Sunday 1 March 2015

Coming Out In Comics: Catwomen

(SPOILERS like crazy for Catwoman #39)

A little more than a month ago I made a post about how I think Harley Quinn should come out. We, and by “we” I mean a definition of fandom that includes her current writers, see her as bisexual already so I argued that future writers could simply write her that way in explicit terms without having to have her “come out” as such. Yes, coming out stories and queer issue stories are important ones to tell, especially for people experiencing similar situations in their own lives, but I felt it could be equally important to have a major character expressing a queer sexuality without it being treated as an issue.

When I wrote it I felt like I was positing some distant future when the current generation of fandom starts running the asylum as is the natural cycle of things.

Then DC only went and bloody did that exact thing with Catwoman!

from Catwoman #39 (written by Genevieve Valentine,
art by Garry Brown, colours by Lee Loughridge)
Click to embiggen.

Whilst this scene doesn't exactly come out of nowhere, it did completely blindside me. Up until this point you could have read Selina's relationship with Eiko Hasigawa as almost entirely confrontational. Eiko has taken the Catwoman identity while Selina becomes a mob boss. Eiko admires Selina and takes her old identity out of respect, though Selina explicitly resents the idea that Eiko clearly sees it as a heroic legacy instead of a criminal one. True, there were one or two moments that looked like Selina was flirting but Selina flirts with everyone, or at least she did before the weight of this new role forced her to a more sober maturity.

So when Eiko asks “Was that for me, or the suit?” it has certain connotations. Anyone who is familiar with Catwoman recognises her as an intensely sexual being. There was a time in the fifties, after the Comics Code was introduced, where DC dropped the character entirely for fear she was too sexual, only reintroducing her when the Adam West TV show demonstrated she could be used in a “family friendly” way. There has been, literally since her first appearance which ends with Batman threatening to spank her, at least a touch of BDSM imagery to almost every version of her.

So let's talk about the possibility Selina is kissing the suit before we talk about the fact she may be kissing Eiko (Selina, after all, effectively shelves the issue for later exploration).

The Catwoman suit is a fetish object. Various versions of it have been slinky dresses, skintight spandex and what is now either latex or leather depending on the colourist; its most enduring accessory is a whip; that's why you or I or any outside observer would view it in those terms. What's important here is that the suit is a fetish object to Selina and Eiko.

In no particular order the Catwoman suit and identity represent freedom, rebellion, anonymity and power to both women. Selina is a self-confessed loner (there seems to be no equivalent of Holly in The New 52 continuity) uncomfortable with relying on others who is now responsible for the entire Calabrese crime family, a role she inherited by blood and has no other practical claim on or qualifications for. She is being constantly second guessed and questioned by her subordinates, few of whom she is genuinely close to and one she was close to she was forced to order killed for snitching to the police. She hasn't worn the Catwoman suit for the length of Valentine's run and uses her gymnastic abilities sparingly, only when she is directly threatened (such as her recent dust-up with Julia Pennyworth in Batman Eternal).

She's also been notably celibate since Valentine started writing her. The sense that Selina is actively repressing every instinct that previously defined her is palpable.

Eiko meanwhile is the daughter of Gotham's yakuza boss with all the responsibilities and personal repressions classically associated with the role. She's also been cost family: her father forced her to choose between sending her second cousin Ken back to Japan or having him lose his little finger for failing to “protect” her. Her life is entirely defined by her father and the criminal enterprise she will almost certainly never inherit.

Given all of this there's something bizarrely narcissistic about this scene: they're both kissing the woman they want to be. On the other hand, you could equally say that they're both kissing Catwoman, the identity they both see as the full expression of their true selves, their ultimate empowered form and there are few more positive sexual actions than the expression of true self, which is what any coming out scene should be. 

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