What lessons can be learned from Eiichiro Oda's Nami that can be applied to Catwoman?
When you do writing, you should never underestimate just how important your origin story can have for a character. It's your guiding light for most of your character's behavior. Often time when you are reading a story and the behavior doesn't fit. It's more likely that the author doesn't take into consideration the origin.
It's just seems sad that far too often major publishers treat origin stories as throwaways. How else do you explain how that embarrassing Nocenti BATMAN RETURNS rip-off for Catwoman getting past DC editorial? Of all the stories they had to work from, they went with the one even the porn parody used. That origin story doesn't explain a bloody thing about the character so many of us enjoy.
Originally, I didn't intended to write another blog post about Catwoman. I've already written several and felt I had vented enough. However, reading Sara's latest editorial "Catwoman Then And Now: How Much Has Changed?" got me thinking about the directions Selina's book should be taking. So far, all she's being is a thief with no real goal or direction. I really think she could really bloom in the role of a problem solver for the people who fall through the cracks.
Gotham may be a corrupt city, but just becasue you aren't clean doesn't mean you're filthily. In other words, angels aren't the only ones who are victims of crimes, but who's there to help them? Are the cops of Gotham going to care if some gangster is kidnapping strippers and selling them on the slave trade overseas, using the unseen street kids as drug mules, or if a gangster's child it kidnapped by rivals? Sure, Jim Gordon would, but he can't be everywhere, and Batman is busy with super criminals, such as Joker and Court of Owls. These people living in the shadows of Gotham fall through the cracks. Catwoman could be the perfect hero for these people, but what's her motivation to do so?
Catwoman has had so many different origins. Some have her with the life of a prostitute, as told in Frank Miller's BATMAN: YEAR ONE; and others have her as just growing up as a random thief. A theme you often notice is whenever writers have tried to "clean up" Selina's origin it makes her character seem more aimless. I pose it's becasue you don't understand why she's doing the things she does. Why does she suddenly care about the people in the seedy side of the city? Where is the attachment? If it's just some sense of altruism, why is that kind of person a thief? You'd lose the fun loving bad girl with a heart of gold, and raises too many questions about her motivations.
I personally never found Miller's prostitute origin offensive, because he never showed her as the stereotype. She was strong, willful, and she stood up for her friend Holly to leave. Growing up as a member of that social group gives her an attachment and motivation to look after them. She knows from personal experience that there is both bad and good to be found in them. People aren't black and white but shades of grey. She wants to see justice for them, becasue she knows no one else will do it. Similar to the reason Batman goes out at night.
There is actually a character in manga that I think shares a lot of similarities with Selina. Now, I know some of you see me use the word "manga" and stop listening. Well, just get over your irrational fear and hatred of manga for five minutes. I'm trying to make a point here. In the ONE PIECE series, created by Eiichiro Oda, there is a character named Nami. She's the navigator of the Straw Hat Pirates, and she's also known as Cat-Burglar Nami. She's playful, smart, loves money and treasure, sometimes ill tempered, but also has a heart of gold. Sound like someone familiar?
Nami's origin is that of a war orphan who was adopted by a young woman, Bellemere; and she loved to draw maps. When Nami was ten, the evil pirate Arlong took over her home island and murdered her mother in front of her. Arlong forced Nami to work for him as a map maker by telling her that if she could pay him 100,000,000 berries* (*the OP currency, equivalent to the yen) he would free her home. When not being forced to draw Arlong's charts, Nami would then go out and steal from pirates to get the money. Little by little for nearly eight years. Robbing such a dangerous group means she had to get good fast. I'm not going to go into the details of the outcome when the villain naturally betrayed this promise. Go read her Comic Vine page to learn more. This origin explains why she's such a good thief, and why on her adventures she's always been protective of children. She knows what it's like to be scared, suffering, and not have anyone around to save her.
Nami coming to the rescue of children is highlighted in the current Punk Hazard story arc. Nami and much of the crew are captured on an abandoned island, Punk Hazard; and wake up in a locked cell. They break free and run into a room filled with children, both very large and small. They're being chased, but the kids suddenly ask for help. The children have been experimented on by Caesar Clown and lied to that they were sick. Their parents told that they had died in an accident. No one is coming to save them. Check out the scene in the images below. (remember to read right to left)
(Just a bit of FYI, when the girl calls Nami "big sis" what she's actually saying is "Nē-chan". While it does mean "elder sister". It's also a generic term used when talking to young women.)
Is there anything more heartbreaking than a child crying out for help? Most of the Straw Hats are reluctant but willing to leave these children behind to avoid capture, but Nami puts her foot down and demands they help her free them from these labs. What comes is one of my favorite scenes of Nami standing strong. I can't wait for this volume to come to the US.
Everything about Nami's actions here makes sense for her motivation based on her origin. She lost the mother she loved, and thus can't stand the idea of other children suffering without their parents.
This is the sort of direction that could be great for Catwoman, but you need to create an origin that connects her in some way with the sort of people she's out there saving. Making her just another Robin Hood cliche isn't that interesting or unique. She shouldn't be so much a rob from the rich and give to the poor, than a rob from the rich and cuts the poor in on a percentage. Nami is very open that the two things she loves are money and mikans (a kind of orange that are a Japanese symbol of prosperity and wealth). It's a joke that the two things she loves are money and more more. That still doesn't stop her from standing for what she thinks is right.
It's just so frustrating that it's becasue of Nocenti's half-baked origin story that it seems impossible to get the Catwoman we love back. This is suppose to be the frame work for all those that follow her run. The OLIVER TWIST kleptomaniac with some serious self esteem issues and licked my alley cats.
If you'd like to read some of my previous Catwoman blogs. You can find them here:
- The Real Catwoman Disappears from DC Comics
- What Batman & Catwoman Can Teach Us.
- Arkham City: Catwoman Theme History