dr_von_fangirl (dr_von_fangirl) wrote,

Catwoman #1-4: Viva Le Purple Suit Era!

Today, I finally, finally start tackling Catwoman's first solo series, from 1993.

(If you haven't yet read The COMPLETE Definitive Catwoman Origin, now would be the time...)

This kicks off 31 Day Scans-a-Palooza, in which I rather suicidally try to post something scans-y once a day, every day, until Halloween. CAN YOU DO IT, DODGERS?

In 1993, with Batman Returns bringing Catwoman back into the limelight in a very big way and making her more popular than ever before, the nineties 'Bad Girl Comic' trend in full swing and the speculator comics bubble still intact, it was inevitable that Selina would wind up with her own solo series. Commonly known as the "Jim Balent Era" or, more often, the "Purple Suit Era," Catwoman's first ongoing series lasted from 1993 to 2001, and stretched some ninety-four issues, plus annuals.

Before the Purple Suit Era began, Catwoman's appearances through Batman's history were fairly sparse. Despite her iconic status, there were entire decades where she made just a handful of appearances. After Crisis on Infinite Earths occurred, giving her a revamped history and look (the gray suit), she popped up a grand total of thirty-six times before the series launched in 1993--an average of five times a year--and many of those appearances were cameos.

With the success of Batman Returns--and, to a lesser extent, Batman: The Animated Series--people were clamoring for a Catwoman solo book, and with the huge Batman event Knightfall going on, spanning several Bat-Family titles, it was incredibly smart of DC to start yet another that could serve as a tie-in to the main Batman books.

(Which is why the first few dozen issues are rife with crossover activity: Catwoman's book was treated less as an actual title in its own right and more as a suppliment to whatever was going on in the DC Universe at large at any given time. This is probably one of the reasons why it's never been collected, and should give you some idea of just how much DC actually valued her before Brubaker's run came along: which is to say not a whole hell of a lot...)

The Catwoman we know from the Purple Suit era first appears in Batman #498, when she's approached by the criminal Bane who, after sending every available villan after Batman and finally breaking Gotham's protector with his own two hands, pretty much runs Gotham through a vast criminal network in Batman's absense. Bane 'offers' Catwoman the job of stealing for him, and with no recourse, she 'accepts', thus becoming a thief-for-hire under duress. And that's where the first story arc of Catwoman picks up, with a museum heist gone awry:

Having made her escape, Selina treks to a rendezvous point to meet her handler (for lack of a better term), Leopold. She's surprised to find him with one of Bane's men, Bird (haha I see whut you did thur), who immediately demands the spoils from the museum theft. She hands them over and grudgingly asks when she's going to receive her cut. Bird assures her it's coming, and then disappears with the stolen gems.

Selina tells Leopold to inform Bane that she has their next target picked out, and Leopold departs...

With this, Selina recounts just how she and Arizona hooked up to begin with--the young girl being a runaway who came to Gotham under the impression that because it's Batman's city, she'd be safe. This isn't Arizona's first appearance--she showed up a couple of times post-crisis (those comics are currently still in storage, but I'm about 90% certain they take place in the story Sorrow Street from Showcase '93)--and her reasons for being Selina's ward should be fairly obvious. If they're not...well, I'll let Selina herself explain.

"Bane may run this city like a King," Selina continues, "but he doesn't run me!"

(Points for melodramatic posing, Mr. Balent. Completely without sarcasm or irony, I love you so very, very much.)

Off in Bane's incredibly posh lair, he grills his henchmen for information pertaining to Catwoman. He wants to know who she really is, but his guys have been coming up empty. They find names, all right, but never the same one twice--and all of their leads take them straight to the morgue. Ultimately it's no matter, the crime boss admits, "Catwoman is defined by what she made of herself...as was the Batman. As am I."

So, Leopold puts in an appearance and gives Bane the rundown of the heist Selina wants to pull. With Bane's permission given, he heads off.

Meanwhile, a mysterious moustached figure meets with another mysterious tattooed figure in a seedy bar, to try and plan some way to get to Bane. Tattoo tells 'Stache-y that if he wants to get to Bane, he should try to get to Catwoman, who Bane is in love with, ah ha!

(Except, you know, I think the only human feelings Bane has ever actually had revolve around his childhood teddy bear. And no, I am not being sarcastic, the man had an actual teddy bear. ADORABLE, RIGHT??)

I'm sure nothing will come of that, though. I mean, who cares? The game is afoot!

Leopold's obvious reluctance to leave lends some power to this scene. Even though we don't know much about him, or the nature of his relationship with Selina, it's pretty clear that he does care, and even regrets the fact that he led Mysterious Moustache to Selina's doorstep. Certainly didn't stop him from getting her apartment blown to bits, though...

Outside, Mysterious Moustache waits with a rocket launcher, because when you want to kill Catwoman, you don't fuck around. The building is hit and a gas main explodes, turning what should have been a smoking hole in the structure into a towering inferno.

After delivering Arizona into the arms of the fire department, Selina makes a run for it. From the crowd, Leopold is visibly relieved that Catwoman's alive. With Arizona on her way to the hospital a news crew covers the blast, theorizing that the damage is Catwoman's fault. From Bane's lair, he watches the news coverage, and it's revealed that the hitman who was supposedly after Catwoman to get to Bane was actually hired by him. The hitman in question bleaches his hair and skips town, headed for the airport.

As for Selina...

Leopold, meanwhile, is busy getting laid, but Selina quickly puts a stop to that nonsense...

(Oh, sweetie, what are you wearing? I know it's 1993 and everything, but no!)

Leopold works long into the night to find the information Selina wants...

Between beating the crap out of various thugs to find information and stopping in to check on Arizona, you'd think Selina's evening was too crammed to fit anything else in, but it's not. She stops at a Catholic Church to ask one of the nuns to take care of her cats while she's out of town, now that she's got some leads on where to find the assassin who tried to off her. (Selina's sister from Catwoman Vol. 1 #1-4 collected as Her Sister's Keeper is mentioned offhandedly in this scene, which is interesting) Then, she's right back to Leopold again.

It's got to be Santa Prisca. Intent on finding the man who tried to kill her, Selina heads to the airport--but sadly (as shown in Batman #499) there's only one flight going there, and it's Bruce Wayne's private jet. Selina stows away, after being told that no, she can't hitch a ride, and then plays dumb to cover her tracks.

After landing in Santa Prisca, Selina finds herself stalking the streets at night, like a certain other dark avenger we all know and love in a totally-pants-wetting-terror sort of way.

The next day, in Selina's hotel room, we find her on the phone with Leopold, who's still in Gotham. He gives her the skinny of what's been going on in her absence: Arizona is being released from the hospital, but she's got (wait for it...) amnesia, which neatly ties up that messy 'knowing Catwoman's identity' story thread, and Bane? Bane's had his ass kicked by a new and improved Batman (Bruce's fill-in, Azrael) and is now rotting in prison somewhere.

After getting off the phone, Selina slinks down to the hotel pool to hobnob with some of the other guests, and its owner Quincy Lord and his incredibly jealous girlfriend, Nohani. They know she's searching for someone; her cover story is that an ex-lover betrayed her, stealing a large sum of money that was Bane's.

And then, out of left field...


(Despite the fact he looks very little like Frank Miller in the nineties, it's easy to know he's a cameo because he's the only character who doesn't show up again in this storylne, his name is Mr. Miller and Jim Balent, like many comic artists, tends to draw only one kind of square-jawed man.)

Anyway. Later that night...

With their help, Selina gets a bead on the hired killer she's looking for, and tracks him down, following and observing him as he moves in on his next target:

As it turns out? Selina just saved the life of the leader of Santa Prisca, and he's very grateful for the save.

Catwoman accepts his hospitality, somewhat reluctantly, but figures that if she finds out who hired the guy to kill Jefe, she'll find out who hired him to kill her.

Meanwhile, one of Jefe's guards runs off into the night and turns up at Quincy Lord's place--he who hobnobbed with Selina earlier in the day, remember?--to tell him that the assassinaton plot failed. The guard is killed, and...for reasons of forcing the plot to move forward, Quincy and the girlfriend Nohani, in case you've forgotten, because I can see how easy it would be to do that) are invited to Jefe's for dinner. And who do you think they run into?

Oh, Selina, you're so silly. Everyone knows wearing an arm cuff with a bracelet is tres gauche!

So, everyone sits down to a nice, cozy dinner, except, you know, when a couple of crime lords are involved, a cozy dinner includes a main course...OF DOOM.

Chaos ensues; bullets fly; Catwoman saves Jefe's life yet again, and in the fight, Dohani shoots Quincy. On Santa Prisca, you see, if you commit a crime and they can't catch you, they'll condemn your child to a lifetime prison sentence. That's how Bane came into being--he was punished for his father's crimes.

Back in Gotham, Selina meets with Leopold one last time, knowing that he's the man who set her up, and that Bane is the one who orchestrated the entire assassination plot. She doesn't let on, though, instead sending Leopold to meet with the broken crime lord and tell him all that she's learned--which, as it turns out, is all false information.

And with Leopold's blood somewhat indirectly on her hands, Selina disppears into the night.

Without a doubt, Jo Duffy's portrayal of Catwoman is one of my favorites. It's not without its missteps, of course, and the Santa Prisca subplot seems kind of...pointless, since it results in Catwoman figuring out that nobody in Santa Prisca knows her and thus would have no reason to kill her (wouldn't she know that from the beginning? Isn't she that smart?) but it's the perfect example of someone building on the foundations laid by the writers who came before.

It's a logical evolution of the character, from where she started out duringher own year one. This Selina is not above vengeance but she's still incredibly compassionate, kind, and often selfless. Consider all the evidence of that in just these four issues. Not only has Selina taken a runaway in as her ward, but she sees to it that her cats are cared for while she's out of Gotham; she's moved by the plight of the people of Santa Prisca, feels sympathy for Dohani and does charity work for children.

This is easily the same Catwoman of Her Sister's Keeper, a few years older, a few years wiser and a lot more experienced. She's also flirty and incredibly skilled but flawed, which makes her far more interesting than the two dimensional character she sometimes becomes under less nuanced writers. Catwoman does not have the upper hand at all times, which lends a genuine sense of peril to her adventures. Instead of the deck being stacked in her obvious favor, she has the skills to think quickly, adapt and land on her feet, as any good cat should be able to. She also has a bit of luck and convenient allies on her side, as most well rounded protagonists ought to, because if the hero wins every fight under their own power, it gets really, really boring after awhile.

Would Captain Kirk's bravado been as tolerable if he didn't need help from Spock and McCoy sometimes? Would Han Solo be as interesting if he didn't get frozen by Boba Fett and need Leia's rescue? Would Batman be as intersting if Alfred weren't there to patch him up and lament that this isn't why he learned to sew? Definitely not.

Sadly, these aspects of Selina were discarded by subsequent writers--most notably Chuck Dixon and Doug Moench. While their versions of Catwoman certainly have their good points, a bit too often under their care Selina is a callous, selfish, catty brat, which makes her a short sighted, two-dimensional character who's just kind of a dick, rather than a compelling anti-hero.

Something else that's highly interesting? Compare the first few scans of this post to Winick's Catwoman. They have an awful lot in common.

1.) Partial or implied nudity
2.) Supporting 'girlfriend' type character is introduced
3.) An explosion demolishes Catwoman's lair
4.) A heist goes wrong
5.) A love interest is introduced
6.) A reminder of Selina's 'sordid' past

But there are still differences. What's most striking to me personally is the fact that yes, Selina's hideout is blown to smithereens, but it's obviously not that big a deal--she has enough petty cash stashed away somewhere to pick up the pieces and find out who's responsible for the event. Furthermore, we learn more about the nature of Selina's relationship with both Leopold and Arizona than we do about Lola or Batman in the new Catwoman #1, which is sad, because I do want to know more about Lola. Plus, Selina uses her sex appeal to her advantaeg in an appropriately cunning way, rather than beating us over the head with it.

It's kind of fascinating to see the same fictional tropes in two different works featuring the same characters and find out just how differently each respective writer uses those tropes, and how effectively.

The Catwoman of 2011 responds to trauma with a tantrum, while the Catwoman of 1993 responds with heroism. When the Catwoman of 2011 is presented with a man who's done her wrong, she flies off the handle and beats him bloody with her bare hands; when the Catwoman of 1993 is presented with a man who's done her wrong, she gets him killed without getting her hands dirty.

How interesting that a title rated T+ and is intended to be more mature, features a less less grown up version of the character. 2011's Catwoman is raw, while 1993's is well done.

(HURR. I MADE A PUN. ohgodkillmenow.)

Of course, there's still the chance (however miniscule I personally believe it to be) that the new Catwoman series will feature a well rounded, well developed version of Selina who grows and develops as the book wears on. I'm hopeful, but I'm also not going to hold my breath. In the meantime, I can celebrate both of Catwoman's other solo books. Wheee!

Tags: catwoman (1993), catwoman (2011), costume: purple, reviews/scans, scans!scans!scans!
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