What Batman & Catwoman Can Teach Us.
These two characters made a choice not to be a victim, but to make themselves into something great.
What many comics published today lack is a sense of a moral. If you look at some of the greatest stories ever told. They have a lesson hidden within the pages. A lot of people are under the impression that Batman is popular becasue the story is darker and mature. I strongly disagree. The story of Batman resonates with readers becasue he's the closest to us. He has a lesson in the narrative that goes back to his very origin. Catwoman's story isn't that dissimilar. If anything, I see her story as a dark shadow of Bruce's tale. For every way they are different, they are similar. It must be why they fit so well.
The lesson is all about overcoming adversity. These characters were seriously challenged at some times in the lives. Neither wallowed in self pity, but worked to make themselves great in a world filled with people given powers through accidents, science, mysticism, or just born super. Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash. They were all given their power, Bruce and Selina made a choice. That right there is the greatest difference.
The story of Bruce's origin is well known to people who've never even read a comic. It's just that ingrained into pop culture, but I'll hit the finer points for the sake of this article. Bruce was a young boy with two loving parents who wanted the best for their only son and the corrupt city of Gotham. Yet, they both lost their lives in a tragic and violent crime. Unlike most heroes, this could actually happen to anyone.
I often hear people say that Bruce Wayne isn't relatable becasue he's super rich. I say that his wealth is all part of the point when it comes to Batman. It makes a very important point to the reader. That wealth meant that Bruce could have literally done anything with his life. He could have wallowed in self pity and been the real vapid playboy he often pretends to be. He could have moved away to some tropical island and didn't have to work another day in his life. Rather than be the victim, He made the choice to train himself in both mind and body to fight crime so that no one would ever suffer as he did.
You can argue as to whether or not the goal of cleaning up Gotham is possible, but he's fighting toward a goal without all the blessings of super powers. He's a lesson to people that you may suffer tragedy in life,but you are only a victim if you let yourself be. You can reach incredibly heights by standing on your own two feet and working to become better. It is possible.
Here's a little lesson for writers. A more complicated origin doesn't make it more interesting. Especially if you want readers to relate to your character. Occasionally, I'll see writers try and imply that the Waynes were murdered as some part of a larger conspiracy. I've always been vehemently against that idea. It's because no one can relate to that. Having it be a random act by a no name criminal is what makes the story so tragic.
This week I wrote a blog post (The Real Catwoman Disappears from DC Comics) venting my frustrations over the rather offensive retelling of Catwoman's origin told my Ann Nocenti in CATWOMAN #0. Her origins have been up for interpretation by many. Some writers get it right, and others get it extremely wrong. I'm going to be concentrating on Frank Miller's BATMAN: YEAR ONE vision, and I'm gong to completely ignore the artificial extension DC created years later called HER SISTER'S KEEPER that attempted to fill in the gaps. Miller shows a strong, independent, and hard to control Selina. Mindy Newell's addition to YEAR ONE was little more than an attempt to artificially leach off a much more grand story, and it ignored the very core of the person Miller crafted.
Selina Kyle is very much a dark shadow of Bruce's story. Though she was also born in Gotham, she didn't have all the advantages. She didn't come from a loving, traditional family, as Bruce did. Some versions had her with a mother who committed suicide, and a father she either never knew or was abusive. She was orphaned by a different means. The tragedy here is that far too many kids know about this and can relate. She wasn't given any wealth and ended up in the utterly broken Gotham child welfare system. Even has a young girl, she discovers that the people running the orphanage -- or child's home -- are embezzling money. She calls in a tip to bust the people running the place, and runs off with a fair bit of their ill-gotten gains to be on her own.
There weren't a lot of opportunities in a city such as Gotham, and she found herself in the seedy side in a job as a prostitute. Many find this idea as offensive. That's becasue the first place their mind goes is all the stereotypes of being constantly abused and manipulated. That doesn't mean she didn't pick her clientele, or someone made her do something she didn't agree with. I've never thought Selina was trusting enough of anyone to let someone get close enough to abuse her, the way Newell implied. Why is it that so many writers always think that a strong female character needs to have been a victim of domestic or sexual abuse in their past to be empowered? Is it so hard to believe that maybe Selina is a woman who's confident in her sexuality? Paul Dini gets it. While not a prostitute, I have a friend who works in the adult video industry. We've known each other since we were kids, she's always been strong willed, picks who she works with, and no one makes her do anything she's not okay with. That job doesn't define her, she also travels the world to climb mountains, and I'm proud to call her my friend. Similar to my friend, Miller showed a strong, forceful, and hard to control woman in Selina.
He proves that when he shows Selina dislocating the jaw of her pimp and walking off with her friend Holly to find another way to earn money. People say she did this becasue Stan hurt her. I think Miller meant that to be Selina protecting Holly. She even gave a younger, post-training Bruce a challenging fight. She becomes Catwoman by her own choice. She enjoys the thrill, the challenge, and it makes her happy. She doesn't need powers or some mystic origin.
It's all about the choices they make. That's what makes Selina and Bruce great, and it's a power that every human has the potential for. Selina could have stayed in the sordid world of Gotham. While Selina made a more selfish choice. It was one for her own happiness. She just has some serious trust issues. With these two, it's not their minds, bodies, or skills that make them great or super. They're extraordinary becasue they made the choice and had the will to do something about it. Other heroes need super powers to be great, and it was something just given to them by some extraordinary means. No one can relate to that, and could any of the other godly-powered super heroes of the DCU accomplish the same thing these two did on their pure effort? The moral of Batman is stand up and make a difference through study and hard work. The moral of Selina is that you don't have to be stuck in a bad situation if you take the chance to find happiness and improve yourself.