[identity profile] bluefall.insanejournal.com posting in [community profile] scans_daily
Recently, the issue of Catwoman's origin came up. Specifically, the post-Crisis Y1 retcon that she was a prostitute, inspired by "real man" Batman to dress up like a loony and follow in his footsteps, or something; the subsequent Zero Hour retcon to something much better; and the innumerable other retcons that ignored the Zero Hour retcon in favor of Miller's take, only more XTREEM, adding rape, underaged victimization, etc etc.

And since everything is more clear with scans, I thought I'd post those two different takes, so everybody can see the contrast for themselves.




Here's the first we see of prostitute!Selina, in the ever-famous BATMAN: YEAR ONE.



Bruce doesn't do totally awesome and Holly and some of the other girls join the fight, causing Bruce to whack Holly, so Selina jumps in. Literally.



That's all we get of her there; Bruce runs off and Selina doesn't show again until two issues later.





Selina and Holly show up at the scene to rubberneck, while Batman and a siamese cat hide out from the cops. Bats fights his way out, clobbering a dude for shooting at the cat. It's unclear how much of this Holly and Selina see, or what they think about it - the extent of their presence or commentary is this:



A month later, Selina decks a guy who's probably supposed to be her pimp (the same guy who was authoritatively hassling Holly earlier when Bruce interfered).



Then a month after that, she jumps inexplicably out a window.



... why on earth did Brubaker like Holly?

Quite some time after that, Selina is inexplicably contemplating possible wealthy targets for theft.



The place she decides to hit, Batman is already at for recon. For no clear reason, she just hops around out front clawing the shit out of people until everyone is down, which is significantly more showy and wasteful than simply scratching one guy in the privacy of his room in proper cat burglar style.



(That's Batman on the roof she's seeing there.)

The only fallout we see:



"Cat burglaries"? Yeah, no. Beating the shit out of everybody in the entire place and then walking out in broad moonlight with valuables under your arm is not "cat burglary," by any stretch of the imagination.

Aaaaand.... that's it. That's the full extent of the New Origin Of Catwoman.

Um. The hell, Miller? In what universe was that Selina? I mean, besides yours, obviously.

Now, Selina as a prostitute is really problematic in and of itself; that's my feminism-informed opinion there. You will find many other feminsts out there who strongly disagree (though the question of being wholly inspired by Batman remains). Sex work, and the portrayal thereof (particularly by people not involved in the trade), is one of the messiest tangles in a messy, tangled movement.

However, here's my biggest thing about this. Even before I'm a feminist, I am a storyteller - and on that count, even above and beyond the gender issue of it, Selina as a prostitute is utter fail because it is simply bad storytelling. It does not make sense! Selina is a cat burglar. Prostitute to cat burglar is no way a logical shift. (And make no mistake, it is very much a shift - she stops being a prostitute and starts being a master thief. This is not an addition to her life or expansion of her habits, this is a complete track-jumping reinvention.) What the hell did seeing Bruce inspire her to change about herself? To step outside the law? Little late for that. To go ahead and take what she wanted from the world, openly expressing her contempt of those who possess the riches she can easily pluck from them? From what we see of Miller's professional domme, she's got that more than covered with her day job. To do something expressive and physical and active with her body? Come on! Even Miller's weirdass take on her here where being Catwoman is all about getting to claw people's faces or some stupid shit like that isn't anything her S&M clients don't offer.

Selina is a sassy, independent thrillseeker and lover of luxury who believes she deserves what she can earn with her unique skills, regardless of what the law says about it. What part of that profile, which of those needs was not already being met by her sex work that being Catwoman was a remarkable improvement on? Assuming, of course, the most favorable interpretation of Miller's prostitute!Selina. If she was freer, safer, and more in control of her life as Catwoman than as a pro, we're right back to indisputable sexist "sex crime victim fights back" tropes (which we were anyway post-Miller, of course, but I'm trying to be thorough, here).

And then there's the skillset itself. Selina's, so impressive and masterful that it can only have been a lifelong effort, is that of the thief: stealth, lock- and pocket-picking, acrobatics, specialized tool use (crampons, glass-cutters, d-cel), and, at this point in her canon, big cat taming - things that one learns for the express purpose of theft, develops through a repeated reliance on theft, or turns to theft as a result of possessing. None of which makes any sense from prostitute!Selina, who never needed or intended theft to be her main source of income and self-satisfaction prior to seeing Batman and most assuredly did not possess the time or resources to master between first seeing Batman and becoming the Catwoman who so easily vexed him.

Not to mention what it does to the romance - nothing says "equal partner" like "would never have found my true calling without following in your shadow," amirite?

To our rescue, though, thankfully, comes Moench and the post-ZH retcon. He starts, appropriately enough, with Selina's early childhood.



Selina is a bit of a problem child, unsurprising from a girl whose mother commited suicide and whose father has not really ascended from his drunken haze since. Her teachers stress that she's smart, and loves gym class (particularly acrobatics), but just doesn't make an effort or engage with anyone.

Her dad doesn't care, exactly. He basically can't. Eventually, Selina finds him dead too, and just walks out of the house, leaving the door open and letting the dozens of cats scatter to the four winds.

She gets caught within a week.





Shockingly, she does not adjust her attitude. She does sneak around a lot, though, and learns the alarm code.





She gets strapped for that, then chucked in solitary confinement in the attic. Which is not even remotely an obstacle for young Selina, but does manage to piss her off.



The director hasn't been finessing the finances so much as cheerfully and blatantly butchering them, putting less than forty percent of the hundreds of thousands in funding from the state to the actual institution and pocketing the rest. Selina confronts her with this knowledge... in very adolescent style, with no clear plan, just a sort of thoughtless implied blackmail. This gets her chloroformed and dropped in the river.

Doesn't stop her, though.



She takes the director's ill-gotten expensive jewelry, turns off the alarm and tells the other kids to scatter, and sets off into Gotham, alone.





(I like how Moench takes a moment here to try to reconcile that Miller scene a bit; the visual of those panels specifically has a lot of traction and has been repeated often, and incorporating instead of trying to bury it was a smart move. Not effective, sadly, but still smart.)

She goes on to have a few tussles with Batman, who can often styme her thefts but never manages to bring her in, and the story finally catches up with the present day, and a Selina who is everything her younger self wanted to be; comfortable, rich, sought after more than seeking... the ultimate cat.



See, now that actually makes sense as a Catwoman origin, and I'd ask where all the sexism went, but you know what? I don't really miss it.

Cooke, Moore and Brubaker did, apparently, but that's a different story, which I have no stomach for telling. Y'all will have to get someone else to take on *that* particular headache.

Scans from BATMAN #404-407 (collected in BATMAN YEAR ONE of course) and CATWOMAN #0 (eight and a third pages of twenty-four).
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Date: 2009-05-01 12:10 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] richiedaley.insanejournal.com
I always did really like Moench's take on Selina.

Date: 2009-05-01 12:25 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mysteryfan.insanejournal.com
Prostitute to cat burglar is no way a logical shift.

And then there's the skillset itself. Selina's, so impressive and masterful that it can only have been a lifelong effort, is that of the thief: stealth, lock- and pocket-picking, acrobatics, specialized tool use (crampons, glass-cutters, d-cel), and, at this point in her canon, big cat taming - things that one learns for the express purpose of theft, develops through a repeated reliance on theft, or turns to theft as a result of possessing. None of which makes any sense from prostitute!


Agreed. Well said!

Date: 2009-05-01 12:26 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mysteryfan.insanejournal.com
Oh, and I like this, too. It IS smart.
I like how Moench takes a moment here to try to reconcile that Miller scene a bit; the visual of those panels specifically has a lot of traction and has been repeated often, and incorporating instead of trying to bury it was a smart move. Not effective, sadly, but still smart.


From: [identity profile] mysteryfan.insanejournal.com
Yeah, well. :) Still, all the other stuff.

And it's not like we're going to be able to lose the big cat taming, anyway.

Here, I'll try again.

And then there's the skillset itself. Selina's, so impressive and masterful that it can only have been a lifelong effort, is that of the thief: stealth, lock- and pocket-picking, acrobatics and specialized tool use (crampons, glass-cutters, d-cel). Things that one learns for the express purpose of theft, develops through a repeated reliance on theft, or turns to theft as a result of possessing. None of which makes any sense from prostitute!

Date: 2009-05-01 12:38 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mysteryfan.insanejournal.com
Also, thanks for pointing out that she couldn't be a thief who gives Batman any kind of run for his money without having had the prior time being, you know, a thief, who's pretty well-established at her job (of being a thief) by the time she actually becomes Catwoman.

You know what, though? Personally I think I'm tired of origin stories. It's just my own personal take, but I think I officially just realized I am.

Date: 2009-05-01 12:42 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] icon_uk.insanejournal.com
To be fair, a few of those skills would make a certain amount of sense for someone who never wanted to risk getting trapped by a bad customer, possibly from experience; Someone locks you in, you want to know at least two different ways of getting out, either picking a lock or going out a window.

Good god, I'm defending Miller's Y1... I need some SLEEP!

And I agree, I loved the Zero Hour Catwoman origin...

Date: 2009-05-01 01:01 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] thehefner.insanejournal.com
The Brubaker/Cooke/Cameron/Pulido Catwoman is more sexist than the Balent era? Well crap, at the risk of both touching upon an unpleasant ranty subject AND ruining my enjoyment of those stories... how so?

The thing I loved about that run was that it felt so refreshingly character-based and down-to-earth, rather than Balent's breasticaboobical chesticamammical pendular globular "fun." Maybe the content of those actual stories had character depth, but I never was able to read them carefully enough, because the art turned me off so badly.

Whereas the Brubaker stuff just seemed do much more down-to-earth, almost with an indie flair, which I really liked (that is, until the editors deemed it return to gratutious T&A, and order Paul Gulacy on the book; I dropped it after two issues and clearly it was all downhill after that). It'd be sad to learn that my sexism-dar was off.

Date: 2009-05-01 01:04 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] thehefner.insanejournal.com
Is Y1 something that one should feel guilty for defending? I suppose this is a question that should be better addressed in the book club, but man, this post was the first time I thought, "Huh, so okay, Y1 is not as near-perfect as I've increasingly thought over the years."

Date: 2009-05-01 01:18 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] icon_uk.insanejournal.com
I've just never particularly liked Year One. It seemed to me to be well, unnecessary, and tried too hard to be "grim and gritty and grimy" and that last point is probably in large part because I've never particularly liked Mazzuchelli's art. (Which may be sacrilege but I don't care)

Date: 2009-05-01 01:30 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] icon_uk.insanejournal.com
Oh that's just GREAT. I HAD to go and google that song and now I have it stuck in my head! And I can never remember the words, so I garble it and then have to go and start again.

Date: 2009-05-01 01:46 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] thehefner.insanejournal.com
That's good to know on Moench's part, speaking as one who rather disliked his Batman run. Didn't Dixon write Selina for awhile during that time? He's usually pretty solid, is he not?

Well, I haven't read those stories in a while, so forgive me if I'm off, but it seems to me that Brubaker took Miller's nonsensical blank slate retcon past and fleshed it out, actually making it work with and for the character. She actually showed remarkable character growth and depth that I hadn't seen in a while.

And then, Loeb took that Catwoman for HUSH and turned her right back into the purring two-dimensional femme fatale rather than the fleshed out human being Selina became under Brubaker. Yet another reason I hate Loeb; his characters are all stock, and regardless of the Loeb Selina/Bruce post done here recently, I'm far more interested in the Brubaker-written humanity of Selina rather than the (he says somewhat ironically) comic book character who makes cat puns.

Date: 2009-05-01 01:51 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] thehefner.insanejournal.com
It's funny, I feel that way strongly about DKR, but I think Y1 is rich with small character moments of powerful humanity. Humane is really the word I'd use to describe Y1 and BORN AGAIN, and with a beauty and hope that actually far outshines the grim-and-gittiness. So no, I very much disagree there, and feel there's a lot more going on with Y1 than, say, DKR, which IS overly ugly and pointlessly grim and gritty for the sake of grim and gritty.

But wow, not liking Mazzuchelli's art? I suppose there has to be someone out there, but man, it's some of the most graceful and elegant minimalist art I've ever seen. Like Toth, he can depict so much with so little.

Date: 2009-05-01 01:53 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] thehefner.insanejournal.com
If it's gonna be a source of unpleasantness, don't worry about it. But *if* you do, I would ask that you'd take at least vol. 3, "Relentless," into consideration: the one with Cameron Stuart and Javier Pulido on art chores. That's the one I always felt like was the peak of Brubaker's run.

Date: 2009-05-01 01:54 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] thehefner.insanejournal.com
Blame Jim Balent. Or Reed Richards. He's always a marvelously-convenient target of cursing for all occasions!

Date: 2009-05-01 01:55 pm (UTC)
ext_396790: (Default)
From: [identity profile] filthysize.livejournal.com (from insanejournal.com)
Karate was very popular in the 80's. That was the default martial arts everyone wanted to learn. Bruce acknowledging her karate moves isn't indicative of her seeking out self-defense, it's more indicative of her determination. Everybody wanted to do it, but Selina actually stuck with it enough to be pretty good at it.

Date: 2009-05-01 02:21 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sistermagpie.insanejournal.com
I can't begin to list all the ways that second story is better. First, Selina's such an individual in it, one who spent her life training for the job she has--something I always love in Batman stories where these people aren't granted super powers. It's like somebody actually thought about what kind of girl would grow up to be Catwoman. She makes age-appropriate mistakes, too. And she's barely inspired by Bruce. She's more defying him early on--like, if you think Bats are great, wait until you see a Cat.

Also I'm struck by how that second origin so clearly marks her as a parallel and equal to Bruce, the way both of them are driven and focused from a young age to their goal. Plus, I'm a bigger lover of thief characters and this gets that she's a thief rather than a supervillain who happens to wear a cat costume so we'll call her a catburglar. As you say in the commentary, it doesn't get less catburglar than beating people up and stomping in to steal things. If you happen to watch the show Leverage, Selina has a lot more in common with the cat burglar character Parker, but they're having her act like the muscle of the group, Elliot.

Finally, I'm a sucker for using the animal to characterize her. I love the way it takes things about cats and shows why she'd be attracted to them, especially the way it's not just the sexy personality traits but ones that would genuinely make people dislike her. In my head I think I always start with some sort of totem idea for the early crew--Bruce=bat, Selina=cat, Dick=Robin (even if that last one could have originally meant a different kind of robin).

Thanks for posting these!

Date: 2009-05-01 02:45 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] benicio127.insanejournal.com
HOMG. I had actually just scanned some Y1 bat/cat "moments" and here you go posting it.

Frank Miller's Catwoman origin. Here's the thing. It's not bad that she's a prostitute, I for one am certainly not offended by that, however, what offends me is that that's Miller's way of doing dark and bad! femme fatales. It's that idea that she sees Batman and it "saves" her from her life of prostitution. I just have problems with Miller's idea of women. (This notion that bad grrrl = prostitute (see Sin City)). You don't get very many Carrie Kellys in the bag.

Sex work, and the portrayal thereof (particularly by people not involved in the trade), is one of the messiest tangles in a messy, tangled movement.

So definitely agreed.

However, having said that, I do think she fits very well as a domme or a Madam coz, well, she kinda is a dominatrix.

But I don't think it's anti-feminist that she's inspired by Batman and decides to don her leather outfit and whip, as we see in the other origin. I mean, he's a "hero", many people in the Batuniverse are inspired by him. I think it further clinches the tie between them.
(Those are my jumbled thoughts and I know you never said it is anti-feminist for origin 2, but just differentiating btwn the two, if that makes sense).

Date: 2009-05-01 03:00 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] zhinxy.insanejournal.com
What ameliorates the MILLER!ORIGIN! for me on this point is the role they play in each other's costumed beginnings. It's after tangling with Selina and her pals that he sits in front of the window, wondering how to make his enemies fear him, then it's after seeing Batman that Selina is inspired. Still problematic, still too much Frank Miller REAL!MAN!, sure, but forming a story-bond between them and having the future Catwoman be part of his origin in a subtle way. Year One is full of Miller's best and worst tendencies as a writer, I shall go on about this sometime and place it's a-called for. ;)

Date: 2009-05-01 03:44 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sailorlibra.insanejournal.com
While I can see why you'd prefer the Moench origin, I've honestly always hated it. It's good in all its particulars, but I don't like the way he pulled it off. I guess that's related to me never liking Moench's Catwoman, period. She was never really out of character during his run, but she still bothered me.

And the whole falling in love with a serial killer really didn't help.
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