Friday, September 23, 2011

I am going to discuss Catwoman and Batman’s sex lives in great detail, because DC Comics asked me to*

Do you remember a few years back, when DC Comics first released the cover image for Superman/Batman #40 as part of their solicitations ritual, and the Dustin Nguyen-drawn image featured Batman standing behind a woman, his hand on her torso?

But then, when the actual comic book showed up on shelves a few months later, it had been altered, so that Batman was no longer holding the woman?His hand was apparently a little too close to her breasts for DC’s comfort; they must not have wanted one of their flagship characters, a constant cartoon star and their one sure-thing bankable intellectual property potentially stirring any sort of potential controversy.

That was 2007. This happened in Catwoman #1 two days ago (and, if you're at work, you should probably stop looking at my blog and get back to work lazybones, because we're getting into some pretty NSFW, yet still somehow T-for-Teen area):The last page of the issue features a full-page splash of, as Comics Alliance’s Laura Hudson put it in a fairly heart-breaking post about the cumulative effect of the scene on top of Red Hood and The Outlaws #1 and a million billion other little cuts, Batman actually penetrating Catwoman.

My how things have changed in just a few years!

Or maybe they haven’t. For example, if the problem with the Superman/Batman cover was that Batman was almost touching that lady’s breasts, perhaps this is consistent. It’s not like he’s touching Catwoman’s breasts. Or Catwoman at all. His right hand is on the floor, apparently propping him up so Catwoman can hump him (Not sure if artist Guillem March drew his hand holding Catwoman’s other side—there’s a Bat-glove colored shape apparent where the right side of her ribcage would be—or if it is similarly on the floor, obstructed from view, hidden by their bodies). Maybe DC has a rule book somewhere that says Batman can touch women’s erogenous zones, but only with his penis, never with his hands.

That, or maybe there’s some more logical rule about not putting potentially parent-perturbing imagery on the cover, but an acknowledgement that much more can be gotten away with on the insides of the book. (Although I kind of doubt it).

The scene raises questions, some of the funnier ones have already been asked by Abhay Khosla in his “7 Questions About Images on the Internet of the Final Pages of Catwoman #1” post at Savage Critics.

My initial reaction was to open up my document marked “links” and type out “It never occurred to me until I saw an image of Batman and Catwoman doing it while still dressed in their bat and cat costumes, but as people who dress like animals and do it, they are essentially furries, huh?” and post it on Sunday as part of a weekly link-blogging post like this one.

But I keep reading about the scene, and thus can’t stop thinking about it and while, like Khosla, I kind of worry about that fact, at the same time I realize it’s perfectly natural for people who devote a large portion of their lives to reading, thinking and writing about comic books to read, think and write about what those comic books might be saying.

Here are a couple of links, beyond the ones provided above:

DC Women Kicking Ass groups it with a perceived trend of super-ladies being reduced to male heroes’ allies-with-benefits in “The New 52”

The Beat hopes that fans and readers don’t let questionable/gross portrayals of characters like Catwoman screwing Batman outweigh or eclipse positive portrayals of characters like Wonder Woman in really good comics like Wonder Woman #1

Don MacPherson notes that in context the scene makes Batman seem like a real creep in his thorough review of Catwoman #1

Tom Spurgeon links back to some of those same pieces (the comics blogosphere isn’t just an ouroboros, it’s a Gordian knot tied of ouroboros instead of ropes), and notes the difference between sex scenes as plot points and sex scenes as part of a story, contrasting the Winick/March scene with the Ed Brubaker-written Catwoman run.

And here’s me going where that image all but pushes me:

1.) Is that last panel, of a fully-clothed Catwoman riding a fully clothed Batman who seems to be doing some sort of tricep push-up really the best they can do?

I think Guillem March is a great artist, and I’ve been pretty bummed out by the fact that he’s usually paired with writers I don’t like and or put on projects I’m not that interested in, because I love looking at his art.

So I kind of have to assume Winick wrote a script describing the positioning and so forth, but then, Winick is an artist too. Not as good an artist as March, and, I don’t know, maybe he doesn’t even draw anymore, but I have a hard time believing that was the best these two could come up with for a Batman/Catwoman sex scene.

They couldn’t have done something for subtle, more sophisticated, more evocative? Something with shadows or sillhouettes or tight close-ups of hands gripping sheets or a suggestive close-up of a catsuit zipper coming down or a dramatic pull-away while the narration suggest what’s going to happen next or…something other than that weird image that looks like a Google Image result for Catwoman + Batman + sex (Don’t google that!).

So I guess it was a deliberate choice by…someone, presumably to provoke this kind of response from the Internet and maybe sell some more issues, or at least keep people talking about another aspect for “The New 52” for another day or two or maybe just talking about this book instead of one of the other books (Catwoman and Red Hood are certainly getting more buzz this week than, say, DC Presents #1). Even All-Star Batman and Robin, The Boy Wonder, one of the least subtle comics of the 21st century, by Frank Miller and Jim Lee, two creators no one would ever accuse of being too subtle, had a scene of Batman having costumed super-sex with a fellow super-type, and that was infinitely more subtle (Note the thunder and lightning above; and it's still more subtle than Catwoman!).

In that scene, Batman used his cape as some sort of privacy tent for he and Black Canary while they did it on dirty dock somewhere, and Miller and Lee used shadow and post-coital pulling costumes back on to signify what went down. I remember mentioning them making-out on a dock in my review of the issue, and commenters had to point out that they did more than make out.

2.) Catwoman is rated “T+”, which means it’s “appropriate for readers age 16 and older… may contain moderate violence, mild profanity, graphic imagery and/or suggestive themes.” I suppose that sounds about right in terms of sexual content, although the violence ratings seem off (T+ affords only “moderate” violence and T “mild” violence? Was the end of T-rated Detective Comics #1 mild?).

If the creators are going to go for full-page splashes of Batman and Catwoman doing it, why not just go ahead and rate the thing “M” and publish a comic book that’s actually for adults and completely honest with everyone about its target audience? Why would you want to publish, much less create, a scene like this for sixteen-year-olds instead of for adults exclusively?

If the plan is to make a sexy, sexy Catwoman totally having sex with Batman in as unambiguous terms as that panel and that narration reveals, just go for it, okay? Rate this sucker “M,” let Catwoman and Batman take their costumes all the way off, let’s see their naked butts and Catwoman’s breasts, let’s go full-on softcore kissing and fondling and foreplay, huh?

If comics are for grown-ups, if this particular comic is for grown-ups, if it’s to titillate grown-ups, that is perfectly okay, but why not go ahead and actually make it for grown-ups, all official-like, and go all the way with it?

This is just so…weird and gross. At least to me. Weirder and grosser than a porn comic would be, to be honest (although the only porn comics I’ve actually read were by Colleen Coover and Brandon Graham, and those are some great cartoonists) and certainly infinitely weirder and grosser than any sex scene I’ve seen in a Vertigo comic or a grown-up “art” comic created by and for grown-ups.

3.) I haven’t been reading any of the Bat-books in the new continuity yet, so I have no idea what has changed and what hasn’t, continuity-wise. I assume Catwoman and Batman still know one another’s secret identities, as that’s been pretty clearly established for a while now and Batman Inc is supposedly still in-continuity.

Is that the case? Because if they don’t know one another’s secret identities any more, that scene is pretty damn creepy. And gross.

4.) I'm saying "creepy" and "gross" a lot here. Also creepy and gross? Look at Batman's face. Oh God look at Batman's sex face! Aaaaa! And why is Catwoman still wearing her goggles...? Oh God--! I hate this image!

5.) Also, and I hate myself and Judd Winick and DC for thinking of this at all, but if Catwoman doesn’t know his secret identity any more (as suggested by the mask-wearing), what does Batman do about his…DNA evidence…?

6.) Also also, while being on top seems well within Catwoman's character, I have a hard time imagining a control freak and weirdo fetishist like Batman letting her be on top during sex. It seems like something they'd argue about.

7.) Also also also, I've yet to get around to writing about Batman: The Widening Gyre which was one of the worst, weirdest and grossest DC Comics I've ever read, one that was so bafflingly I-can't-believe-they-published-this that I haven't been able to convince myself to wrap my head around it and write about it for a blog entry, even though I read it months ago. It is such an...odd comic that I suspect it was one of the motivating factors convincing DC they had to reboot their universe, because they couldn't let that story stand (Cry For Justice, Infinite Crisis and Rise of Arsenal are other suspects for straws that broke the DCU camel's back). Batman's sexual prowess is under constant discussion in the book, in which Silver St. Cloud reveals that their first night together she had at least ten orgasms, and there's one terrible, terrible scene where Batman goes to tell Catwoman he's engaged to Silver and they end up totally doing it. I thought all of that—including the weird scene where Batman cheats on Silver with Catwoman in a horribly-staged couple of panels in which Batman pretty much just jumps Catwoman's bones—was the wrongest Batman story I could imagine. That coupling of the characters now seems tasteful compared to this.

8.) Is there a panel involving a condom, or mention of whether or not they should use one? Or of birth control? I would assume that Batman is the sort that would always use a condom (probably with a Bat-symbol on it). I would hope that a Batman comic book involving on-panel sex scenes of this sort geared toward high school students would involve discussion of safe sex. I mean, the JLI and other DC second-stringers were preaching the importance of safe sex back in the early ‘90s. I’d hate to think the publisher is less concerned with safe sex now than it was then—or more scared of pissing off the abstinence-only crowd than they were 20 years ago.

9.) I sincerely hope the trade collection includes Winick’s script for the first issue. I really want to know where that tweaking of Batman’s ear came from, and who made the decisions for staging that last panel and how exactly.

Okay! Now to go take a shower!

*Okay, Dan DiDio and Jim Lee didn’t call me up and ask me to or anything. Obviously. But the provocative scene in question begs for attention


Don MacPherson said...

The script makes it clear Catwoman doesn't know Batman's secret identity and that it's likely he doesn't know hers either.

Jacob T. Levy said...

^ Yep. Though that also means that it makes no sense for him to know her apartment got firebombed.

Creepy and gross. Sufficiently so to make me drop the book like a toxic hot potato, and possibly enough to get me to cancel all of DCnu from my pull list.

collectededitions said...

Maybe it's a Pavlov's dog kind of thing, but I keep going to the Source expecting DC's going to make some sort of defensive statement about this. Maybe it's the fact that this time they *did* do what they were accused of, whereas with the North Carolina "GD" situation they *didn't* do what they're accused of, but I'm half-surprised they're not making an official statement rather than just letting the writer release a statement to a site.

... If this had appeared in Gotham City Sirens, a book pretty well filled with T&A on it's own, would it mitigate things any? Is it worse because it's in the Catwoman title proper?

I don't know. It's getting more difficult to take DC's "we hear you message" seriously, for anyone who took it seriously to begin with.

Aki Alaraatikka said...

I didn`t find out about the All star Batman and Robin the boy wonder sex-scene, before Darwyn Cooke told in one video, that he doesn`t want to see Batman...rape (or was it f**k?) Black Canary. Clearly, he believed a rumor. But, because I like Cooke, I wont say bad things about him for this.

The funny thing is, I also saw that scene, and didn`t know that they were doing it. Truly, the racical(s) of the 80`s and 90`s, maybe aren`t as radical after 10-20 years.

Unknown said...

Great post!

This whole thing reminds me of Darwyn Cooke's assertion that making "superhero comics for adults is like making porn for kids"

Gene Phillips said...

I disagree, Eric. I haven't read CATWOMAN #1 yet, and it may be as dopey and clumsy as any Skinemax softcore flick.

But superhero comics aren't fundamentally for children. They're in large part an outgrowth of the tough "masked hero" genre of the pulps and they share a lot of the same dynamics of sex and violence.

Caleb said...

The script makes it clear Catwoman doesn't know Batman's secret identity and that it's likely he doesn't know hers either.

Well that certainly makes the scene all the more skeevy...

... If this had appeared in Gotham City Sirens, a book pretty well filled with T&A on it's own, would it mitigate things any? Is it worse because it's in the Catwoman title proper?

I think the particular staging makes it kind of weird and gross—seriously, Batman's no-hands position looks so odd to me—and it would have looked weird and gross in any book, but what makes this seem so bizarre is that it happened in Catwoman #1 as part of DC's super-publicized push for attention...particularly attention beyond the existing comics market. They basically had a big, bright spotlight shining on them, and that is what they decided to highlight.

But superhero comics aren't fundamentally for children. They're in large part an outgrowth of the tough "masked hero" genre of the pulps and they share a lot of the same dynamics of sex and violence.

Oh, I think they're fundamentally for children. They were certainly created for children and remained for them for decades and decades...They don't have to be for children, and these days it's certainly possible to have superhero comics for different audiences.

I think the mainstream DCU should probably be all-ages though, especially the big characters like Superman, Batman and maybe even Catwoman (at least when she's "with" Batman).

And by "all-ages" I don't mean, "for kids," but something adults can enjoy and get something out of without featuring so much gore and porn-y sex scenes that parents would be uncomfortable giving them to ten-year-olds...

Eyz said...

I miss the much classier JLI....

Eyz said...

Does this story (Catwoman #1) taakes place some years ago? Making it so this took place before revealling each other identity?

Well, not that I am trying to defend the plot or anything...far from it!!