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Cheesecake (noun): Also called Leg Art. Photographs featuring scantily clad attractive women.

T&A (abbreviation): Tits and Ass.

I know some people are having a hard time wrapping their heads around why we in the comics blogosphere are blowing our stacks over Catwoman #1, especially people in the comments of places like Comics Alliance and Newsarama. I mean, after all, comics are a medium in which women are portrayed as hyper-sexualized all the time, and thus, we should expect it to come with the territory.

Never mind that nobody can actually give me a good reason for why that is the way it is, other than “That’s how it’s always been.” which, frankly, isn’t a reason to do anything.

“I keep stubbing my toe on that coffee table!”

“Well, why don’t you move it?”

“But it‘s always been there!”

Highly illogical.

One of the biggest defenses rising from that mentality is that Catwoman qualifies as a Cheesecake Art Book and not an Objectfying Claptrap Book.

I am here to shut those people up. So sit your ass down, you’re about to get schooled.

I’m going to open this discussion with what is my favorite commentary on the whole debacle thus far, courtesy of Ty Templeton’s Bun Toons:

More concisely than I could ever hope to, Templeton sums up exactly what’s wrong with much of Catwoman’s book, but there’s still more to say.*

Let’s revisit some of the imagery of Catwoman #1:

In my summation, these images are the equivalent of a guy talking to my chest rather than talking to me. The emphasis is not on Catwoman as a whole person, but rather as a series of body parts--and the fact that those body parts are primarily of a classically sexual nature is incredibly telling. With the focus on her breasts, lips and ass, she is reduced to the status of sex object, rather than whole human being. Of course, these panels aren’t the only ones to contribute to that problem, nor is the segmenting of Selina. Really, it’s more about how much she’s presented as an object for the sexual gratification of the male audience throughout the issue.

In fact, would you like to know how little of Catwoman #1 features Selina as a whole person who isn’t overtly sexualized?

Of the fifty-seven panels that she appears in, a whopping twenty-three:

1.) Place undue emphasis on her body parts (breasts, ass, lips)
2.) Feature Selina half-dressed
3.) Contain blatant sexual imagery.

Twenty-three out of fifty-seven. Of the remaining non-sexualized panels, do you know how many show her full face and fully clothed? Twenty-four. The leftovers are made up of shots of other body parts--like eyes and feet--which is still objectifying, but not in nearly so horrible a way.

That means Selina is an object almost sixty percent of the time.

When you look at those first few pages, what do you see? Do you see Catwoman? Because all I see are body parts, and not even cat-themed ones, at that. Absolutely NONE of the panels in question give any indication that this is Catwoman and not some original character. Even setting aside the objectification, that’s bad storytelling. No distinct character should ever be indistinct. Hell, a single Balent silhouette of the nineties was more easily identifiable as Catwoman than the first two pages of the new series.

And Balent, as you may or may not be aware, was criticized harshly for his sensational portrayal of Catwoman’s body.

Now, am I saying that body parts should never be featured in a comic book? Well, duh, of course not. Yay for boobs! Am I saying that emphasis should never be placed on breasts, or lips, or hips? No, I’m not saying that, either.

What I am saying is that T&A shouldn’t be the majority of a character’s appearance in any given story, and even then, I insist on having a reason for emphasis on such things to be there. Like, for example, this great sequence by Darwyn Cooke:

These pages segment Selina into a series of body parts, but it’s not objectifying because there’s a reason for it to be happening--she has made a conscious decision to reinvent herself with a new costume and this scene serves as the transition from the old one to the new one. Further, it works in context; the nudity, the segmenting, it all plays into the larger narrative.

(I also think that this is a much better example of good Bat/Cat than Winick's version, but then, what isn't?)

Find me a reason for the same segmenting and Selina's being disrobed to happen in the first four pages of last week's Catwoman #1 and I will eat my hat.

Further, why is she half dressed? Did she just get out of the shower? Was she having a patented [livejournal.com profile] captaintwinings Naked Thursday? Nope. She’s just randomly half dressed.

I’m sure one could argue that it’s sexier this way, and that’s all the reason comics need. While that may have been true in the nineties during the Bad Girl era, there was really no excuse for it then, and there’s certainly no excuse for it now.

I mean,, look: if there were fifteen panels of buildings, or fifteen panels of radishes, accompanied by unrelated monologue, you wouldn’t put up with it because it‘s bad storytelling. Why should Boobs For No Reason be any different? Why are people so willing to let this book off the hook when they’d be demanding their money back if those panels were replaced by fluffy puppies?

The easy answer is misogyny, I suppose, and how prevalent it is within comics fandom--internalized or otherwise. We’re okay with it because the subculture says we should be, even if an outsider might point out that it doesn’t make any sense or if it hurts us in the end.

(For further reading about why cutting Catwoman into pieces is a bad thing, I recommend this post by [livejournal.com profile] captaintwinings. She's super smart and funny, I promise.)

But I’m getting ahead of myself here. I don’t want to talk about misogyny and sexism in comics fandom--that‘s too complex a topic for right now; I want to talk about why it’s wrong and unfair to equate T&A with Cheesecake art.

For comparison’s sake, I’d like to cite Gil Elvgren, one of my favorite pin-up artists of all time:

Do you know what I see here? I see whole women with actual reasons to be showing some skin. From the content of the paintings themselves, each single image tells the whole story of why these women are flashing their garters at you. A naughty school child startles teacher with a frog; a young lady out shopping gets her dress caught in an elevator door; wet paint ruins a new dress; a secretary tries to keep her balance on the precarious ladder she needs to get to the files in the top drawer, only to have her skirt get hung on the way back down.

Conversely, what do you see in the first page of Catwoman #1? The exposed parts of a woman for no discernable reason… for four pages. What Elvgren accomplished in one picture, Winick could not accomplish in fourteen.

This is bad storytelling, especially at a time when comic book pages in which to tell that story are at a premium.

The reasons I don’t consider Catwoman #1 to be Cheesecake should be fairly obvious.

A.) The vast majority of Cheesecake art has a story to tell through its Cheesecake-y-ness

And B.) Even the Cheesecake art in which the women featured don’t have a reason to be getting naked, they are never reduced to mere parts.

…no, wait, actually, that’s not true. I can think of ONE piece of vintage pin-up art that reduces a woman to parts. I can’t actually locate the original image, but it’s a woman’s legs in stockings and high heels, as seen through a keyhole. Yet, this is still somehow less objectifying and offensive, because there’s a reason that this woman is nothing but legs: your perspective is through a keyhole. Even that wordless image tells more story than Winick did.

How people are still defending this issue is completely beyond me. It’s not just offensive, it’s objectively bad because it’s poorly written. LE SIGH.

And the worst of it is, in all fairness to Winick, I actually really like some of his work (some of his Batman run, specifically, and a bit of his Green Arrow) and by all accounts, his Batwing does right everything Catwoman does wrong. What is it about this title that made him totally jump the rails?

*A note to commeters: Though I'm posting this webcomic, I don't condone use of words like 'hooker' or even 'prostitute'; sex worker is the only term really welcome here in regards to the profession in question, so I ask you to please respect this when commenting. Sex workers read comics blogs, too, you know. :)

on 2011-09-26 02:01 am (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] captaintwinings.livejournal.com
The Cooke story is so much better. And prettier. And I'm so much more attracted to that Selina. Possibly because I can see her personality in her face and her body language. She's not posing there, she's slinking. Hooray for catlike Selina keeping all her joints in their sockets. (Although since she's not wearing any underwear, that costume must chafe like hell. Wait a minute, does that mean she's not wearing that bra you said she's wearing? You should post about that.)

on 2011-09-26 04:11 am (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] dr-von-fangirl.livejournal.com

...or, I could just cross the room...


on 2011-09-26 04:19 am (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] captaintwinings.livejournal.com

Love yoooooou!

on 2011-09-26 03:17 am (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] foxhack.livejournal.com

Sorry Selina. Those cats aren't your baby. If she ever existed...

on 2011-09-26 04:18 am (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] dr-von-fangirl.livejournal.com
Maybe she adopted. HAAAA.

...Get it? Cats? Adopted? It's...it's funny because you can adop...Oh God so empty inside.

But hey, at least I didn't manage to find a terrible pun for 'litter.' Believe me I tried, though...

Anyway, yeah. Old continuity isn't part of the the DCnU. Except most of Hush. And Green Lantern. And Batman Incorporated and Batman and Robin and..

Okay, so the only thing I'm really sure of is this: Since according to Winick, Catwoman is too young to be a big sister figure to Holly, I'm betting she's DEFINITELY too young to have had a child in his head canon.

on 2011-09-26 03:38 am (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] mistaria.livejournal.com
Okay, that Bun Toons commentary is definitely my favourite. XD

I don't have anything to add to this as you've explained all the issues I had with Catwoman #1 really well and then provided some great examples of how it has actually been done right in the past. :] Let's hope things get better with the next issue (while still packing some rain boots and an umbrella of course).

on 2011-09-26 04:19 am (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] dr-von-fangirl.livejournal.com
Let's hope things get better with the next issue (while still packing some rain boots and an umbrella of course).

Blue Lanterns with rain slickers for the win!

Just wanted to point out a few final things

on 2011-09-26 06:19 am (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] sharkbites.livejournal.com

I hope you understand that there is a world of difference between defending the comic and choosing not to be offended by the content. I have a certain why I envision her but since I am not of editorial I choose not to be angry. If I dislike something I don't buy it. I enjoyed the comic but that doesn't mean I thought it was perfect. There were parts I felt could be tweaked so that it could be stronger but if I am going to stop buying a comic it will be moreso because I find it boring than because of any (perceived) sexism. It was not perfect I will say that. It was not the best Catwoman moment but it was not the worst thing either. Who knows? Maybe my mind will change. I remember I was very excited when Sirens came out but I stopped getting it on my pull list because I did not like the portrayal of Maggie Kyle. It was obvious to me that by then the book had no direction so I dropped it. I had no interest in the Return of Bruce Wayne arc so I did not buy it either. It is very very rare for me to get worked up on a comicbook character and I like to keep it that way. I guess the real reason I am not as outraged is because I have some tests coming up. I have to pay for these tests to get into the teaching credential program at the university. I want to see if I can get into the Master's program as well. On top of that I am supposed to start a new job soon so I would rather be stressed out over that than ONE person's portrayal of the character. That being said even though I disagree with some of the changes DC and Winnick made I am choosing to reserve full judgement until a few issues down. I don't want a repeat of what happened with Gail Simone and BOP issue 2.

I want this series to succeed. I am happy that I have a monthly Cat fix now. It is not everyone's cup of tea. Again pointing to Gotham City Sirens, there were times when I browsed boards and saw fans praise it as a good series. I felt like my eyeballs were about to pop out of their sockets but in the end I felt "you know what I am glad they like it". It had no direction, no passion, never developed a solid reason why they should be together but in the end I was glad that someone was enjoying a comic even though I was scratching my head and thinking 'why?' Right now I am excited and I cannot wait for issue 2 and this is after reading the compelling arguments you made. You will think I am stubborn and stupid but at this point I would rather be invested in my personal real life issues than a comic that I can just stop buying and ignore it/pretend it doesn't exist. For me what is most important are the basic ingredients. These characters have been around for seventy years and there is a pretty good chance that you will run into something that you won't like or agree with. For the most part I prefer to be optimistic. If it helps I was optimistic with GCS but look what happened. :)

As far as the internalized misogyny goes, I really cannot stand that term because it reminds me too much of someone who liked to throw that around to shut down debate all because I and others did not worship a fictional character the way they did and because they did not subscribe to her version of feminism. I am sure there is a better term for it. I admit that I have a very difficult time throwing out the internalized misogyny card when there are women out there who choose to pose for men's magazines that some might consider degrading. I realize that my views are not popular or mainstream but this is what I feel/think.
I typed this on my I-touch so I hope I made sense.

Posted by [identity profile] sharkbites.livejournal.com
I meant to say that I have a certain WAY I envision her.
Posted by [identity profile] dr-von-fangirl.livejournal.com
I do wish you'd break up your paragraphs a little more, bb, I keep getting lost! :)

Not being offended is fine, but I'm seeing a lot of people defending it and belittling the women who have a problem with Catwoman's portrayal and actions, and that's bothering me. I assure you, it's not just you who's making the cheesecake art argument, and others are doing it in a way more offensive fashion.

For my part, my irritation with the book is twofold: not only am I bothered by the gratuitous objectification, but much of the story doesn't make any sense/is badly written. I mean, for goodness sake, there's a spelling error on the very first page! >.< (Additionally, there's the fact that both Hush and Batman Inc. are supposed to still be in continuity, but Selina doesn't know who Batman is in this issue, which flies in the face of that. It's inconsistent, and at the very least, badly researched/edited.)

And I realize that if I don't like it, I don't have to buy it, but you know...I don't want to have to stop buying comics because they're bad. I want comics to be good! Comics should be good! :D I want to plunk my money down on the counter at my LCS and have that feeling of excitement again, and that's just not what happened here.

I mean, it's pretty sucky to buy a comic with a lead female character who has many female fans, only to find that the very first issue is designed to appeal only to the straight male reader. It makes a lot of girls feel excluded, and for a company that wants to bring in new readers, keep the old ones and appeal to a wider audience, taking your second most well known female character and putting her in a spank book is pretty bloody stupid, you know?

In regards to internalized misoyngy...well, no, I'm afraid there really isn't a better term. :/ It's a misunderstood term, of course, but it's something that exists and should be addressed. I mean, it's not about women hating women (which is really what it sounds like, and that's probably why there's misunderstanding), so much as the fact that women often unknowingly parrot or hold misogynistic attitudes. It is a problem, and it's a problem for me because I still believe in the concept of Being Nice is Nice/Everybody is Equal. Misogyny in any form really doesn't fit with my philosophy.

on 2011-09-26 02:25 pm (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] smegabyte.livejournal.com
I haven't read the whole book, so I feel like I can't comment fully.

What I can say is this: TALKIE-TALK?

Seriously. Catwoman, Selina Kyle, intelligent woman and master thief refers to her phone as talkie-talk. Seriously? 'Mittens' I can forgive (or maybe I can't) but talkie-talk? What adult can refer to their phone by that name with a straight face, particularly in a life-or-death oh-shit-they-found-me kind of situation?

Is her dialogue this odd throughout the whole thing? I'd use the last few pages as a reference, but she doesn't speak. (Which is another odd thing - she's in the penthouse silently molesting Batman. Really? She can't even muster up a hello?) Having an internal monologue works well when you're alone (or running from enemies who you don't want to converse with) but you'd think she'd make the time to say something to Bats instead of yattering away inside her own head.

The only other thing I have to add is a nod to the horribly shattered laws of sanity. For instance, the amazingly magical cat carrier. I've never seen a standard-size cat carrier that could hold seven cats at once, nor have I seen one that allows someone to soar through the air while holding seven cats and presumably land without any shoulder dislocations. Catwoman must be pretty damn strong to handle seventy pounds of angry cat in one hand. (And just where did that cell phone end up?)

on 2011-09-28 06:06 pm (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] dr-von-fangirl.livejournal.com
I'd say download it from the DC Comics app but...no. I'd rather as few people as possible give their money to it.


I think mittens was supposed to be...wit. You know, kittens with mittens or...something? I'm grasping at straws, really.

"Is her dialogue this odd throughout the whole thing?"

LOL, you think there's dialogue. I mean, the fact that she says more aloud during the opening pages than she does during the sex scene is pretty indicative of the way most of the book goes. Catwoman is seen and not heard when interacting with her world more often than not. :/

on 2011-09-28 07:17 pm (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] maridee42.livejournal.com
oh, is THAT what she's referring to with "talkie-talk". that's puzzled me for longer than i care to admit. :P


This is the back-up account for what I hope will be the Ultimate Catwoman Fan Blog--Dr. Von Fangirl on LiveJournal. You should go check it out over there. I much prefer the original article.

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