RARE IS the comic book that can artfully tell its story by taking a half-year to unmask its protagonist. Writer Genevieve Valentine and artist Garry Brown, however, have accomplished exactly that in their six-issue run on DC Comics’s Catwoman.
The creatively dynamic duo have taken Selina Kyle on a journey of discovery: She has tried to lead a crime family in a Gotham City mob war, forced to accept her family’s Mafia roots while leaving behind the mantle of Catwoman (at least for now).
DC Comics has provided Comic Riffs with an exclusive sneak-peek at Catwoman No. 40, which hits brick and digital newsstands Wednesday. The cover of Catwoman No. 40, by June Chung and Jae Lee, shows Selina removing what has become her standard mob-boss wardrobe over the past six issues, to reveal the Cat-suit she hasn’t donned for quite some time.
“Selina Kyle is equally intelligent and resourceful and tough whether she’s in the [Cat] suit or slightly more civilian suits,” Valentine told The Post’s Comic Riffs, “and the idea that she’d be taking on the Gotham crime families was so immediately interesting and compelling that I don’t think we worried about having her out of the suit for a little while.”
“The suit, and the Catwoman identity, became an object of lingering and complex feelings, like a friend who’s left town without any assurance they’ll be back,” Valentine continued. “It’s in a safe with her very personal treasures; her journey in coming back to it as a way to handle everything she’s been through always felt like a very natural one, and readers have been amazing in taking the journey with us.”
Valentine laughed at the notion that a similar costume-less approach to Batman might not be met with similar enthusiasm.
“I think any time you have a character who’s fleshed out both in the mask and behind it, readers are happy to know more about both sides – one will always inform the other,” she said. “Bruce Wayne and Batman are often so at odds that they can feel like two characters, and any time Bruce is out of the Batsuit, you’re learning what parts of him are inherently Batman and what he might be leaving behind.
“Selina’s a complex character with a long history, and her relationship to the Cat-suit has always been unique,” Valentine continued. “It’s a trademark of her impressive heists, and just as equally it’s a marker of her identity as occasional crimefighter. Her conflict isn’t so much between who she is inside the suit versus outside it, but rather her purpose at the moment she puts it on. Even out of the suit, readers know she’ll be pulling from the same bag of tricks that made her both a master thief and a reluctant hero.”
The penultimate issue of Valentine and Brown’s run together (June’s Catwoman No. 41 will be written by Valentine, while art duties will be inherited by David Messina) made headlines when Selina shared a kiss with a woman named Eiko, revealing a bisexuality that many weren’t surprised to see.
Selina’s “romantic life is only one aspect of her story,” Valentine said of the kiss. “Her exploring this relationship is part and parcel of who she is, and I was immensely pleased how much of the fan reaction to Issue 39 was the Internet equivalent of a knowing nod. It made sense for Selina, and it made sense in the moment.”
A run with no Cat-suit meant a new look was needed. Brown said that he enjoyed drawing designs for a new Selina Kyle — a character who now cracked more of a verbal whip while dressed to impress — and intimidate.
“Genevieve was great at describing what [Selina] would be wearing. She’d give me lots of reference to work from,” Brown told Comic Riffs. “We were definitely going for a sharp, all-contained, business look. Genevieve would mention things like: Her suit was sharp as a knife. So that would influence how I drew it. The collars were sharp, as were the shoulders. Just little subconscious things like that.”
As for Catwoman’s more businesslike mafia look — and whether he preferred to draw Selina that way as opposed to outfits that were a little sexed-up — Brown said that he was glad not to be drawing the “overly sexual version of Catwoman.”
“This arc, it was more about Selina than Catwoman, trying to perhaps distance herself from that,” Brown said.
So is it fair that Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo probably don’t have to answer too many questions in regards to Batman’s physique?
“There’s definitely some sense in pop culture, and maybe particularly in areas like comics, that there will be increased focus on a woman’s body no matter how it looks or what she’s doing,” Valentine said. “Too thin and you’re sending a message about acceptable body size; too bombshell and you risk reducing the character to an object.”
“This run felt like a chance to use the shift in tone to position Selina as a subject in this new setting,” Valentine continued. “As a mob mastermind, she’s dressed for the part – a blade pointed at the enemy. Occasionally, she still goes all out playing a different role — like at the enormous shindig in [Issue] 35, where her dress is so big it carries echoes of Queen Elizabeth — but there’s definitely a sense that she’s making the most of the striking sartorial juxtaposition of a woman in a well-cut suit that’s been popular since before Marlene Dietrich. And those suits act in some ways like armor for her: an impeccably tailored echo of the world she’s stepping into, but with the sleekness Selina Kyle demands.”
Valentine said that establishing Selina’s new presence in Gotham, and showing how she’ll fight for the city in her own way, is a theme that will carry itself into her next arc.
“It’s not quite the way Batman fights, but that’s always been part of the appeal of Catwoman to me — how the way she fights her battles can be so unexpected but still get the job done,” Valentine noted. “After some of her moves in [Issue] 40, I’m really excited to follow this story with her, and hope readers will be, too.”