In October of 2014, Catwoman traded in her costume for a power suit and left her jewel-thief days behind her. With the creative team of Valentine, Brown (later Messina) and Loughridge taking over the book, readers were plunged into a considerably more real and sometimes brutal Gotham than they’d seen before. As the new narrative followed Selina Kyle’s new life as head of the Calabrese family, one of the largest mafia families in the city, the brush strokes got thicker, the sketch lines rougher, the shadows absolutely pitch-black and non-negotiable. And the only thing feline about Miss Kyle was her wing-tipped eyeliner.
Despite the nefarious dealings of Gotham’s criminal underworld, Kyle still aims to use her newfound power to do good, making G.L.Valentine’s Catwoman a real-world inspiration for young women like me. Kyle’s struggle to maintain a balance between who she used to be and who she is now—both professionally and personally—makes for not only a refreshing change of pace in an industry overflowing with boob-windows and spandex but also an incredibly relatable read as an ever-growing number of young women enter the job market in hopes of conquering as female bosses.
I’ve loved Catwoman through most of her iterations and while she didn’t ever stop being the rabble-rousing, under-dog loving, occasional-therapy-going complicated woman I was drawn to, it wasn’t until Valentine’s version landed in my hands that I was able to point to my shelf and say “THAT. That’s MY Catwoman.” I’m entering a media industry in which less than 40% of roles across the board are filled by women—never mind leadership positions. Having worked in editor and project manager roles in college I’ve had a taste of the guff and eye-rolling you have to endure and I have no disillusions about it getting worse as I enter the “real world.” In Valentine’s Catwoman, Selina Kyle weathers more than just eye-rolls in a continuously calm and collected way, all while trying to find some kind of balance between her two selves.
This struggle for balance in suppressing her former self in order to maintain her new image is really what makes this iteration of Catwoman stand out. Valentine characterizes this immediately in issue 35 where readers are introduced to Kyle’s new counterparts—her bodyguard and cousin, Antonia, and Antonia’s brother, Nick. “The good news—I’m not working alone,” Kyle’s internal narration says, followed by “The bad news—I’m not working alone.” Catwoman has always been a solo operation—with the exception of the occasional enlisted research or contact assistance from a side character or two. Going from caring only about the gain of one person to being in charge of an entire mob operation—one that Kyle is trying to manipulate for the greater good of the city as a whole—takes a little bit of adjusting.
We see this conflict again in the next issue, #36, when Kyle confronts Eiko Hasigawa about posing as Catwoman. “Catwoman’s not some noble venture,” says Kyle, inches from Hasigawa’s face on the edge of a building. “She’s a thief. She’s got no one.” Kyle intentionally puts down her former identity as a way to keep both herself and others from getting too close to it, a goal which hides dual intentions. If Kyle continuously bad mouths Catwoman she can not only talk herself out of giving up and hiding behind a mask, “becoming invisible” as she says in later issues, but also can keep the new people in her life from knowing that she has that desire. Essentially, Catwoman is Kyle’s weakness and considering her line of work it’s best that no one knows she has any soft points.
Now, I’ve never been a world-renowned jewel thief with mad-crazy acrobatic skills, but I’ve definitely had to learn to adjust from pulling my bootstraps up and getting shit done to cooperating and coordinating with a team. The moment I realized I now had to care about not only the well being and accomplishments of a publication or a project but also the other people sitting around the table with me, it took a lot of will power to not crawl under the table and yell “NOPE NO THANK YOU” at the top of my lungs. But that’s not an option and Kyle doesn’t ever take that route either.
Additionally, Kyle deals with some crazy-heavy imposter syndrome (“a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist even in face of information that indicates that the opposite is true” which women and people of color are particularly susceptible to after decades of societal blockades to their professional gains). In the beginning of issue #36, we see the Calabrese home where Selina now lives (I assume) with Antonia. “Selina Kyle now runs guns and Gotham’s crime families,” says Kyle’s internal narration. “She lives here. Not sure that makes it my home.” Kyle feels displaced and separate from her new identity and this moment in particular made me put the book down and go “Damn, I’ve been there.” Kyle repeatedly questions her own abilities throughout her first issues with Valentine. Her overwhelmed state gets to such a point that she nearly walks in front of a car–although it’s only implied as she’s stopped before she gets there.
But Valentine doesn’t just give us a stewing, struggling heroine to cry with. Kyle dons the catsuit again at the end of issue 40 after Antonia is shot. She stands on a rooftop in front of Roman Sionis, or Black Mask, and her internal narration is defiant and confident when it says, “I know who I am. You’ve seen what I’m capable of. And I’m going to be the end of you.” I want that tattooed on my forehead. The decision to take what had formerly seemed like a vulnerable state and make it an incorporated part of who she is as a leader sends a strong message to readers—weakness does not destroy a woman nor does it make her incapable. It’s a sentiment mirrored in many other Gotham stories in the current New 52 run but that’s an essay for another day.
By the next issue, #41, Kyle has married her two selves, staging a purposefully amateur heist to replace Sionis money with tracked bills then slipping out of the catsuit and into a gown for the opera. Kyle continues to drift between the two identities, more and more comfortable each time, even calmly explaining to Antonia in issue #43 what she’s doing and why she’s in the catsuit. Although she does so by referring to Catwoman as a separate entity, reminding readers that she still isn’t completely whole.
And that’s the beauty of this Catwoman, of this Selina Kyle. Her inner conflict doesn’t just get wrapped up in a tidy last page where she goes leaping into the Gotham skyline. The problem of what to do with your former self when you begin a new chapter doesn’t ever go away. It’s constant. It lasts for issues—or in my case, years. I’m genuinely excited to see how Kyle continues to develop under this creative team. Because once she hits her stride she’s going to make Queen Elizabeth look small. And that’s the kind of growth I need from my heroines. While she compares herself to Cleopatra when sitting down to begin negotiations with the Penguin, I intend to walk into my first day of work channeling my inner Selina Kyle–because I know who I am and I will make sure they know what I’m capable of.