Catwoman: Crooked Little Town
Catwoman is a rare thing in mainstream superhero comics: a woman with a remarkable character. Rarely, however, have writers taken the opportunity to fully explore her complexities. Crooked Little Town, a compilation of issues 5 to 10 from Catwoman's recent DC Comics revival, is a disappointment because it patronises the teenage readers it appears to be aimed at.
The "Just say No!" poster that looms in the background of the opening scene sets the tone for the rest of the book: simplistic and right-on. This is a serious flaw. Catwoman straddles the vast grey area between right and wrong, good and evil - her story can't be told in black and white.
Hers is the tale of a woman who rebels against the inequalities and injustices of a patriarchal society. Her vigilante fervour stems from the abuses and indignities she suffered from men in her childhood and teenage years, which also explains her traditionally sexual character. Men sexualised her when she was young and vulnerable, but she turned her sexuality into a weapon when she matured, hence her adherence to the dominatrix tradition of cat-o-nine-tails, figure-hugging PVC and impractical shoes.
Though the battle for gender equality is far from over, this Catwoman has been spayed. She sports Tank Girl poses, tomboy outfits and Dick Whittington biker boots. To be fair to her, she doesn't need to use her sexuality to get what she wants because she is so tough - she can use force to demand respect just as any man can.
Her manner is almost indistinguishable from her sidekick, Slam Bradley. Bradley is a furrow-browed ex-cop having to work outside the law to see justice gets done. Catwoman comes from the other side of the fence - from the crack-crime-ridden ghetto - but has the same vocation. She also has the same sneer.
While she rides shotgun with the toughest, her best friend is a lipstick lesbian. So girls, according to this book, you don't have to be a dyke to play hardball. But if you are a lesbian you shouldn't feel like you have to keep your cigarettes stuffed up the arm of your t-shirt and always high-five your greetings.
Such crude characterisations, along with uninspired storyboard sequences, lazy storyline and pink book cover, make it appear that the men who crafted this book did so with a mainstream, teenage, girly consumer in mind. But the result looks like a politically correct comic-by-committee, pretending to portray gritty realism. The publishers have pitched Crooked Little Town as a noir-esque adventure and while it has some of the ingredients of a good noir, it falls short because of the flat characterisations.
We felt the same disappointment over Brad Rader's drawings. They hang somewhere between the noir this book strives for and the work he art directed on Batman: The Animated Series. Short story arcs and a regular turnover of contributors may ensure that any lame direction this series takes will be short-lived, but this volume certainly isn't the place to jump in.
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