My favorite publisher is undoing 76 years of history — and I’m completely mystified.
If you haven’t been reading Batman the last few issues, I’ll catch you up: Catwoman has killed 237 people by hunting them down one by one. It’s action that happens off-panel but she cops to it readily.
Evidently, these 237 people were involved one way or another with bombing her old orphanage, killing 163 children, seven teachers and a janitor. They were part of a Kahndaqi terrorist organization called the Dogs of War.
Debate all you want whether justice is served by the deaths of these fictional terrorists. I’m not turning this into a treatise on the death penalty. (The heinousness of the crime here is meant to excuse Selina’s motive but just imagine if it were Batman hunting them down.)
What I’m saying is that of all of Batman’s adversaries, Catwoman is absolutely the least likely to go Frank Castle on us.
This is, pardon the phrase, character assassination.
For 76 years, Selina Kyle has been portrayed as a villain/antihero with a code against killing. She’ll rob you blind, but she won’t end your life.
Is it a hard and fast rule? No. She has killed. I can think of two examples in earlier canon. For example, in a story from 2006, she murdered Black Mask — but it was so shocking precisely because Catwoman was not a killer.
There’s something else too. Selina’s an Arkham resident in this story. When Batman encounters her there, she’s practically done up like Hannibal Lecter. That’s down to the 237 murders, but historically, she’s never been portrayed as anything other than sane. Again, unless I’m missing some storyline somewhere, I can’t remember her ever having been an inmate there.
By the way, it’s worth noting that they do show Catwoman appear to kill even more people in the latest issue (Issue #11) but that might be a feint. Hell, maybe the whole story is. After all, it’s not finished yet. (UPDATED to clarify this point: If this is just a gigantic fake-out, then it’s too contrived to be effective as a story device. Either Selina is presented out of character or this is such a gross exaggeration it distracts from the plot. The reader loses on both counts.)
But until this plays out, what am I left with? Complete, utter, annoyed confusion.
I’m a fan of writer Tom King’s work and I know he’s aware of comics history. I was bowled over, for example, by the work he did on Grayson #12, with Tim Seeley. That issue is peppered with dialogue King culled from comics going back to the Bronze Age. The guy knows his stuff and he knows how to tell a story.
I’m also left scratching my head because this is all coming under DC’s Rebirth banner, a relaunch that’s been successful commercially and critically in good measure because the powers that be have recognized that what makes the publisher’s characters great is their core make-up. They’ve lightened things up across the board, too: Most notably, Superman is Superman again.
Not so with Selina.
Interestingly, just this month Catwoman headlined a one-shot in which she has to solve a mystery — the years-ago murder of someone from her orphanage. Does she kill the suspect? No. She has them arrested. (Is Meredith Finch’s story canon? Don’t know. Don’t care.)
Now, earlier this year, I ruffled some feathers when I wrote that it was OK that DC was going to finally give us the Joker’s real name (click here — if you dare). My point was that if you don’t like something a publisher does — even something as wrong-headedly radical as revealing the Joker’s identity — you can ignore it. It shouldn’t change your enjoyment of the stories and story elements that you love. Besides, some other creative team will probably retcon that out sometime in the future. It’s the nature of comics.
But do I have to like it? No. And I’d argue that naming the Joker is a far lesser transgression than turning a beloved and relatable antihero — one of DC’s most storied characters — into a killing machine.
Selina — and we — deserve much better than this.