You might not know it from previous posts, but I'm an incredibly harsh critic, even when it comes to things I like. Picking a story apart, whether it's a film or a comic book or an eighty chapter epic is one of the most enjoyable things about digesting entertainment for me. It forces me to examine things I dislike, come to understand why I dislike them, and helps me to appreciate what I enjoy about them all the more. Such is the case here. While there's a lot to like about Selina's '90s series, there's a lot to dislike, too, and this story is, sadly, one of the best examples of those things. Please be advised it's going to get torn to shreds before your very eyes.
about_faces: So, I've been reviewing Doug Moench's various Two-Face appearances for some time, going in chronological order. They've been a mixed bag, but a far more interesting mixed bag than I thought from back when I read the stories originally. Even the infamous Face Schism story had more going for it than I originally thought! So maybe the *next* Harvey story of his might not be so bad either! Hmm... wait, what *is* is the next Moench story?
... oh. Oh no. Not that one. Not... it... I... I can't...
... Ummm... Henchgirl? *singsong* Oh my beloved Henchgiiiirl? Hellooooooo, bitemetechie?
Hi! Thank god! Say, uh, how masochistic are you?
...is this the sort of question I should be openly answering on your fanblog? You know my tendency to overshare.
Erm... *cough*... it's just, I only ask because... well, I am about to review a story which is very relevant to your interests! I mean, considering that you moonlight as dr_von_fangirl, expert in all things Catwoman, queen of Selina... *cough*even the Jim Balent years...*cough*
You don't mean...
OH GOD, WHY?!
Because... because it has Harvey in it! And also, I thought that maybe you and I could maybe kinda sorta do a dual review together maybe? You know how much I love your geek brain. Not to mention your geek everything-else...
Oh, hush. Look, don't get me wrong, there is a lot to enjoy about Selina's nineties series, but you have no idea what kind of clusterfuck you're getting into here. BECAUSE CATWOMAN'S ENTIRE NINETIES SERIES IS A CLUSTERFUCK. I CANNOT STRESS ENOUGH THE CLUTERFUCKNESS OF THE CLUSTERFUCK. I MEAN LOOK AT ALL THAT EMPHASIS. EVEN THAT FALLS SHORT.
Yes, but Catwoman: Year Two, which ran through Catwoman #38-40, is at least a *standalone* clusterfuck! And besides, the events of this story follow pretty directly after the events that you so excellently covered in your comprehensive, complete, and definitive origin of Selina, which tied all her Post-Crisis stuff into a neat little package.
Oh, you mean that post that everyone everywhere should read because it totally took nearly a year to complete, you shameless flatterer? That one?
Exactly! So you might be interested to know that C:Y2 is the only story thus far to bridge the gap between Frank Miller's gray-suit Catwoman into the purple-suited Jim Balent character from the 90's solo series!
But even still, this story is kind of...not-great.
Oh, it's awful. Lousy. Dialogue is horrible, characters are all over the place, and the art is the visual equivalent of being unreadable. You'd probably know better than I, but it might just represent the absolute nadir of Selina's 90's series. BUT it features both of our favorite characters "facing off"!
I see what you did there, HURR.
Basically, what I'm saying is that I want... no, I need to drag you into this mess with me, so that perhaps we can at least get some entertainment value out of this crap.
Hooray! I'm helping!
Besides, I think it'd be fantastic to see what happens when our two favorite characters meet up for the first time. Just imagine: Selina Kyle and Harvey Dent, hanging out together! Do you think they'll get along as swimmingly, as perfectly, as absolutely lovey-dove-ily wonderfully as we do?
I'm guessing not.
On with the trainwreck! Choo-chooooooo!
So the story begins with Selina in the gray catsuit, in keeping with Miller and Mazzucchelli's Batman: Year One, which was also by default Catwoman: Year One. That is an entire period of Selina's life and career which, it's worth pointing out one more time, you have already explored in great--and accessible--detail.
That's true, but for clarity, I should mention that there are a few stories that fit into continuity before Year Two. Year Two is more like Catwoman Begins...wearing purple, and there are a handful of tales taking place in the Gray Suit Era that shouldn't be forgotten. I only point this out because otherwise, it looks like there's nothing that in continuity between Selina's origin and Year Two. That's a misconception that drives me bonkers.
Well, when it comes to Selina, people have a problem with knowing her history period.
YES I KNOW BELIEVE ME I KNOW ARGH. Ahem. Now, you were saying?
So Catwoman: Year Two opens with Graysuit!Selina on a typical night out:
Ugh, I'm sorry, I have to stop right here. I'm sorry, but this... this is why I hated Selina as a character for so long. Whenever I thought about her, I thought of thieving, self-congratulatory egotism accompanied by glaring disdain for others. I suppose that's all supposed to make her more like a cat, but as you know, I'm a cat person myself! I'm not quite sure WHAT the differences are, but they must be there.
I mean, really, she goes from "I'm awesome and perfect and THE BEST AS WHAT I DO, BUB," to "Oh, it's Batman. So arrogant." For someone so self-centered, she has zero self-awareness.
Sadly, that pops up a few times in this series, so I can understand your dislike. Thing is, Catwoman Vol. 2 had many writers and each one's vision was different, so it's unfair to judge her based solely on this. Like, Duffy's Catwoman was compassionate. Gorfinkel's? Humble. Dixon's? So catty it bordered on parody. Grayson's was strong, smirky and no bullshit. Carlton's showed vulnerability, imperfection and determination. Doug Moench? Er...well...yeah. He's a bit--okay, a lot--hit and miss. When he's on, he's fantastic. When he's not...he's really, really not.
Speaking of Moench's writing being hit and miss, in the ensuing scuffle with Batman, Catwoman scratches his cheek, which means she has the opportunity to ask, "Cat scratch fever?"
Batman's witty comeback, as he delivers a karate chop: "No. Cat-Nap Chop."
Wait. What? What? That's not even a pun or wordplay, it... ugh, whatever, whatever, MOVING ON.
I neglected to mention that Doug Moench has a very bad sense of what qualifies as a witty joke. I'm sorry. I should have warned you. It's going to happen a lot.
So Batman gets Catwoman in a sleeper hold, and she proceeds to lick the scratch on his face! I should have scanned this panel, because it clearly horrifies the fuck out of Batman. Like, EW, GIRL COOTIES. Quick, Batman, respond in a mature and reasonable manner!
"... but then I'd be just like you: part of the night... instead of its scourge," he says, possibly invoking a character from a much, much better Doug Moench story.
By the way, I really wasn't exaggerating about Batman being afraid of cooties. Next, we find Bruce in the Batcave, surrounded by a few trophies that we haven't seen before or since. I'm curious to know the circumstances behind the robotic penguin with machine-gun eyes, and how Batman's cowl got half-scarred, presumably from acid used by a certain somebody-somebody.
Heeey. There's a playing card, a penguin and an acid scarred cowl. Is that the gentle whack of the foreshadowing stick I feel?
I really love Alfred's expressions here. Catwoman gives Batman strange stirrings in his utility belt, and Alfred is all like, "Whaaaaaaaat?" and then "Oh, thank God, he still has human feelings. WHEW." I imagine Bruce's youth full of angst-angst-angst-my-parents-are-deeeead!
Man, Alfred really is hard to screw up. If only the same could be said about the Bat-Villains, especially the "Unholy Three." Yes, Catwoman: Year Two is another of those odd stories that depicts Joker, Harvey, and Ozzie as best bads, similar to the United Underworld in the 1966 Batman movie. Except that these guys don't have a cool logo with an evil world-devouring octopus.
Moench has written each of these three villains capably in past stories, but in this one, everyone sounds off, and Balent's art certainly doesn't do anyone any favors either:
They gave poor short Ozzie a box to stand on! That's both helpful AND humiliating! Bad enough they stuck him in Arkham, since he's the sanest of the three by far.
As for why they're going to court, the only clue Moench gave us was a newspaper headline reading "Bizarre Appeal." We get the impression that this is all Harvey's idea, and honestly, I love that Moench actually has Two-Face using his legal expertise. Really, why the hell don't more writers have Harvey working within and/or manipulating the legal system, like godfather and consigliere at the same time?
Because many writers don't understand the legal system? That'd be my guess.
Meanwhile, Catwoman makes a daring escape from police custody and returns to her penthouse just in time to feed her legions of hungry cats and take a nice, soothing bubble bath...talking to herself the entire time. Because comics.
Hey look! A thinly veiled Batman: Year One reference!
What, where? Oh, the "one real man" line! Nice catch! Interesting that Moench includes that, when the rest of Selina's Year One history goes unremarked upon. For many, I'm sure that's the way it "should" be, but man, I think I greatly prefer Miller's Selina to this one. As a character, she was genuinely self-assured in such a way that she didn't need to go on at length about how awesome she was, which I'll take over this talky egotist who espouses such big plans as implementing what I guess could be called Selina's Five S's:
I mentioned earlier how much I liked the idea of Harvey's legal expertise being used, but Moench quickly subverted his own assertion of Dent's brilliance by having him present a sloppy case which can be easily dismissed by the Judge. I wish we could actually SEE Harvey as "the best jailhouse lawyer ever to pull heavy time," but alas, it's not to be. Even in a legal capacity, this Two-Face is classic Moench: all snarling (and apparently now drooling) rage and humorless ranting.
Moench's Joker, meanwhile, is entirely lost in his own benign silliness. Really, this has to be one of the least threatening depictions of the Joker in the 90's, which wouldn't be a bad thing if he were at least funny rather than just kinda annoying.
Lets see both characters in action as the Judge hands out his ruling:
You know, I wouldn't call him benignly silly.
Really? What would you call him?
I love you.
I know it.
Back at Selina's place, she plans her latest heist. There's a minor snag, though...
"Hmm. I want to knock over a museum, but gee, I bet Batman is going to get in my way. I need a diversion. Oh, I know!"
"I'll just unleash three deadly criminals onto an unsuspecting Gotham to keep Batman busy. THERE IS NO WAY THIS CAN BACKFIRE."
Seriously, bad enough she kicks the Arkham guards out of the prison transport truck on its way back to the asylum, sending them both face-first onto the pavement (there's no mention that they died, but Jesus, how could they have possibly survived that?!), but deciding to bust out The Fucking JOKER, not to mention Harvey and Ozzie, all so you can distract Batman? That has to be one of the single most reprehensible, irresponsible, thoughtless things that Selina's ever done. She is an awful, awful person.
And she's supposed to be the admirable protagonist here. Ah well. Fandom's most famous interpretation, of Chris Dee's Cat Tales, is an even more awful person, so I guess it could be worse.
Take note: the Joker is Selina's fashion inspiration. I don't have anything to add to that.
"The color of royalty." I honestly wonder just how much research Moench did here, 'cause I think he might be trying to tie tying Selina to Lydia, the Seller of Purple, a wealthy, gutsy, biblical era broad--a single, successful entrepreneur in a male dominated society. Which would be pretty uncharacteristically thematically appropriate of him.
Lydia? Hey, that's your name! Quite a coinkydink!
Yeah, yeah, my whole life is one big, dark room and I have eyes that folks adore so and a torso even moreso. Can we please move on? God, I hate my name...
Geez, this Selina and Harvey is an ugly little scene of Nasty and Nastier. Really, the dialogue here is absolutely painful (not to mention a bit nonsensical), with Harvey being uncharacteristically lascivious. Moench almost makes up for that by giving Harvey a moment of lucidity as he lists off her crimes, which is the closest anyone in this story comes to calling out the magnitude of what Selina's done. I'm not saying I don't love seeing Harvey Dent as the voice of morality, but when it's this Harvey Dent, something's definitely fucked up.
The depiction of Ozzie, meanwhile, seems to entirely revolve around his issues with being short. I don't think we've ever seen Ozzie written with an Ed Elric style insecurity when it comes to his height.
And now for something completely different...
Hang on, hang on, wait, wait, I have to do something. There.
What are you doing?
I'm being dark royalty, John. YOU CAN'T TAME ME. MMROW. FFT. FFT.
You are such a weirdo. Never change.
I like Moench's subtle dig at Harvey's own lack of self-awareness, raging at the indignity of having no free will as he flips the coin. It's not a brilliant moment, but it's cute. I mean, if that's what he was going for.
I should mention that these last three pages immediately followed one another. Therefore, Selina must either be the world's fastest tailor, or the Unholy Three were standing on that street corner for the entire length of time while she sewed a whole new costume, plus with boots and gloves. Well, logic isn't this story's strong suit, and nor is consistency. Just compare the above final page of part one to the first page of part two, and see how many differences you can find:
First version: "Rrrargh! Let's kill Catwoman!" "HAHAHA!" "YAY!"
Second version: "Rrrargh! Let's kill Catwoman!" "Oooh, fluttery." "Screw you guys, I'm going home, waugh waugh."
Slashy, Joker! Very slashy! While Penguin is written entirely out-of-character (it gets worse: later in the story, he calls someone's attention by shouting "YO!" Oswald Cobblepot never, ever says "YO!"), at least he gets depicted as the most rational, sensible member of the Big Three.
So left to his own devices, an obsessed Harvey Dent (is there any other kind?) amasses his substitute cat-kill squad of goons and lowlifes:
Who wants to bet that the four henchmen are all caricatures for people working on this story? I'm guessing that they're meant to be Moench, Balent, Gorfinkel, and somebody else.
Also, brilliant plan, Harvey! Yes, hire four ex-cons who have every reason to hate you, since you're the one who got them thrown into jail, and expect them to be loyal. Fantastic idea. No flaws in that one whatsoever. Gold star. On top of that, his rage seems a trifle overwrought. Geez, Harvey, it's not like Catwoman killed your puppy or anything. But then, as previously stated, we're dealing with Moench's Two-Face, who happens to be a raving maniac who just loves to pass out (and repeatedly mention) "the death sentence."
Joker, meanwhile, goes on a spree less about crime and more like, "HEY BATMAN! BATMAN BATMAN BATMAN! LOOK AT ME! HEY! HEYYYYYY!" *waves arms* In an act more fitting with the Joker of the Silver or Bronze Ages, he fires a laughing gas rocket into GCPD HQ and takes over the building.
Wow. Really slashy.
Yeah, the whole rest of their fight is like that. Shall we move on?
Yeah. So finally, we get some sense that Catwoman actually has a soul, despite all her actions that suggest the contrary in this story, when her motivations for stealing the museum piece become clear:
You know, I'm not without sympathy for Selina's history in a broken home, and I do understand the tremendous appeal of shiny, sparkly things, but even taking into account the personal relevance of what the spoils of this theft represent, we need to put this in perspective:
Catwoman voluntarily released the Joker, Two-Face and Penguin, hoping that they would do something high profile enough (read: dangerous enough) to keep Batman's attention from being focused on her, so that she could steal an incredibly valuable dollhouse that she has no intention of ever selling or displaying? What the hell is wrong with her? Did she just not think to go to FAO Schwarz? Is she not handy enough with a hacksaw to build her own? Jesus, woman, what were you thinking? How many people are dead because you decided to work out your childhood trauma by stealing a dollhouse rather than paying for therapy?
Granted, Catwoman is often portrayed as being morally ambiguous, but this brand of unthinking selfishness borders on the downright evil. Her intent may not have been malicious, but if even one innocent person was killed because of her shortsighted actions, she is an accessory to murder. Frankly, Selina is acting like a callous, spoiled teenage girl--which I suppose is fitting, given that she seems to have regressed because her reasons for stealing the dollhouse are of a deeply personal nature, but still. This is unacceptable from a character who's supposed to be the hero of her own book.
Man, I've been trying and failing to pin down just what it is about this story (and this sequence in particular) that bugs me so much, but I think you nailed it. It wouldn't be so bad if someone called her out on it, or ideally, if she gained some measure of self-awareness. Instead, the closest we get to seeing her pay any consequences is when Two-Face and his men break into her hideout, ready to execu... god, do I really have to say it?
... *facepalm* "Close... but no kitty litter?"
I should just let it go, I really should. There's no point thinking about how it doesn't make sense, how it's not a word play or pun or joke or anything, how carnival vendors didn't hand out handfuls of kitty litter instead of cigars as prizes for sharp-shooting, or wherever the saying originated. Just let it go. Forget it, Hef: it's Moenchtown.
Oh Harvey, your endearing obsessive-compulsiveness will always be your undoing. And indeed, that proves to be the case as Selina roundly trounces the goons and snags the shotgun, bringing Harvey along with it.
Ouch! That should have broken his nose at the very least! Also, "So either double-mug ain't such a much..."? I'm guessing that's a typo.
At this point, Gordon explains that the Penguin has robbed a jewelry store and has taken hostages, all of which Selina overhears.
I have to bring down the hammer of perspective again. Please take note that the ramifications of her actions didn't occur to Catwoman until one of the supervillains she released went after her. Until Two-Face decided to attack her, she saw absolutely nothing wrong with what she'd done. If he hadn't showed up on her doorstep, it's entirely possible that it wouldn't have occurred to her at all--and that's a scary, scary thing. It's a wonder she doesn't drown in the sea of self absorption she walks around in during this story.
What's worse is, rather than realizing her error and bringing Two-Face to police headquarters out of a sense of moral obligation or guilt or..or just doing the right thing, she does it to get Batman's attention. She does it for Batman. She does it so she can flirt some more.
Let's not even bother with the fact that this is an incredibly anti-feminist portrayal that is somehow embraced as being feminist by fandom; I don't care about that right now. Let's talk about this:
"I could even help you with the real criminals--killers like Two-Face."
SHE ACTUALLY KNOWS TWO-FACE IS A KILLER, AND YET SHE STILL LET HIM GO? And worse, she let the Joker go, who is even more notoriously deadly than he is? And she's busy flirting with Batman rather than tracking down the remaining member of the trio she set free...why?
Either Selina is incredibly myopic and immature, or... or she's incredibly myopic and immature.
Damn it, Doug Moench. Delightful, fast paced Bat/Cat banter does not excuse this character assassination!
... Have my babies. God, this is why I wanted--no, needed--you along to tear into this story. Because really, of the few people who remember the stories of this era, no one ever talks about how horrible a person Selina is, at least in this storyline. She's worse than the villains, because at least they're obviously in the wrong, not the ostensible heroic (or antiheroic) leads of the story! I know I'm supposed to find the Bat/Cat flirting to be fun and sexy, but all I can focus on is how completely and utterly RIGHT Bruce is to ignore the fluttering of his little anemic bat-hormones, because she's worse than a criminal. She's a lousy human being.
Not that this story seems to realize that. In fact, it's at this point that she teams up with Batman to bring down the Penguin, with the apparent intent of showing that she's capable of being heroic too:
"I didn't know how vicious they are..."
All right, one quick thing: remember this?
"Do whatever you want." Maniacs. Killers.
Yes, Selina, it is that bad. There is no way for you to come off in a positive light in this story. Trying to cover your ass at the last minute with an offhanded admission of making a mistake ain't gonna cut it. Especially since, upon defeating the last of the criminals you set free, rather than delivering a genuine, "WOW did I ever screw up and BOY OH BOY am I ever sorry.", you jumped Batman. Proving yet again that this Catwoman has no idea that anything exists outside her own feelings and desires, even when someone reminds her of that fact.
Look how defensive she immediately gets, how she makes this all about her own bruised feelings:
"Then I'll never be good enough. Not for you. And you don't care, do you? You're just going to let me walk away."
Instead of acknowledging just how royally she fucked up and how totally right Batman is to be pissed off, she plays the self-pity card to the bloody hilt.
Ah, that's nice. She gets a consolation prize of money stolen from an innocent old man and his son. Good for her.
While saying Batman will regret turning her down, like we're somehow supposed to believe he's the bad guy and she's not.
Now look: I love morally ambiguous characters. I even love unapologetic asshole characters. They create conflict through their very existence. But the only way I can accept them as protagonists in a universe that hinges on the idea of superheroics and good versus evil is if the narrative itself clearly defines their actions as being negative. It's okay for a protagonist to be an asshat if the narrative calls them on it, because it means that the behavior is not meant to be admirable. If Selina had even a panel of reflection in which she considered her actions--even if it was something so small as "Maybe...maybe Batman was right to want to turn me in. Maybe..."--I could have accepted this. Hell, if it weren't for the final voiceover, I might not be so harsh on this story.
But as it is? We're supposed to think that Selina was justified in her every action and that Batman is just being an unreasonable stick in the mud. That's just not the case. Selina was not justified, she has no right to feel indignant over his rejection, nor to expect anything less after what she did and why she did it.
And thus Catwoman enters the Purple Suit Era of her 90's series, with the costume and attitude which is still hailed as THE take on the character by a contingent of devoted followers. Honestly, it blows my mind that there are people who are fans of this take on Catwoman.
Because I grew up in the 90's, and this was the only Catwoman in comics I knew, I didn't like the character at all until 2002, when Ed Brubaker and Darwyn Cooke revitalized her for the Goggles Suit Era. Man, I loved the older, wiser, more introspective Selina, someone who actively was trying to make good but was still herself a flawed character willing to do things that Batman wouldn't, and do them with less bitter self-righteousness than Purple Suit Selina or the Huntress. Brubaker's Selina was still very much Selina, but more mature and humane.
You bring up a good point that I haven't yet covered: Brubaker's Catwoman is older and wiser. This is Catwoman: Year Two after all. If my calculations are correct, she's maybe twenty-one or twenty-two, tops, and goodness knows I've known enough impulsive, callous college age girls who are just as shortsightedly self involved, though in less dramatic ways, for this to be realistic. If Moench were a slightly more skilled writer, I have no doubt that he could have pulled off the subtleties necessary to make this story actually work, while still making Selina a flawed hero, but he missed the mark by a rather large margin here.
Moench's run on Catwoman certainly isn't awful, but it certainly isn't without its flaws. His was the first to actually try and establish a cohesive story arc, rather than a revolving door for this month's Bat-family crossover, and he was the first to use other established Batman villains, and establish a recurring rogues gallery for Selina herself, and giving her a life outside the costume, so he deserves some serious credit there. But damn, when he missed the mark, he really, really missed the mark.
Which reminds me, we'll need to follow this up with Harvey and Selina's rematch, also by Moench and Balent. But I think we've had enough cracky badness for tonight. I'm exhausted, and the baby sounds like he's about to wake up. Tune in next time, same Cat-Time, same Coin-Channel!
Say goodnight, Henchgirl.
So, readers, any thoughts?