottom line respect for the characters, the readership, and the basic tenets of storytelling. What also jumps out is I’m looking at names from those eras – names we haven’t seen in a while. Names that, like the continuities, were not a part of or tainted by the last 10 years of toxicity.

Len Wein, Alan Grant, Norm Breyfogle, Marv Wolfman… Wow.

I can only come up with three explanations for a move of this kind coming out of… I’m not sure my fingers will even type it… a move like this coming out of the DC Comics of 2011.

1. Reichenbach Falls

DC has been hemorrhaging readers for a long time, but recent years have seen them deliberately slicing themselves open.  I don’t know if the intent was suicide or a troubled teen cutting herself for attention and nicking an artery by mistake, but the result was the same: the readers were going, going, gone. Faster than they could be replaced – and what they’ve been replaced with isn’t worth much.  DC has consistently cut loyal long-time fans in favor of imagined new ones: new ones with less disposable income, who are less invested in the hobby and won’t necessarily spend as much on it regardless of income.  They do make plenty of noise in forums and blogs.  That seldom translates into actual sales because they mostly get the gist from Scans Daily, but hey, at least their excesses further alienate those who have left.  You might think that once a reader is lost, that’s the end of it.  They can’t spend less than $0, right?  But the cost of all those lost readers goes far beyond the simple dollars and cents.  Consider: I was at a friend’s house a couple weeks ago and they were showing off their gaming system.  They had EA Sports, Assassin’s Creed, and then while the rest of us were talking, they took out Assassins Creed and put in Arkham Asylum.  As soon as the DC logo went up, the guy I was talking to looked up, rolled his eyes and threw back his head.  He thought it was an ad for DC Online, but then the Rocksteady name came up and he said “oh wait, I’ve heard of this.”  When he saw the actual game start, he really liked it.

Now, that’s some seriously bad voodoo. The DC logo = Bad.  The Dark Knight was not only a great movie, it was a fantastically popular one.  Smallville has been running longer than M*A*S*H.  The Green Lantern trailer OWNED WonderCon this past weekend.  And yet, the DC logo got this automatic negative reaction – because of the comics.  If you’ve ever heard someone talking about a great unsolicited review or great word of mouth for their business and say they “can’t put a price on that kind of advertising” – well this is the flip side. You can’t put a dollar amount on the negative cost of YOUR LOGO = BAD.  You can’t put a dollar amount on the real damage DC Comics has done to the DC brand.

So, possibility #1 is that Retro is a concerted effort to lure back those lost readers.  If so, it’s a nice start.  It really is, don’t get me wrong.  However, it needs to be said that you’re not going to undo 10+ years of abuse in 2 months.

In 1893 Conan Doyle decided he was tired writing Sherlock Holmes and attempted to kill off his character in a final battle with Professor Moriarty at Reichenbach Falls.  To put it mildly: the reading public was not pleased.  They flatly refused to accept the destruction of something that brought them such pleasure.  Doyle then tried to appease them by telling new stories from the time before Holmes was killed.  The reading public WAS NOT SATISFIED.  It was not enough to have new stuff if the trail still led to the unacceptable outcome, and Doyle had no choice but to suck it up and undo the damage, bring his hero back to life.

If DC wants to win back readers it lost by its own bad behavior, this is a start, but make no mistake it is only the first step of a long journey.

2. To learn how to get up

A couple years ago, Dan Didio was being interviewed for one of the many specials out just prior to The Dark Knight, and he was going on how “We at DC look on Bruce Wayne as the mask and Batman is the real person.” You could tell he was just so pleased with the line, like they all are, they think it’s so clever… Then one of the real experts came on and said how that’s doing a real disservice to the character and displays a complete lack of understanding: the story of “Batman” is the story of Bruce Wayne, the man.  The long tradition of heroes yadda yadda yadda…

Since that time, that lack of understanding has become more and more apparent.  The phrase we hear more and more is that the folks at DC simply do not know: they don’t know who these characters are, they don’t know what they’re supposed to be, they don’t know what is non-negotiable part of the mythos and what’s disposable window dressing. They don’t know a good idea from a bad one (or a really bad one) (or a really, really bad one).  They don’t know storytelling.  They don’t understand women.  They don’t understand heroes.  They don’t understand how long a story should run.  They don’t understand human behavior…

What’s worse, they cut themselves off from the past that did know.  They mocked it and belittled it.  Now they’re stuck.  They know where they are isn’t working.  They don’t know how to fix it.  They know everything they try makes it worse.  When they stumble onto something that does work, they don’t understand why it worked and they try to reproduce it by focusing on all the wrong things.

With Retro: going back to the time before things were broken and BRINGING BACK THE PEOPLE WHO KNOW WHAT THEY’RE DOING, letting them work in the non-broken continuities, this could be a phenomenally effective way for these guys to LEARN HOW TO DO THIS.

3. Come back here and take what’s coming to ya! I’ll bite your legs off!

Unfortunately, no one who’s seen the storylines of the past few years can overlook the possibility that this series is intended to deliver another attack on old fans by polluting the past continuities.  Having done their worst in the present, it’s a way to retro-actively poison the past stories we love and take that last bit of pleasure from us.

Do I believe there is that much malice in the people making decisions at DC Comics?  Absolutely.  Do I think that’s what Retro is about? Probably not.  Because the whispers about Time Warner shutting down print comics have become louder with each new tweak of the corporate structure and each new announcement of another five titles being cancelled.  When you’re being wheeled into the emergency room with a collapsed lung, you do not waste the energy to give someone the finger.

Anyway, on a lighter note: Trophies is now available in ebook and print-quality pdf. There’s also a new edition of the epub ebooks on the site. Mobile people in particular should find these load much faster. Iphone 4 newer Blackberry folks, hang tight. Your CSS issues are next on the todo list.

Chris Dee
www.catwoman-cattales.com

h1

West Coast Sunrise

December 28, 2010

Back when Disney bought Marvel, I said “Now we got us a fair fight,” and almost immediately afterwards, I retracted it. Because Disney has always been integrated and focused when it comes to synergy: getting the movies, the toys, the theme parks, the music CDs and the TV shows working together and feeding into each other, which leads to more toys and DVDs and games… Hell, Disney was the first movie studio to embrace television while the others were running scared. Walt used it as an outreach to build interest in his nascent Disneyland project at a time when other studios were still clutching at Cinemascope, Technicolor and 3D to win their losing battle against change.

I said “fair fight” because with the Disney buy, Marvel now had that same corporate synergy muscle as DC did with its parent Time/Warner. I retracted because while Disney has historically known how to use that muscle, TW has not. Well, the Times maybe are a-changing.

There were a couple tantalizing developments in comics news this month. Arkham City released 2 trailers—that was very smart because, while the game is quite a ways out yet, people are shopping for new computers and game systems now. The timing also perfect in order to remind everyone at this festive time of year when our credit cards are out how much we like Batman. Meow.

The interesting thing about the Arkham stuff is the subtextual (and in some cases brazenly textual) thread running through the audience reactions: as long as it’s not from the comic book division, it’s probably good. As long as it’s not comic people behind it. If it’s Nolan or Rocksteady Studios (Arkham Asylum) or the new cartoon The Brave and the Bold or even that live show in the UK, it’s assumed to be fine. It’s assumed to be Batman. If it’s from the comics, the default is that it’s bad. If it’s not, the default is that it’s okay.

Whew.

Okay, moving on to the second development: Conan O’Brien paid a visit to the Warner Bros lot which is only a few steps outside his studio… and is the home to DC Comics.

*Jim Aparo look of astonishment.*

What’s that? It is? The Warner Brothers lot is the home to DC Comics? Heeeey, it is. Because “DC Comics” is now DC Entertainment, and the last few months have seen an overdue flushing of New York positions and reassigning everything except the comics themselves to the West Coast, under the Warner Bros part of the company in practice as well as in name. A part of the company that… how to put this delicately… knows what it’s doing. Didio’s merry band came up with “Superman walks across America in a hoodie” and “Diana gets a new outfit.”  They were the last major comic company – scratch that, they were the last comic company – to go digital.  Alterna Comics got there first. You could get Jesus Hates Zombies on Android and iTunes while DC was still running plays from that 1972 playbook of theirs.

Team Coco paying a visit to DC Comics home on the Warner Bros lot is huge because, to paraphrase one of those non-subtext critics, the DC whose home is on the West Coast is able to achieve a cross-promo spot on Conan to chat with an animator, drop the names of the Big 3, and plug The Green Lantern. Welcome to the 21st Century, DC. Most of you are going to like it here.

Now then, Cat-Tales update. Well first, I do apologize to all those who rely on this blog for Gifts to Make Your Catwoman Purr for not finding out about nOir Jewelry’s Long Claw ring until a reader informed me. Then again, might be for the best. Now you’ll have something to exchange after you return that iPod-Docking Toilet Paper Dispenser.

The holidays are always a slow season for the tales, so I took advantage of the lull to roll out a few updates. Support for Social Networking is much improved. You can now share, tweet, stumble upon, email, and otherwise distribute individual tales, selected spinoffs, as well as the CT Collection as a whole. Selina decided to answer some reader letters in Ask Catwoman, Random Equinox finished his spinoff Don’t Fear the Z, and oh yes, if you missed Christmas in Gotham, the Cat-Tales Visitor Center will be decked out for the holidays until January 5th.

Chris Dee
www.catwoman-cattales.com
cattales.yuku.com

%d bloggers like this: