Slam Bradley by Darwyn Cooke - with Batman

Review: Catwoman Dark End of the Street

DC Comics 2002

Catwoman Cover

UPDATE: Read a mini-examination of Gotham City Cops and the corruption of Commissioner Gordon with this page blowup of Darywn Cooke and Ed Brubaker's Catwoman.

As a villain, Catwoman dates back to nearly the beginning of the whole Batman publishing enterprise, but has never been such a constant comic book 'trademark' that her costume cannot be meddled with regularly, and the whole background rational for dressing as a cat doesn't get overhauled also as regularly.

Catwoman: The Dark End of the Street is an apt title for this collection of Ed Brubaker stories about the classic Batman villain, or quasi-villain, as she is now presented as a more-or-less reformed criminal with a sympathetic back story, a phenomenon that I am guessing traces back to at least Miller's Dark Knight books from the 1980s. A smattering of detritus of an abused childhood is used as explanation for the characters being on the wrong side of the law (the "law," though, is presented here as horrendously corrupt). Comic book villains are a lot more flexible than their 'hero' counterparts, and more often are able to reflect the era in which they are written and drawn. Catwoman is especially a good sponge for soaking up all the contradicting ideas about being bad, female, misunderstood and wrapped up in a skintight costume. And being principally drawn and written about by guys is probably just that much more a representation of the psyche of this time period of the comic book biz.

Catwoman Dark End of the Street

These individual vignettes do not function as a single story (or a "graphic novel"), but are a progression of tales in which Catwoman begins as a counterpart to Slam Bradley for a few stories, then finally the "star" in her own right. The focus for the latter is a series dealing with the deaths of Gotham City prostitutes at the hands of a shape-shifting mutant who is the result of a sinister military experiment gone wrong. In comic books, at least since the big-bug movies of the 1950s, military experiments seem to always go wrong (for an even longer view, consider the original of the Joe Simon and Jack Kirby Captain America from the 1940s).

These Catwoman stories are in tone the equivalent of a TV Movie in that everything about being a prostitute is romanticized. A concerned tone hovers over the proceedings as Catwoman races against time to prevent the next murder. The insight tailored to this story is that prostitutes are human beings and are victims of circumstances beyond their control, and that Catwoman knows that pain, and the various males on the periphery of the tales are either nuts, ineffectual, or completely corrupt (the police, for example). An (unintended, I think) inference is that the prostitutes are somewhat stupid people.

The Darwyn Cooke artwork is an energetic, tightly-designed stab at the relatively serious subject matter, but his doll-headed humans sometimes lend an air of ridiculousness when juxtaposed with the topic at hand. He uses inky silhouettes and heavy blacking for shadows and it makes for striking page design. Brubaker's story is thought-out, contains humor and makes sense, always a high-mark for a superhero comic book.

Catwoman: The Dark End of the Street was published in 2002, it is 136 pages long, retailed at $14.95 USD, and DC Comics has a page on the book here.

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