It took award-winning novelist Genevieve Valentine all of five minutes to get Batman group editor Mark Doyle a pitch for her take on “Catwoman” once he shared the ongoing series’ new high concept — Selina Kyle: Crime Boss of Gotham City.
Thrilled by the opportunity, Valentine jumped at the chance to write the popular DC Comics’ character, one that she has loved since she was 11 years-old. How much does Valentine dig the Bob Kane/Bill Finger creation? Valentine saw Halle Berry’s multiple Razzie-winning “Catwoman” movie three times. That’s dedication.
Valentine’s run picks up following the events of the weekly “Batman Eternal,” which revealed that Selina Kyle is the rightful heir to Gotham’s criminal underworld — an appointment she views as a chance to bring stability to the city’s seedy underbelly.
But while Catwoman is up for the task, her boyfriend Batman — those are Valentine’s words — is none too pleased by her new lot in life.
Valentine teased that Batman definitely plays a role in the series moving forward and also revealed that while Selina faces a near insurmountable challenge from Black Mask for the title of kingpin in the early goings, her ultimate trial is against Catwoman herself. She also shared her thoughts on the artwork of collaborator Garry Brown and the pressure of being a female writer writing a female character in a male-dominated industry.
CBR News: We’re weeks away from the start of your run on “Catwoman.” Are you excited, nervous, a bit of both?
Genevieve Valentine: Right on both counts. [Laughs] Yes, it’s a total rush. And yes, I’m extremely nervous. This is not my first published work. I have two novels already published and another one coming out in the spring, but I think there is something very different about stepping into such an iconic character where the profile is just orders of magnitudes bigger. It’s been completely fun behind the scenes. Everyone has been super supportive and fantastic so it feels like I’m not taking this step alone — the team is great — but I definitely have the date circled on my calendar. [Laughs] It’s really happening.
What’s your knowledge of Catwoman? Were you a fan of the character before you landed the assignment?
I was a fan of the character from when I was 11 until, I would say, my early teens, but then I dropped out of comic book reading for a few years. Eartha Kitt became my favorite Catwoman in the interim as old “Batman” episodes became increasingly available. Definitely the character, in different iterations, has always fascinated me. I even saw Halle Berry’s “Catwoman” three times.
[Laughs] That’s dedication.
And now I am catching up on the New 52 “Catwoman.” Obviously, I have read through all of those in preparation for this [run] and as time allows, I’ve been reading as much as I can with her that came before that.
What makes Selina Kyle a fun character to write?
One of my favorite things about Catwoman, in any iteration, is that she is an extremely intelligent and independent person. For her to decide to work with someone is a plot point, a story beat. Every time she shows up and agrees to help someone is a big deal. If she shows up in opposition to someone, it’s not quite such a big deal because she’s sort of an antagonistic character, which is one of the other things I love about her. But for her to position herself firmly one way or the other in a moral spectrum is always a big deal because she is a character that tries so hard to keep all of her options open. She tries to remain unseen in that way.
I also love the circumstances that we have put her in. When Mark called me on the phone he said, “Here’s the deal: If Catwoman was a mob boss, what would you do?” I said, “Oh, my god. Give me five minutes and I will get you a pitch.” She is such an independent character and she has this focus on being flexible and being able to get out of situations with minimal casualties. To put her in a role where she has so much power to get things done but also has so much riding on the responsibility of being in charge of all of these people. There are all of the things that could go wrong and all of the things that she is going to have to decide. I thought it was a fascinating opportunity for her. I love putting her in a role where she is definitely smart enough and determined enough to do well but she requires a moral tax that I’m not sure she is willing to pay.
Catwoman’s role within the New 52 has moved drastically from her time in “Justice of America” to the most recent events of “Batman Eternal.” When we meet her in your first issue, what is her status in terms of the sides of right and wrong?
When she takes the job, when she accepts her birthright, she is doing it with the best intentions. She does it so that no one else does it because she figures that her intentions are better than the other people who were trying to take this job. And she is hoping to use this as a way to make crime so organized that we can get rid of the collateral damage that comes when crime families are fighting with each other and we can start using all of these shell companies to start rebuilding Gotham. She has plans where she recognizes what she is doing is morally very tricky but she is hoping to be less evil than someone else would be in this same role. In some ways, she is taking one for the team. But of course, nothing ever ends up as clean as you hope, especially not in Gotham. When bad guys come knocking at the door, she has to decide how much she is willing to pay to stay in power. That’s a big question.
As a crime boss, whom will she be networking with in terms of supporting characters?
In terms of new characters, we’re definitely going to be seeing relatives of hers that she never knew she had. She is so staunchly alone, she would love to have a connection with someone. But the question is, can you ever fully trust someone in a family where you’re the interloper?
In terms of familiar faces, Black Mask is certainly gunning for her job. He’s starting from the bottom but he is much more practiced at doing this and has absolutely none of her moral qualms. She is definitely going to be running up against someone who is out for her job and has no problems doing whatever it takes to get there.
And of course, we are going to see at least a couple of appearances of a certain billionaire that dresses as a bat at night. [Laughs] And he is very, very concerned about where this is going to leave her. Obviously, this is a very tense situation because even though their connection is the kind of thing that doesn’t go away just because circumstances change, this is a pretty big change of circumstances. There is now a gulf between them that doesn’t exist between them when she is part of the Justice League or when she is doing things that are smaller time that are at worst, a moral nuisance. She has positioned herself as the antithesis of everything that Batman is trying to work against. And they are both very aware of that. There is definitely a weight to their relationship that threatens to sink the whole thing.
The first time that they see each other in the book, it is very clear that this is not the first argument that they have had about this. And at the same time, I think there is a feeling that Batman cares so much about her that he often intervenes morally at times when she feels like it is either not necessary because she’s on top of it or it’s not necessary because she doesn’t feel like she’s doing anything wrong. There’s that feeling of. “I am trying to handle this. I am handling this. Let me handle this.” Especially, when it’s something where Batman’s presence is actually dangerous for her, which is something that they are also both aware of. You can’t have mob bosses chatting with Batman.
[Laughs] That’s definitely frowned upon.
When you accept your birthright, they hand you a manual and No. 1 reads, “Please don’t talk to Batman. It never ends well.”
[Laughs] You’ve mentioned Black Mask, who is featured on the cover to “Catwoman” #37. What about the cover to “Catwoman” #36, which features not one but two Catwomen. Is there another Catwoman running around Gotham in Selina’s absence or is this more of a figurative tease of her plight to juggle two worlds than a literal one?
I went for broke. It’s both a metaphor and extremely literal.
Ding, ding, ding. We have a winner.
[Laughs] I love Jae [Lee]’s cover for that issue so much because it is so extremely literal and metaphorical. It’s perfect. One of the new characters that we run into is, yes, another Catwoman. In the absence of Catwoman, she leaves a vacuum and someone steps up to take her place. At first, we don’t know who it is but we do find out in short order.
And I was able to sit down with Garry [Brown], the artist, and come up with a bunch of costume designs. I actually helped design a Catwoman costume, which was a life goal I didn’t even know I wanted ticked. That has been a lot of fun. And it means that Selina gets to literally fight Catwoman.
Will the events we see in “Catwoman” affect how we see her portrayed in other titles like “Batman Eternal?”
I have discovered that Gotham is a very elastic city. As a reader, I always knew it but I didn’t realize how elastic it was until I started writing for it. It’s a living, breathing thing that exists in the middle of all the events happening in all of the different books. As far as I know, Catwoman will be making appearances in at least one other book while we are doing the stand alone story but the degree to which they are involved in terms of plot points, I will make adjustments as necessary in terms of editorial territory but in general, I think it’s the equivalent of how Batman shows up in ours. We try not to have too many overlapping plot points so we can keep the story as fluid as possible in a single run. But obviously, we can’t have a Catwoman book where Batman never shows up because isn’t he sort of her boyfriend? [Laughs] The relationship has a lot of names but isn’t Batman sort of her boyfriend?
I know that she is scheduled for appearances in non-“Catwoman” books during this run but I think in general, the bulk of what she is dealing with will be featured in the “Catwoman” book.
You mentioned working with artist Garry Brown on the series. What does he bring to the project?
He has been so fantastic. I honestly can’t stop fangirl-ing him. Obviously, this is my first time writing comics so I didn’t know much about the current state of the industry but they said that they were thinking about Garry Brown as the artist, so I googled “Garry Brown.” And I was immediately like, “Yes. Absolutely.” His work has such a beautiful noir quality and he has a fantastic way of moving the eye. I really love it. And I love the way, and I know this may sound very specific, that the women in the book stand and move. It’s exactly what I would have wanted. Every time someone punches someone in the face in the book, it looks like a punch. It looks like a pile driver. It hurts. And he has an amazing eye for architecture. Because Gotham is such a big character in this book and because Selina is trying to do this for the sake of Gotham and because we’re seeing her in places in the city that we’ve never seen her before — places Selina has never had access to unless she was stealing something — it is framed in a way like it’s a very ornate prism. The psychology of the architecture in this book is fantastic. That’s all Garry, and it’s gorgeous. I can’t wait for people to see it.
Sold. Just one last question, as a female writer writing a series starring a female protagonist, do you feel any added pressure in terms of this constant struggle for more diversity in comics the role of female voices in the industry?
In this specific case, I am lucky to not feel that pressure because Mark, our editor, and Garry have been on the same page as me since the first moment. I am definitely aware that there are issues regarding the presentation and role of women both on the page and behind it. For myself, as a storyteller, I am trying to not use some of the things that have been criticized. I am trying to not put any women in sexual peril. If I can get away with that through the entire run, that’s my goal. Because, as we find out, there are plenty of other ways that someone can be in peril. [Laughs] But there is definitely some pressure from people that are hoping that comics will start to reflect women as subjects rather than objects and start to avoid these easy pitfalls.
And again, I love my team. I’ve never had anything but the most amazing feedback and the most amazing drawings and the most amazing stories. I hope everyone likes our “Catwoman” as much as I do.
“Catwoman” #35 by Genevieve Valentine and Garry Brown goes on sale October 22.
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