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Genevieve Valentine Whips Up Excitement in “Catwoman”

by  in Comic News Comment
Genevieve Valentine Whips Up Excitement in “Catwoman”

For Selina Kyle, life as Gotham City’s Queen of Crime is far from easy and far from over.

After ascending to the head of the Calabrese Crime Family as part of DC Comics’ weekly “Batman Eternal” series, the anti-hero known as Catwoman had any number of major life shakeups over the past six months at the hands of new writer Genevieve Valentine. Her family ran into an all-out mob war with players like Black Mask and the Penguin. She was forced to call in a hit on her own cousin the course of the bloodshed. A brief abandonment of the costumed identity by Selina led to the arrival of competing Catwoman Eiko Hasigawa. And then in an unexpected twist, Selina and Eiko struck up a romantic relationship — confirming that the classic Batman character was bisexual.

Catwoman’s Bisexuality Confirmed by Genevieve Valentine

On June 10, Valentine and new series artist David Messina continue the crime-tinged tale with a brand-new starting point in “Catwoman” #41. CBR News spoke with the writer about the lessons she’s learned in her first major comics gig, how Selina’s character will be reacting to the challenges of running the family both in and out of costume and what the arrival of fan-favorite character the Spoiler will mean for the series as it moves into DC’s June relaunch. [EDITOR’S NOTE: DC Comics declined two questions in this interview regarding the confirmation of Selina Kyle’s sexual identity and her romantic relationship with Eiko Hasigawa.]

CBR News: Your run on “Catwoman” is one of the comics technically continuing amid DC’s June relaunch, but I’ve gotten the sense that issue #41 is a sort of “re-pilot” for Selina’s mob high concept as a whole. How did you work in your story to treat that issue as a brand new #1?

Genevieve Valentine: Our first arc with Selina at the head of a mob family was such fun to work on, but it was also trying to establish the new world in which Selina’s embroiled: after the events in “Batman Eternal,” we wanted to make Selina a player in Gotham’s wider story. So we’ve seen the families she’s up against, the neighborhoods that are up for grabs, and the idea that trying to rebuild a city on mob money is a morally grey and politically tricky enterprise. This arc was about making Selina face the reality that this position was always going to skirt the edge of moral compromise even for someone as ruthless as she is. That first arc was the opening moves of a larger chess game; when she decided to take back the mantle of Catwoman in order to do what she couldn’t otherwise do, the queen stepped onto the board.

With #41, we re-enter that world — a world in which it looks like Selina has finally balanced being both the head of the Calabrese family and Catwoman. But of course, sometimes disaster finds you, and after suffering a big shakeup, Selina’s thrown into a whole new set of problems as Gotham threatens to come apart around her.

Of course, it’s not as if the “Family Business” arc you delivered before “Convergence” didn’t happen at all. Let’s catch up on some of the major moments that have had an impact on Selina’s life, starting with the recent mob war with Black Mask. By the end of your last story, the ground had shifted significantly with Selina gaining Penguin as a somewhat untrustworthy ally without completely shutting down Sionis’ operation. Where do you see this conflict developing in the future, particularly considering Catwoman’s role torn between the “mobsters” and “masks” factions in Gotham’s underworld?

I think that conflict is at the heart of this arc. It’s an unusual position for her to be in; she’s got a much less complicated relationship with her masks than a lot of the Gotham crew, and those stakes have now changed, which leads to new considerations (is Eiko a partner in crime or is having two Catwomen dangerous? What happens when the Calabreses find out? When will Black Mask give up on the politics and go right to the source of the trouble?). Plus, she realized in the last arc that the moral demands of being a long-term crime boss in Gotham might be too much for her to bear — she’s not used to taking on that level of responsibility, especially not for actions that can hurt so many. She’ll be trying to reconcile that as the mob war comes closer and closer to her doorstep — and her cousin Antonia begins to look at her with a new eye.

Genevieve Valentine Pits Selina Kyle Against “Catwoman”

The original pitch for your series of “Selina Kyle as a major Gotham crime boss” was one of the more significant changes in the character’s history. Since you took that task on as a new-to-comics writer, what has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned about telling this story now that you have one arc under your belt?

I think for a character who has so much history, especially for a character whose past is often so deliberately messy or murky, a major (and ongoing!) lesson is the degree to which you try to keep characterization without getting overly tangled up in specific past events — especially on the heels of a plot pivot like this. The leap to mob boss was a big move for Gotham and the wider plot there, but it never felt like a big move for Selina: the more you thought about it the more sense it made. For example, she’s never one to take up the burden of leadership, but she’s been through so much that it makes sense that she’d want to set things right — and that her idea of what’s acceptably “right” is different than most people’s. And she’s deeply intelligent; people who know the character wouldn’t doubt she could rise exactly as high as she needed to. The trick is making sure that while comics by their nature move back and forth in a shared plot, the core of the character is there.

Thankfully, we’re past the point in comics where LGBT characterizations are earth-shattering news that people freak out about. What kind of reader response have you seen to Selina’s newfound status as a bisexual woman? Was it what you were expecting?

The response has been incredible — amazing and supportive of the character and the storyline. A lot of fans were excited, and that was awesome, but everybody also seemed to take it as, like you said, no big deal for her, which was how we had approached the relationship in the first place — just another part of her character that we’re getting to see.

Speaking of fan reactions, we know that Spoiler is coming back starting with issue #42, which I’m sure will have more than a few people taking notice. What drew you to Stephanie Brown as a character, and how does her history with Selina from “Eternal” help complicate the story of your new arc overall?

I love the idea of Catwoman’s Gotham being one to which misfits are drawn, and where the past can come back to haunt you. I definitely think the way Selina handled things with Stephanie in “Eternal,” there was no way Stephanie — a natural scrapper who feels, among other things, abandoned — wasn’t going to come back and demand a rematch. She’s also not the kind to be easily discouraged, which means that no matter how Selina reacts to her being in town, there’s a sense that Stephanie’s here for her own answers, and plans to stay until she gets them.

Looking to the future, we’ve seen hints of you expanding the series out to include other faces of Gotham like the Penguin. That aspect of Selina’s crime life has been more a part of “Batman Eternal” than it has been this series, but now that “Eternal” is over, are there some secrets of that story’s finish that will influence where you go next?

There are definitely faces from Eternal we’ll be seeing in the next arc of “Catwoman” — some more expected than others! But as the conflict expands throughout the underworld, she’ll be dealing with more people who are hoping to take advantage of the entropy. There are also events elsewhere in the Batverse that will have aftershocks in Selina’s neighborhood; she’s been deeply focused on what has to be done close to home, but as she takes this war wider, we get a wider lens on Gotham as well.

David Messina joins you as artist here, and while I understand the book will remain similar in noirish tone to what it’s been in the past, I feel like he’s going to be designing things in a more unique manner. What has his contribution to the book done to change how “Catwoman” feels starting June?

Garry [Brown] was so important for giving us that sleeker Selina and building a noirish Gotham around her — those great deep shadows and unexpected layouts establishing what Selina’s playing at now and the world in which she’s moving. David’s picking up on that noir tone and running with it in more detail, which is a lovely mirror as Selina’s own position gets more complicated; we’re watching her conflicts play out in close-up, but on the wider level, the world around her has gotten trickier; every diner’s packed with details, and there’s an opera house in #41 that’s just stunning.

Your first arc on the book was very much about Selina finding her own way to take on the responsibilities of the family business while also attempting to have a positive influence on Gotham. Has writing that story emboldened you to set similar goals for your work in comics? In other words, what have you taken from that first story that will change the way you write “Catwoman” moving forward?

There’s such a great history for the character, but in the same way Gotham is an elastic town, she’s got an elastic story, where there’s a lot of room for her within the DC mythos that Mark [Doyle, the Batman group editor] and company have been excited to explore. The last arc of Catwoman was a chance to tell a really great story for Selina that made the most of her sly smarts and set up some characters that could give her a run for her money, in one way or another, and the reader response has been incredible. This arc is where all those delicate things start to go to pieces, and in some ways that’s even better (bonus: a chance for more “Borgias” quotes, which seems fitting). Family, love, action, honor, and some stealing (of course)!

When you knew you were moving forward with the book during DC’s big relaunch, what did you immediately want to do? And what did you want to change from your opening arc to keep momentum going?

I was lucky enough to get word relatively early that Mark and DC wanted me to be the ongoing writer, so we could make plans to lay out that more complicated mob aspect, which was definitely high on my list; I wanted to make it clear that whatever the outcome is, this battle had been fiercely fought. But I also wanted to make sure that she wouldn’t be staying away from the Catsuit forever, because that’s such a huge part of who she is, and she’s been feeling the loss of that part of her identity pretty keenly. (We’re also setting up some corrupt-police conflict, and the return of some potential enemies, because Selina didn’t have enough to worry about!) In the new arc, we’ll be deepening some of the relationships she’s newly established — with her cousin Antonia, with Ward who respects her but sometimes questions her, with Eiko to whom she’s gotten close, with Mason who’s made a family claim she can’t trust — and also take a look at some of the relationships from people who knew her before all this: Batman, Penguin, and some of those returning faces. This next arc is a great opportunity to explore some of these changes. I’m really looking forward to working with David on balancing the new look he brings to the book with the noir aspects of the material, and it’s a great point from which to explore how being a mob boss has changed her, and who she fundamentally still is. I can’t wait.

“Catwoman” #41 by Genevieve Valentine and David Messina goes on sale June 10 from DC Comics.

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