Like many of the female characters in DC Comics Catwoman came out the new 52 in worse shape than she went in. First we had the “sexy, sexy, sexy” run by Judd Winick and Guillem March. That was followed by Ann Nocenti’s run which was far from the best work she’s ever done. And now? This week novelist Genevieve Valentine joins the book along with artist Garry Brown and if the preview is any indication this will be the best team Selina has had in a very long time.
This arc spins out of Batman Eternal where Selina is moving into a new role - Crime Kingpin!
“I was the first female captain to walk onto the bridge of a starship and issue the signature command, “Engage.” I was also the first captain to have more than seven hairdos within a season, a corset sewn into her space suit, and a bra that resembled an alien species. I was puffed and shorn and stuffed and lit and scrutinized by every executive on the lot. I was criticized and cajoled, alternatively patronized and petted. It’s as if they had all gone out of their way to find this exotic animal who could, in fact, walk and talk and act at the same time, and yet when she appeared on deck, they were stunned to discover that under that feline coat was, God help us, a feline.”—"The Influence of Captain Janeway" by Kate Mulgrew (Foreward to Homer Simpson Marches on Washington: Dissent through American Popular Culture, 2010)
The issue of why there are so few permanently bad female characters in comics is one that has been discussed before and it is an interesting one that came up as recently as the revamp that Gamora received in Guardians of the Galaxy.
But there was a time when there a lot of women who were bad to the bone in comics and a new book provides a fun and thoughtful overview. Vixens, Vamps and Vipers is the newest book from comic historian Mike Madrid. Madrid is the author of the must have guide to female characters in the early and mid-years of comics as well the look at female heroes of the golden age Divas, Dames and Daredevils. I spoke to Madrid when the latter book was published and he’s back to chat about his latest.
Read what he has to say about the book and how you can win a copy.
To clarify, do you hate Diana herself in the Brian Azzarello run, or just the background of her story? I can understand grievances with her portrayal in Justice League under Geoff Johns, but I would mainly like to refer to Diana herself in her solo book, as I believe it actually stays true to the core of her character. Oh, but I'm not assuming your discontent is with her herself, I would just like to know if it is and your reasoning behind it.
Well. That’s an interesting assumption.
I’ve gone into this more than a few times before but basically I have no connect with this Diana under Azzarello. This is less my gripes with not liking how much more brutal and bloody Diana is — though that’s part of it — but it all circles back around to feeding directly into how this characterization of Diana is really the best you can hope to get from the fundamental changes of her background.
It comes down to the fact that Diana and the Amazons were once a subversion of what the societal expectations for women, heroism, and feminism were — whether you agree with Marston’s vision of empowerment or not he took the classic trope of “submissive women” and based an entire best selling comic around the idea that because of womanhood’s nature and submissiveness and kindness, they were stronger and more powerful than “the patriarchy.” Filter that by 50 years of women’s rights movements and the evolution of narrative story telling, you have a fusion of classical mythology and the unending problems of society in several courts, especially sexism, racism, and that oh-so-terrible “p” word.
Diana’s power was always derived from her sisters and goddesses. They raised her, taught her, and inspired her to be the hero for not just womankind but the world. And the Amazons themselves were a multifaceted and complex culture — yes men were absent from their society on Themyscira, but that was because the women were all reincarnations of women who had died at the hands of abusers and domestic violence, Hippolyta herself being the first woman to have ever died from an abusive husband (Diana’s soul being that of her unborn child).
I use this quote from Simone’s run a lot but I can’t help but feel that it’s the perfect summation of not just Diana but of the Amazons as a whole.
We have a saying, my people. ”Don’t kill if you can wound, don’t wound if you can subdue, don’t subdue if you can pacify, and don’t raise your hand at all until you’ve first extended it.”
The idea is never that women are better than men or that Diana herself is better than humanity (though you could debate whether or not that was Marston’s original purpose), but that sexism is so ingrained in our society and even the women of our world that the only way that Diana could truly be free from that is that her origins and her rearing are removed from those influences entirely. The sexism and poverty and racism of our world doesn’t make sense to her. And she wants to help because she’s seen and she knows that humanity is capable of better.
Never once is that apparent in Azzarello’s Diana, and that’s for a very interconnected reason.
I once read an article — I think maybe by Chris Sims — talking about how the author knows to be cautious when approaching a Superman story without Superman having the curl on his forehead. That curl is an “S”, a detail that was invented very early in Superman’s creation so that the iconic “S” is present from every angle, even close up panels. When a creator doesn’t realize that and doesn’t put that in the story, they’re not thinking through all the details.
Even before the Amazons were revealed to be rapist murderers and child enslavers, I couldn’t get into Diana’s character because of the change of that one detail — giving her a father — in the origin. Already, it told me Azzarello hadn’t thought enough about the character’s concept or personality to really “get” why such a detail was important.
But then you add to that the layer that the Amazons are unredeemable and arguably responsible for more vileness and evil than any of the admittedly fun villains Diana’s faced. Suddenly the framing is even worse because now the story can be summed up as “Wow, I’m really glad I learned that I had a god-king daddy where my real power comes from, because women supporting women and raising women are completely evil”
Basically, women independent from men are evil monsters. It’s a stereotype that’s old as dirt, but to put that awful stereotype on the canon origin of the embodiment of womanhood changes everything about that character from top to bottom.
To put it in similar terms, take the equally awful and untrue stereotype “men can’t raise children by themselves, they’re only fatherly with a woman by their side, so that man wanting to raise a child by himself is obviously a pedophile.” That’s awful. But it’s a very common stereotype still with no real basis. Bad enough that exists, but what if, to add extra angst and awfulness to his back story, that’s the canon relationship they gave Bruce Wayne with Alfred Pennyworth.
Or how about “people who live out in the country are ignorant, racist, and stupid — they’re more likely to be serial killers than pleasant people who aren’t Neo Nazis.” Again, as someone who grew up rurally, I can tell you this is not only not factual, but is rampant among people. Now imagine if that’s how they characterized Ma & Pa Kent.
It’s only “logical” then to make Bruce more paranoid and aloof in this version, or that Clark would be an ignorant asshole. They could still be heroes and even characterized good, but they’d have this harder edge you couldn’t get over because it reminds you of that unnecessary and vile addition to their characters.
That’s my relationship with Azzarello’s Diana. And it’s why Diana God of War will never be my Wonder Woman.